Forage Shop Talk: Jim Gerrish
|By Hay and Forage Grower|
Well-known grazing consultant and owner of American GrazingLands Services LLC, Patterson, Idaho
HFG:You’ve been an informative, passionate voice for management-intensive grazing for many years. When did you first realize that this is what you wanted to make your life-long calling?
JG: I probably knew about seven years into my career at the University of Missouri. The realization was that we have known everything we needed to double or triple pasture productivity for hundreds of years. Failure to apply existing knowledge made no sense to me. I wanted to change that attitude.
HFG: Your time at the University of Missouri’s Forage Systems Research Center (FSRC) overlapped a period in the late 1980s and 1990s when the interest and application of management-intensive grazing exploded. What was that like?
JG: It was a great deal of fun, but still frustrating that the rate of adoption was so slow. How long can people continue to ignore the obvious?
HFG: What role do you think new fencing technologies played in the renewed interest of management-intensive grazing in those early years?
JG: All the difference in the world! Modern electric fence is what made intensive pasture management economically feasible.
HFG: A lot of your research at Missouri centered on the management of tall fescue to maximize livestock performance. Do you still feel that fescue toxicosis is something that can be successfully managed around?
JG: Absolutely! Infected fescue is a dominant forage only when failed grazing management allows it to be.
HFG: What do you still see as the most common mistakes made by those who have adopted management-intensive grazing?
JG: Grazing pastures too short and returning too soon.
HFG: In 2003, you left the public sector for the private sector and moved to Idaho. Explain that decision.
JG: It was a mid-life crisis. I realized what I really wanted to do with my life was live in the mountains and write stories.
HFG: Has your opinion changed over the years on any particular pasture management practice(s) compared to what you thought in the past?
JG: When we first started putting in grazing cells in the 1980s, we almost always used lanes to let the cattle walk to water. That was based on the premise that it is cheaper to let cattle come to water than it was to deliver water to the cattle. It might be cheaper to let cattle come to water, but it is far more cost effective in the long term to take the water to the cattle. I think the idea of letting cattle walk long distances to stock water greatly limits the opportunities of the majority of ranches to realize optimal use of their land.
HFG: In addition to your consultant work, you also manage a ranch where you live. Explain that relationship.
JG: We manage one unit of Circle Pi Ranch in exchange for living on that property. Our resources are 450 acres of center pivots, about 90 acres of flood ground, and a few hundred acres of desert rangeland. We usually have about 500 cow equivalents up here for about seven months.
HFG: In what major ways do the principles of management-intensive grazing differ in the West compared to the East, or do they?
JG: There is little difference between managing irrigated pastures in the West compared to natural rainfall pastures in the East. The greatest difference between Western rangeland and the wet pastures is the need for much longer recovery periods and the overall fragility of the semi-arid to arid landscapes.
HFG: As an author and grazing consultant, what’s the most common reason you find that people come to you looking for help?
JG: Simple, they want to make more money while improving their land.
HFG: Are there any future trends, technologies or practices that you see coming down the line that livestock producers need to pay special attention to?
JG: Sixty percent of the beef consumed in America is hamburger. Why are we still producing this commodity in feedlots?
Absentee ownership of agricultural land either greatly limits the opportunity for young people to enter production agriculture or provides a great opportunity for young people to get started through innovative lease arrangements. Which way it goes is almost entirely dependent on the individual’s attitude. More people need to get their head out of the conventional box.
If you really want to make money in farming or ranching, produce food, not commodities.
HFG: Favorite food?
JG: Red Meat!
HFG: Thanks Jim. Stay warm this winter.
This article appeared in the January 2016 issue of Hay & Forage Grower on page 16.
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