at a Glance
Summary of Operation
• 3,400 head of beef cattle
• 400 head of fall-calving
grazing on 29,000 acres of native range
Mark Frasier’s rangeland poses particular
challenges because it receives little precipitation,
and what does fall from the sky comes only sporadically.
Frasier says his 29,000-acre cattle ranch near
Woodrow, Colo., is part of a “brittle”
When ranchers turn cattle into a pasture for the
whole season, the cows invariably graze on a few
select plants, returning to graze on any fresh
growth. Thus, vegetation suffers from opposing
problems: overgrazing because recovery time has
not been controlled or excessive growth because
a plant is never grazed. Sixteen years ago, Frasier
moved into a rotational grazing system to increase
and improve range production.
The New American Farmer: Profiles of Agricultural
By the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education
© 2003, Beltsville MD. Used by permission.
Pp. 128 to 130
For complete text or to order: www.sare.org/newfarmer
To contact SARE:
Phone (301) 504-6425
Fax (301) 504-5207
Frasier works in partnership
with his father, Marshall, who lives on the ranch, and two brothers,
Joe and Chris, who manage another ranching property. When Frasier
first began managing the ranch his father had begun 50 years
before, they had fewer animals and raised them for a longer
period of time. They confined cattle within a perimeter fence
of barbed wire and, with Colorado’s severe winters, supplemented
with hay. They also left a standing forage bank for grazing
through the dormant season. The system worked pretty well, but
the ranchers put in long hours out on the range and the profit
margin was on the decline.
Ecology : With the rangeland improving
through holistic management, Fraser can now graze
more cattle on the same resources.
Frasier attended an agricultural seminar and was inspired by
the words of a speaker who advocated holistic management. “I
was at a point of my life and my career that I could visually
see some of the issues that he was talking about as concerns,”
Frasier says. “What he was describing, I had seen it on
Frasier realized careful forage management would improve its
quality and, in turn, improve productivity on the ranch.
Focal Point of Operation —
Each year, Frasier begins to buy yearlings in March and April,
and by the early part of May, the ranch is fully stocked.
He purchased about 3,400 head in the year 2000 from Colorado
and surrounding states. The cattle come onto the ranch weighing
400 to 600 pounds and increase by about 200 to 250 pounds
over the next five months.
Frasier begins shipping in mid-August and by the end of September,
the yearlings are gone. Frasier sells from 25 to 30 percent
as feeder cattle and they go directly to a feedlot for finishing.
Frasier and his brothers retain ownership of the remaining
yearlings, which also leave the ranch for finishing at a commercial
finisher, then are sold to slaughter.
Frasier’s 400 cows all calve in August and September.
They graze on the leftover grass from the larger herds and
provide a crop of calves each fall. Frasier weans the calves
each spring when the grass begins to turn green and they contribute
to his new yearling crop.
The animals all graze in a well-tooled system of 125 paddocks
ranging from 50 to 300 acres each, divided by electric fence.
The permanent paddocks are each equipped with water, thanks
to Marshall Frasier, who had the foresight to lay underground
Frasier manages the herds in groups of 700 to 1,100, providing
them with a fresh paddock every one to three days. The system
hinges on a holistic model, what Frasier describes as “managing
the cattle and managing the forage for rest and recovery period
— all working together toward one beneficial end.”
His management style has four basic elements.
First, he works to maximize the scarce precipitation. Native
plants, which have developed to exist in those conditions,
are the only species Frasier can count on to survive.
Second is the dynamic relationship between the animals and
the plants. The soil surface needs the animals to break up
the crust so water will penetrate. Grazing invigorates the
grass, causing it to grow deeper and thicker roots.
Frasier’s third element is managing grazing time. It
is not important how many animals are turned out in a particular
area, he says, but how long a paddock is grazed and how long
he allows it to recover. He has split his cattle into herds
of about 1,000 head, which graze in 50- to 200-acre paddocks.
After one or two days, Frasier moves the herd and gives the
paddock 35 to 70 days to recover, depending on the rate of
Finally, holism brings everything together. “If you
take one piece out and just try to work that piece, you’re
not likely to be successful,” Frasier says. “It
depends on all of these elements working together as they
do to achieve a successful goal.”
Economics and Profitability
The short-term return to Frasier’s holistic system is
better management. “The long-term return is to the ground,
and both of those have an economic benefit,” he says.
“When we made the changes in our management, our ease
of management grew and our overhead costs dropped. That was
our initial savings.
“Now, we’re seeing a healthier landscape and
growing more grass. And we are just in the past few years
starting to increase the number of cattle we graze. Grazing
more cattle on the same resource is going to have an economic
Actual economic benefits through holistic management come
in the form of increased productivity. With more effective
range management, they have increased total production, in
essence producing weight gain at a lower cost.
A study of ranch records going back 30 years reveals the initial
cost of production was about 16 to 17 cents per pound. That
cost increased to about 35 cents per pound 20 years ago.
Through his methods of holistic management and rotational
grazing, Frasier has been able to increase the size of his
herd by about 15 percent. More importantly, he has seen a
drop in the cost of production from 35 cents per pound when
he took over the operation to 11 to 12 cents per pound today.
Frasier says the costs are actual and not adjusted for inflation.
Developing a symbiotic relationship between the cattle and
the land through careful grazing management has proven beneficial
to the range environment.
“I’m starting to see changes in the natural resource
base, the grass and the ground itself” after 15 years
of management, Frasier says. “Our ground is fairly hard
and the plants that are on it are very hardy and very resilient,
but they are really slow to change.”
Learning the best methods to manage his rotational grazing
operation proved to be challenging. Every paddock is different,
in size as well as forages, soils, slopes and a number of
other factors. Frasier also must factor in the dynamic effect
of plants changing over time — not only through the
grazing season, but from year to year. And finally, the weather
is always variable.
“Grazing is something of an art form,” Frasier
says. “A person has to feel for where the forage is,
and anticipate where the growth will be. That takes a great
deal of experience and willingness to let the animals tell
me what’s better and what they prefer.”
Frasier measures the forage in each paddock after moving the
herd to determine how closely they grazed. If the cattle grazed
a lot more than he had anticipated, Frasier knows it has improved.
Frasier tries to adjust to the changes by extending or reducing
the time the cattle spend in a given paddock.
When forage recovers quickly, Frasier will graze the paddocks
out of sequence. “I need to be very flexible,”
Frasier says. “A lot of the benefit in productivity
comes from being flexible and managing, and not just trying
to follow a road map.”
Community and Quality of Life Benefits
“It’s of great value to be able to dedicate myself
to something that’s meaningful to me and that I feel
is successful, not only economically, but ecologically,”
Frasier says. The operation of this ranch “has provided
my family with security, but also a nice place to live, and
that is important.”
While Frasier spends a lot of time managing his grazing system,
he spends less time with more mundane tasks like driving around
the ranch looking for cattle.
“The cattle are so much easier to deal with when they’re
all together,” he says. “I go out, and within
30 minutes, I have seen all of the animals, instead of bouncing
around in the pickup truck half the day.” Through daily
contact with the cattle, they are easier to gather, weigh
and load when it is time for shipping.
Frasier enthusiastically encourages other producers to consider
holistic management for grazing. Western ranchers, however,
consider water sources first and foremost.
“The most significant cost is water and anyone who has
developed an extensive area will tell you that, particularly
in the arid West,” he says.
While Frasier depended heavily on the trial-and-error method
to hone his skills, he says there are a lot more resources
available now for those just getting started. He has taken
course work in holistic management in Albuquerque, N.M., and
worked with a consultant for a number of years.
He recommends traveling as a way to discover new ideas, even
if the environment and operations are different. “I’ve
been to New Zealand and Argentina where the people have elevated
grazing to a level that you don’t see much in this country,”
he says. “Each site is going to be different and the
challenges won’t be the same, but if you see someone
else’s success, that reinforces your own resolve.”
Frasier plans to continue to increase the size of his herd
as the range forage improves.
“The past 16 years have opened my eyes to the potential
for increasing the production from the same resource,”