#169, In Practice, September/October 2016

Page 11



Rancho Largo Cattle Company—

characterized by high expectations and planning that looked good on paper. “I started out with a focus on efficiency to maximize stocking rate. On this ranch it takes about 60-70 acres to run a cow-calf unit year round. With our financial set-up, with me wanting to buy into the ranch over time, BY HEATHER SMITH THOMAS and having a land mortgage, we were asking a lot from a potentially 200cow operation--to support my family, pay the mortgage and allow me to hirty miles east of Walsenburg, Colorado, the Rancho Largo buy into the operation,” he explains. Cattle Company consists of 14,000 acres of dryland grazing Maximizing the stocking rate to spread the fixed costs over more (mixed short-grass prairie and pinon-juniper canyon habitat), cattle seemed the logical strategy, along with doing it the “right way” with most of it deeded, along the best cattle genetics, selective with two state school sections. Grady breeding, detailed animal records Grissom came here in early 1996 to and financial records, tight calving run the ranch in a partnership. “My seasons, etc. “I understood partner is in the investment industry that stocking rate was the most in California, so our partnership important decision a manager combines sweat/equity—his equity makes, but I did not understand and my sweat!” says Grissom. that there is no leeway to push the “Our plan was for me to acquire envelope—even with all the newest more and more of the operation, breeds, feeds, and technologies,” over time. This is all rangeland, he says. with no irrigation. It’s arid country, “In those early years, our with average annual precipitation of overhead was too high. We were 10-12 inches. When I came here, I’d trying to force the ranch to run had a lot of experience working on at 45-50 acres per cow, and we ranches, but I was not ranch raised,” started getting the results that Grady Grissom he says. His parents grew up on in hindsight a person would ranches, but he was raised in the suburbs of Denver. He spent time on his expect—low conception rates averaging 80-85%. We tried a number of grandparents’ ranches and became hooked on the land, the animals, and things to alleviate that including different breeds of cattle, local cattle, the ranch work ethic, and by the sixth grade he knew he wanted to be a rancher, changing calving season, etc. But ultimately we were overstocked and our so through high school and college he worked on ranches in Colorado. overheads were too high.” One thing he tried to do to alleviate the overstocking was to Dreams Meet Reality rotate cattle through the pastures. “But we did it without an ecological Grissom went to college on the east coast (a degree in geology from understanding of what we were doing. Our only goal in rotating cattle was Princeton University), then came back to Colorado and spent several to increase stocking rates. Under that scenario we had poor results. Our years working on ranches. He went to graduate school on the west recovery periods were about 40-60 days—shorter in the spring and longer coast, and while in graduate school started working for a horseshoer and in the summer.” became a farrier. “My career path through graduate school was always aimed toward Enter Holistic Management ranching,” he says. When this opportunity at Rancho Largo in Colorado “We were going through those difficult early years when I read Allan came along, he and his wife, Lynda, and their young daughter left Savory’s book and developed an interest in Holistic Management,” California to pursue that dream. says Grissom. “I had a good grasp of day-to-day work taking care of cattle, but in “I never did go to a school, but mainly worked from his book that hindsight I realize I didn’t have a very good grasp of strategic management he published in 1988. The critical influence of Savory was the concept decisions. I had very little knowledge of big-picture management or that economic success is driven by ecology. From 1998 until 2000 were ecological health,” he says. His initial management approach was CONTINUED ON PAGE 12

Understanding the Interplay between Economics & Ecology


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Land & Livestock 11