#1: What is Total Grazing? The How, What and Why it Works


Hello, welcome to the first episode of the Fat Cows, Fat Wallet Podcast. I’m your host, Jim Elizondo.

When I’m out in the world and I’m speaking with other ranchers or farmers and they ask me what type of grazing I do, and I explain to them, the looks I get from them are very entertaining and show a lot of confusion.

Sometimes they just change the topic or they’ll say something like, “Oh that’s cool”. But all in all, I usually have to explain what I mean. And I thought, you know, I bet others of my Total Grazing students deal with the same thing. So why not start this podcast with an episode to help all of us to better explain what we do, because it goes beyond an isolated grazing event. It’s more advanced than that, it’s more detailed than that and it’s part of a bigger picture. So in today’s episode, I talk in detail about what exactly Total Grazing is and how it works within a ranching business. And I’m going to give examples of ranchers practicing Total Grazing and so much more.

Now, you may be thinking, “Jim, we read your weekly emails and have watched many of your YouTube videos. We know what Total Grazing is, thank you very much”. Probably you think it is just a branding for non-selective grazing, ultra high density grazing or intensive grazing. If that is the case, then you might want to pay attention to this episode. Also,  I think this episode is important because it’s for those of you who have ever gotten looks of confusion when you try to explain to other ranchers or farmers what grazing you do, as well as for those who maybe just stumbled upon my podcast, Fat Cows, Fat Wallet. They’re curious about regenerative grazing, they’re curious about Total grazing but not really sure what’s involved. So my hope is that this episode expands beyond my audience and pulls people into the possibilities of Total Grazing.

Now, if you’re listening and you think, “Wait a second. My friend so-and-so would find this episode really helpful because I know they’re thinking about improving their profits and I think they’ve got what it takes to implement Total Grazing, they just don’t know yet.” If you had those thoughts, then send this episode to them. Link them directly to this episode, because I really do think it could be a game changer. It actually could be a life changer for some.

So with that, let’s talk about what Total Grazing is.

First things first, I’m going to share some stats that maybe you have heard before. I think we are all on the same page that 90% of ranchers are not truly profitable. We are aware that humus has decreased substantially over the years and that subsequently stocking rates have decreased.

We know that a change is needed.

So, what I have seen as a grazing expert is that people are aware of the situation we are now in and are opening their minds and changing from conventional practices to what they deemed as regenerative practices. Most ranchers are getting that we need to change even if it means learning new things that challenge their current knowledge. Even institutions that have supported conventional practices for many decades are now quickly shifting to what they believe are regenerative practices. So that is pretty promising, right?

So, what is exactly Total Grazing? Well, it is a process. It is a process where plant physiology, soil humus production and cattle needs are considered.  It is a continuum that strives to reach harmony between all these to reach maximum profitability while improving the land the fastest.

It is a process that includes: non-selective grazing, selective grazing and deferred paddocks as stockpile for the Winter or dry season.

Most of the time, non-selective grazing is used. This is to harvest more cow days per grazing and to improve the leaf to stem ratio.

As we know, the leafier the pasture is the better the animal performance we will get but what may not be so clear is that a leafier pasture will also give fatter roots if appropriate rest periods are given.

Some periods we use selective grazing. For example, when soil gets wet and we get mud. Mud does not allow us to get a high harvest efficiency and body condition in our cows is more important.

Finally, the Total Grazing process also requires to defer pastures in area to have a low-cost leafier feed for Winter and dry season and to maintain high quality grazing in the green season when the herd cannot keep up with the surge of growth.

So what can we obtain from using this process of Total Grazing in our land?

Higher humus formation, higher stocking rate, leafier pastures, peace of mind knowing exactly how many days of stockpile you have, knowing your land is improving while your grass is growing fatter roots, much higher profitability while reducing costs which keep increasing faster than your products. And finally, harmony between your land, your cattle, and your financial needs.

So, to best explain what Total Grazing is, let us dive into a few examples from my students. And this is the part that I really enjoy, because when I am, let us say, stuck in an elevator with someone, which is very rare that it is an elevator, but it kind of sets the scene, right? so I am in an elevator with someone, we start a little small talk, and someone says, “Well, what do you do?” and when I say that I help ranchers implement Total Grazing in their ranches or farms, I definitely get a little bit of a confused, or what? Kind of look. And then I say, “Well, let me tell you about a few of my students.” And the second I get into examples, their face lights up. They get it. They see the possibility, and they're interested. Maybe not for themselves; they’re just interested in the topic. And so that's why I wanted to give you examples today. Are you ready? Let's do this.

I always like to share this story of one of my favorite students, Ryan from Manitoba, Canada. Those of you who have followed me or who have taken the Total Grazing course, you know of Ryan. But a lot of people that are listening are new here, and they’ve never heard this story and I feel like it’s an incredibly inspiring one.

So, Ryan had been doing rotational selective grazing for over 15 years, which is much better than set stocking, and was doing well, also having fields for grain production in Manitoba, Canada. He has been a leader in his area and knew he could do better; he applied for a Nufield Scholarship to visit other countries and learn about grazing management. He got the Nufield Scholarship and went out to learn about grazing management from the best; he visited the United States, Mexico, Brazil, the Netherlands and New Zealand. Most of his time was spent on farms looking at different grazing systems and visiting grazing consultants and researchers, he also visited me at a client’s farm in Florida. Now, you may think what Florida has in common with Canada. Isn’t Florida a hugely different environment than Canada? Yes! Florida is a hugely different environment than Canada BUT the main principles are the same anywhere you go. So, he was impressed by our stockpiled forage as it was in February, and we were getting 400 cow days per acre in that one grazing. He made a video of it and went to travel to visit other places overseas to learn from the best.

That Summer, after returning, he started implementing Total Grazing on his farm with enormous success. Here is what he said: I cannot wait to try this at home after seeing it firsthand. I started consulting for him soon after.

Connor also joined the consulting and said he learned more from our first phone call last week than he did at two years of college when it comes to minerals and cattle management. He is a great young guy and keen on regenerative agriculture.

The first year he reported: We have an abundance of feed here right now and have baled up about 2,000 bales of straw and will have 1,500 bales of hay and a bit of silage and many acres of stockpiled forage.

That first year they doubled their stocking rate, which determines profits, and started to find what rest was needed under his conditions of low rainfall and extreme cold in Winter. Immediately he recognized, along with his cattle manager, that this was the way forward after having done selective rotational grazing for so long. His pastures were leafier, more diverse, soil is improving faster, and more species diversity on his pastures.

This is what Ryan said: People have a tough time getting their head around the high utilization rates of Total Grazing. Thank you for your help getting us started with these concepts! It helped clarify a few things in my mind that were a bit blurry before.

Okay, so this is the magic of Total grazing that I am talking about, the fact that people like Ryan start improving their farms more than they ever did. The possibilities are huge. So, let us talk about a few more.

Next stop, Ryan Herman. Ryan farms in the Iowa/Minnesota border on good soils and had been doing selective rotational grazing for many years. He had soil samples submitted to have a base to compare to, and after 12 or more years under selective rotational grazing took and analized soil samples again and found out that soil organic matter was the same as his neighbor that did set stocking. What? No benefit to the soil organic matter from all that work of mob grazing? Then he started to question and search for answers. He had taken my course some years prior, I meet him again at the Practical Farmers of Iowa annual meeting where he gave a presentation and immediately liked each other, visited him once and consulted for him online.

He started implementing the process of Total grazing and made great strides sharing with me that thanks to my course he has less problems and lower costs. He started doing the modified leader follower system with good success and lowered his wintering costs by grazing longer into winter on stockpiled forages instead of feeding as much hay as he did before. He said: here I am, leisurely moving my cows while my neighbor is making hay all Summer on the tractor to feed it to his cows all Winter, again on the tractor!

Ryan has a young family, and they enjoy going with him to move the cattle, having your sons with you at work is a great blessing!

His pastures have improved in productivity and diversity with his soil improving. Now, he is applying the adapted genetics/selection guidelines from my online course to his cattle to improve their harvest efficiency and forage conversion efficiency which will help the bottom line in a huge way. He has been adapting the main principles to his unique environment and it's what we all need to do.

Next, I’d like to introduce you to David Briggs from the Great lake's region Michigan. He had been moving his cattle once or twice a day and feeding hay for six to seven months a year and knew that wasn’t working. Another main reason he took my online Total Grazing course was his Wife pushing him to take it because they watched a video on YouTube of me talking about spending time with family and the importance of free time. He ended up taking the Total grazing online course, here is what he said: I previously moved cattle 1-2 times a day and just let them take the tops of grass plants. The area I used to have cattle on for one day is now lasting 3-4 days! We have had our record drought for our area, and I am certain that if I had not switched to Total grazing, I would have had to feed hay by mid-July. I am confident I will be able to stockpile grass for the first time ever. I have so much hope for the future! He continued to say, that his biggest limiting belief was that he just could not wrap his head around how much longer it would take to get around his ranch by doing Total Grazing. The utilization is just so much higher that it is unbelievable!

His next step is to improve his genetics to increase his forage conversion efficiency with the adapted genetics/selection guidelines online course.  This is what he wrote:

I would tell anyone hesitant to take the course this is hands down 100% the best investment I have ever made for the ranch!

These are real-life stories, and they aren't unicorns. These are real people with real challenges, using Total Grazing to create a life that aligns with what they know they are capable of. The bottom line is that I believe to my core that everyone can achieve this, and you can truly, truly, truly create a thriving ranch/farm with what you already have. Our Total grazing online course is the best way to move forward with proven principles that can be adapted to any environment. I'll say it again and again and again. I really do believe they are.

Now, let’s talk about the different ways that you can implement Total Grazing within your business.

You can use Total Grazing for the following operations: cow calf, stockers, sheep, replacement heifers, leased land and for custom grazing.

I personally use Total Grazing in my ranch on a grazed diary and on my family ranch they use it on beef cow calf.

So, at the end of the day, there are so many different ways to implement the Total Grazing process to your business. Don’t think that it has to be one way or the other. There are many ways to skin a cat.

So, I wanted to share that all with you because I want to expand your mind and really invite you into thinking about how might Total Grazing work in your existing business or the business you want to create. 

All right, whether you are implementing Total Grazing or you’re thinking about it or maybe you’ve never thought about it until now. I encourage you to lean into that and see what’s possible. And because I don’t want to leave you stranded with all this valuable information, I have an action I want you to take in case you haven’t done so. Make sure you join my weekly email list. Head over to www.rwranching.com/join and you will receive a weekly email with tips and knowledge to implement in your ranch or farm. I’ll link to it in the show notes as well.

Thanks for joining me today. I’ll see you next week!


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