Current Progressive Cattle digital edition
advertisement

Frasier Farms: Converting grass resources to high-value beef

Robyn Scherer Published on 24 August 2012
Frasier Ranch entrance

In eastern Colorado, among rolling hills and extensive grassland, sits Frasier Farms. Mark Frasier runs the cattle ranch in Woodrow, on the eastern plains.

Chris Frasier (left), Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (center), and Mark Frasier

The ranch was started 66 years ago in western Kansas and then moved to Colorado in the late 1940s.

Frasier Farms is a beef cattle operation but, in addition to 750 cow-calf pairs, the ranch also runs an extensive stocker operation.

“With roots in pasturing Kansas wheat fields, our operation has always centered around stockers,” said Mark Frasier.

“A portion of our production is ranch-raised from spring or fall calving herds and the remaining stockers are purchased to perform on grass, in the feedyard and on the rail.

A generation ago, stockers were purchased mostly as weaners in the fall, while now our grazing is primarily seasonal through the spring and summer months.”

He continued, “In many ways, the ranch looks the same it did six decades ago – yearling cattle grazing native range.

In other ways it is very much different. We manage our livestock for the health and productivity of the plants and ecosystem and employ extensive water and fence development to keep cattle where they need to be.”

This management style has changed the way he sees himself. Frasier doesn’t really see himself as a cattle rancher, but more of a grass farmer.

“We derive satisfaction, inspiration and profit from taking a low-value resource, grass, and converting it to a high-value marketable product, beef.”

Fraisier Farms pasture

The ranch encompasses 45,000 acres on two locations, and the cattle are rotated between paddocks that range from 100 to 350 acres each, with an average of 275 acres.

The paddocks are split using a single-wire electric fence.

On the ranch in Woodrow there are 125 paddocks, and on the ranch near Limon there are roughly 40 paddocks.

There are three herds in Woodrow that are rotated between the different paddocks.

On the Woodrow ranch, all of the pastures are permanent paddocks, and each is equipped with a water supply made possible by underground pipelines.

“My father, Marshall, put down 45 miles of underground pipeline to serve the paddocks and we have tanks that serve multiple paddocks across the ranch. You can only put the cattle where there is water,” he said.

Frasier buys stocker cattle in the spring and, fully stocked, runs nearly 5,000 head, including the calves the ranch produced.

The cattle are split into groups that range from 400 to 1,000 head, and they are moved to a new paddock every one-and-a-half to two days. The paddocks are then given 45 to 75 days to recover and re-grow, depending on how fast the paddocks are growing.

“We design our program to keep yearlings on a constantly improving plane of nutrition. In other words, always move the cattle to a better home,” he said.

He added, “There are also two benefits to the grass. First, we are not re-grazing the same plants. Second, having a large herd in a smaller paddock allows for better distribution and the land is grazed more evenly.”

This improving nutrition helps the cattle to grow more efficiently, and produce a better cut of beef. “We retain an equity interest in virtually everything we graze through feeding, so we view our market as a finished animal.

Our genetics, nutrition and timing are all oriented towards the ‘endgame’ of quality beef, efficiently produced. The key to a stocker operation is adding value in every aspect of the production chain, from procurement, to performance, to marketing,” he said.

Since Frasier took over managing the operation 30 years ago, he has seen a decrease in the cost per pound added to an animal. When he started, it was costing the ranch 35 cents per pound. Today, that number is significantly lower.

“I don’t know the actual number today, but I know we are more competitive on grass because our costs are lower,” he said.

However, this grazing system does not come without challenges. “All of the parts are moving all of the time. We turn out cattle with no assurance of rain or good pasture, markets are fickle and can erode equity more quickly than a person can react,” he said.

The biggest challenge he faces, however, is with the conservation aspect of the operation. “The greatest conservation challenge is keeping a long-term perspective,” Frasier said. “A healthy ecosystem is not created nor degraded in a week, a month or a year. Building biological equity is the chore of a lifetime.”

However, the way the cattle are managed helps the cattle to gain weight cheaply and efficiently and helps the land to utilize the positive effects the cattle bring to the land.

Cattle cannot graze plants all the way to the soil because of the way they eat. This grazing helps the land to keep plants down to a manageable level and helps keep the ecosystem of the grass in balance.

They fertilize the land when they defecate and the hoof action of a cow helps to break up the hard surface of the soil, which in turn allows their natural fertilizer and moisture to penetrate into the ground.

To Frasier, conservation is of utmost importance at his cattle ranch. “Conservation is simply treating nature with respect.

Nature is dynamic and is most productive when the ecosystem is diverse and healthy and water and nutrient cycles are effective. Effective management and conservation makes good business sense and it is the right thing to do. We take care of the grass and the grass takes care of us,” he said.

This philosophy has allowed the ranch to stay in business and continue to turn a profit each year. Frasier suggests other stocker operations look at their resources and design a plan that works for them to maximize what they have.

“Be flexible and lean on your strengths. Not every production model will work in every location or at all times. When you recognize an opportunity or realize you can perform better than your competitor, run with it. That is your unreasonable advantage,” he said.  end_mark

PHOTOS

TOP: Entrance sign to Frasier Ranch. Photo courtesy of Robyn Scherer.

MIDDLE: Chris Frasier, shown on left, is joined by Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, center, and Mark Frasier at a recent event at Frasier Farms. Photo courtesy of Colorado Livestock Association.

BOTTOM: Owners of Frasier Farms are glad the pasture and surrounding lands have retained their look over years of use. Photo courtesy of Robyn Scherer.

LATEST BLOG

LATEST NEWS