The Nebraska Ranch Practicum is by far the most valuable of any Extension educational program I have been involved with.

Homer Buell, Rose, Nebraska, rancher and past president of the Nebraska Cattlemen

Gudmundsen Sandhills Laboratory

2024-2025 Nebraska Ranch Practicum Application 

The Nebraska Ranch Practicum is a three-season, hands-on educational program designed to give participants the skills and education needed in today's complex ranching industry.

Camaraderie and exchange of ideas among participants, instructors and facilitators are among the most valued aspects of this University of Nebraska–Lincoln Extension program. High-quality educational material includes software, notebooks with laminated field guides and a collection of University publications.

You'll also benefit from cutting-edge research in range livestock production and marketing at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln (UNL) Gudmundsen Sandhills Laboratory, a nationally-recognized research and education facility.

Participants will develop the ability to efficiently use decision support tools to critically evaluate numerous management and marketing alternatives dealing with:

  • grazing strategies and systems
  • methods of managing market risk
  • calving and weaning dates
  • winter livestock nutrition
  • cull cow management
  • feed rations and seasonal mineral supplements

Gudmundsen Sandhills Laboratory

You will gain plant identification skills and learn to determine range condition and to monitor wildlife habitat. You will learn to formulate grazing strategies based on natural resource management and livestock production objectives and to determine which grazing system will accomplish your objectives.

By understanding the importance of the season of grazing, end-of-year residual herbage and plant-year precipitation, you will optimize grazing management using grazing response indices, a simple decision-support system designed to enhance water use efficiency and rangeland drought tolerance. Precipitation and grazing records help to evaluate the effects of grazing management on livestock performance and vegetation response.

While evaluating cow and calf performance over a range of calving and weaning dates, you'll learn to estimate individual and herd-average cow condition scores. You will predict animal performance and determine nutritional requirements to obtain target cow condition scores at future points in the reproductive cycle.

Participants will collect diets from esophageal fistulated cows throughout the Practicum. Participants will use nutrient content of the diet samples in the National Research Council (NRC) beef cattle computer program to determine how range and meadow forage meet animal requirements for maintenance and growth; this information and nutrient requirements of cows, calves and yearlings will be used to develop management and systems strategies for beef production. Understanding and managing cow milk production will be an important component in developing the management and systems strategies.

A Systems Approach

Natural resources, livestock management and economic reality are integrated throughout the Practicum. You'll track feed inventory changes through 3 seasons, learn to manage market risk, understand ways to defer or limit price risk with instruments such as LRP, forwarding contracting, retained ownership, options and hedging, as well as alternative cull cow marketing systems. Methods for mitigating the effects of drought will be discussed and you will learn about decision tools that you can apply to your operation. Take-home assignments will focus on use of computer decision aids including feed cost comparisons, cull cow marketing options, feeder calf and yearling break-even analysis. The economics of herd replacement methods, buy versus raise will be demonstrated and provided as an Excel® worksheet. The value and cost of hay quality and quantity will be addressed by routine observation and calculation of fertilizer and harvest management of subirrigated hay meadows from June through the month of September.

2024-2025 Nebraska Ranch Practicum Brochure (pdf file)

Nebraska Ranch Practicum - Brent Plugge - discusses the three season educational program (radio interview)

Producer Perspective of the Nebraska Ranch Practicum from Nancy Peterson, Plum Thicket Farms, Gordon, Nebraska (radio interview)