Shaping the future of animal health
Australia

Can more livestock improve the land?

Over the last 40 years, biologist and Rhodesian grazier, Allan Savory has developed a method called Holistic Management, whose core belief is that by increasing livestock numbers we can significantly improve land quality and revers desertification.

Holistic Management is a new approach to livestock management based on minimising overgrazing and focuses on profitability rather than solely on production goals.

As a basis for this theory, he points to the African Savannah, where millions of ruminants and other animals thrive but don’t cause land degradation.

Holistic management and its “holistic planned grazing” is based on minimising overgrazing through maintaining a high graze and/or trample versus recovery ratio on the land at all times. Generally speaking, he dictates that no more than three days grazing always followed by three to nine months of recovery.

Mr Savory says that periodic animal disturbance keeps certain plants in check, provides opportunities for others to grow, and turns over nutrients.

“Eliminating large grazing animals from landscapes removes a vital mechanism for the decay and cycling of organic matter through an animal’s stomach, or the action of hooves trampling litter into soil,” Mr Savory said.

With wildlife no longer able to manage rangelands and with global food demand on the rise, Mr Savory sees livestock as the solution.

“We have no option but to add another tool: large herbivores. In practice, that means that only livestock can save us. It’s not a case of whether it’s desirable to run cattle: we have no option.”

The key is, he says, to change the way we do it – moving away from set-stocking and rotational grazing that runs to the calendar and moving towards ‘planned grazing’ that relies on his Holistic Management technique to constantly re-assess depending on factors ranging from the rainfall to the conditions of a particular pasture.

Allan Savory was bestowed with Australia’s international Banksia Award in 2003. The award is made to the person “doing the most for the environment on a global scale”.

A local perspective

Among Mr Savory’s Australian supporters is Graham Finlayson, a New South Wales farmer and former Nuffield scholar.

Graham and his wife, Cathy, run Bokhara Plains, a 17,000-acre property nestled between the Bokhara and Birrie Rivers near Brewarrina in New South Wales. They are dedicated to demonstrating how, even in a region with minimal rainfall, much can be done to nurture the land with new thinking and advanced practices.

As part of Graham’s 2008 Nuffield scholarship, he undertook a study tour to review different approaches to regenerative agriculture.

“Focusing on profitability rather than solely on production goals – which can be misleading – and using a disciplined approach to decision-making allows us to maximise the potential of the critical livestock/pasture/money balance,” he says.

“Regenerative landscape and livestock management embraces and enhances conservation outcomes without the need for sacrificing productivity at all, if done well.”

He first encountered Holistic Management in a book given to him by a friend in 2001.

“Since 2001 Cathy and I have diversified our business into tourism, developed off-farm investments and continued to transform our landscape using the principles and strategies we have learned. This has included four separate periods of being totally de-stocked on our own country, twice for over 12 months, so we fully understand the difficulty and strain of making tough decisions,” he says.

According to Graham, there are some misconceptions about ‘cell grazing’ that have arisen because of a focus on a hard and fast system and poorly constructed trials.

“Rotational grazing is bandied about as being better than set-stocking, which it is, but Holistic Management’s planned grazing is really the only one that takes into account all of the variables necessary for long-term success. Also, this is the only grazing type that plans on actual improvement year in, year out.

“Holistic Management involves complex management requiring flexibility and a strong focus on improving the ecology in conjunction with production goals. If grazing is designed to leave behind a high level of biomass including standing vegetation and ground covering litter, then not only is the health of the grass maintained but the water retention capability is improved and soil erosion through wind or water naturally reduced. That alone would allow us in Australia’s dry areas to utilise far more of the actual rain we get.”

More information

To find out more about Holistic Management, visit www.savoryinstitute.com or www.holisticmanagement.org