at a Glance
Summary of Operation
• 3,400 head of beef cattle yearlings
• 400 head of fall-calving cows
• Management-intensive 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” environment.
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 my pasture.”
Frasier realized careful forage management would improve its quality
and, in turn, improve productivity on the ranch.
Focal Point of Operation — Range
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
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 pipelines.
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 re-growth.
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
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 advantage.”
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
“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
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,”
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,” Frasier