28 Track costs, see profits Hay used to be a crop that Tristan Banwell of Spray Creek

Ranch in Lillooet farmed on a property that now has cattle, hogs and poultry.

But he opted not to make hay while the sun shines because each round bale he was producing made him just 63 cents of profit. He knew he could be doing better things with his time. “A lot of people in cattle production are commodity

producers,” he told a workshop he gave at the annual meeting of the Certified Organic Associations of BC earlier this year in Vernon. “If you can take control of your marketing, and control your price, that’s great, but not everybody can do that. The only thing you have control over is your cost of production.” Costs of production have no small impact on a ranch’s

profitability. Banwell cited a study US grazing expert Jim Gerrish shared indicating that 57% of the difference in profit between farms was linked to winter feed costs. It didn’t matter how large or small the farm was; many producers simply weren’t correctly estimating the cost of feeding their animals through the winter. So he stopped making hay for his animals, focused on

rotational grazing and let others sell him hay. “I’m on a really small scale in terms of economic hay

production, and it just didn’t make economic sense for me so I stopped,” he says. “To make those kinds of changes, one of the things you need to do is plug your ears and open your eyes.”

He also paid closer attention to which animals got fed,

bred or ended up … as hamburger. “If a cow isn’t getting rebred and having another calf within a year every year, you need to get rid of that cow. It’s out of the program,” he says. “Don’t make excuses for your animals.” Banwell makes fertility his key criteria for culling, and

scores his animals a couple of times a year. Any animals that attract flies are also flagged, reducing his need to spray. “She needs to work for you, and that’s how you’re going

to make money,” he says of his cows. Other farmers can follow a similar approach, says Andrea

Gunner, principal of AG Consulting and a partner in Rosebank Farms in Armstrong. “It’s not rocket science,” she says of the practice of cost

analysis. “It’s all about good record-keeping.” The tracking tool could be as simple as an Excel

spreadsheet, and inputting the various costs attributable to each farm operation. Sales should be twice the operation’s fixed costs. “The importance is setting up the tracking system,” she

says, ideally before the growing season. “The idea is to set out what you do, and then look at the money that should be left.” She recommends setting targets, something to aim for and against which to measure progress. To assist in the process, producers can access government-sponsored farm business adviser programs such as the province’s BC Agri- Business Planning Program.

—Peter Mitham


pastures much faster. “We graze at a stocking rate

that allows the forage to grow back through right away,” he says. “You’re going to be going across your whole farm very quickly; you’re going to be grazing it very lightly.” The fresh growth readies

his pregnant cows to give birth at the end of April and yield milk for their calves, and eventually recoup the nutrients needed to be in shape for breeding within the year. “You can’t run a cow on this declining plane of nutrition right up until she’s calving. This is the reason why ruminating animals in the wild calve in the springtime,” he says. “That spring flush of grass, they’re able to undergo compensatory gain. They can regain weight really quickly on that spring grass and have a good body condition at calving so they can be rebred in that cycle.” Calving in April isn’t just easier than in the middle of winter, it’s also allowed Banwell to reduce calving to just 33 days last year, versus 208 days in 2013. Thanks to the nutrition the cows receive, conception rates are at close to 97% with the bulls exposed for two cycles.

And when the calves are born, they get worked into the rotation, too. “They just start migrating

around the farm with the herd right away,” he says. Rotational grazing has also

improved the resilience of the pasture. Whereas continuous

grazing focuses livestock on one area and the pasture becomes close-cropped, giving undesireable species like sedges and thistles a toehold, rotating the animals gives the pasture a chance to recover. Seeds also get moved around the farm, increasing the diversity of the pasture. This in turn repays the fields for grazing done through the winter. “You want them in there,

eating, chowing down, and everything that they didn’t eat they stepped on and smashed into the ground,” explains Banwell. “And that’s going to feed your soils and improve your pasture.” It has also reduced the need to irrigate, because the matted pasture grass keeps the soil moist. “[The] residual is protecting

the ground from evaporation, keeping the soil conditions much moister down below.” And, for anyone considering

rotational grazing, he encourages them to dive in. “Both for monitoring how

you’re doing and assessing how many cows you’re going to put and how big to make that paddock, the best way is to start doing it,” he says. “Just start grazing, and in a month you’re going to know.”

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