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A Bare-Bones Beginning

Agriculture.com Staff 04/08/2014 @ 1:16pm

After meeting as college freshmen a decade ago, Jay and Krista Reiser soon found they shared a passion for starting a ranch. Today, from a bare-bones beginning in 2010, the married couple has successfully navigated twists and turns to accomplish their goal.

Near Washburn, North Dakota, the Reisers run a beef operation comprising 3,350 acres of leased grassland. Custom grazing cow-calf pairs provides cash flow while they build their own beef herd (presently 90 mature cows, 30 replacement heifers, and 80 yearlings) to develop on grass. They’re debt-free, too.

“Starting our own ranch and raising cattle is something we both really wanted to do,” says Krista. “When we first met, we didn’t know how we were going to do it.”

With the passing of time and after learning about Holistic Management, they glimpsed ways to begin.

“Other than a few lease cattle, we had nothing when we started in 2010,” says Krista. “We had no money; we didn’t even have a tractor. After learning about Holistic Management, we believed we could succeed by finding ways to work with nature rather than against it.”

Jay sums up their operational strategy when he says, “We’re in the business of taking solar power and harvesting it in the form of grass.”

6 Key Steps

  • Following are six key steps that allowed the Reisers to get started ranching with little outside help or financing.
  • Set goals. “We knew where we wanted to go with our lives,” says Krista. “We wanted our work to have the sum effect of building a better land resource.”

Borrowing from Holistic Management, they set goals and outlined processes for accomplishing these. “We spent a lot of time planning,” she says.

  • Keep learning. From the beginning, the Reisers attended educational events related to planned grazing and Holistic Management. They took every opportunity to learn from established ranchers and other professionals.
  • Watch for opportunities. “We were in the right place at the right time in order to lease 1,200 acres of rangeland that came with an old farmstead,” says Jay.

The farmstead had stood empty for 20 years, yet the landowners had been hoping for someone to live on the property. The Reisers moved a mobile home onto the place and fixed up the old corrals.

Meanwhile, more rangeland came up for rent next door, and they were able to put together 2,000 acres of contiguous pastures. They also were able to lease more grassland just 5 miles away.

  • Be a savvy financial manager. With the intent of staying out of debt, the Reisers depend on income from custom grazing to provide timely cash flow throughout the grazing season.

In 2012, they custom-grazed 170 cows with spring-born calves at side. “We also grazed 170 head of fall-calving cows, and I calved those out for the owner,” says Jay.

To further bolster cash flow, Krista works full time as a rangeland specialist for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. In winter, Jay also works off the ranch. The off-farm income helps with operating costs and minimal purchases of equipment. “Neither one of us wants to be in debt, so we operate with as few purchased inputs as possible,” says Krista. “We don’t buy fancy pickups. While we do have a tractor now, it’s not the nicest tractor, but it gets the job done.”

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