Become a Successful Grazier, Seeing the Big Picture

 

Author’s Note: I am presenting a series of articles in this publication

based on my experiences of grazing in an unconventional

way. I have been ranching all my life and have had experience in

both feedloting and extensive ranching, and all types in between.

At the age of 50 I learned about Holistic Management, and this

opened my mind to the fact “there is another way” of managing

animals — that you can achieve healthy animals with minimal

input.

 

Unfortunately, because of the way we are taught, from kindergarten

to university, our minds can only contemplate “parts”

and not the “whole.” This means we have had success with linear

things — mechanics, computers and sending people to the moon

— but when it comes to ranching, farming and the environment,

which operate with “wholes within wholes,” with interconnecting

parts, we have failed.

 

Holistic Management decision-making puts a complex, multidimensional

problem into a step-by-step format, enabling us

to make the best decision possible and lead us toward our goal

(Holistic Goal), making sure we have a full understanding of the

impact that decision will have on the environment, our finances

and the social aspects within which we live.

 

I am grateful to those people who had an impact on my

learning: Allan Savory, Mark Bader, Dick Richardson, Elaine

Ingham, Betsy Ross, Christine Jones and Ray Archuleta, to name

but a few. I have made mistakes, and all the practice I have done

has been with my own money, so the learning curve, at times,

has been extremely steep. Unfortunately there are no silver bullets.

Many of the practices I discarded when starting out I have

brought back, since beginning to understand the “whole.” I do

not wish anybody to make the same mistakes I have made and

so I travel, teaching groups how it is done. These articles are not

intended to take the place of attending one of my trainings where

I am able to deal with individual problems and perceptions,

particularly the comment, “it might work for you, but it won’t

work where I live.”

 

What I teach has been successfully practiced by ranchers, farmers

and dairymen in all environments; they have been able to

achieve good animal performance, improve soil life and increase

the diversity of plants growing on their properties.

 

It is impossible to write about all my experiences, but I hope

these articles will help people, who have attended or have yet to

attend one of my schools, from making some of the mistakes I have

made. Use them like a set of notes to remind you what to do next.

My passion is to keep people on the land, not just making a

subsistence living, but living comfortably and getting a return on

their investment (the land) which is comparable to, or better than,

their colleagues in town.

There is another way. It is possible to be happy, have fun and make money from ranching.

 

THE WHOLE

 

The grasslands of the world did not develop in a

vacuum. There has always been a symbiotic relationship

between the animals, soil surface, grasses and plants and

soil life. This was enhanced by the predator/prey relationship

that existed with the herds of wild animals that grazed

these areas. Allan Savory observed this and developed the

process of Holistic Management, which enables us to look

at complex, multi-dimensional situations pertaining to the

environment.

 

Use of the Holistic Management process puts

all the complexity into a linear, step-by-step format which

we can comprehend and enables us to research aspects

with which we are not familiar. This enables us to make

decisions, which will lead toward our Holistic Goal, taking

into consideration the environmental, social and financial

aspects that relate to that particular situation.

 

The reason many farmers and ranchers are interested

in planned grazing, rotational grazing, MIG, mob grazing,

compost teas, fertilizer and breed selection is simply because

of a desire to make more money. Some of these cost

you and some help you. The best program is the one that

considers the “whole” of the farm or ranch. The definition

of the “whole” is the animal genetics, the diet (multiple species

of plants) the animal eats, the growth and health of the

plants and the bacteria, fungi, protozoa, nematodes, worms,

insects, etc. that are associated with the plants (as well as the

finances and the social aspects of the farm). It is not only

the diet of these organisms that needs consideration, but

also the living conditions they require.

 

In our educational system we are taught to look at parts

not wholes, and this has led to problems when making decisions

relating to agriculture and the environment, which are

so complex. Conventionally this focus on parts has tended

to be on animal performance at the cost of the environment.

For those that are introduced to Holistic Management

thinking, the focus tends to shift to the management

of the soils, as it is easier to see change here. Unfortunately,

before the discipline of looking at the whole becomes internalized,

we tend to monitor the land and forget about the

other parts.

 

The animals are the financial part of the whole and,

in order for the rancher to survive on the land, animal

performance needs to be constantly ensured. This will

lead to high conception rates, enabling the herd to grow,

keeping the rancher financially viable. With greater animal

numbers, the tools of animal impact and grazing achieve

quicker results. The most important part, though, is that

the person managing needs to make a profit to survive and

only then, with others, can he/she save the world!

 

People making a living off the land are, by default, in the

energy business. Yet we are the only people in this business

who pump the energy back into the “well.” This is because

energy is money, money is energy and time is money. We

willfully pour soluble chemical fertilizer (money) onto our

land and kill soil life and oxidize carbon by turning the soil,

using more energy. A gram of carbon, when burned, releases

9,000 calories per gram. Take a soil sample and test it for

organic matter and then calculate the number of calories

you have just “burned” by ploughing your land. It would

have been easier to withdraw a couple million dollars from

your bank and burn them. This does not even include the

time spent sitting on the tractor (which is money) and the

gas/energy used.

 

The land is merely a solar panel and we manage the

tools, which we have available, capturing the energy coming

from the sun to produce a product (grass, timber, corn,

etc.), which we graze/feed to animals, and produce food for

human consumption.

 

The energy, which is captured by the grass, is what

makes animals fat or dairy cows produce more milk. In

terms of nutrition, this energy (hydrogen) is the illusive

part of the equation. Because of the way we have managed

our land in the past we have lost many of the better species

of grass that capture energy efficiently (loss of diversity).

These plants have been lost because of burning, overgrazing

and other management practices.

 

Overgrazing is a factor of time and not numbers. As the

palatable plants are overgrazed, nature grows plants which

are less palatable just to try and cover the soil. When

grasses fail then woody plants begin growing (sagebush

and other less palatable plants) in a desperate bid to cover

the soil. Fortunately the seeds of the palatable plants are

still in/on the ground waiting for us to change our management,

cover the soil and hold rain where it falls. Once the

conditions are right these seeds will germinate and grow.

The animals, soil, plants and management are all reliant

on each other.

 

To cover the soil (and create the right

conditions for the palatable grasses) we need management

— to get the animals to trample much of the grass onto and

into the soil to feed the soil. Soil life is dependent on covered

soils to prevent big fluctuations in temperature and

prevent the sun and wind from drawing out the moisture.

Trodden plants and litter are eaten and incorporated into

the soil by worms and also feed the Azotobacter which

take nitrogen from the air and incorporate it into the soil

in a form available to plants. The carbon (plant material)

prevents erosion and acts as a sponge, holding the water

where it falls and is food for bacteria and fungi in the soil.

This is achieved by manipulating the stock density and

movement of the animals (through management).

All life requires energy. The life in the soil gets its energy,

firstly, from the action of grazing when a shock of

energy goes down the plant; secondly, from energy which

is beaten through the soil surface by hooves (kinetic energy);

and thirdly, by what I call symbiotic energy, which

is the energy around each animal, where one plus one

does not equal two but five. This canbe observed

on a summer evening when there is no wind. A large herd

of animals will have what looks like a dust cloud over

them.

 

Birds will be feeding in this cloud, and it is an energy

field, which does not stop at the ground, but

continues down through the soil surface.

This all requires planning, monitoring and re-planning.

 

The result of planning, monitoring, and then re-planning properly will be

an increase in the carrying capacity of the farm or ranch. A more direct way

of saying this is: with proper planning and monitoring and re-planning

a farm or ranch that can support one cow with calf per 3 acres for one year

will now be able to support three cows with calves and not run short of

feed. It is like buying two more farms to increase your herd numbers by

three without paying for those extra

two farms. How much would those

two extra farms cost? How much

time would you be willing to spend

planning, monitoring and re-planning

to get two additional farms and not

spend any money?

The next article in this series

will address how to manage for fat,

healthy animals.

 

Ian Mitchell-Innes is a South African rancher

practicing various types of ranching from intensive

to extensive and everything in between. He practiced

Holistic Management for 17 years and now

teaches HM and mob grazing and how to get and

improve animal performance while increasing productivity

of soil and grass. He can be contacted

at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

 

 

Planning for Successful Grazing

 

If you have been a rancher or

dairyman and have used conventional

methods, it probably means you

stocked at the stocking rate recommended

for your area by the U.S.

Department of Agriculture.

If you are making money off the

land, then by default you are in the

energy business, as it is true energy

(hydrogen) which makes animals fat

and gets dairy cows to milk well. This

energy comes from the sun.

The land is our solar panel, but

because of the way we have managed

it, we have destroyed the efficiency of

that panel by destroying the life in the

soil. We have lost most of the efficient

plants that captured this energy, plant

spacing has increased, and bare soil is

being exposed to the sun, wind and

rain. There is less organic matter in

the soil (organic matter holds moisture),

more capping of the soil, hence

more runoff of rain, more dry spells

and droughts. The overall result is

less volume and lower quality of feed

being produced.

If “energy is money, money is

energy and time is money,” then the

amount of energy you are capturing

is X, which is enough energy to do

what you were doing, in terms of animal

performance or milking, with the

number of animals you had. It is now

known and accepted that if the manager

is prepared to change, this loss

of efficiency of the land (solar panel)

can be reversed by practicing Holistic

Management planned grazing and

“mobbing” animals.

The use of Holistic Management

planned grazing will result in the

return of efficient energy-capturing

plants, covered soils and increased

organic matter in soils, resulting in

more water-holding capacity and less

erosion.

 

 

If one looks at the environment and

agriculture, as influenced by weather,

they are totally unpredictable and can

be described as chaotic. Ranchers and

dairymen have to manage this chaos.

The easiest way to manage chaos is to remain as flexible as possible, with

ongoing monitoring. We know all

systems will ultimately fail at some

point, when pertaining to the land or

the environment.

To enable people on the land to

understand what to do, I recommend

a process which is calculated using

known figures and then building flexibility

into that process with ongoing

monitoring. It is not necessary to buy

any additional fencing. All that is

required is the existing infrastructure.

Figure 1 (above) is an example of

how planned grazing works using the

existing infrastructure on a hypothetical

property.

 

 

Draw in the days grazing on the

grazing chart, as the Holistic Management

Grazing Aide Memoire (obtain

chart and Aide Memoire from www.

holisticmanagement.org) explains, estimating

weather during that time of

the month and when you expect

slow or fast growth or anything in

between. In the spring put all your

animals in one herd and start moving

them as indicated on the chart. The

weather must be monitored every day

(temperature and rainfall), and if you

have started out with relatively slow

growth, the day you wake up and it

has rained or it is warmer, start moving

faster. Slow growth, slow moves;

fast growth, fast moves.

Do not force the animals to graze

or tread the undesirable plants; if you

do, you will lose animal performance.

These ungrazed plants will die over a

couple of years as no sunlight will be getting to the growing points at soil

surface level. The dead plants leave a

massive amount of carbon in and on

the soil, holding water and enabling

a desirable plant to germinate and

establish itself.

This planning will make sure that

the condition of your 420 animals

is the same or better than before, as

the animals’ selection (units of energy

grazed) are the same. Do not look at

the ground and think there is more

grazing left and leave the animals in

that paddock longer. It is desirable to

have grass left, standing or trodden

on the ground — this protects the soil

from sun and wind and prevents capping

from rainfall. When back in the

paddock where grazing started, all

plants would have had a good recovery

and the area should have grown

more grass than previously. Fewer

plants would have had more than

one bite taken, so the leaves would

have been exposed to sunlight longer,

capturing more energy. Make sure the

animal rumen is always full.

The recovery period required is

different for all areas, as rainfall and

brittleness varies, and the manager

will fine-tune this over time. Ask graziers,

dairy or beef, what the required

recovery period is in your area. For the purpose of this example, I have

used a 30-day recovery period.

For each and every paddock on the

property, use this formula, which will give the average stay in each of the

paddocks so that the animals will be

back in paddock number 1 on the 31st

day: Size of Paddock ÷ Size of Whole

Property × Recovery Period = Average

Stay (Graze Period) (see pg. 29).

The total days in this column for all

the paddocks should add up to 30, or

very close to it. Now build in flexibility

for fast growth and slow growth.

Fast growth (hot and wet conditions)

requires faster moves and the

days for all the paddocks should add

up to, (or very close to), 20.

Slow growth (cold and or dry conditions)

requires slower moves and

the days for this column should add

up to, (or very close to), 40.

Enter all the figures onto a Holistic

Management grazing chart, estimating

when you would expect fast or

slow growth or anything in between,

and plan the moves. Use the Holistic

Management Aide Memoire to make

sure you take all other considerations

into account to ensure that you get the

animals to the right place at the right

time, for the right reason.

 

Ian Mitchell-Innes is a South African rancher

practicing various types of ranching from intensive

to extensive and everything in between. He practiced

Holistic Management for 17 years and now

teaches HM and mob grazing and how to improve

animal performance while increasing productivity

of soil and grass. He can be contacted at

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Patience Critical Factor to Planned Grazing Success

 

by IAN MITCHELL-INNES

There is no doubt, based on my

own experiences and the experiences

of others, that the processes we have

been discussing throughout this series

of articles work. I have helped people

on the land in different environments

and on different continents. The only

limiting factor I have experienced is

patience. This is not surprising, as in

today’s world we want everything to

happen yesterday. Results in nature

tend to take time, as we are working

with chaos, in different environments

and with different amounts of carbon.

 

Change may take longer in some

years compared to others and in some

environments compared to others,

but as long as the movement is in the

right direction you can achieve what

you want. Ongoing monitoring (plan,

monitor, control, re-plan) is key, but

beware of continually chopping and

changing decisions — be patient with

the process.

Working with nature, instead of

trying to take her by the throat and

forcing her in another direction, is

rewarding and less costly. Remember,

“Energy is money, money is energy

and time is money.”

Using the Holistic Management

Testing Guidelines, and particularly

the Marginal Reaction test, will keep

you on track. What is the return you

can expect from time and money

spent, or the limiting factor for the

enterprise?

 

 

In a previous article I recommended

that extra animals should not be

brought onto the property to graze the

extra grass grown until the manager

and animals have gone through the

initial learning curve. The extra grass

grown is not wasted if it is not grazed;

it is banked, improving soil fertility

and soil life, by trampling it into the

ground through higher stock density.

It does not matter what brittleness

scale you live in, just bring extra animals

in when you are comfortable.

The first change that will happen,

through the implementation of

planned grazing, is the form of the

existing grasses, whose leaves will get

broader, and the color will darken. As

the life in the soil and the water-holding

capacity improve (less stressed),

the plant species will start to change.

Often plants which have never been

seen in the area start showing up,

because of the change in environment

at the soil surface level. The recovery

period required for the new species

needs to be monitored and changes

made. It is important to plan for the

species you want, not just for those

that are already present.

It is always better for animal nutrition

to graze grass in a vegetative

stage. Any life, animals or plants, will

try and breed when stressed. This is

the way nature makes sure that species

continue to exist. The way we

have managed grasses in the past has

kept them perpetually stressed, allowing

for a short period to graze them.

 

The stress is induced by overgrazing

(factor of time), drought conditions

(due to exposed soils) and depletion

of soil life (fertility). As this is remedied

by planned grazing, as described

in these articles, plants remain in a

vegetative stage for longer and so

the window of opportunity to graze

them is longer, taking stress off the

manager.

 

The longer recovery period

(time), enables the leaves to grow

longer, exposing more leaf area to

the sun and capturing more energy.

This will lead to more volume of feed

and fatter animals, through increased

energy, which is the elusive part of

the nutritional equation.

 

As the growing season progresses,

the haystack (stockpile of standing

grass) increases in volume. Before the

first frost an assessment is made of

the amount of feed available for the

non-growing season (described in the

Holistic Management Grazing Aide

Memoire). The tonnage of grass is

calculated and equated to the number

of tons required to graze the animals

through the non-growing season, plus

the drought reserve. If you have been

in the habit of making or buying hay

bales, I would suggest you gradually

wean yourself of this expensive habit.

The animals actually prefer the stockpile

(standing grass), and if it is what

they choose, it must be better than

the bales.

 

 

I am always confronted with the

comment, “Oh but you don’t get the

snow and cold like we do!” That is

true, but then I am not influenced

by the convention that it cannot be

done. All I can do is share some of

my experiences with ranchers in these

areas. Historically, some of the Bison

in these areas used to stay in the area

for the whole winter and survived.

Nature’s selection of these animals

over time ensured an animal that

would survive in such conditions. We

have lost most of that breeding in our

animals as, with technology, we have

been able to change the environment

by providing bales, supplements and

shelter. This is the challenge we face

today!

 

I do not recommend that you wake

up one morning and just decide you

are no longer going to feed bales. Be

patient and gradually improve the

situation by feeding bales for fewer

days/months and get the animals to

eat the stockpile instead.

After practicing planned grazing for

some time, as described above, you

will have changed the environment

at soil surface level, under the snow.

The organic matter in the soil will

increase and the litter on the soil will

be high. Both of these boost carbon,

and carbon is an insulator. The standing

grass (stockpile) is also a source of

carbon, which means that the soil is

insulated from above and below, from

large temperature fluctuations. Over

time the condition of the grasslands

will get to the stage where annuals and

cool season grasses will grow under

the snow and the animals will eat the

green with the brown (stockpile) and

do very well. I was delighted to hear

Dr. Elaine Ingham say once that some

of the highest soil life recorded has

been under snow. Every day that bales

don’t have to be fed lowers the cost of

production and, I for one, would

appreciate nothaving to go out in that cold.

 

Ian Mitchell-Innes is a South African rancher

practicing various types of ranching from intensive

to extensive and everything in between. He practiced

Holistic Management for 17 years and now

teaches HM and mob grazing and how to improve

animal performance while increasing productivity

of soil and grass. He can be contacted at

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.