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Q for Allan: Recovering Pasture from Poison Hemlock

 
Natasha Turner
Posts: 33
Location: Kentucky knob region
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Hi Mr. Savory, I am very thankful you are willing to take the time to answer our questions on this forum. I live on a friend's farm in Kentucky. It is a wet spring/fall, dry hot summer, and cold winter type climate. The topography is karst. It is 100+ acres that have been cleared by machinery many times in the past but is now being used as pasture in a Management Intensive grazing style. The farm is being overtaken by Poison-hemlock, Conium maculatum. In just the year we have been here, we have watched it spread and take over previously good pasture. Though it may be trying to repair damage from previous years of mis-use, what can be done in a situation like this to keep it from taking over the majority of the cows’ pasture?
 
Allan Savory
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Natasha,
I think I get the picture – as I have urged others do try to read my responses so that you get a good idea of what holistic management means. In your case once you have defined the holistic context it will help you – anyone can just kill plants like that. When I first came to the US I found that $300 million was being spent annually killing noxious/non-native, etc plants. They have not succeeded with a single plant in any state and, by calculation, something like $12 billion has been spent now without success anywhere. So let’s look at it differently. Some other “problem” plants like napweed for example we have been able to solve ( get them to be just one of many more species in a healthy environment and causing no known problem) without spending a dollar.

First, plants do not invade or compete as I am sure most in permaculture know. Plants grow where the environment is well suited to their germination and establishment as nature constantly fills any vacuum resulting from our management. Hemlock as I understand is being provided with ideal conditions for germination and establishment of it’s seeds and like almost all “problem” plants is tap-rooted. The healthy grassland you want will be obviously mostly grass with fibrous roots systems. So your management of that land and the livestock needs to be constantly biasing things toward providing soil surface conditions or an environment in which hemlock seeds do not germinate well. And your management needs to be providing a mass of healthy fibrous rooted grasses that are not conducive to any germinating tap-rooted plant establishing. What do you know about the germinating conditions required by hemlock? Any information you can obtain here will help because that should be built into the planned grazing. Developing dense grass root systems will automatically follow good planned grazing.

I would advise you to get off management intensive grazing as that could well be one of the things leading to a good germination and establishment environment for hemlock – otherwise why would it be filling a vacuum most suited to it’s germination and establishment needs under your present management? I hope this is helpful.
 
Natasha Turner
Posts: 33
Location: Kentucky knob region
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Thank you Mr. Savory. for taking the time to reply. I apologize if I am speaking without knowledge. I have been reading your other posts and have watched your TEDtalk. I thought I understood what you were talking about, but then you said some things that blew my mind, and I knew I must not have the whole picture yet.

I did go to the Savory Institute site to try to find the newsletters you talked about in another post, but I didn't see where to sign up for it. I have also been in touch with someone from the Savory Institute that is looking to have a workshop here in Kentucky, but we haven't talked about the basics of your system yet.

I have read Ann Adams' book "At Home with Holistic Management," but maybe I still don't understand what holistic management or the holistic context means. I have seen you mentioning this to others also, but I haven't found the post yet where you talk about exactly what it is.

You floored me when I was looking through your posts today, and I saw that mob grazing/rotational grazing/management intensive grazing and "holistic management planned grazing" are not interchangeable. I have been so confused. This whole time, I thought you came up with those others as well or that they were actually all one and the same.

When I was on the Savory Institute site I got overwhelmed and couldn't tell where to start. What is step 1? Do I need to buy the big green textbook first?

Even though I am currently taking my 2nd permaculture design course, I have a lot to learn. I was very surprised when you said plants do not invade or compete, because it sure feels/looks like they do. I do understand what you said though, that they are just growing where the ideal conditions have been provided. What also surprises me, though, is that the main spots where the hemlock is growing are spots that were disturbed not too long ago (i.e. where a ridge was leveled for a house site, they are growing in the mounds of soil that were left behind). In one particular spot on a hillside I can see a large animal burrow, and the soil is so loose there it feels like you are walking on foam; it's very "sponge-y" feeling underfoot, and it has completely covered that whole hillside. Hemlock is also prolific on a steep hillside that was used for tobacco crops years ago, and now there is no topsoil left (or so the farmer/rancher tells me). Some of these areas don't seem like compacted soil (where taproots would need to be) but just the opposite.

Here is information I found about its germination requirements from the California Invasive Plant Council: "Poison hemlock has a large range of conditions in which it can germinate. It can germinate at temperatures greater than 9.4 C and lower than 33.8 C. It can germinate in darkness as well as in light. About 85 percent of seed produced is able to germinate as soon as it leaves the parent plant (Baskin and Baskin 1990). The remainder is dormant and requires certain environmental conditions (thought to be summer drying) in order to germinate (Baskin and Baskin 1990).

"This ensures that some seed will remain in the seedbank until the following growing season. Seed can remain viable in the soil for up to three years (Baskin and Baskin 1990). It germinates most readily in soil, but can also germinate in sand. The combination of long seed dispersal period, seed dormancy, and non-specific germination requirements enable poison hemlock seedlings to emerge in almost every month of the year (Roberts 1979). Germination takes place in all months of the year except April, May, and July, with late winter and early spring being the periods of greatest germination (Roberts 1979). Most vegetative growth occurs in winter months, with plants developing a deep taproot that is sometimes branched (Pitcher 1986)."

So, "good planned grazing" is different than management intensive grazing or rotational grazing? I did hear you mention it in your TEDtalk and show the chart that some villagers had created for their system. I could see how it would differ by working through different areas of the land at very specific/purposeful times of the year. Where else can I find information about how it differs?

I am going to forward your replies to the farmer on whose land our family lives. He is very open to your work and wants to know more about it. I am in the process of learning how to do a permaculture design for his property, but I also have a strong feeling that somehow your system has a very important part to play in the design. I really appreciate your time and input. Thank you so much for your patience with me.

 
Allan Savory
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Natasha,
I fully understand your confusion about the many grazing systems being promoted. Everett Rogers in his book The Diffusion of Innovations describes this well. When someone learns something new, for various reasons including ego, they tend to give it a twist and a name of their own and so slowly new innovations spread. When I came to the US there was really only continuous grazing and Hormay’s rest-rotation system being widely promoted. One university soon after began to use Andre Voisin’s work on pastures in Europe and his excellent “Rational (not rotational) Grazing” applicable to pasture situations (good humidity distribution).

Within a few months of my beginning to train people (eventually about 12,000) there were about a dozen plagarizations or derivatives of holistic planned grazing. In every case the planning process and entire reason for consistent success was dropped (that would identify where it came from). It is a bit like “Send reinforcements we are going to advance” - after being relayed through two people becoming “Send refreshments we are going to a dance!”

The derivatives come from either myself or Voisin, both of whom recognized and warned of the dangers of any form of rotational or other grazing system. (I note you use the word in referring to my system – I have no system and am totally against any grazing system because none ever devised can address the complexity you farmers face). Management systems are desirable and should be used where everything is predictable. So use accounting systems to track money, accounts payable or receivable, etc. Use systems to track inventory or anything else that is pretty predictable and not involving the concept of complexity. However using any grazing system, rotational, mob, short duration, MIG you name it and you will find it incapable of addressing complexity – social, environmental and economic complexity. I have listened in groups and watched some excellent videos on mob grazing – full of exciting and great tips and bits of sound information and great results on the ground shown – all very helpful and motivational for farmers so I never say anything to harm that progress as it is. However I also note prescriptive and dogmatic statements that will lead for example farmers really battling financially into wrong actions. Long ago I used to consult and advise and with hindsight I learned that almost all my advice was wrong – we simply cannot be prescriptive about any practice in complex farming situations.

So I do not respond or react to the derivatives of my work - people will gradually learn and there is nothing else I can do – but it does stress me to see people confused and achieving less that they can if they only go back to the originals - either Voisin’s Rational Grazing for pastures, or holistic planned grazing for any grazing world wide in all environments. If anyone improves on either of these go for it as I will because I have no aim but to help people succeed. By the way my wife and I had Voisin’s book republished by Island Press because I was so concerned with the derivatives of his work as I witnessed academics and farmers convert his “rational” (planned simply) grazing to rotational grazing despite all his warnings. I was taken once to a “Voisin pasture” operated by a university and shown it with great pride. Not willing to offend my hosts I kept quiet but silently thought how Voisin would be rolling in his grave if he was there – had his work been understood and not changed it would have been easy to at least double the production of the pasture they were so proud of.

Another reason I do not worry myself about all the many derivatives is because they are being practiced in the green zone essentially that I showed in the TED view from space. If practiced in the more erratic greater part of the world (and U.S) where desertification is happening they fall flat pretty quickly because there is not the relatively well distributed humidity that covers the faults. So the derivatives do more good than harm generally for the land and are generally improving people’s financial positions. As I mentioned in an earlier post what people miss is the hidden costs and losses financial and social issues more than the land – and what they do not see they do not miss!

Re where to get started. I am going to relay your good feedback on our SI site – thank you for that. I too have found it confusing at times. We are right now completely revamping it as part of our move to more sophisticated platform to connect hubs globally. I will be off this permies site tomorrow but if you email me I will ensure you get the regular newsetter (use asavory@savoryinstitute.com).

On the site you should be able to find the e-books about teaching yourself various aspects of holistic management. And in the Handbook written by Jody Butterfield available on site you will find the really simply laid out information on land planning where livestock are involved, holistic planned grazing and holistic financial planning. All are written in such a manner we believe people could largely teach themselves. The grazing planning process is a very simple step by step process recording each small piece of information that is in your head on a planning chart – then toward the end plotting all the planned moves of the animals – to get the animals in the right place for the right reason at the right time with the behavior needed. And we often plot moves backwards which is powerful and always dropped in the derivatives – hard to rotate backwards I guess! Fortunately the derivatives are generally not used in the seriously drought prone regions – there we find the planning process plays a major role is avoiding catastrophes in the very poor years in a manner that simply cannot be done with any grazing system.

Also as you learn how to plan grazing in a holistic context you will begin doing things no derivate even thinks of doing. A simple example this coming season I will, as mentioned in an earlier post, be teaching our ranch staff to use the livestock to deliberately overgraze all plants on selected sites to increase wildlife habitat. Last season we had some animals on continuous grazing while others moved faster and so on. One other thing we are doing now is using the planned grazing to maintain selected areas bare for wildlife as over most of the land we are running out of even small bare areas for teaching purposes. Time to learn all this is later now just need to make a start.

Re the hemlock already you are giving clues – association with loose soil. Association with formerly cropped hillside. Seed immediately viable. Seed able to lie dormant till ideal germinating conditions (not unusual) and so on. I would love to see research narrow those germinating environments. Germinating in both sunlight and dark, useful but seems to be in disturbed soils or loose (sand or soil). By the way tap rooted plants do not need soft soil – but dicotyledonous plants which constitute almost all problem plants are all tap-rooted (that is one of the defining points of dicots). Only for illustrative purposes because I am not there, do not have your holistic context to ensure all actions are in context, things I would be doing are things such as in the appropriate planning step marking all areas where hemlock is dangerous, and over what periods most dangerous. And any areas with what look like ideal germinating conditions as far as you can understand them. And with the animal moves I would probably be ensuring very heavy animal impact on those sites when safe. Frustrating trying to explain on a computer so much easier on the land and with the planning process.

By the way the grazing planning is profoundly simple. I have trained an Africa school leaver to do it in 1.5 hours. And he did a superb job. Again hope I have helped more than added to confusion - almost everyone has been confused by so many derivatives as I feared would happen but could not prevent.
 
Natasha Turner
Posts: 33
Location: Kentucky knob region
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Mr. Savory, all I can say is WOW! My husband and I are both so honored and thrilled that you would take the time to write such a detailed reply. My husband just keeps saying over and over, That's really cool. I will email you to sign up for the newsletter. Thank you again.
 
Alex Ojeda
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Natasha Turner wrote:Mr. Savory, all I can say is WOW! My husband and I are both so honored and thrilled that you would take the time to write such a detailed reply. My husband just keeps saying over and over, That's really cool. I will email you to sign up for the newsletter. Thank you again.


Likewise! Mr. Savory, thanks. I'm just going to buy the book now and skip the class. I don't think I can make Africa, but I'll do my best here and get the newsletter. I feel very fortunate for having been involved in this project that you and Paul Wheaton have made happen!
 
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