Background: We run approximately 500 cattle (1/2 ours, 1/2 lessee) on 8800 acres in South Dakota. Land is high plains, mainly rough country with a lot of draws, divided into 10 pastures. Two 1000 acre pastures have a river, the rest have stock dams, and one has a well. A neighbor, Todd Mortenson has been using holistic management since the 1990s and we have been looking at implementing it as well. His carrying capacity on his 8000 acres is 1600 head, not 500. I've watched your TED talk and am looking for funds to attend your conference at the end of June in Colorado. Interestingly, I spent about three hours today wandering about the pastures with Michel Kravcik talking about small water cycle theory and how to implement his Blue Alternative techniques on the land here. We talked a little about how your holistic grazing would work with his system of contour trenches, weirs and dams and other water retention mechanisms, but we didn't know enough to talk any specifics. Here are my two questions:
1. Todd says holistic management is different than mob grazing, but he didn't explain how. For the life of me I can't figure out how mob grazing would work in our area given the amount of fencing needed, and manpower running cows all over the country all day long. Could you explain how your system is different than mob grazing?
2. Many areas in our pastures are turning into hardpan, particularly level areas on hilltops and plateaus. Hardpan is a dry alkaline flat where not much grows but cactus. These areas expand year by year. We have dimished a few by placing mineral tubs and salt blocks in them. The cattle crush the cacti, chop up the surface and poop all over. This has helped in a couple areas but is not consistently effective. Could your system help restore these areas, and how?
Thank you for your time,
Margaret Bad Warrior
Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation
Ziebach County, South Dakota
Richard, in such high rainfall with a sandy soil there is probably a lot of leaching of nutrients and you may well need to supplement trace minerals, etc and especially so while building soil life and health. The best I ever came across for dealing with such situations was a product produced by a US firm that provided all macro and micro nutrients in separate form and allowed the animals to select with no minerals mixed. In cases where we were unable to solve problems of poor animal performance using all expert advice we could, the animals solved it taking different nutrients unexpected by us. A major intake we found in such situations was actually soda bicarb.
As you are engaged in pasture management do read all you can from Voisin – my wife and I had his main book republished in the US because so many “grazing experts” were pirating his work without credit, and distorting it. Go back to the original it is exceptional I think you will find.
If you have to add legumes it suggests something wrong to me – get the conditions right and most take care of themselves. Long ago when farmers were being advised in Rhodesia to introduce wonder legumes from Australia I questioned it because Africa is full of legumes but ours were fading out. I had clients introduce Australian legumes but spend little on them – just in strips up and down the catina – and leave them to fend for themselves but change the management of the animals. We used only holistic planned grazing on those properties. And on all the Australian introduced legumes faded out and our own came back in strength. It was a lesson for me.
Again without context and knowledge of your situation I cannot answer your tree question or your long grass question. I used to answer such questions routinely when I was consulting – but I was unknowingly using the universal way we humans make decisions. That is to achieve objectives with inadequate context. I was almost always wrong – about 98% of the time. Thankfully I discovered for myself why I was so consistently wrong (like all consultants) and so have since then concentrated rather on teaching people how to make such decisions holistically rather than ever be told what to do. I wish I could help more but simply cannot without being there and understanding the entire situation better – I would do you a disservice.
Re the long grass I guess all is relative. I would simply get animals grazing routinely with the holistic planned grazing process in such grass of 2 ft height. Our long grass is about 6 to 12 feet high and generally we are dealing with this problem a great deal in Africa and on the Africa Centre for Holistic Management ranch. We get the main large land managing herd (about 500 cattle, some goats and sheep) into the long grass to trample it down as soil-covering litter as much as we can. Most of the long grass we find is a symptom of too much use of fire and it is largely fire-dependent. As such we are gradually through using the livestock trying to convert such grassland back to the former animal-maintained grassland/savanna or the long distant past – shorter, more leafy species with greater mix of legumes, etc. but all simply through mimicking nature using the livestock integrated with the wildlife. So far we are encouraged by the results.
Margaret your is a very typical situation – nothing new in what you have and we have helped many people get out of such situations. Get yourself to the conference if you can it will be probably the best investment of your life – I mean it. The main reason you are experiencing the normal symptoms of desertification is over resting the land with too few animals overgrazing plants while resting the land. This in seasonal humidity environments, such as yours is, leads to less effectiveness of your rainfall (desertification).
You are right not to use mob grazing or any other grazing system. When managing holistically we have no grazing system at all having realized almost fifty years ago that by definition all prescriptive management systems will fail. It was for this reason I developed holistic planned grazing to replace all rotational and other grazing systems. In now over forty years I have yet to see holistic planned grazing ever fail or lead people into any problems and more so in terrible years where it has saved ranchers over and over. However I have experienced thousands of ranchers get training and then fail to plan and later complain that planned grazing did not work. And I have experienced a great many people plagiarize, or create derivatives, from either my work or that of Andre Voisin who developed “Rational Grazing” and give them names of their own – short duration grazing system, cell grazing system, management intensive grazing, wagon wheel, etc with mob grazing being the latest derivative. (within the first year after I started training academics and ranchers in the U.S. there were I counted I seem to remember some 13 derivatives – and all dropped the planning process that is the core and reason for consistent success with planned grazing). This if you read Everett Rogers book Diffusion of Innovations is pretty normal behavior of humans – we learn something new but for various reasons – ego, desire for recognition, pride and being human, we have to give it a name of our own and twist of our own.
You are right to worry about the cost of all the fencing etc and you will learn when managing holistically how to deal with this. When making decisions as we do using the holistic framework in conjunction with it’s planned grazing and financial planning, no fence should be put in if it “costs” money. Fences should only be put in when they “make” money. Remember I pioneered much of the development in a country under world sanctions with the highest prices of inputs for farming and ranching in the world, and some of the lowest prices for products. I cannot teach you this over this discussion – but you can get a good idea of the basics from the textbook and especially the accompanying handbook written by Jody Butterfield with me. These and other materials are available through the Savory Institute web site. Anyone should theoretically be able to teach themselves from the materials but most of us do benefit from some training and coaching.
I note that you have already seen the change in your hardpan areas by simply concentrating large animals on them periodically. When you do begin managing holistically you will start bringing such change about all over the land step by profitable step generating the capital from the land as you go. On the ranch where we are pushing things hardest to learn and doing it all without fencing, we used to have thousands of acres dominated by bare hard crusted soil but now are literally running out of bare ground even for teaching purposes.
If you are able to get to the conference you will learn that we are strategizing to have people develop locally led and managed learning hubs around the US and world. There are people from 10 countries already forming such hubs attending the conference. Through these we believe people will be able to collaborate and learn and SI will keep all connected globally through an internet platform. The hubs are aimed at bringing together people, organizations (permaculture and others), universities, government agencies, etc because all have vital pieces of the puzzle and only through such collaboration and addressing the full social, environmental and economic complexity have we any chance of addressing the problems of our own making as most are and which are culminating in agriculture today producing more eroding soil by far than food. I hope we see you there and do introduce yourself if you see me.
I have a question for grazing sheep in a low rain-fall area in Southern California.
"During the last 14 years, Temecula weather:
Averages 62°F year round
Rain averages: 13 inches with a low 0.37 inches and high at 26.7 inches
Summer months are hot and dry with an average 79°F temperature
Summer months may have up to 18 days over 100°F
Winter months average approximately 51°F
Winter months may have up to 13 days under 32°F
Temecula is in the Temecula Valley area of southern California. The land area is considered Mediterranean climate to near desert chaparral with wet winters and hot dry summers. The meadow area has low hills with decomposed granite, a light sandy loam soil. "
(I would say that we haven't seen 13 inches in a loooong time. It's more on the lower end of the scale - very dry!)
The area we are talking about is 350 acres of meadow with trails for walking, biking, horseback riding. Here is our location on Google Maps - http://goo.gl/maps/UHr2V - Our community recently got a grant to preserve the land and start using more holistic management techniques. The common area is basically rolling hills which was speculated to be dry farmed roughly 100 years ago. And was grazed by sheep at one point, mostly non-native grasses have become dominant and more importantly soil erosion. We'd like to restore the landscape, stop erosion, promote the natural habitat of native shrubs, grasses and wildflowers. There are coyotes that still exist here, as well as burrowing owls which are becoming endangered.
We are in the beginning stages of planning and thinking of using sheep to graze the land again, hoping that we can it in a way that will help restore the landscape. Right now we have a tractor mowing at certain times of the year for fire safety.
My questions are; How many sheep should we put on the land, within how large of an area at any given time? And how often do we move them? When is it best to start? Will sheep be the best option?
There was talk about the shepherd using electric fencing to move them around the common. My concern is that I don't think the shepherd has the understanding of soil rehabilitation in order to utilize the sheep accordingly. None of us in the committee know the proper tactics for this. I've studied Permaculture and have been around cell grazing, but that was in a completely different climate. So I'm very unfamiliar with what steps to take in this situation.
Any help is greatly appreciated! Thank you for taking the time to answer everyone's questions!
posted 5 years ago
John I have looked at your site and that was helpful. I have sent message to help me put you in touch with a person who might help you and who did extensive training with me. Meanwhile – if as you want to you desire to restore that land to the highest level of health you can you will need to use livestock and sheep are as good as any on such a dry small area surrounded by urban development. However if you talk of using livestock you risk starting conflicting opinions in your community – so do not do so.
If you read other posts you will now understand that having that objective with the problem (degraded land) as the context is not likely to work without all manner on unintended consequences, possible conflicts in surrounding community, etc. So as you use the holistic framework to help all of you involved begin moving forward in unison, without conflicting opinions and with the common good of all and the environment in mind, you will need to understand how to get the right people at the table (decision makers and those with veto power) and define a holistic context. That I can tell you now is the hardest thing you will need to do – from there on all should sail smoothly.
Once you have the holistic context defined everyone will be fully on board you will find. And then you can start discussing all the possible ways of healing that land within that context. Never say any idea emerging from anyone is a bad idea – because you do not know. Only when you use the filtering to see if any of the ideas emerging is in context will you know – and if any idea was not socially, economically and environmentally sound for your situation you will drop, as will the person who put forward that idea (having learned that is not a good idea in that situation at the present time, and not been told it was not a good idea). At this point is where the idea of using livestock can be brought forward and treated in similar manner. From there you proceed to detail about what type of livestock (sheep probably best with or without goats) and how the livestock should be managed to address the complexity – there is only one way we currently know and that is the holistic planned grazing it has taken so many of us to so many years to develop.
Some minor points – try not to get locked into of influenced by so many of today’s myths. Things like native and non-native – that is a bureaucratic term. Life has been moving around our planet over a long time and to give a date and say if something arrived after that date it does not get it’s visa is ridiculous and not scientific in any manner. This nonsense results in endless waste of money and effort. To date we have no non-native species on the planet. Bearing that in mind hopefully you will just begin welcoming all plants as nature begins filling the enormous vacuum that we have caused. If some plants dominate the community to the extent of becoming a problem of any sort the normal use of the holistic framework will deal with that as you will learn during your progress as you manage the situation holistically. I am going to try to get you connected to local help.