Grazing school for novice ranchers accepting students

Jan 16, 2009
by WLJ
Grazing school for novice ranchers accepting students

—Three-day course designed for both experienced and inexperienced ranch managers.

Though nitrogen fertilizer prices have recently dropped, most other ranching costs remain high, and ranchers still have to track costs to make operations pay. The 2009 Overton Pasture and Management Workshop is designed to help both the inexperienced and experienced rancher fine tune livestock operations to reduce costs of inputs and increase returns, said Dr. Monte Rouquette, Texas AgriLife Research scientist.

The grazing school is now accepting enrollment for two sessions, March 24-26 and March 31-April 2. “Nitrogen costs may be back to 2005 levels, but practically everything else remains high, and this makes ranching, which is always a challenging business, even more challenging,” Rouquette said. Enrollment for the threeday course is $350 and includes all meals, coffee breaks, refreshments and workshop handbook. Instructors are scientists and educators with Texas AgriLife Research, the Texas AgriLife Extension Service, and Texas A&M Univeristy.

All hold doctorate degrees related to their area of instruction. The courses will be held at the Texas AgriLife Research and Extension Center at Overton, TX. Center facilities include classrooms and hundreds of acres of research pastures and cattle herds.

“Because the course includes quite a bit of one-onone interaction with the instructors, we limit enrollment to 50 people per session,” Rouquette said. In 2001, the course was originally designed for what was seen as an emerging new demographic, newcomers to farming and ranching.

After years of working in an urban area, they either return to family property or buy land as a retreat from city life. Once on the land, most want to do something productive, and in east Texas, that means more often than not raising cattle. And raising cattle profitably requires extensive management of pastures, soils and other assets, he said. Though the grazing school was originally designed primarily for the novice, attendance soon expanded beyond the regional audience, attracting students nationwide and out-of-country.

Some graduates have found the intensive course so valuable, they return a second year to take it again, Rouquette said. “We’ve heard again and again from students that what they’ve learned in the first morning saved them many times over the cost of the course,” said Dr. Greg Clary, AgriLife Extension economist and one of the course instructors.

The course also started attracting people who weren’t brand new to farming and ranching, and who wanted to fine tune their operations.

“Usually, about 25 percent of the enrollment consists of people who are absolutely new to ranching and pasture management, 50 percent who have some knowledge, and 25 percent who have extensive experience,” Rouquette said. Each session lasts three days, with time split between the classroom and instruction in the field. Infield demonstrations cover all aspects of running a beef operation, from establishing and maintaining high-quality forages, calibrating sprayers, taking soil samples, castrating and vaccinating cattle, and dehorning calves, said Vanessa Corriher, AgriLife Extension forage specialist and another course instructor.

Also included will be training on writing a business plan for a ranch, keeping proper records, choosing the appropriate forage species for different soils, understanding soil fertility, establishing forage systems that minimize winter feeding costs, setting correct stocking rates, choosing the right cattle breeds, promoting good animal health, and marketing cattle, she said. A full agenda can be found at grazingschool.htm.

To register or for more information, contact Jennifer Lloyd at 903/834-6191 or . Lloyd will have information on class openings, local accommodations and driving directions to the center, Rouquette said. — WLJ