How do I go about finding customers for my custom grazing business?
Answer: As a custom grazier you will be filling an important niche as a forage-based relationship specialist. With this in mind, you can think of yourself as a niche marketer. Identify your niche, what you have to offer that is above and beyond the norm, and what you can offer that other graziers don’t, such as taking on risk that the livestock owner inherently has but can outsource to you. Your price will justify the unique services you can offer to address the risks livestock owners wish to outsource. In this case, you’re a livestock risk-management specialist. Also, livestock owners have management constraints (like time and land availability) that can be taken on by you as the grazier. Marketing this to your customers, and backing it up with excellent management, can result in making a name for yourself as a conscientious grazier who delivers the goods, whether those goods are weight gain, animal health, percent heifers bred, etc. Also, providing services for heifers on contract is an excellent way to add value. If your cost of production is near the break-even price for grazing, then differentiation through adding more value can justify a higher price.Getting customers is probably up there with the long list of uncertainties that come with agriculture. There’s no easy way to do it; it just takes persistence and a bit of creative thinking. In 2007, a Midwest consortium of university and nonprofit professionals conducted a contract grazing survey that provided some insight into customer acquisition and tenure. In this study, the majority of stocker operations, roughly 88 percent, had been with the same customers for three or more years. Cow-calf, summer grazing operations tended to have shorter customer histories, with about 50 percent having the same customer for just one to two years, and year-round operations tended to have longer customer tenure, with 78 percent having the same customer for three or more years. Most of the custom graziers who were surveyed acquired their clients through word of mouth, which was used by 100 percent of the graziers in stocker operations and by 76 percent in cow-calf operations. Twenty-five percent of cow-calf custom graziers also said they used referrals from agriculture professionals or past clients as a way to obtain new clients.Given that word of mouth has been the best (if only) way to secure customers, I advise doing some marketing of your own, based on careful thought about your message ? what you can offer that’s different. Consider listing with breed associations, conservation districts, your local Extension service newsletter, or local and regional sale barns. Also, a grazing land management or conservation trust workshop or conference may be a helpful way to meet prospective customers. Make a simple poster or flyer that will make cattle owners curious about your operation. Networking with farm and ranch realtors is another means of finding land owners that want their land grazed if you should end up with more livestock than your place can handle. This can also sometimes act in reverse too. A ranch realtor may know of a livestock owner wishing to contract out the grazing of his animals. And don’t forget to advertise in a regional ag newspaper. To learn more, check out the Livestock and Pasture and Marketing, Business & Risk Management sections of the ATTRA website.