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Managing Expectations for Cattle Farm Sustainability

Managing Expectations for Cattle Farm Sustainability


Cattle producers are facing increasing pressure to embrace sustainability wholeheartedly. Now more than ever before, sustainable practices like grazing schedules, conservation and genetics have become a delicate balance in maintaining a healthy environment. Traditionally, operation strategies are inherited with the cattle operation and new leaders make minor changes along the way to improve efficiency. Today, operators have to find a balance between traditional methods and more sustainable methods.


Jaclyn Wilson-Demel, a fifth generation rancher, incorporates pasture rotation, wildlife conservation, genetic efficiency and vegetation retention into the sustainability strategy for her operation. “For generations, we've been focused on environmental responsibility by planting trees, managing wildlife, controlling erosion and encouraging habitat development, which has had a positive impact on the entire operation,” said Wilson-Demel. “Each generation proudly carries these sustainability strategies forward with the intent to improve them, and leave the operation in better shape than when it was received.”


Discovering how to achieve a more environmentally efficient operation begins by defining what sustainability means to the operation on an individual basis. It will not mean the same thing for all cattle operations, and just like any strategy, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. While each sustainability strategy should be customized, there are some common factors to consider that will help guide producers in the right direction.


  • Get involved. Join local and national cattle industry groups, participate in lectures and attend conferences. Contributing to open dialogues and training sessions will provide new leaders with a better understanding of where sustainability fits on an individual basis.


  • Research for opportunities. Government-funded groups, like the National Resources Conservation Service, provide financial assistance and loan programs for eligible cattle producers. Create a program timeline to determine application deadlines. Some loans are only available once a year, so provide enough time to gather all of the paperwork and apply early.


  • Consider local resources. Reach out to neighbors and local groups to determine which local resources are available because every area offers something different. Locals want newcomers to succeed because they impact the land for better or worse, which affects everyone else in the community.


  • Enter a partnership. Share financial burdens and create a mutually beneficial partnership by setting measureable goals, establishing clear expectations and working as a team. Building a strong partnership takes time, but combining assets for improved profitability is sometimes better than taking all the risk alone.


  • Get your hands dirty. Just like anything else, young producers will gain invaluable knowledge from hands-on experience. The research phase only lasts for so long, and then it comes time to put the plan in action recording progress as time goes on.


Established sustainability practices for producers include wildlife conservation, genetics, pasture rotation and organic processing among others. Some cattle producers find that nontraditional sustainability practices provide just as many benefits as the more conventional ones. These are usually discovered through hobbies, trial and error or happenstance.


Ben Neale, a first generation cattle producer, manages a beekeeping operation in addition to his cattle business. “Beekeeping is a hobby of mine that also contributes to my cattle operation. Quite simply, the bees pollinate the pastures providing healthier grazing land, which is eaten by the cattle,” said Neale. “The honey is mostly used for gifts and some of it is sold locally, but the unexpected benefit to beekeeping comes in the networking opportunities. I’m planning to grow my herd over the next 10 years, and beekeeping opened the door to mentors and potential beef clients allowing me to build a reputation for my freezer beef.”


Whether you’ve begun leading a 100-year-old family farm or you’re just getting started, a sustainability plan will create a more efficient operation that not only increases profitability, but also improves environmental practices. Determining the best sustainability strategy may come with tradition or experimentation, but the key is to do the research, assess available resources and take action. The only way to achieve sustainability is to design a strategy and adapt it along the way.


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