WAUSAU — Now is a fine time for new farmers to get into the dairy business, according to grazing consultant Jim Gerrish. But, Gerrish said, don’t do it without first having goals and a plan to reach them.
“There are great opportunities as a dairy farmer: If you are selling food instead of a commodity; if you have a niche instead of being in the mainstream like everything else,” Gerrish said July 31 during the first day of his two-day Pasture Profitability School in Wausau. “There’s opportunities in everything, but you generally have to decide to do something different than what everybody else is doing.”
Gerrish was in Wisconsin in late July and early August making a series of presentations to graziers and government officials. His two-day presentation in Wausau included classroom discussions July 31 and Aug. 1 and a farm-based grazing management session on Aug. 1. The event drew about 40 attendees.
Gerrish kicked off the Pasture Profitability School with a discussion about setting goals and objectives for the farm, business and life. He recommended following the acronym SMART for setting goals, making sure goals are specific, measurable, attainable, related and timed.
“What I’ve come to realize is sometimes it’s good to know where you want to go and how you want to get there,” Garrish said. “In my mind, the biggest difference between a dream and a goal is a dream is in our head and it’s ‘someday’ and a goal is written down and has a date attached to it. The biggest thing is the timetable in which you are going to achieve it.”
For more than 22 years, Gerrish worked at the University of Missouri, where he conducted research and outreach on beef forage systems and plant-soil-animal interactions, providing the foundation for the principles of management-intensive grazing. While in Missouri, Gerrish also farmed on his own, with a 260-acre commercial cow-calf and contract grazing operation.
After moving to Idaho, he started managing a ranch with 450 center-pivot irrigated pastures, 90 acres of flood ground and several hundred acres of rangeland.
“This gave me the opportunity to learn about raising cattle under center pivots. I’d never done that before, but it’s now one of the things I’m known for,” Gerrish said. “And I love going out to do flood irrigation, because I didn’t grow up working a shovel every day. I’m still just a kid playing in the water, and I still believe that one day, I’ll make water run uphill.”
Gerrish had no experience with grazing before graduate school at the University of Kentucky, where he worked with a pasture researcher who had just arrived from New Zealand.
“I went to the library and pulled some books off the shelf about grazing to try to learn a little bit so I could at least have an intelligent conversation with this professor when he showed up,” Gerrish said. “Even though, theoretically, he spoke English, and, theoretically, I spoke English, we could barely understand each other.
“But we hit it off and, eventually, I started learning a little bit about grazing.”
Near the end of his more than two decades as a professor at the University of Missouri, Gerrish and his wife, Dawn, decided to write down their goals, which included getting and staying out of debt, living near public land and having a mountain out the backdoor. With that, he quit his job at the university and the couple sold their farm and moved to Idaho.
They now own and operate their business, American GrazingLands Services, providing ranch and grazing management consultation, workshop presentations and electric fencing products and pasture tours.
“We wrote down our goals, and 18 months later, that’s the life we were living,” Gerrish said. “It gave us focus, it gave us direction.
“The way you turn dreams into reality is writing them down as specific goals with a timetable.”
For more on Gerrish’s American GrazingLands Services, call 208-588-3900 or visit www.americangrazinglands.com.