What Are Properly Managed Livestock?

We all know that livestock degrade ecosystems, cause desertification, pollute waterways, cause global warming, live in terrible conditions and are unhealthy to eat, right?

All of those things are true; livestock are generally a force of ecological destruction.

But I am not going to talk about livestock in this article, enough has already been written about them elsewhere. Instead I am going to talk about something entirely different:

“Properly Managed Livestock”

This may sound like a joke, but its not. “Properly Managed Livestock” are entirely different in the way that they effect the climate, the environment, our health, and the conditions the live in. We should not even consider them in the same category as other livestock.


Here are some of the differences between “livestock” and “properly managed livestock”. These are generalizations, obviously, but they are true at least 90% of the time.

Livestock” Versus “Properly Managed Livestock”


Livestock (Factory Farm)

Livestock (Conventional Grazing)

Properly Managed Livestock

Animal wellbeing and living conditions.

They live lives of terrible suffering on a massive scale. They do not get to exhibit their natural behaviors. They are usually confined indoors, unable to exercise, eating unnatural foods, and covered in their own feces.

Are outdoors most of the time, except in winter. Able to excercise, and socialize. Eat natural foods, although not very high quality. Not rotated often so there is always poo around, but it is not a big issue because they are usually given very large spaces to graze in.

All are raised outside for the majority of their lives. They eat natural foods; grass, trees, shrubs, etc. They get to socialize with other animals in a natural way. They are allowed to walk, or run, around as much as they want. They are rotated so that they are always on fresh ground, not on ground covered with feces.

Effects on ecosystems.

The actual factory farm location is devoid of anything resembling a natural ecosystem. The grain farms which feed the livestock are monocrops where insects, animals, and unwanted plants are constantly being killed. These farms cause erosion, pollution, declines in wildlife populations, and reduce natural soil fertility over time.

Most of these animals rely on some grain supplements (see the info to the left). The pastures are always overgrazed. There is bare soil, low biodiversity, little to no wildlife habitat, degrading soil fertility, leaching of manure, etc..

Fastest rate of large-scale soil creation of any known ecosystem. Constantly improving fertility, increasing biodiversity and wildlife habitat, improving water quality, reducing erosion and runnof, no bare soil, no chemicals, etc. Manure becomes beneficial to the plants and soil and is used completely, instead of leaching.

Effects on Brittle Environments

What are Brittle Environments?

Not common in Brittle Environments. Polluting effects of manure would be even worse in Brittle Environments. If feed (grain) is produced in a Brittle Environment it will seriously contribute to unsustainable aquifer use and aquifer pollution, salting of the ground, worse erosion, etc.

Grassland turns to desert under conventional livestock. Bare soil increases, space between plants increases, vegetation shifts to a few woody shrub species. Erosion and flash flooding increases. Biodiversity and total biomass greatly decrease. Silting of waterways. Increased temperature extremes. Etc.

Deserts turn to grasslands under properly managed livestock. Bare soil is covered by plants or by mulch. Vegetation shifts to a greater number of species, dominated by grasses. Erosion and flash flooding reduced or eliminated. Moderation of temperature. Increased moisture in the soil, etc.

Effects on Climate

Proven to be a major emmiter of Greenhouse Gasses.

Damaged grassland soils release carbon dioxide and methane. Plus the methane released by the livestock themselves.

Sequester carbon in the soil in such high quantities that it more than offsets their methane production.


Eating totally unatural diets leading to many health problems in the animal and to unhealthy meat. Often given routine antibiotics and hormones. Unsanitary conditions dramatically increase the cases of bacterial contamination of the meat.

Eating mostly natural foods which contribute to a much healthier animal and therefore much healthier meat. Far less use of antibiotics and no hormones. Sanitary conditions reduce bacterial contamination.

Similar to Conventional Grazing. Often the animals get better nutrition because the soil and vegetation is healthier. This is especially true in Brittle Environments. Even more sanitary conditions since the livestock are regularly moved to fresh ground.

So what is the difference between properly managed and improperly managed livestock? Basically, properly managed livestock are livestock who are controlled so that their behavior mimics natural herd behavior as closely as possible.

What is natural herd behavior?

Large herbivores used to roam every continent on Earth before they were killed off by humans.(reference)  Wherever there were herbivores there were predators which could kill them (reference). The best defense against predators was to bunch up in a tight group with other large herbivore animals (high stock density).

Because these large herbivores were forced to pack tightly together in large herds they would quickly use up all the available vegetation in an area, and defecate or trample the rest. They could not be selective about where they walked, so all vegetation was quickly trampled. They had to constantly move to fresh ground in order to get enough to eat (short grazing period). They could not return to ground they had previously passed over until it had regrown a sufficient amount of vegetation to sustain the herd while it was passing over (long recovery period).

So, the three keys to proper livestock management are: (reference)

  • Bunch the livestock in a tight group (high stock density) instead of allowing them to spread out evenly over a vast area.

  • Keep the grazing period (the time animals spend in one area) as short as possible. A few days or less. Some people keep their grazing period on a given area of land as short as a few hours or a few minutes, although this is impractical for most farmers. If growth is slow you can get away with a grazing period as long as a week. (reference)

  • Allow a full recovery for the grass before it is grazed again. Grass needs time to replenish its resources before being grazed again. When the plant starts putting out seed heads it has fully recovered and can be grazed again. In areas with fast growth the recovery period can be as low as one month. In most areas of the world it is somewhere around three months.

Livestock are “properly managed” when all three of the above criteria are followed.

*Note: Proper grazing management is actually more complex than that, but the additional information would take up too much space for this article. For a complete understanding of proper grazing management read Holistic Management: A New Framework For Decision Making and then read the Holistic Management Handbook

Bunched Bison

Proper Management In Practice

Planned Grazing is the only effective grazing technique for restoring Brittle Environments. No other management technique has been able to cope with the complexity and difficulty of grazing in Brittle Environments.

In Non-Brittle Environments Planned Grazing can also be used to great effect. But other rotational grazing systems (rotational grazing, MIG grazing, mob grazing, cell grazing, etc) will also work as long as they follow the basic principles outlined above: high stock density, short grazing period, full recovery period.

Most managers will need to take things a step farther in order to actually achieve sustainability:

In addition to implementing a good grazing system they also need to adopt Holistic Decision Making to ensure that all aspects of the operation (people, land, and finances) are well managed. Some exceptionally smart people (Joel Salatin, for example) can achieve great results without using the formal Holistic Decision Making Framework. But most people benefit immensely from it.

Here are some links to give you an idea of what properly managed livestock look like in practice:


Why Use The Term “Properly Managed Livestock”?

In the excellent video below Tony Lovell says that in order to get people to accept that livestock can be amazing forces for good in the environment we must use a new term, “livestock” won’t work. ( @ 42 minutes in the video). When people hear the word “livestock” they immediately think of all the things they believe about livestock. Most people believe that livestock “destroy the environment”, “pollute”, “smell”, “are unhealthy”, and “endure terrible suffering”. These beliefs will prevent them from being able to understand the new information you are trying to tell them. If you want to tell people about how livestock can actually improve the environment and live happy lives you need to use a new term.

Tony Lovell suggests that we use the term “properly managed livestock”. I like this term because it immediately reveals the most important difference between unhappy-destructive livestock and happy-regenerative livestock: human management.

So, when you want to tell someone about the exiting potential of livestock, be sure to use the word “properly managed livestock” as much as possible, and explain the difference. Otherwise you will probably meet heavy resistance.

Organic Agriculture In Comparison To Regenerative Agriculture

If you did not read my last post, please do. It explains in more detail what Regenerative Agriculture is and why it is important.

Typical Organic Farm
Typical Organic Farm


Most people are aware of what Organic means: no chemical fertilizers, chemical pesticides, or GMOs were used to grow the food.

Almost 100% of Regenerative Agriculture is Organic in the sense that no chemicals or GMOs are used.

But Regenerative Agriculture goes far beyond Organic. Organic farms usually have simply replaced the chemical inputs with so-called “natural” inputs. The basic farming paradigm remains the same. Regenerative Agriculture, on the other hand, is the result of a fundamentally different understanding of the way plants grow. 

Mark Shepard's Regenerative Farm.
Mark Shepard’s Regenerative Farm.


Regenerative farmers find their techniques and solutions by observing nature. They use the sciences of ecology and biology, whereas Organic agriculture relies mostly on the science of chemistry. Ecological solutions cannot by patented or easily sold so they face a lot of opposition from the people who make money off of chemicals. But, for the farmer, ecological solutions are turning out to be almost universally more effective and far cheaper. The functions of fertilizers can be replaced by the soil food web, which is completely free, builds soil, and gets better and better over time. The functions of pesticides can be replaced with beneficial organisms like birds and insects and through the use of plant diversity.

Regenerative Agriculture in South Africa.
Regenerative Agriculture in South Africa.


Regenerative farmers recognize that agriculture can be a force for good. Why should we settle for simply sustaining the current degraded state of our world when we know how to regenerate it? Regenerative farmers are building topsoil at astounding rates, increasing soil organic matter, sequestering carbon, increasing net calorie production beyond even the most productive conventional farms (and they say we can’t “feed the world”, ha!), increasing the biodiversity of insects, birds, plants, and wildlife on their farms, healing riparian areas, reducing erosion and flooding, reducing the need for heavy machinery, and producing healthier food.

There are farmers who call themselves Organic who are doing these great things too. But the majority of Certified Organic food you buy in the grocery store is not grown in a regenerative way.

The Future Of Agriculture Is Regenerative

Sustainable Versus Regenerative

To “regenerate” an ecosystem is to actually improve that ecosystem so that is becomes healthier and more productive over time. To “sustain” an ecosystem is to simply prevent it from getting any worse than it already is. Considering the degraded state of almost every ecosystem on Earth it does not make much sense to simply be “sustainable”, we should be “regenerative!”


The Regenerative Movement

Most people believe that agriculture is a zero sum equation: We can produce food for everyone, or we can restore the environment. But not both at the same time.

Thankfully, that view of agriculture has now been proven to be dead wrong!

A collection of very smart people over the past few decades have figured out many different ways of producing food on a large scale while simultaneously improving ecosystems (increasing biodiversity, creating soil, etc).

These techniques have been grouped together under the label “Regenerative Agriculture”. Although there are many alternative words used, some of them refer to specific types of Regenerative Agriculture:

A Permaculture farm in Wisconsin.
A Permaculture farm in Wisconsin.


Regenerative Agriculture Is Happening 

Regenerative Agriculture does not require new technology. It does not require government policy changes. It does not require a cultural shift. It does not require new infrastructure. Regenerative Agriculture is already happening without these things.

It is happening on hundreds of millions of acres in almost every country on Earth. Yes, hundreds of millions of acres. Are you somewhere in North America, Australia, or Europe? If so, there is almost certainly at least one regenerative farm within an hour drive of where you are right now. Regenerative Agriculture food does not have a supermarket label, it is usually not “Certified Organic”, but it is out there and you have probably eaten some of it.

There are tens of thousands of large scale farmers who have adopted Regenerative Agriculture techniques (not to mention the legions of homesteaders and backyard gardeners).

Cattle ranches all across North America have been practicing Regenerative Agriculture (in the form of “Holistic Management”) for decades. This beef is going into the industrial food system.

Large scale grain farmers are also starting to adopt Regenerative methods  using cover crops, livestock and the soil food web to produce much higher profits than their conventional counterparts.

There are also people pioneering entirely different models of agriculture. Like Mark Shepard of New Forest Farm who is producing nut crops designed to replace corn and soybeans in our modern food system.

What Regeneratively grown corn looks like after harvest.
This is what Regeneratively grown cornfields look like after harvest.


Why is Regenerative Agriculture spreading so fast?

Despite popular stereotypes, many farmers do care about the environmental impact and sustainability of their farm. Most of these are moving to Regenerative methods.

However, even those farmers who don’t care about the environment are starting to use more sustainable production methods simply because they are more profitable!

Regenerative Agriculture farmers usually produce just as much, if not more, food than their conventional counterparts. But they do it with fewer inputs. By using the principles of nature these farmers are able to eliminate expensive fertilizers, pesticides, GMOs, and sometimes even machinery too.

So their income is equal to, or better, than a conventional farmer. But their expenses are far lower. This means they make more profit. No one can argue with profit and sustainability!

Regenerative Agriculture is the way of the future.

Industrial-Chemical agriculture is highly damaging and fundamentally unsustainable: it is utterly reliant on fossil fuels (oil and natural gas) which are a non-renewable resource. We literally have no other option but to adopt sustainable, and hopefully regenerative, agriculture.

For a list of some awesome videos, podcasts, books, groups and websites about Regenerative Agriculture click on this sentence…


This is what Holistic Investing can accomplish. Invest in Holistic Management and literally "green the world".

Learning Resources For Regenerative Agriculture

*Note: I have only included resources which I have personally read, watched, etc and found especially useful.

Introductory Resources:

The Future Of Agriculture Is Regenerative





Most Important Resources:




Resources On Specific Topics

Holistic Management


Keyline Design 

The Soil Food Web

Animals And Grazing


Cash Crop Production

Reversing Desertification

Subarctic Climate Resources

Guest Post: The Need For Holistic Management In Br…

I spent most of my childhood living in Brazil. So Brazil has a special place in my heart. I wanted to know who was practicing or teaching Holistic Management in Brazil. I found out that there is only one Holistic Manager in Brazil, Alberto Miguel. This was a shock to me, considering Brazil has more cattle and produces more beef than any other country on Earth.

Alberto MiguelAlberto Miguel has been working to spread Holistic Managment in Brazil for over 8 years now. He has had many successes and has peaked the interest of thousands of Brazilians. This year he will be teaching his first Holistic Management course at the University of Sao Paulo, in Brazil. He runs a very popular Facebook group and website about Holistic Management for Brazilians.

But, despite Alberto’s tireless work, Holistic Management has still not been implemented by any Brazilian land owners. They want proof that Holistic Management will work for them before they will implement it. I have asked Alberto to write about why Brazil needs Holistic Management. And what we, the Holistic Management community, can do to help him.

Holistic Management – A Tool That Brazil Cannot Afford To Ignore

(or How Bad Will It Be For The World If Brazilians Ignore Holistic Management)

I could talk to you about the fact that Brazil has one of the largest cattle herds in the world (200 million head and counting). I could tell you that Brazil is the 5th largest country in the world and produces food to be exported and feed the world. I could show you that, like in other countries around the world, farmers and ranchers are struggling to make enough money to meet their needs. But I know that most of you already know these things.

And why you should care? Well, the Brazil cattle industry (which is huge) is slowly shifting from the prairies to the forest, which will affect the world. Also the prairies (cerrados) in Brazil are farmed to produce grains to feed the world (most of their animals kept in CAFO’s, actually). However the cerrados are extremely fragile and they are brittle (it rains for 7 months and it is dry for 5), which means that they are prone to desertification.

The response from the Brazilian government is to create National Parks in the cerrados. I visited one and, believe me, you can see signs of desertification all over the park. Even though I talked with the authorities to show them that their management was causing degradation on the land, I couldn’t convince them. Just to give you an idea: Emas National Park has 130,000 hectares, with only deer to eat it all. So fire comes every year to burn the excess of dead vegetative material that has no animal to eat it. Oh, I forgot the ants and the termites…

Desertification in Central Brazil and the end of the cerrados means that the biggest aquifer in the world (Guarani aquifer) is at risk. And it is already been polluted by the enormous amount of chemicals being used by farmers to cultivated their lands “conventionally”. One billion litres of this products are used annually to harvest its production around Brazil. That figure doesn’t even include the fertilizers…

Adding to that, the deforestation of virgin Amazon Rainforest caused by this shift (from the cerrados to the forest) means that biodiversity is being lost very quickly. Now, the rains that normally come to Southeast Brazil via “aerial rivers”, simply fall on the Amazon instead (causing severe flooding in the north, but severe drought in the south). Sao Paulo (home to 20 million people) saw its water reservoirs dried almost to nothing, and just last year there was fear that it would dry out completely.

The same is happening in Minas Gerais, Mato Grosso do Sul, Rio de Janeiro, Espirito Santo, Goias and Tocantins. These are all Brazilian states that are seeing the worst drought in decades. In Northeastern Brazil cattle died by the millions last year. And the Sao Francisco River (the second largest river in Brazil, just smaller than the Amazon River, which has millions and millions of persons dependent on its waters) had the volume of water dropped from the usual 2,800 m3 per second to 1,100 m3 per second, considered the worst drought in the last one hundred years.

One can only imagine what these catastrophes mean not only to Brazil, but to the world. All of us that know about Holistic Management also know that it is possible revert the course of this awful picture by simply changing the way we make decisions.

It is clear that herbivores must go back to the cerrados and that the forest should be kept as it is, for the sake of humanity. But some convincing has to be done before we will see that happening.

Every time I speak to the public, and especially to producers, the first question I get is: “Is there a place here in Brazil where we can see the results you are talking about?” The answer is, unfortunately, “Not yet.” I have come to the conclusion that the lack of a place to use as a demonstration site is my logjam. And to clean it up I will need help.

There are so many places in Brazil; so many different environments (just like Canada, for example, which is semiarid in the prairies but humid on the coast), so many types of soil, and so much cultural diversity. It would be impossible to cover it all if I wanted to have a site on my own. Instead, my goal is to find one producer in each area of Brazil, and develop the site using Holistic Management.

To accomplish that I need to be in touch with the communities. To do that I need to travel, which is currently limited because of my budget. Some conferences pay me for speaking, but in others (especially speaking to students) I don’t get a penny but the expenses.

I am reaching out to you and asking for your support. I want to keep doing what I am doing and hopefully see the improvement of the land (especially where Holistic Management is most needed, in brittle environments) and I feel that the process can be sped up with your help.

Thank you,

Alberto Miguel

*If you would like to support Alberto’s work, if you would like to help establish Holistic Management in Brazil, please email Alberto. His email address is albertomiguel@shaw.ca

Holistic Management in Brazil

My Thoughts About The Importance Of Promoting Holistic Management In Brazil

Here are some additional reasons we, the Holistic Management community, should increase our efforts to spread Holistic Management in Brasil:

  1. Brasil is the most influential country in South America. Similar to South Africa, or the United States, what happens in Brazil is very likely to spread to the other countries in its continent. Brazil has the largest population, and the largest economy in South America. If ranchers and farmers in Brazil start to use, and promote, Holistic Management it will not be long before the rest of South America catches on. Yes, Holistic Management is happening in Chile and Argentina…. but these countries have very different climates than the other countries in South America. Brazil is the most effective place to apply our efforts if we want to influence the most people in the least amount of time.

  2. Implementing Holistic Management on Brazilian ranches will be relatively easy. Brazilians have relatively easy access to things like electric fences, water pipes, water pumps, electricity, the internet, etc. Brazilian ranchers already have a well established cattle market to sell to and to buy from.

  3. Holistic Ranchers in Brazil will be highly profitable. Brazilian range lands are highly productive already.  The limiting factor over most of Brazil is poor soil quality and soil depth. Planned Grazing is proven to build soil quickly. With good topsoil, it is hard to even imagine the carrying capacity of Brazilian pastures. This huge increase in production only requires a small investment in fencing, water, and management. Therefore, profit!

  4. Saving the Amazon Rainforest will benefit all of us. If Brazil’s degraded range lands can be restored with the tool of Holistic Management then ranchers will not be forced to continually cut down the Amazon in order to sustain their herds. No other ecosystem on Earth contains as much diversity as the Amazon Rainforest (one out of ever ten species on Earth lives in the Amazon). The Amazon Rainforest also creates 20% of the worlds oxygen and holds 20% of the world’s fresh water. 25% of all modern pharmaceutical drugs are derived from rainforest plants, even though less than 1% of Amazon plant species have been studied. The Amazon also plays a large role in the global Carbon cycle.

How To Help Spread Holistic Management In Brazil

Alberto Miguel knows more about Brazil than any other Holistic Manager. I think it would be prudent to take his advice. Here are the primary areas he has identified that you can help with:

  1. Money for Alberto to travel to distant ranching communities in Brazil in order to establish demonstration sites.
  2. Money to actually buy land and create a site from scratch, if he cannot find anyone willing to lease land or lend cattle.
  3. Money to create a Portuguese translation of “Holistic Management: A New Framework for Decision Making”

**Note: Brazil’s currency is currently very low value, so even a small donation will go a long way in Brazil.  

If you feel that investing in Brazilian Holistic Management is a good idea please contact either Alberto or myself via email. 

Alberto Miguel: albertomiguel@shaw.ca

Sheldon Frith: sheldonfrith@hotmail.com

The Holistic Investing Approach: Making Better Decisions

The Foundation of Holistic Investing:

Holistic Decision Making is a framework for making decisions which do not have unintended consequences and which are simultaneously financially, socially, and environmentally sound. Making decisions in this way does not come naturally for us as humans, which is why we so often create unexpected problems for ourselves. The “law of unintended consequences” can be avoided if we learn to think Holistically.

Holistic Decision Making does not dictate what decisions we should make, instead it suggests how we should make decisions. There are no right or wrong decisions in Holistic Investing. Each individual and each situation will call for different actions. Holistic Decision Making will dramatically increase our chances of making a good decision, no matter the circumstances.

I have omitted significant portions of Holistic Decision Making in this article for the sake of brevity. I highly recommend you read the book “Holistic Management: A New Framework for Decision Making” to fully understand Holistic Decision Making.

Why Is Holistic Decision Making Important For Investors?

Holistic investing can help any person or organization, whether they are managing their personal lives, an entire nation, or anything in between. However, it is especially important for investors:

  1. As investors, you have to make very difficult decisions every day. Holistic Decision Making helps you to make good decisions more consistently. It will also reduce your stress when making decisions. If you follow the Holistic Decision Making Framework you will be more confident that the decisions you make are the right ones.

  2. As investors, you have more money than the average person, but your inner happiness and quality of life may not be where you would like. Holistic Decision Making will help you to improve your quality of life, without compromising your professional efficiency.

  3. As an investors, you have more influence over the well-being of society than any other group of people. If one investor starts to make better decisions (decisions which take into account their personal values, relationships, environment and finances all at once) it will have a much larger impact on the world than if even a hundred middle class citizens were to do the same thing. With power comes responsibility.

A Step By Step Guide To Holistic Decision Making For Investors

  1. Define your Holistic Context

    • Who are the Decision Makers? Who has veto-power? (if you are a solo-investor this may just be yourself, if you are a group be sure to include every group member)

    • What is the resource base being managed, what resources can you leverage to help you achieve your goals? Money? Assets? Creativity? Etc.

    • Keep it short, but precise.

    • This stage is a prerequisite to forming your Holistic Goal.

  1. Define your Holistic Goal

  • If you are doing this process as a group it would be well worth your money to hire a facilitator. Someone who has experience with applying Holistic Management in group settings. For a list of qualified facilitators, look here.

    • Creating a Holistic Goal can be a very long process. Initially, however, you should attempt to create a temporary Holistic Goal in a single day. You can then immediately start to make better decisions; there is no need to wait for a perfectly polished Holistic Goal.

    • Your Holistic Goal can be a few short sentences. But, at the beginning it will probably be a page or more in length. That is okay. It is better for it to be too long than to be too short and omit something important.

    • As you are writing your Holistic Goal, make sure you are not writing how you are going achieve a goal. Just write the goal itself. Try to think of why you want something. For example, instead of writing “I will be rich” write about why you want to be rich “I will have security”, “I will leave wealth for my children”, “I will make the world a better place”, “I will enjoy all the pleasures life has to offer”, etc….

    • Steps to writing your Holistic Goal:

    1. Quality of Life: Define your ideal quality of life. You must really try to figure out what your deepest values are. When you figure out what it is you really want from life, write it in your Holistic Goal. Make sure you include your goals for the following areas of life: economic well-being, relationships, challenge/growth, and purpose/contribution. In a group, the Quality of Life statement should be an expression of the deepest values that you all share. When your values differ you should seek to accommodate each other, without compromising your individual values. Keep talking until the goal is right for all of you. This is where a facilitator is most useful.

    2. Forms of Production: Next define exactly what you will need to produce in order to achieve your desired Quality of Life. What is missing from your life right now that is preventing you from having the quality of life you desire? Examples: Free time, financial security, self awareness, a supportive community, healthy habits, etc.

    3. Future Resource Base: Next define what the future will need to look like in order to sustain your Quality of Life and Forms of Production. Specifically, you should include a description of the future landscape (the physical environment), and future community.

    4. Put all of the things you wrote onto a single sheet of paper; this is your Holistic Goal!

  1. Generate Ideas

    • Now that you know what you are working towards, your Holistic Goal, you need to use your creativity to think of some actions which might help you move towards your goals

    • Use all the resources at your disposal to generate ideas: books, the internet, mentors, peers, children, creativity exercises, etc.

    • Do not dismiss any ideas yet, no matter how ridiculous or unrealistic they may seem. The next stage is where you will sort the good ideas from the bad

  1. Decision Testing

    • Test every decision, every idea, every potential action, using the following Testing Questions (Try to spend only a few minutes at most on each question. Some questions will not always apply, use your judgment.):

    • Please refer to the “Holistic Management” book for more a more in-depth guide to these Testing Questions.
    1. Weeding Out The Really Bad Ideas = If taking this action will move you away from your Holistic Goal then you do not need to go any farther: do not take this action.

    2. Cause and Effect = (if the decision involves solving a problem) Does this action address the root cause of the problem?

    3. Weak Link

      1. Social = If you take this action, will you encounter or create a blockage to progress (consider prevailing social attitudes)?

      2. Financial = Does this action strengthen the weakest link in the Chain of Production? The Chain of Production has three links: Resource Conversion, Product Conversion, and Marketing.

    4. Marginal Reaction (when comparing two or more actions) = Which action provides the greatest return, in terms of your holistic goal, for the time and money spent?

    5. Gross Profit Analysis (when comparing two or more enterprises/investments) = Which enterprise/investment contributes the most to covering the overhead costs of the business?

    6. Energy/Money, Source & Use = Is the energy or money to be used in this action derived from the most appropriate source in terms of your Holistic Goal? Will the way in which the energy or money is to be used lead toward your Holistic Goal?

    7. Sustainability = If you take this action, will it lead toward or away from the Future Resource Base described in your Holistic Goal?

    8. Society & Culture = How do you feel about this action now? Will it lead to the Quality of Life you desire? Will it adversely affect the lives of others?

    • Train yourself to briefly consider all of these questions throughout your day whenever you are making a decision. Eventually the process of making decisions Holistically will become automatic and easy.

    • All group members should be involved as much as possible in decision testing.

  1. Plan, Monitor, Control, Re-plan

    • When you make a “Plan”, automatically assume it is wrong. Then, figure out what the earliest indication will be that the plan is failing. Constantly “Monitor” your results. When you see the first indication that the plan is not working: “Control”: Take immediate action to stop the problem from developing further. Finally, return to the drawing board for a fresh try: “Re-Plan”. Repeat.

The most important point to remember is that every investment decision you make must lead you closer to your Holistic Goal. 

Specific Investment Opportunities

I have a unique view into the world of agriculture which most investors do not, simply because agriculture is where I focus all of my time and energy. Although I am not an investor and I am not qualified to give investment advice, I see tremendous opportunity right now in Holistically Managed land and agriculture. I encourage you to consider the information with an open mind, and try to see past my lack of investing knowledge to the amazing, untapped value of Holistic Management. Do not forget the Holistic Investing guidelines discussed above, you must test every investment decision against your Holistic Goal.

Watch these two videos first:

Allan Savory’s TED Talk

Tony Lovell from SLM Partners

This is what Holistic Investing can accomplish. Invest in Holistic Management and literally "green the world".
This is what Holistic Investing can accomplish.


If I had capital I would be investing it in the following areas:

  • Land Regeneration

    • The Potential Of Holistic Management

      • Holistic Management is simply Holistic Decision Making applied to land management and agriculture. It includes several tools beside the decision making process, such as Holistic Planned Grazing, Holistic Financial Planning, and Holistic Land Planning.

      • Holistic Management has been proven to be able to regenerate degraded landscapes more quickly and economically than any other environmental restoration system known

      • Holistic Management, specifically Holistic Planned Grazing, can reliably restore deserting areas, pure deserts, and even mine sites, to lush and productive grasslands in a reasonably short period of time. It can accomplish this over huge areas of land while also producing marketable food in the form of meat.

      • Holistic Management can even improve already productive agricultural land. Typically livestock producers in humid areas of North America, for example, can double their production in less than ten years, and triple production in twenty years.

      • Holistic Management can build topsoil rapidly… increasing the agricultural value of land.

    • Real Estate

      • Desert land is currently very low in value; it produces almost nothing of value.

      • Holistic Management can turn deserts into productive range lands which are many times more productive than the original desert.

      • This is a relatively recent discovery, and so far no land-investors that I am aware of have discovered this opportunity

      • Imagine if you owned the worst desert land in Arizona, but you could choose to transform your land into East-Texas land for no cost… wouldn’t you do it? Wouldn’t every investor in the country be doing it?

      • There is no shortage of desert land in the world which can be transformed into lush grasslands. Your potential returns are essentially limitless.

    • Community Investment

      • What will happen to existing desert communities when the surrounding areas start to become much more productive, beautiful and hospitable?

      • Restoring deserts requires livestock managers, these people will need a place to live and buy stuff. They will probably go to the nearest existing community

      • Isn’t it reasonable to expect that desert communities will experience significant growth if the surrounding areas are regenerated with Holistic Management?

      • Who else in the investing world is aware of this opportunity? No one.

  • Holistic Ranching

    • Cattle and Beef

      • Conventional beef and cattle production is already a popular and safe investment

      • Holistic Management simply improves upon the profitability, safety, and sustainability of conventional beef and cattle investment

      • There are already two investment companies that I am aware of who are investing in Holistically Managed Cattle Production:

  • Holistic Cash Crops

    • More profit, less risk

      • Many investors lease their land to grain farmers/cash crop farmers

      • Holistic Managers have developed methods of producing cash crops which are far more profitable, and less risky, than conventional farming techniques

      • These methods also happen to regenerate landscapes, instead of degrading them

      • These methods increase profits primarily by radically reducing expenses: no fertilizers, pesticides, GMO seeds, irrigation, or cultivating machinery are required.

      • These methods reduce risk because the crops produced are much more resilient in the face of drought, storms, cold weather, hot weather, disease and pest damage, and fluctuating oil prices

    • Gabe Brown is the pioneer of these innovative techniques

Holistic Managers are people who follow the same Holistic Decision Making process outlined above. Most Holistic Managers in the world right now are primarily involved in agriculture.

Can you see the benefits of investing in a business in which all decisions are made Holistically? Can you see how this might be a safer, and more profitable, investment than investing in a business where decisions are made haphazardly?

If you are investing in land or agriculture you should be demanding Holistic Management of your investment. There are thousands of highly skilled Holistic Managers around the globe, don’t settle for less.

The Many Benefits Of Mulching Your Soil

*The first thing you must understand is that the health of your soil is what determines the health and productivity of your plants. If you have healthy soil, growing plants becomes easy and rewarding. Mulch is the key to healthy soil.

 Ecosystem Issue

With Mulch ……

With Bare Soil….

Soil Organic Matter (… it is responsible for holding most moisture and nutrients in soil)

Organic Matter is made from decomposed mulch. The Soil Organic Matter under mulch is constantly increasing as microorganisms eat the mulch from below and incorporate it into the soil.

There is no source of Soil Organic matter if the soil is bare. Soil Organic Matter will decrease over time since it is not being replenished. This means less water and nutrients will be held in the soil.

Soil Temperatures

Mulch acts like insulation for the soil, moderating the temperature. The soil is kept cooler on hot summer days, which prevents evaporation and possible burning of roots. The soil is also kept warmer during the winter, which allows the roots to be active and growing which will strengthen the plant the following season.

Soil temperatures fluctuate quickly without mulch. The soil gets very hot when the summer sun is hitting the soil, which kills most life in the top few inches of soil and also sucks out moisture quickly. Soil gets very cold in the winter, which could potentially kill some roots, weakening the plant in the future. Soil temperatures fluctuate widely between the day and night, these unstable conditions are hard for organisms to live in; this reduces soil biodiversity.

Soil Compaction

Mulch provides ample food for the microorganisms in the soil. Microorganisms are responsible for creating non-compacted, airy soils in nature, no tilling required. They create glues and fibers which bind soil particles together into larger particles, these larger particles do not pack as tightly as smaller particles (think of Olives in a jar versus Rice in a jar.) which allows more air and water flow through the soil.

Bare soil provides no food for soil organisms and makes it difficult for them to live. Without microorganisms creating larger soil particles the soil will become more and more compacted as the soil particles break down over time. Tilling is the only option…. which will actually kill even more soil organisms, so the problem of compaction just gets worse and worse each year.

Water infiltration rate and infiltration depth

Water can infiltrate a mulched soil quickly because the soil will be less compacted. When rain falls, all of the falling water is immediately absorbed into the soil instead of staying on the surface where it causes erosion problems. Mulched soil (if the soil has been well managed for several years) will also be loose to a greater depth, which allows rainwater to more easily reach the deep roots of perennial plants. Mulch also greatly reduces the rate of water evaporation from soils. So the water will stay where it is needed, instead of evaporating back into the atmosphere.

Bare soils become more and more compacted over time… especially at the surface layer of the soil. When rain hits the compacted soil most of it will simply stay on the surface and run downhill, instead of being soaked up by the soil. If there is somewhere for this surface water to go it will start to erode the soil (losing soil = bad). If not then it will create puddles. These puddles prevent air from getting to the soil below… this leads to anaerobic (no oxygen) soil conditions which are bad for many reasons(see below). The roots also require oxygen, if there is a puddle over the soil the roots will drown (die). Bare soil allows water to evaporate very quickly. A heavy rainfall on bare soil may be completely evaporated in a day, leaving soil organisms and plants without water.

Soil Aeration (anaerobic vs aerobic)

Mulch, as mentioned above, allows soil microorganisms to naturally loosen the soil. Loose soil is the only place Aerobic (with oxygen) conditions can occur. Under aerobic conditions nutrients remain in the soil, there is no bad smell, soil becomes looser, beneficial organisms dominate the soil.

Bare Soil, as mentioned above, creates compaction over time. Compacted soil quickly becomes Anaerobic (no oxygen). Under anaerobic conditions nutrients are lost as gasses, the soil smells bad, compaction increases, and disease causing organisms dominate the soil.

Other Benefits

Provides habitat for bugs, rodents and other small organisms which are essential parts of any food chain. Without these organisms the soil food web itself would be negatively effected.

Does not provide habitat for many organisms at all. The lack of small insects, rodents, etc will disrupt the balance of the soil ecosystem, leading to poor plant health.

The mulching power of properly managed livestock.
The mulching power of properly managed livestock.


What to use for mulch?

For Annual Plants:

  • Grass clippings, straw, hay and manure are best.

  • Wood chips, sawdust, shredded paper/cardboard and leaves are okay.

  • Never use bark mulch, plastic or cedar wood chips on your annual plants.

For Perennial Plants:

  • Wood chips, sawdust, shredded paper/cardboard and leaves are best.

  • Grass clippings, straw, hay and manure are okay.

  • Never use bark mulch or plastic. Cedar wood chips can be used as a last resort.

Permaculture: For Holistic Managers

**Note** This article assumes that the reader understands “Holistic Management” and “Holistic Decision Making”. If you are unfamiliar with these terms please read the book “Holistic Management: A New Framework for Decision Making” By Allan Savory and Jody Butterfield. It may seem like a lot for me to ask (“Read an entire book!?”). But if you are at all interested in sustainability, or agriculture, than I would say this book is required reading anyways, you might as well read it now rather than later. 

What is Permaculture?

Permaculture = “Permanent” + “Agriculture”

There are three parts to Permaculture:

  1. Permaculture Design: A system for designing sustainable landscapes and communities. Mostly based on the book “Permaculture: A Designer’s Manual” by Bill Mollison. Permaculture Design is a combination of specific suggestions and general principles.

  2. Permaculture Techniques: A large collection of ideas and techniques related loosely to sustainability and agriculture. These techniques come from a wide variety of sources, many of them are borrowed from other disciplines such as civil engineering, alternative energy, natural building, ecology, etc. There is no central authority to determine what is, or is not, a “Permaculture” technique. This lack of regulation has allowed the best techniques to flourish, spread and be improved upon by anyone.

  3. Permaculture Movement: A large, and growing, movement of people who are generally interested in sustainability. Most of them are practitioners of Permaculture Design and/or Permaculture Techniques. There is no central leadership or central organization controlling the movement. Most people in the Permaculture Movement aim to spread the principals and techniques of Permaculture over the entire Earth. Obviously they still have a long way to go.

What is a “PDC”?

PDC simply stands for “Permaculture Design Course”. PDC are one of the primary ways new people learn about Permaculture. Anyone at all can teach, and charge money for, a PDC; there is no central certification authority. Because of this, the quality, duration, and prices of PDCs vary dramatically. Careful research is required before signing up for a PDC to ensure that the teacher is worth the entry fee.

Most PDCs have the following characteristics:

  • a curriculum based on the chapters of “Permaculture: A Designer’s Manual”

  • a duration of several days of full time study

  • a price between $500-$1500

PDCs are the only form of certification within the Permaculture Movement. However, because of the varying quality of teachers, PDC completion is not a reliable indication of a person’s Permaculture knowledge or abilities.

A Brief History Of Permaculture

Permaculture started in the 1980s. The word “Permaculture” was coined by the founders Bill Mollison and David Holmgren. The Permaculture Movement started out very small, essentially it was just the students who attended Bill Mollison and David Holmgren’s lectures and PDCs. In the early stages most of Permaculture Technique was based on the textbook “Permaculture: A Designer’s Manual” by Bill Mollison. All three forms of Permaculture (Permaculture Design, Techniques, and the Movement) primarily owe their existence to this book. It is a very large and very thick book, and yet it is also incredibly information dense. I highly recommend that you read it, or at least flip through it to look at the illustrations (which are fabulous).

From its humble beginnings in the 80s, Permaculture has come quite a long way. Permaculture Design is still mostly based on the original textbook. Permaculture Techniques and the Permaculture Movement, however, have grown exponentially. Permaculture Techniques now number in the thousands. They have been created by hundreds of different people all over the world. Every year new techniques are added and old techniques are improved upon. The Permaculture Movement now has followers in almost every country on earth and it is growing rapidly. Permaculture has become especially popular among younger people in urban areas of North America, Australia, and Europe.

The Value Of Permaculture

Permaculture is full of good ideas. I will list a few here, just to peak your interest. But to list them all would require several books. In fact, there are many books written about Permaculture. If you would like to learn more about the ideas I list here, or if you want to hear more ideas, please check out the resources I list at the end of this article in the “Permaculture Resources” section.

Four Permaculture Design Principles:

1. “Stacking Functions”

        • The good designer should strive to include elements which perform more than one function. Look at the waste products, and the input needs, of an element; is there something that can utilize those waste products while also producing the input needs?

        • For example: If the design includes chickens it would be beneficial to also include an orchard. The chickens produce manure to fertilize the trees, they also eat bugs which would otherwise be pests in the orchard. The excess fruit produced by the trees in the orchard can be allowed to fall to the ground where it will feed the chickens. The trees also provide a safe roost for the chickens as well as shelter from the elements. If the orchard happens to be a U-Pick orchard then the chickens will also provide a marketing advantage: customers will enjoy interacting with the chickens while they pick fruit. This is a simple example of the “Stacking Functions” principle at work.

2. “The Problem Is The Solution”

        • Every problem is also an opportunity. The good designer will train themselves to recognize these opportunities and work them into their designs.

        • Example 1: If the land is covered in an invasive species the designer should research the species to find out what uses it has and then incorporate these into the design. If Kudzu covers the property: get goats. If a weedy tree dominates: find a use for its wood. Etc.

        • Example 2: If the property has very poor clay soil, find out what opportunities clay soil provides: Can it be used to make pottery? Can it be used as a cheap building material? Does it make water-harvesting earthworks more effective? Are there valuable plants which require poor, clay soil to thrive? Does it offer an opportunity to experiment with soil-regeneration techniques? Etc.

3. “Zones Of Production”

        • The good designer will position elements on the property based on the amount of time that will be spent in them. Elements which require daily attention should be close to the living area. Elements which only require one or two visits per year should be as far from the living area as possible.

        • Example 1: High-Use elements (herb garden, kitchen garden, milking parlor, tool shed, etc.) should be placed as close to the living area as possible.

        • Example 2: Low-Use elements (wood lot, wilderness area, etc) should be as far from the living quarters as possible.

        • Example 3: Medium-Use elements (crop fields, livestock pastures, orchards, etc) should be between the High-Use and Low-Use areas.

4. “Edge Effect”

      • Edges are the most productive areas of landscapes. The good designer will maximize the amount of edge in the landscape.

      • Examples of productive edges: Where water meets land, where forest meets field, where slope meets flat land, where roots meet soil, where soil meets rocks, where leaf meets the air, where roads meet vegetation, where “crop a” meets “crop b”, where “herd a” meets “herd b”, etc.

      • To maximize edges avoid straight lines. Patterns such as zig zags, waves, or spirals have the maximum amount of edge in the smallest area. Create textured landscapes with gullies and terraces. Create winding, long waterways instead of straight ditches. Create forest edges that wind inwards and outwards, not straight lines. Create polycultures, not monocultures. Create small fields with winding hedgerows, not large, featureless fields.

Six Specific Permaculture Techniques:

*I do not have space to provide references to validate these techniques, however they all work. Many of them I have personal experience with. All of them are in use on real farms, in the real world. These techniques are in no particular order.

1. Rocket Mass Heaters (RMH)

        • The Technique:

          • The fire burns very hot, and therefore very clean (no creosote)

          • After the passing through the combustion chamber, the air must wind its way through a large thermal mass, transferring the heat into the thermal mass as it goes

          • When the air finally exits the thermal mass it is room temperature and is completely smoke-free

          • The thermal mass holds the heat and releases it slowly into the house over several hours

          • The thermal mass is made of cob or brick. It can be designed to be a couch or a bed!

        • The Results:

          • Many times more efficient than even the best wood stoves (create more heat with less wood)

          • A well designed RMH can heat a house in winter for 24 hours with only 30 minutes of burn time

          • RMH can be built by anyone with cheap materials. Most RMH cost about $500 to build

          • People using RMH report cutting their wood usage down to 20-30% of what it used to be

2. S.T.U.N Plant Breeding (Sheer.Total.Utter.Neglect)

        • The Technique:

          • Plant from seed to achieve genetic diversity, seeds are cheap or free

          • Plant trees 6-12 inches apart, shrubs even closer than that, in rows 20-30 ft apart

          • graze animals, or plant crops, between your rows

          • Cull ruthlessly!

          • Aim to cull 70-80% of the plants within the first 5 years

          • Pick your breeding goals, and only keep the very best

          • After 5 years, or whatever time period you choose, take seed from the survivors and repeat the process

        • The Results:

          • You will be cutting down a lot of plants, use them for wood chips, animal feed, craft materials, compost materials, or dig up the plants and sell them

          • This technique has been used to develop brand new varieties of plants in just a few years

          • This technique is especially useful if you want to grow something that is not suited to your climate: plant a few thousand seeds and the chances are good that something will survive

          • This technique is currently being used to develop blight-resistant American Chestnuts

          • Universities, and plant breeding experts, will call your results “impossible”

          • This technique has the potential for amazing increases in production (ex: Hazelnut bushes which produce 2 nuts per flower instead of 1, this has only been accomplished on a farm practicing S.T.U.N.)

          • low costs : no need to buy expensive varieties of plants

          • low labor: plants will be so well adapted that they will not need pruning, fertilizer, weeding…. just harvesting

3. Compost Heat Source

          • The Technique

            • Build a large, round compost pile (precise size depends on heat needs)

            • Made with wood chips + Manure

            • Surround with a layer of square straw bales if your winter is cold

            • place plastic, or copper, pipe in a spiral through the pile, starting at the bottom and moving to the top

            • Connect the pipe to your water system

          • The Result:

            • pumping water through the pile will heat the water

            • a pile about 10 ft in diameter can provide hot water (including shower water) for a family for 1 year, including winter.

            • The water will not just be warm, it will be very hot!

            • People have used larger piles to heat their entire homes (a compost pile the size of a garage will provide 100% of your hot water and 100% of your winter house-heating for three years once set up!)

            • After the compost pile cools down, it is taken apart, and you get finished compost to apply to your garden, cropland, or pasture

            • can be used to heat houses, barns, watering troughs, greenhouses or outbuildings

4. Hugelculture

        • The Technique

          • Basically a huge raised garden bed with wood at the core

          • create a pile, or a long row, of wood (can be large logs or small branches)

          • Rotting wood will produce better results in the first few years than fresh wood

          • cover the pile/row of wood with about 1 foot of soil

          • during the process of creating the pile water everything very thoroughly

          • after the soil is put on you should plant the pile very densely with a fast growing crop (clover works well) and then cover the soil with mulch

          • the ideal size is 3-6 ft tall and 6-8 ft wide, if it is a row make it as long as you want

          • if you are creating a row on a slope it should be oriented across the slope so that it catches water, if frost is an issue than the row should allow the frost to flow downhill and away from the row, if you would like to create a heat-trap on one side and a cool area on the other side you can orient the rows east/west, if you want both sides to grow equally you can orient the rows north/south

          • never plant shrubs or trees on the pile because the pile will sink over time, exposing their roots

        • The Benefits

          • The wood inside the pile will slowly rot over many years, releasing nutrients to the plants growing on top

          • The rotting wood will provide food for the soil, increasing the organic matter content, biodiversity, aeration, worms, and beneficial fungi

          • The rotting wood acts as a sponge for water, soaking up the water when it rains, and then releasing the water to the plants slowly over several days

          • The air pockets and little spaces inside the pile will provide habitat for all sorts of beneficial bugs, bees, rodents, snakes, etc.

          • The raised bed is easier to access for gardeners who can no longer bend very well

          • The south side of a large “Hugelculture” row can really build up a lot of heat, which can extend the growing season in cooler climates

          • The rotting wood itself will also generate heat, extending your growing season and increasing your root growth

          • This technique has been used to grow veggies with zero irrigation all summer long

5. Forage Forests

        • The Technique

          • Trees are planted which are highly tolerant of pruning, and which provide good food for your species of livestock

          • Either “Coppice” or “Pollard” production can be used

          • Pollard Technique:

            • trees are allowed to grow about 20 ft tall before being cut

            • trees are cut just above the “browse line”

            • trees are cut every 2-5 years

            • cuttings are manually fed to animals, the sticks are used for fuel

          • Coppice Technique:

            • trees are allowed to grow 10-20ft tall before being cut

            • trees are cut every 2-5 years just above ground level

            • before the trees are cut, animals are allowed to graze the area (they will be able to reach most of the vegetation on their own)

            • after the animals graze, the remaining shoots are cut and used for fuel-wood

        • The Results:

          • Some of the oldest forests on earth are “Coppice” or “pollard” forests: this technique increases tree lifespan

          • provides better nutrition than grass if producing goats, elk, deer, or other browsers

          • totally drought resistant after established, the tree roots will eventually go down 50 ft or more

          • the young shoots can be cut, dried, and stored as “tree hay” (tree hay has been used to feed livestock in Scandinavia for thousands of years)

          • Provides an abundance of wood for fires, natural building techniques, mulch, fence posts, etc. (most of the wood is long, straight, poles less than 3 inches in diameter)

6. Rain-Producing Forests

      • The Technique

        • In tropical climates rain relies on microscopic particles in the air to form

        • Trees can provide these microscopic particles, allowing rain clouds to form where they otherwise wouldn’t

        • Trees planted on ridge lines are best for achieving this effect

      • The Result

        • Tropical reforestation projects as small as 5000 acres have been proven to significantly increase the local rainfall

        • The trees, of course, provide many other benefits as well

        • This also demonstrates why deforestation can create arid landscapes where there once was a rainforest

There are thousands of other great ideas contained within Permaculture:

Food Forests, Aquaculture, Natural Swimming Pools, Compost Toilets, Greywater Irrigation, Water Harvesting Earthworks, Companion Planting Suggestions, Micro-Climate Manipulation, Underground Housing, Natural Building Techniques, Living Fences, Compost Creation, Animal and Vegetable Integration Systems, Survival Techniques, Marketing Techniques, Coastline Agriculture, Banana Circles, Plant Guilds, Wood Fueled Vehicles, Timber Production, Fish Production, Alpine Food Production Techniques, and many more….

If you are interested in learning more, read the “Permaculture Resources” section at the end of this article.

Challenges With Permaculture

**Note** If you are unfamiliar with the terms “Holistic Management” (HM) or “Holistic Decision Making” please refer to the book “Holistic Management: A New Framework for Decision Making” By Allan Savory and Jody Butterfield.

Non-Holistic Decision Making

Permaculture does not offer any decision making framework, it only offers techniques and design principles. Permaculture on its own, without Holistic Decision Making, will not produce true sustainability. There are thousands of examples of Permaculture projects that have failed due to a failure to address either the social or the financial aspects of management. Although some of the more innovative Permaculture practitioners are starting to adopt Holistic Management, most people in the Permaculture Movement have no idea Holistic Management exists. I believe that the lack of Holistic Decision Making is currently the primary factor slowing down the progress of the Permaculture Movement.

Arid Climates

The original Permaculture textbook, “Permaculture: A Designer’s Manual”, was written without any understanding of Animal Impact or the Brittleness Scale. Because of this, I would describe most “Chapter 11: Dryland Strategies” to be obsolete (except for some excellent suggestions about designing houses for desert climates). The most common Permaculture techniques suggested in dry climates are water-harvesting earthworks (swales, dams, gabions) and planting trees (especially pioneer, nitrogen-fixing trees). These techniques have proven successful in small scale “Greening The Desert” projects. But for large scale projects there is just no substitute for Holistic Planned Grazing.

Integrating Permaculture Into Your Holistic Decision Making

Permaculture offers a wealth of novel ideas. Some of these ideas could make a big difference in your management effectiveness. The key to integrating Permaculture with Holistic Management is to recognize that all ideas and plans created with the help of Permaculture must be tested against your Holistic Goal before they are implemented. (see my previous article “A Missing Piece In The Holistic Management Framework”)

Permaculture + Holistic Management

The Benefits Of Collaboration:

What Holistic Management Has To Offer The Permaculture Movement:

  • Holistic Decision Making: which will dramatically increase the success of Permaculture

  • Holistic Planned Grazing: an amazing land-regeneration tool

  • Holistic Land Planning: offers some improvements to Permaculture Landscape Design

  • Holistic Financial Planning: sorely needed, Permaculture has no financial techniques

  • 4 Ecosystem Processes: valuable insight into the way ecosystems function

  • A global community of broad-acre farmers and ranchers

  • The ability to gain more traction with conventional farmers and the industrial food system

What The Permaculture Movement Has To Offer Holistic Management:

  • A very large, and growing, global community of people passionate about sustainability

  • Techniques for better landscape and settlement design

  • An assortment of creative ideas, not found anywhere else

  • Increased influence in urban areas, among young people, and on the internet

  • Some very creative eco-entrepreneurs

Permaculture Is Big

Because there is no central leadership or organization in Permaculture it is very difficult to determine how large the movement really is. However, in terms of the number of people in the movement, it is clear that the Permaculture Movement currently dwarfs the Holistic Management Movement…

Comparison Of The Online Presence Of Permaculture Versus HM

Date: September 2015


Holistic Management


More popular among young, urban people, internet using people, and small acreage holders. The Permaculture movement is probably much larger, in terms of people, than Holistic Management. More popular among older farmers/ranchers, large land holders, and people who do not use the internet. Holistic Management is probably much larger, in terms of total land base, than Permaculture.

Google Search Results

7 500 000

260 000

Facebook Likes

100 000

7 000

Number Of Books (based on Amazon.com search)


214 (includes results not really related to HM)

YouTube Videos (# of search results)

150 000

38 000

Number of Groups on Meetup.com

Too many for me to count, many of them had thousands of members. Primarily in urban areas of the US.

None that I could find.

iTunes Podcasts



Google Search Popularity (average over 10 years)



How To Move Towards Collaboration:

It is clear that more collaboration between Permaculture and HM would be of benefit to everyone. But how can we achieve this?

As Holistic Managers we should…

  1. Remain respectful of the value that both sides have to offer, avoid becoming defensive, argumentative, or dogmatic when the “other side” does not totally agree with us

  2. Ensure that we fully understand both Permaculture and HM and how they fit together

  3. Start to attend Permaculture events

  4. Read Permaculture books

  5. Begin to build our online-presence and also start to interact with the online Permaculture Movement

  6. Learn to communicate the value that Holistic Management has to offer Permaculturists

  7. Invite Permaculture people to our events

  8. Educate our fellow Holistic Managers about the value of Permaculture and how to integrate it with HM

  9. Begin to use Permaculture techniques on our own land, if they pass the testing questions

Permaculture Resources





Permaculture: A Designers Manual

The Resilient Farm and Homestead: An Innovative Permaculture and Whole Systems Design Approach

Sepp Holzer’s Permaculture: A Practical Guide to Small-Scale, Integrative Farming and Gardening

The One-Straw Revolution: An Introduction to Natural Farming

Restoration Agriculture: Real World Permaculture for Farmers

-Regrarians Handbook

Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture, 2nd Edition

Tree Crops: A Permanent Agriculture (Conservation Classics)

The Fifty Dollar and Up Underground House Book



Earthworks 3-DVD Set : Ponds, Swales and Hugelkultur in action. Permaculture techniques explained by Paul Wheaton – World Domination Gardening 2014 (ENG) NTSC
Wood Burning Stoves 2.0 – 4 DVD set : Secret of Rocket Mass Heater and Rocket Stove revealed by Paul Wheaton
Permaculture Skills: A Cold-climate, Applied Permaculture Design Course (4-DVD set)
The Permaculture Orchard : Beyond Organic (DVD – English)

-INHABIT Documentary

Free Online Videos

-Geoff Lawton’s Free Videos

Jack Spirko’s Videos

-Elaine Ingham’s Videos

-Sepp Holzer Videos

-Mark Shepard Videos

-Farmstead Meatsmith


Geoff Lawton’s PDC

-FarmStead Meatsmith Courses

-Heating Water With Compost

-Permaculture Research Institute


Natural Building

-8 forms of capital

-The Survival Podcast

-Permaculture Voices

-Paul Wheaton

-Permaculture Meetups


-Geoff Lawton

-Darren Doherty

-Masanobu Fukuoka

-Mark Shepard

-Ben Falk

-Paul Wheaton

-Jack Spirko

-Elaine Ingham

-Toby Hemenway

-Willie Smits

-Sepp Holzer

A Missing Piece In The Holistic Management Framework?

HM = “Holistic Management”

The Holistic Management Framework is currently the best system for sustainable decision making available to us. But what if something important were missing from the Holistic Management Framework? What if the process could be even better than it already is?

What Is Missing?

What is missing is a step in the Holistic Decision Making Framework. It lies between the forming of a Holistic Goal and Decision Testing. This missing piece is the “Idea Generation” process. Before any decision can be tested there must first be an idea.

An Example Of Idea Generation At Work:

Your group has just finished creating your Holistic Context and Holistic Goal. Now it is time to test your first decision. You are in the tropics. Someone in the group suggests that you should test the decision to plant shade trees in your pasture. You test the decision and find that it passes the testing questions. You implement the decision and monitor the results over time.

Where was Idea Generation in that example? The Idea Generation stage occurred in the mind of the group member who suggested you “test the decision to plant shade trees in your pasture”. Perhaps the group member had read about shade trees in a book the night before, or maybe a friend visited them recently and talked about the benefits of shade trees in the tropics. In the absence of any Idea Generation at all, the group would be stuck; they would have nothing to test. If Idea Generation did occur, but was not done well, than they would have been able to continue but their management would not live up to its full potential. Good Idea Generation is essential to management.

Why Idea Generation Was Left Out:

The reason why Idea Generation is not explicitly discussed in the Holistic Management Framework is that it occurs very naturally for most people; it is automatic and quick. People are constantly creating new ideas, learning new ideas, and sharing their ideas with other people. Idea Generation requires little conscious effort.

In contrast, the other steps in the Holistic Management Framework (Holistic Goal, Testing Questions, etc) do not come naturally to most people. That is why Allan Savory had to write the book in the first place. We have to discipline ourselves to follow the Holistic Management Process.

If Idea Generation Is Automatic, Why Talk About It?

Think about the example given above:

What if the idea to plant shade trees had never occurred to them? They may have missed out on a valuable tool for achieving their Holistic Goal. They surely would have come up with some idea to test, but there is no guarantee it would have been a good one.

It is valuable to talk about Idea Generation because, when it is done well, it can have a huge impact on our management.

The Testing Questions are invaluable for determining if an idea should be implemented or not. But the Testing Questions cannot improve the quality of the ideas you test in the first place.

Why The “Brainstorming Process” Is Not The Same Thing.

The Holistic Financial Planning process includes brainstorming, which is a specific form of Idea Generation. However brainstorming is only discussed in the context of Financial Planning and altering business enterprises. Idea Generation, in contrast, occurs daily in all aspects of management. Responding to a broken dam requires Idea Generation. Planning the day’s work activities requires Idea Generation. Designing new infrastructure requires Idea Generation. Idea Generation is a much larger and broader concept than “brainstorming ideas for new enterprises”.



Current Holistic Management Framework:

  1. Define the Holistic Context

  2. Define the Holistic Goal

      1. Test Decisions….. Where do the decisions come from?

      2. Implement

      3. Monitor, etc.

Proposed Holistic Management Framework:

      1. Define the Holistic Context

      2. Define the Holistic Goal

        1. Idea Generation

        2. Test Decisions

        3. Implement

        4. Monitor, etc.

The Benefits Of Including Idea Generation In HM

If we make Idea Generation an explicit part of the Holistic Management Framework there are two main benefits to us:

Benefit #1 of including Idea Generation in HM:

It allows us to integrate outside systems into HM without compromising the integrity of HM.

The amazing thing about Holistic Management is that it allows us to use any tool or system we want in our management. It allows us to determine which tools and systems will lead us towards our goal and which ones won’t. However, the current Holistic Management Framework does not clearly indicate how to integrate outside systems, or ideologies, into HM while still maintaining the proper Decision Making Process.

Consider the following example:

A Holistic rancher hears about a landscape design system called Permaculture**. The rancher researches the system and realizes that it holds a lot of value and could probably improve the ranch. The Holistic rancher also recognizes the value of Holistic Decision Making but does not see a clear way of combining Permaculture Design with Holistic Decision Making. There are two possible outcomes of this scenario:

  1. The rancher temporarily abandons HM, and applies Permaculture Design to the ranch. Because none of the decisions in this process were tested against the Holistic Goal, they eventually produce unintended consequences.

  2. The rancher decides to ignore the value contained in Permaculture Design because they recognize the necessity of always using Holistic Decision Making. The ranch never lives up to the potential it could have had if Permaculture Design had been applied to it.

Both of the outcomes above represent a loss of potential. But there is a third option available…

If the rancher is familiar with the Idea Generation stage of HM, the rancher will easily be able to integrate Permaculture Design into the ranch:

Permaculture Design, like most non-HM systems, is part of the Idea Generation stage of HM. Therefore the results of the Permaculture Design process will be treated just like any other ideas that come out of the Idea Generation stage: they will all still need to be tested, implemented, monitored, etc. according to the Holistic Management Framework.

In this third scenario the ranch receives the benefits of Permaculture Design without any of the unintended consequences that result from not using Holistic Decision Making. A win-win scenario.

If Idea Generation is an explicit part of HM then it will be easy for managers to integrate any useful system or ideology with HM. They will gain the benefit of ideas from other disciplines, while retaining all the benefits of HM.


Most outside systems and ideologies fit best into the Idea Generation stage of HM. Here are examples of systems which fall into the Idea Generation stage:


  • “Permaculture”**

  • “Keyline Design”

  • “Regrarians”

  • Elaine Ingham – Composts and Cover Crops

  • Ag-Extension Agent Suggestions

  • Masanobu Fukuoka – No Work Farming

  • SPIN farming

  • and many others…


  • Marketing Systems

  • Business Philosophies

  • and many others…


  • 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

  • Spiritual traditions

  • Psychotherapy, psychology

  • Meditation techniques

  • Relationship Philosophies

  • Communication Systems

  • and many others…

There are far too many to list! All of these can be seamlessly integrated into our Holistic Management if we understand the Idea Generation phase.

Holistic Land Planning Is Part Of The Idea Generation Phase:

I would even argue that some parts of Holistic Management itself fit well into the Idea Generation phase of Decision Making; especially Holistic Land Planning: The process of Holistic Land Planning, is similar to Permaculture Design: it allows you to create a very good plan for your landscape. But you still have to test your decisions… therefore Holistic Land Planning is actually a part of the Idea Generation phase.

Conclusion To Benefit #1:

Most Holistic Managers are probably already using multiple ideologies in their management. Perhaps some Holistic Managers have already figured out how to integrate these ideologies into HM seamlessly. But I am willing to bet that many people do not know how to integrate these systems, or even that they can be integrated. Because they do not know how to integrate these outside systems into HM they will usually end up temporarily abandoning HM while they use the outside system… leading to unintended consequences. This is a situation that can be easily remedied if we formally acknowledge that Idea Generation is a distinct part of the Holistic Management Framework.

*Important Note*
The terms ”outside ideologies” , “outside systems”, or “non-HM” refer to any theory, system, ideology, or method which is not mentioned in the book “Holistic Management: A New Framework for Decision Making”. In reality there is no such thing as an “outside” or “non-HM” ideology or system because HM does not discriminate against any management tool. However the author determined that these terms were useful for clearly communicating the ideas in this article.

Benefit #2 of including Idea Generation in HM:

It allows us to develop and discuss better Idea Generation techniques, which will improve our management effectiveness.

Until Idea Generation is explicitly included in the Holistic Management Framework it is unlikely that we will give it the attention it deserves.

Idea Generation can be vastly improved when it becomes a conscious process that we are working on, instead of an unconscious process that we are barely aware of. The benefits of improving our Idea Generation are simple and obvious: if we are testing more diverse ideas and better quality ideas we are more likely to stumble upon one that dramatically improves our management.

These are just a few techniques for boosting our Idea Generation skills*:

Methods for generating more ideas from our own minds:

        • dream journal

        • artistic expression

        • brainstorming on paper

        • physical exercise

        • intoxicants

        • meditation

        • observing nature

Methods for generating more ideas from other people’s minds:

    • getting more ideas from books

      • really old books

      • books in different languages

      • really new books

      • obscure books

      • books with cult-followings

      • fiction books

      • religious books

    • getting more ideas direct from other people

      • seminars, courses, etc

      • conferences

      • grass tours, “open gate learning”, etc

      • mentorship

      • asking better questions during conversation

      • teaching others

      • asking experts

      • talking to children

      • talking to crazy people

      • talk to strangers

    • getting more ideas from other media

      • internet webinars

      • blogs

      • social media pages of smart people

      • podcasts

      • YouTube videos

      • email lists

      • search engines

*Page 471 in “Holistic Management: A New Framework for Decision Making” has some good ideas for Idea Generation techniques.

Embracing Bad Ideas:

After an idea is generated the brain immediately starts to analyze it. This is the initial, quick evaluation that helps us to weed out the clearly bad ideas. However the natural human tendency, especially in adults, is to dismiss ideas too easily. We want to avoid embarrassment, we are afraid of being ridiculed for having a bad idea. If you want to unlock your own creativity you must learn to overcome your fear of ridicule. Embrace your bad ideas, and test them against your Holistic Goal, you might be surprised with the results.


I am a huge fan of Holistic Management as it currently exists. It has dramatically changed my life for the better. It has given me hope for the future of humanity. It is the best Decision Making Framework I have ever encountered. However, I believe that we, as a movement, should always be looking for ways to improve. We should always be questioning our assumptions.

If the Idea Generation process were to be acknowledged as a distinct part of HM it would allow us to seamlessly integrate outside systems of thought into HM without compromising the integrity of our management. I am thinking specifically of the Permaculture movement, which is rapidly becoming the dominant movement in the world of sustainability**.

Formally including Idea Generation in HM would also allow individuals to discuss and improve their Idea Generation techniques. Generating more ideas, and better ideas, would probably lead to better management (as long as all of those ideas were properly tested, of course).

**My next article, “Permaculture: For Holistic Managers”, explains what Permaculture is, and how it can benefit us as Holistic Managers.