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Practicum allows ranchers to learn

When Chugwater rancher Kit West looks back on taking the High Plains Ranch Practicum, he says the networking has proved invaluable. 

“That class helped me realize there are a lot of other ranchers out there just like me,” he said. “They have the same problems I do, and some of them found solutions for those issues by taking that class and working together.”

Glendo-area rancher Larry Cundall said learning from industry experts and other ranchers taking the course has proved to be a valuable asset to his operation. 

“I found that by visiting with other producers and professionals in the class, it helped me make more money on my own ranch,” he explained. “We learned from not just the people who taught the class, but from each other, too.”

The Practicum

The High Plains Ranch Practicum school is an eight day in-depth ranch management school that focuses on understanding range and forage resources, the relationship between integrating beef nutrition and reproduction, understanding cost production analysis, communication with personnel and family relationships. 

The course will start again in June with two sessions.  Additional two-day sessions will be held in August, November and January.  All classes will be held in Kimball, Neb., and on area ranches. A second course will be held in Gillette.

“The point of the program is to help people take the next step, wherever they are at, as far as their ranch management skill level,” according to Aaron Berger, University of Nebraska extension educator. 

“We like to see people enroll who are willing to learn and show a willingness to engage,” he added. “We provide plenty of resource material that we go through to help them accomplish that.”

Berger said ranchers who have taken the course range in age from 20 through 80. 

“I don’t think it has to do with age. It has more to do with attitude and mindset,” he explained. “The people who take this course understand that we are not there to tell them how to do what they do. We are there to present the best information and research we have available to allow them to make the best decisions for their operations based on that information.”

“The ranch practicum is for someone who wants to find ways to improve the profitability of their operation or to make changes to meet lifestyle goals,” Berger continued. “They may also be looking for ways to do things that they haven’t been able to do in the past.”

Beneficial program

Berger said after surveying former participants in the school, many have said they are profiting $20 more per year per cow because they took the course. 

“In most cases, this profit isn’t from one big thing they’ve changed, it is from small things that save them a dollar here and a dollar there that adds up,” he said.

“Some of the most interesting stuff to me was when we were doing hands-on work like learning about different grasses, body condition scoring cows and learning how to test forages,” according to Jim Lesmeister, who is a rancher in the Chadron, Neb. area.  “I’m an older generation rancher, and some of these things have just been developed in the last five to 15 years. I just feel like you are never too old to learn something new.” 

He continued, “I also liked that the course was directed more to the grasses and conditions we have in western Nebraska and eastern Wyoming, rather than other areas like the Sandhills.” 

“The grazing part was very informative,” Cundall said. “It is something every producer in this area could benefit from by better understanding their range, and how to better utilize it.”

Expert resources

Prior to the taking the course, Lesmeister had been trying to do some cost analysis on his own. By taking the course, he was able to tap into the expertise of Harlan Hughes and Berger, who were able to guide him through the process. 

“By taking the course, I was able to meet some good resource people,” he said. 

Cundall agreed, saying “It is just good business to continue to learn and stay at the forefront of the industry. I think the course helped me understand how important cow/calf records are. The unit cost of production section was particularly interesting to me.”

“There was just a lot to learn,” Lesmeister added. 

“A very diverse set of people take the course. They are from different areas and different operations,” he explained. “Everyone has a unique operation, so you just have to determine what works for you. But, you learn a lot from the others who take the class, too.”

“The opportunity to visit and ask other colleagues in the profession what they are doing was probably one of the most exciting parts of the school,” Cundall said. “I was able to develop a comrade with other producers.”

“If the producer is a young person, I would encourage them to take this school because there is a huge amount of knowledge to be gained from each session,” he said. “An older person like me can also learn things from the instructors and other producers that make the course a worthwhile investment.”

“Some ranchers seem to have an issue with learning something new,” West said. “A lot of ranchers in my generation learn by going to things like the ranch practicum. It is important to realize there are so many more things out there to learn, and we should always keep an open mind and never stop learning.” 

Technical details

Enrollment for the High Plains Ranch Practicum is limited to 35 participants in each location. Application forms need to be submitted by May 3. 

The course costs $600 a person or $900 for a couple, which includes meals, materials and instructor expenses. However, a grant through the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program will reimburse producers who complete the course 50 percent of their tuition. Berger said this involves attending six of the eight sessions and completing the homework. With the reimbursement, Berger said producers are paying $40 a day for knowledge that can make a significant difference in their operations.

For additional information about the school, Berger can be contacted at 308-235-3122 or UW Extension Educator Dallas Mount can be reached at 307-322-3667. The High Plains Ranch Practicum website is hpranchpracticum.com.

Gayle Smith is a correspondent for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..