The practice of mob grazing was developed by a man called Allan Savory. He grew up on the continent of Africa and believed over-grazing by domesticated livestock was the cause of many of the continent's problems. Overgrazing leads to loss of ground cover leading, in turn, to soil erosion, poor fertility, even less ground cover etc etc.
At first, Allan believed the cure was to remove animals completely to allow the vegetation unhindered growth. However over time he observed that this didn't solve any of the aforementioned problems either. So he started to study areas where grasslands did flourish, namely the African savannahs where high temperatures and months without rainfall were the norm. He realised that grasses have evolved in sync with migratory grazing animals. The grass plants are subject to short periods of high density grazing and trampling as the huge herds pass through the area, followed by a long rest period in which to recover and regrow before the herds returned. Allan could see that grasses actually flourished under this 'pulsed growth' and he started to change the grazing patterns of his own domesticated cattle to replicate this system on his own ranch.
Over time, Allan has refined best practices for mob grazing as dictated by the climate and local environment. He also evolved a wider management tool, known as 'Holistic Management'. There is now an organisation known as "Holistic Management International" (HMI) which helps and educates people as to the benefits of adopting this approach to management (http://www.holisticmanagement.org/)
Ian Mitchell Innes is a Certified Holistic Management Educator' with HMI and did his best, during the three days spent with Greg and Jan Judy, to explain to us the basics of Holistic Management.
Ian Mitchell Innes teaches us how to read the environment, pointing out cow grazing patterns and emphasising that managing holistically relies on careful and constant observation, looking for signs that influence future decisions
As with all good management guides, one of the first pieces of advice is to set yourself some goals. However, Holistic Management guidelines state these goals must be towards achieving three things:
- What you want your quality of life to be?
- What are your preferred forms of production?
- What do you want your future resource base to look like in the future?
Subsequently, every management decision should be measured against these goals to ensure your business is heading in your desired direction and towards the agreed holisticgoals.
One of the reasons Holistic Management is so successful is that it allows complex problems to be understood, at least in part, by us. Ian pointed out that our thought processes, and those of computers, science etc, are linear. Give us one variable and we can deal with it - hence scientists try to keep everything constant except the item being measured. Give us lots of variables and we get hopelessly lost!
Unfortunately, nature is infinitely complex. Change one thing - say the amount of carbon in the soil - and it has knock on effects to such things as water holding capacity, mineral flow, atmospheric carbon levels and consequently global warming, to name but a few. Changing each of these then has a knock on effect on myriad other parts of nature, far too many for us to comprehend. Holistic management provides a way of simplifying and presenting this complexity in a form we can understand.
It's not an easy subject to understand, and I am only just starting to grasp it (though a seasoned practitioner may read the above and say I am a long way from doing so....!) For anyone interested, Allan Savory has written a couple of good books about it. I recommend everyone involved in land management reads them. Holistic Management is a new way of looking at land management and, even if you decide not to follow its doctrines, it can redefine how you think.