The Grazing Revolution – An E-book Review

In Book Reviews, Pasture & Livestock by James0 Comments

The Grazing Revolution: A Radical Plan to Save the Earth is an Ebook released by Allan Savory which is a companion piece to his infamous Ted Talk (on the front page of this website) where he revealed to the public the benefits of holistic planned grazing, and its success in reversing desertification across the planet for the past several decades. Several months ago I reviewed Savory’s classic book Holistic Management: A New Framework for Decision Making and although this e-book covers information presented in that book its primary focus is on the grazing aspects of holistic management, so I thought it would be valuable to go over that again, but perhaps with more clarity and focus the second time around. In addition it fits into my recent experience of learning about Holistic Planned Grazing in Australia. As with anything it’s always useful to start with definitions so let’s do that.

What is Holistic Planned Grazing?

For a lot of people the word “holistic” is an automatic turn off. They imagine medicine men, rain dances, and pseudo-science claims. I get that, that’s not what happens for me, but I do understand there’s a lot of people who poo poo traditional medicines. I think that’s short sighted, and actually the assumption that the term “holistic” is anti-science goes to show the ignorance of people who make these assumptions. Holistic simply means considering the whole. It means when planning or trying to solve a problem you must examine the whole, all of the things that contributed and lead up to the problem, or all of the variables involved in a plan. Our failure to do this is in fact why we are failing as a species on various levels. We can examine the drug war, the poverty war, the education war, the war on terror, basically anything that ends with “war” and if we look at how our governments and institutions are addressing these issues they typically address and treat the symptoms and ignore the root of the cause. I don’t think it’s a secret why this happens – typically it’s the two P’s driving this approach: Power and Profit. If we’re to be the change we want to see in the world, we have to take the holistic approach and look at the whole and focus on prevention rather than simply managing the symptoms. Holistic Planned Grazing does this quite well.

What’s the Problem? When did it Start?

The problem is desertification, loss of top soil, flooding, and drought and they are all a part of the same whole. To understand how we got to where we are now, it’s necessary and logical to trace our steps backwards and examine where we came from. Savory notes that early humans blamed desertification on livestock. “They believed livestock numbers were too high and this resulted in their overgrazing grasslands, leading to desertification. This conviction so permeated society that it assumed scientific validity and remained the explanation for desertification for more than two centuries. Nobody questioned this explanation – until recently. It’s now time to examine the antiquated roots of these beliefs to see where the truth lies.”
Before man took the next leap in evolution with fire and hunting tools large herds of herbivores roamed the grasslands in massive tight mobs. They were driven by seasonal migration patterns and the threat of predation from the carnivores that moved with them – this was the mechanism that kept them tightly bunched as it was safer for them. After man discovered fire and hunting tools he had the ability to wipe out entire herds and he did. Early humans drove the herds over cliffs and into bogs, or used fire to corral them and slaughter them in massive numbers. With this new found advantage early humans began changing the environment around them. Over time the massive herds were depleted and too few animals remained to graze on – and thereby replenish grasses and plants – and the result was dead oxidizing vegetation that had been over rested. Early humans to eliminate this dead and rank vegetation used fire to clear it. The new grass that would grow would attract animals and humans would hunt and harvest them. Once humans started to use domesticated livestock they would use the tool of fire to do the same thing to provide green feed for their livestock. The problem with this is burning exposes the soil to rain and wind and is carried away as erosion. Before fire and herd depletion there had always been litter (plants covering the soil caused by animal impact) which protected the soil, built fertility, and allowed for water infiltration and nutrient cycling. Up until man discovered fire the world had never known fire at such frequency and scale and in the millennia that followed vast human made deserts formed and spread.

Too Much Rest is Bad?

The biggest problem that still prevails today is over rest. When animal numbers drop and or areas that once had grazing animals are reserved as National parks and no longer grazed desertification always is the result. To be clear 2/3rds of the planet’s surface is arid or dry and brittle – these are the areas where desertification has and continues to occur. The other 1/3 which is humid such as rain forests resting is not a problem. In the arid climates that were traditionally grazed by animals and received soil disturbance (stimulation) and fertilizer once they are left alone the plants begin to grow rank, oxidize (turn grey), they block out sunlight for young plants that are trying to grow, and eventually what was once a grassland turns to desert. Rain that once was absorbed by the litter covering the surface between plants now hits bare soil which caps the soil making it hard and instead of absorbing and cycling into the ground it runs off taking top soil with it, exposing the roots of the plants still there. There is no longer hooved animals breaking and chipping the soil surface creating ideal growing conditions for young plants, and trampling down dead leaves and stems to provide the litter that makes precipitation effective. Over rest is the number one factor in answering the question of what contributes to desertification.

Then What about Overgrazing?

Overgrazing is a problem as well. The most common way for farmers and ranchers to manage their livestock is using a method called set stocking. Set stocking is selecting an area of land, usually a quite large area, and putting your livestock in that area for a set amount of time which typically is anywhere from several days to several months. The animals are usually within some kind of large parameter fence and are not under the heavy threat of predators like their ancestors were. As a result instead of staying in a tight mob they spread out and eat plants and grass in a non uniform way. They of course eat the plants they like and leave plants they don’t. When it rains and there is new growth they will again eat the plants they like before the plant has a chance to recover until eventually that plant will not grow any longer. Weeds and thistles thrive in these conditions and soon enough the landscape turns weedy and bushy with very little nutrient dense grass feed and farmers spend their money on buying feed for their starving animals. This cycle repeats enough until eventually the land can no longer sustain grazing even seasonally or the rancher goes bankrupt. So yes, overgrazing is a problem, but it’s more complex than to say the animals are eating too much which is what people generally imagine when they hear the term “overgrazing.”

What is the Solution?

The solution is Holistic Planned Grazing of course! The difference between Holistic Planned Grazing and just planned grazing is you consider more factors when making your plans for the year, and after you have made your plan you assume it’s wrong. This is key, because by assuming it’s wrong you are then forced to monitor and make corrections when necessary. Many people try to adapt holistic planned grazing and fail because once they make their plan they fail to monitor and adjust. The nuts and bolts of holistic planned grazing is using livestock in such a way that mimics nature. This means running your livestock as one tight mob and moving them across the land in smaller paddocks. This means you might be moving the them multiple times per day, but the benefit is the plants are getting animal impact which creates litter along with concentrated doses of fertilizer (dung and urine) and most importantly the grass is not being over grazed or over rested. Savory says the plants typically need 30-90 days to recover, although it could be anywhere from 180 days or more. A perennial grass is recovered when there is fresh yellow litter in the plant and it shows no signs of prior grazing such as chewed tips. One criticism of holistic planned grazing which I witnessed myself is that the animals don’t get as big, but you can put more animals on the land so the end result is more meat produced. If we shift the focus to the overall number of animals and of course land regeneration ranching becomes profitable while at the same environmentally sustainable.

Final Thoughts of a Wannabe Farmer

This e-book is a great companion piece to Savory’s Ted Talk as it goes into more details about questions that are left out of the talk due to time restraints. It’s also a quick read unlike his 600 page original book which is also worth a read, but perhaps less digestible than this. When I first saw Allan’s Ted Talk last year I was blown away by the pictures. Pictures do say a thousand words and the before and after photos from around the world showing the results of Holistic Planned Grazing are quite powerful. But aside from the photos the theory has passed the test of time and science. We know the mechanisms that makes it work, and we have the data and trials to back it up. Many people today still believe meat and fat are unhealthy. They believe there is not enough land to support grass finished beef. But they’re forming their beliefs from inaccurate data and articles that don’t tell the whole story. Articles and studies that condemn meat always put all meat into the same category not separating pastured meats and fats from animal feed lot raised meat. When considering available land they don’t consider the millions upon millions of desertfied acres which were former grass lands that can be converted back into pasture with proper management, nor do they consider the massive swaths of land that are being used to grow grain (with chemical fertilizers) that is then trucked across the country (fossil fuels) and fed to cows in massive feed lots (antibiotics, pollution). They are not looking at it holistically, and thus they are failing to accurately assess it.

Buy the book via Amazon by clicking HERE (It’s an affiliate link so I get a little kickback if you buy. Thanks!)

 

Here is Allan Savory Giving the Ted Talk that is the companion piece to this E-book. If you haven’t watched it… Watch it! You won’t regret it.
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Here are some great short videos about Holistic Management

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