Cost Benefit Analysis: Electric Fencing vs. Predat…

Will releasing a pack of hungry wolves on a cattle herd produce better results than the worlds best grazing system?

Planned Grazing is currently the “worlds best grazing system”. It is essentially a management process which attempts to mimic the natural behavior of wild herds when they are being hunted by packs of predators:

Wild herds of herbivores stay closely bunched together to avoid predators. Because they are bunched so closely they trample and defecate all over the ground, which means they cannot return to that same spot for quite some time. So you get a ton of animal impact in a short time… followed by a long period of rest. This cycle of impact, rest, impact, rest is exactly what Planned Grazing imitates.

Planned Grazing uses very intensive human management: lots of fences, watering points, daily herding, planning, etc. This is the only way we can effectively get the impact/rest pattern without the presence of pack-hunting predators constantly pressuring our livestock.

So why not just use the predators? It would save the managers a lot of time and money right?

Bunched Bison

That is what I thought. But, like many “elegant solutions”, the idea fell short when actually put to the test.

Here is a cost benefit analysis of using Planned Grazing Management versus allowing wild predators to do the management (It is a simplified version of the full cost benefit analysis I did, but the results are just as revealing):

Costs of Planned Grazing Management:

Variables:Time period = 20 years ; Land size = 10,000 acres ; Labor Cost = $10/hour ; Cost to build electric fence = $0.40/ft 

Fence cost: $250,000.00

Labor cost: $145,000.00

Total Cost over 20 years: $395,000.00

 

Cost of Predator-Based Management:

Variables: Time period = 20 years ; Land size = 10,000 acres ; Labor cost = $10/hour ; Livestock killed / year by predators = 200 ;

Death-loss cost: $5,600,000.00

Total Cost over 20 years: $5,600,000.00

 

Results:

 

Total $ / year / acre spent on Planned Grazing Management = $1.98

Total $ / year / acre spent on Predator-Based Management = $28.00

Keep in mind that there are many unknown variables in this analysis. No one has ever attempted to manage a large number of livestock using only wild predators. However, the results above seem to indicate that, unless there are massive unknown benefits of using the Predator-Based Management system, using Planned Grazing Management is definitely more profitable!

Land and Profit Improvement Tools

*Ordered based on cost effectiveness. I will expand on these concepts in future posts. Or you can contact me directly with questions about these tools.

These are the 9 most effective tools for regenerating land on a vast scale:

  1. Holistic Planned Grazing (A.k.a High Density Rotational Grazing)
  2. “Bale-Grazing”
  3. Large-Batch Hot Composting
  4. Keyline Plowing
  5. Shade Tree Establishment
  6. “S.T.U.N” breeding programs (Sheer Total Utter Neglect)
  7. Cafeteria-Style Free Choice Minerals
  8. Water Harvesting Earthworks (ponds, dams, swales, gabions etc)
  9. Predator-Induced rotational grazing

Hedgerow or “Living Fence” Plants for the Pacific Northwest

This is a list of plants I created for a client in British Columbia, Canada. These are plants that are well suite for creating a fast-growing “living fence”. If properly constructed, a living fence could: contain livestock, keep out predators, keep out unwanted visitors, provide privacy, and more.

Hedgerow/Living Fence

Name

Thorny

Easy to Cultivate

Animal Resistant

Fast Growing

Food Bearing

Density

Hawthorn

Yes

Yes

Yes

Med

Yes

Very

Roses

Yes

Yes

Not necessarily

Med

Yes

Very

Black Locust

Yes

Maybe

Maybe

High

No

Maybe

Honey Locust

Yes

Maybe

Maybe

High

Yes

Maybe

Holly

Yes

Yes

Yes

Med

No

Very

Laurel

No

Yes

Maybe

Yes

No

Very

Cedar

No

Yes

Maybe

No

No

Very

Willow

No

Yes

No

Yes

No

Somewhat

Autumn Olive

No

Yes

Maybe

Yes

Yes

Very if pruned

Hazelnut

No

Somewhat

Maybe

Yes

Yes

Very

Barberry

Yes

Maybe

Yes

Maybe

Yes

Very, low

Gorse

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

No

Very

Cutting Edge Vegetable Production Techniques

All of the techniques I will explain here compliment each other. Implementing one of them without the others may not lead to good results. They are in order of importance. This post was written with small scale veggie production in mind.

The 6 Essential Practices:

  1. No-Till

  2. Mulch

  3. Compost

  4. Diversity

  5. Perennial Ground-covers

  6. No fertilize

    A Cutting-Edge Veggie Garden

    Technique #1 No Till

Almost everyone tills, but that does not mean it is a good idea. Let’s examine the evidence and use our own intuition, observation of nature, and logical thinking to come to our own conclusions.

Why do people till? To break up compacted soil, to release nutrients, to remove weeds, to add amendments to the soil.

What actually happens when you till? The soil is broken up, but most of the microorganisms in the soil die from exposure to air, dry conditions and sun. The death of these microorganisms releases all of the nutrients in their bodies, creating a short term flush of plant growth. However doing this year after year will deplete the microorganisms and nutrients in your soil so it will become necessary to add fertilizers, and even still you will be missing the microbes. These microorganisms, which are destroyed by tilling, are the ONLY THING which combats soil compaction in nature. They do this by binding up soil particles into larger aggregates which creates space inside the soil for water, nutrients,and life… it also make the soil loose and easy for plant roots to move through. Even though tilling will temporarily brake up the compacted soil it is actually the primary cause of compacted soil because it kills the microbes in the soil, so you will have to keep tilling more and more to keep your soil loose. The soil will quickly become compacted again after you till unless you have a healthy soil ecosystem to create soil aggregates. Also, tilling will only relieve the compaction as deep as your tiller reaches (only a foot or two at most) whereas a soil with healthy microbes will be loose for many feet down, which allows plant roots (yes even veggies) to reach far down for nutrients and water.

What about weeds? Weeds are actually just a symptom, not the problem itself. They are a symptom of three things: compacted soil, low nutrient soil, bare soil. Tilling creates all three of those things, so it is actually the primary cause of weeds (along with other types of soil disturbance like overgrazing). To get rid of weeds without tilling do the following: mulch so there is NO bare soil, improve your soils with compost, plant densely, have a low growing, perennial, ground cover to shade out young weeds but not your vegetables.

Benefits of No-Till:

  • less work
  • no need for tilling machines
  • lower compaction deep into the soil (if you rehabilitate your soil)
  • fewer weeds over the long term
  • better soil ecosystem which has innumerable benefits for your veggie plants
  • your soil can actually accumulate nutrients instead of constantly losing them
  • no bare soil which is good for everything but also prevents erosion
  • increased soil organic matter over time because soil decomposition is slowed down ( a good thing)
  • better drought resistance because myccorhizal fungi are allowed to grow which bring water and nutrients from far away to the roots of your plants
  • no-till will give you better and better results each year, the opposite of tilling
  • ability have perennial plants integrated into your veggie garden

 

Drawbacks of No-Till:

  • There will be a transition period after you stop tilling in which you will probably weeds, pests, and poor plant growth. These effects can be almost completely mitigated by applying good quality compost, mulch, and cover crops.(see below)

References:

  • Please watch these videos, they will help allay your doubts:
  • Elaine Ingham: not a very good communicator, but a brilliant scientist.
  • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QMvpop6BdBA (only the first 1 hour)
  • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z9YYB_7eDhI
  • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x2H60ritjag
  • Gabe Brown: 5000 acres in North Dakota
  • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9yPjoh9YJMk
  • Others:
  • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q1aR5OLgcc0
  • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2brHfHPusac

 

 

Technique #2 Mulch

Mulching is the key to No-Till gardening, but it will also help even if you are tilling. Mulching feed the microbes, bugs, and worms in your soil. The mulch will eventually be incorporated into your soil by these organisms, which will increase your organic matter content. Increasing your soil organic matter will allow you to hold more water and nutrients in your soil. Mulching will keep your soil moist during the summer by preventing evaporation (the difference is actually very dramatic), and it will also prevent your soil from becoming waterlogged during the winter. Mulching prevents soil runoff and surface compaction during rain. Mulching keeps the micro climate near the soil cooler in the summer heat and warmer during the night, which helps your plants. Mulching is also the most effective way to control weeds (if your mulch is thick enough).

How to Mulch:

  • Cover all soil completely with a layer of mulch that is as thick as you can afford, but probably anything more than 6 inches thick is unnecessary and might shade your young plants too much.
  • What to use as mulch?
  • Awesome mulch materials: Leaves, wood chips from deciduous trees, manure, and grass clippings (these are best around your brassicas, not other vegetables), rocks (as long as you are not trying to grow root crops because they will eventually be incorporated into the soil over time… rocks provide thermal mass for better plant growth and habitat for snakes which eat slugs)
  • Good mulch materials: wood chips (not cedar, though), sawdust, hay, manure
  • Not that good, but better than nothing: straw, bark mulch, cedar wood chips, cardboard, paper

    Technique #3 Compost

    If you watched that Elaine Ingham video you will know the value of compost. Here is the link again: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QMvpop6BdBA

Basically compost is a way of quickly and directly introducing beneficial microorganisms into your soil which may have been missing. If you are doing everything right but your soil is still not healthy then you are probably missing some microbes and will need to apply compost. These microorganisms will: extract nutrients from rock therefore increasing nutrients available in your soil, form soil aggregates which reduce compaction and give you better structure, fight off pathogen microorganisms which would otherwise hurt your plants, and lots more. You do not need to apply a lot of compost to get these benefits, but you do need to apply HIGH QUALITY COMPOST in order to get these benefits. Poorly made, anaerobic compost will actually hurt your plants and your soil!

How to make high quality, aerobic compost:

  • No matter what, you will need a balanced Nitrogen (greens) to Carbon (browns) ratio. Basically add wood chips or sawdust to every compost pile and you should be okay.
  • Option 1: turn your compost whenever there is any sign of anaerobic conditions (smell, white mould) or whenever the temperature gets up to 160 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Option 2: create a very high carbon compost pile and leave it for a year… but this means your compost will need to be mostly wood chips, or sawdust.

 

 

Technique #4 Diversity

 The more diversity in plant species, root types, leaf shapes, flowering times, etc you have in your garden the more resilient and healthy your garden will be in the face of pests, changing weather, etc.

 

Technique #5 Perennial Ground Covers

Compost and mulch are great initial solutions for improving your soil, but the best long term solution to get really healthy soil and a really healthy garden ecosystem is to have living plant roots in the ground for as much of the year as possible. Your vegetable crops will not accomplish this because they are mostly annuals. So the obvious solution is to have perennial plants covering your vegetable garden all year round however you have to make sure that these plants will not compete with your vegetables for light and for moisture. So what you need are spreading perrenial plants which will not grow more than a few inches tall and which will develop deep roots to take moisture from parts of your soil that the vegetables cannot access. Here are some example plants which I have selected for the Pacific Northwest Climate: Yerba Buena (native fragrant herb) , Sedums, Creeping Daisy, Alpine Strawberry (give you strawberries as a bonus and is very tough), Yarrow (medicinal) , Chamomile (medicinal), Creeping Thyme (culinary herb)

 

.Technique #6 No fertilizer

If you can establish a very healthy ecosystem and diversity of microorganisms within your garden soil then you will no longer need fertilizer (yes I am talking about organic fertilizer). This can save you some money and time, obviously. The key thing to understand is that all of the nutrients in the soil have come from the bedrock or from the atmosphere. The bedrock contains all of nutrients plants need in endless quantities, the problem is that the plant cannot access them. However, in nature, this problem is solved by bacteria and fungi which can extract these nutrients from the rock and make them available to plant roots. So if you have a healthy soil with all the microbes needed to extract all of the different minerals from the rock you will never have a nutrient deficiency! Nutrient deficiencies are actually just signs that your are missing some important microbes in your soil. So, as you improve the microbiology in your soil I would recommend reducing the amount of fertilizer you put on your soil (yes, even organic fertilizer) and eventually stopping altogether. Sometimes applying fertilizer can actually disrupt the soil life so that your are inhibiting the microorganisms you need from actually developing a healthy population. Plants are very smart. When they need a nutrient they release “exudates” from their roots which are specifically tailored to grow a specific type of bacteria that will extract the specific nutrient they need from the soil. When you supply a lot of manganese, for example, in a plant available form then the plant will never release the “exudates” to the manganese-extracting bacteria so they will not have a large population and your plants will always be needing supplemental manganese. This whole discussion is not even talking about the potential drawbacks of applying fertilizers based on flawed scientific research (which is what most soil labs use because it allows them to sell more fertilizer) which can create imbalances in nutrient ratios which are bad for your soil and your plants. If you apply fertilizer and see a lot of benefit in your plant growth this means that your soil ecosystem is lacking critical organisms and needs some help.

Note:

Some of these suggestions you may not believe will work, some of them are very unconventional. I would recommend that your divide your veggie garden in half… on one half do what you are doing now, on the other half implement everything I recommend. Observe carefully and record the results over at least 3 years. It is always better to find out the truth for yourself instead of just believing what other people (including myself) tell you. I have included links under each section to outside references so that you can see more evidence supporting these techniques.

In Brief: The Benefits Of Planned Rotational Grazing

What is “Rotational Grazing”?

The grazing animals are kept in as small of an area as possible while still keeping them happy and not overcrowded. This small area is moved around within a larger area very regularly. The exact timing of the movement from one area to the next area depends on the grazing plan, but is usually about one or two days. The area has fencing to keep the animals in and a basic portable shelter which is moved with the animals . The animals only need enough shelter to mimic their natural environment (for goats, dry-land animals, that means shelter from the rain, for pigs, forest animals, that means access to shade) if you are rotating them regularly. Cows do not need any shelter.

High-Density Grazing at B-C Ranch, SK, Canada

Advantages

  • Huge increase in forage production per acre, with no additional inputs. Most people double their forage production in the first few years after adopting rotational grazing. Depending on the climate and intensity of management 200-300% increases in forage production can be expected.
  • Huge reduction of animal parasites and diseases because animals are not constantly living near their own feces, by the time they return to an area their feces (and all the parasites in it) have decomposed.

  • Increased animal nutrition because animals have access to a wider variety of plants, and the plants can be allowed to recover and reach maximum nutritional content before the animals are allowed to eat them.

  • Reduced need for supplemental feed in winter (as long as you do not have ice, or more than 2ft of snow) because tall grass can be stockpiled for winter grazing

  • Reduced need for supplemental feed during the dry season
  • No need to move manure or change bedding, the manure will just decompose where it fell and help the soil in that area.

  • Increased plant health because plants are given a chance to recover after being eaten

  • Increased soil health because under proper management the animals will only eat about 50% of the plants in the area… the rest they will trample to the ground, this plant material will protect the soil and eventually decompose, building soil in the process

  • Far less smell unpleasant smells, feces are not allowed to build up in one area

  • Increased biodiversity because plants that cannot withstand constant grazing, but can withstand occasional grazing, will be able to grow

  • protecting delicate plants is much easier because you only need to protect them for the short amount of time that the animals are around them

  • happier animals, animals like new things and getting to move to a brand new area almost every day keeps them very happy

  • this system mimics what these animals would do in their natural environment (constantly move around to fresh areas) and in my experience moving closer to the natural way of things usually brings tons of benefits for the entire ecosystem

Disadvantages

    • More watering points need to be provided. However efficient fence systems can cut the number of watering points needed by half or more.

    • Extra labour; the animals must be moved frequently. However efficient systems reduce the labour involved (moving 5000 cows to a new pasture can easily be accomplished in 30 minutes, for example)

References/ Resources

Alan Savory: The primary genius behind rotational grazing

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vpTHi7O66pI

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uEAFTsFH_x4

“Holistic Management” is his revolutionary book

Joel Salatin: The face of rotational grazing.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EbJc8i5B9RU

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JjBtZxlkEDw

Greg Judy:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W6HGKSvjk5Q

Gabe Brown:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9yPjoh9YJMk

Disease in Hops; Mulch or No Mulch?

I recently talked with a gardener who is managing a Hops plant for me and learned, to my dismay, that he had removed all of the mulch around the base of the mulch. His cited reasons for doing this were that, according to research he had done, “hop plants are especially susceptible to getting diseases from mulch”. I wrote him a letter to explain the shortcomings of this “no-mulch” management paradigm. This post is an edited version of that letter:

My Hop Plant, 2015

I am going to make the case that the overall benefits of mulching far outweigh the potential drawbacks. I will also explain why the belief that “mulching under a hop plant will cause disease” is fundamentally flawed. Here I go….

The effects on plant and soil health of mulching versus not mulching:

Issue

With Mulch ……

With Bare Soil….

Soil Organic Matter (which 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 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 organsims to live in; this reduces soil biodiversity.

Soil Compaction

Mulch provides ample food for the microorganisms in the soil. Microrganisms are responsible for creating non-compacted, airy soils in nature where there is no tilling machinery: they create glues and fibres 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 does not work under a hop plant since they have perennial roots.

Water infiltration rate and infiltration depth

Water can infiltrate a mulched soil quickly because the soil will be less compacted. This means that when it rains 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 a perennial plant, like Hops. *Note: certain mulches can repel water, this is bad. Make sure you dont use that kind of mulch.

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).

Soil Aeration (anaerobic vs aerobic)

Anaerobic = No Oxygen, nutrients lost as gasses, bad smell, soil compaction, disease causing organisms thrive

Aerobic = With Oxygen, nutrients remain in the soil, no smell, soil decompaction, disease causing organisms are outcompeted by beneficial organisms.

Mulch, as mentioned above, allows soil microorganisms to naturally decompact the soil. Decompacted soil (loose soil) is the only place Aerobic conditions can occur.

Bare Soil, as mentioned above, creates compaction over time. Compacted soil quickly becomes Anaerobic.

What about the experts who say that “mulching under a Hop plant will cause disease” or “Hop plants are especially susceptible to diseases from mulch”?

These statements are based on reductionist thinking. Although reductionist thinking is very usefull in certain fields of study (technology for example), it has a very poor track reccord at predicting the complexity of nature. Here are two counter points to the advice above:

      1. These statements are most likely based on either scientific research or personal observation done on commercial hop farms. Almost 100% of commercial hop farms are not managed according to the principles of ecology. Hop plants under commercial management are susceptible to disease simply because of poor soil management practices. A healthy hop plant will be disease free, regardless of whether or not there is mulch underneath it!

        1. Commercial hop farms are typically monocultures. Monocultures (one plant species) will always have more disease problems than “polycultures”(many plant species)

        2. Commercial hop farms, even if they are Organic, are heavily fertilized. Fertilizers, even organic fertilizers, kill beneficial soil organisms. The soils have also likely been tilled at some point, killing even more beneficial organisms. It is also likely that pesticides have been applied as well. These missing beneficial soil organisms are natures way of protecting the plant roots from disease. They are not present in commercial hop farms, therefore the plant roots are vulnerable to disease.

        3. Commercial hop farms also have many other factors which would contribute to diseases becoming a problem: compacted soil, anaerobic soil, lack of bug diversity, lack of micronutrients, lack of genetic diversity, etc.

        4. ** Even if the advice about mulch came from small scale gardeners I would still doubt it because, sadly, most small scale gardeners are misinformed about soil management. Poor soil mismanagement, whether on a large scale or in a backyard garden, will still have the same results: death of beneficial soil organisms, opening the door for disease.

      2. Commercial varieties of Hops are actually very similar to the original wild hop plant, domestication has not altered them very much. Therefore they should behave very much like wild hop plants:

        1. Wild hop plants are widespread in Europe. They grow primarily on the edges of forests. They are a “late successional plant” which means they will almost never naturally grow on bare, or recently disturbed, soil. They always have mulch!

        2. Wild hop plants grow very vigorously and are generally free of disease

        3. Wild hop plants have evolved to thrive in this natural environment over millions of years, they are highly adapted to it. It is unlikely that a few hundred years of dommestication would be able to undo millions of years of evolution.

        4. Therefore hop plants must be well adapted to growing in the presence of decaying organic matter (mulch), because that is the only place they grow in the wild.

The principles I have talked about here apply to all plants (except pioneer, weedy plants… which actually like bare soil) and all soils. Diseases on plants are actually just symptoms; they are signs of an unhealthy plant. And likewise, unhealthy plants are usually a sign of an unhealthy soil. Mulch is one of the best ways to repair an unhealthy soil.

Experiment:

You are free to form whatever opinion you would like. If you are at all in doubt about what to believe I would recommend performing this experiment to find out the truth for yourself:

  1. Establish 2 test plots near to each other with similar soil and environmental conditions.
    • Test Plot #1: Keep the soil in this test plot constantly covered with at least 1 inch of mulch (wood chips are the ideal mulch for hop plants)… No fertilizers (even organic fertilizers), No pesticides of any kind, No tilling
    • Test Plot #2: Keep the soil in this test plot completely free of all organic matter (mulch) and all weeds, No fertilizers, No pesticides, No tilling
  2.  Observe the results over several years. Which plant is more vigorous? Which looks healthier? Which produces more? Which has more disease?
  3.  If you do this you will not need to rely on the advice of anyone else; you will know the truth for yourself.

Organic Lawn Care Techniques

Here are the key points to having a healthy, weed-free, green lawn using only organic practices:

  • Don’t use chemicals: This includes fertilizers, herbicides, Round Up, fungicides, and insecticides.  Why not? These chemicals appear to be effective after you apply them but they actually are doing nothing to address the root cause of your problem. You will have to keep applying them year after year. They will destroy your soil biology which will in turn give you weeds and very unhealthy grass. There is also the chance that they will harm the health people, animals and ocean life (where they will eventually end up). If you feel the need to use chemicals please don’t, contact me and I will try to find a better solution for you.
  • Mow your lawn as high as possible. This allows the grass to collect more energy from the sunOrganic-Lawn-Care-Web2 because it has more leaf surface area. It also will greatly reduce weed problems because the grass will be tall enough to shade out the weeds (as happens in natural grasslands).
  • Mulch your lawn or do not remove the grass clippings after you mow. This also happens in natural grasslands. The grass clippings will create a layer above your soil which will protect your soil from drought and increase your soil life. The life in your soil will recycle the grass clippings and they will eventually go back into your grass as free nutrients. The more organic matter you can have in your soil the healthier and greener your lawn will be.  **NOTE: It will be necessary to bag up the grass clippings when the grass is wet or they will form ugly clumps on the lawn**
  • Add compost or compost tea to your lawn. This is hands down the fastest way to return your lawn and soil to its natural healthy state. The sole purpose of compost is NOT organic matter (as most people think) it is actually the huge diversity and concentration of beneficial soil organisms that makes compost and compost tea so effective. **NOTE: never apply compost that has gone anaerobic (without oxygen) as this is actually very bad for your lawn. You can tell if a compost has gone bad by the smell: if there is any bad smell at all do not put it on your lawn.

How To Write A Holistic Context: A Step By Step Guide

A Holistic Context is necessary for anyone who wants to be a Holistic Manager. It can help you with your personal life, your business, and your family life. Having a Holistic Context has eliminated a lot of decision-making stress in my life.

“Holistic Management involves using a simple decision-making framework that ensures all significant management decisions are simultaneously economically, socially and environmentally sound both short and long term. No longer are decisions made toward objectives or goals alone, but always toward a new concept called the holistic context for any management situation. The holistic context provides the context for all objectives, goals or actions toward any vision or mission. This helps greatly in avoiding unintended consequences to our actions that are so universal that economists long ago used the term “Law of unintended consequences.””

-Allan Savory

So how do you actually write a Holistic Context?

Here is a step by step guide to the process which I have developed based on a combination of the techniques used by Allan Savory, as described in his book, and the techniques used by Don Campbell who is one of the top Holistic Management Educators in the world.

*Note: “Holistic Context” used to be called “Holistic Goal”, but Allan Savory found that “Holistic Context” better described what he was pointing towards and that the word “goal” brought too much baggage with it which often derailed the Holistic Management process. 

“The Holistic [Context] is the “magnetic north” toward which all decisions and actions are made.”

-HMI

Mestento-Draw-082.small_-315x210

DefIne Your “Whole”

What are you managing? Who is involved?

  1. First, determine who the decision makers are:
    • “Decision makers are the people who will form the holistic [context]. They should include anyone making day-to-day decisions in the family, business, corporate division, or whatever entity your whole is based on. They should range from these who make the most profound, far-reaching decisions, to those making the most mundane decisions — from the owner of the coffee shop to the person who serves across the counter; from the owner of the ranch to the cowboys handling the cattle…. Make a list of them all, trying to be inclusive rather than exclusive. If there are people who, while not making decisions can veto them or in some way alter them, they too should be included…” from ‘Holistic Management’ by Allan Savory and Jody Butterfield

      ***Do not continue with the Holistic Context creation process until you have ALL of the “decision makers” in the same room, involved in the process. This is essential to success. 

  2. Next, define your resource base:
    • “List the major physical resources from which you will generate revenue or derive support in achieving your holistic [context]: the land, the factory and its machinery… These resources need not be owned, but must be available to you. You are not after a detailed list of every asset you have, only a very general one.” from ‘Holistic Management’ by Allan Savory and Jody Butterfield

  3. Finally, list the financial resources available to you:
    • “Make a note of the sources of money available to you. This might include cash on hand or money in a savings account or available from relatives, shareholders, or a line of credit at the bank. And it would almost always include money that could be generated from the physical resources listed in your resource base.” from ‘Holistic Management’ by Allan Savory and Jody Butterfield

      DSCN2966

Create your “Quality Of Life Statement”

What do you really want?

  1. Preliminary Exercises
  2. Statement Of Purpose
    • If you are writing this goal for some sort of institution which was formed for a specific purpose you should create a “statement of purpose”. Put your “statement of purpose” right at the beginning of your Holistic Context, before anything else.
    • “If the entity you manage was formed for a specific purpose that you are legally or morally obligated to meet, you will need to ensure that your holistic [context] addresses this purpose…. In stating your basic purpose, you will want to get at the heart of the matter. The statement should reflect, in very few words, what you were formed to do. If it takes you more than a sentence or two, you have not thought carefully enough….” from ‘Holistic Management’ by Allan Savory and Jody Butterfield

  3. Put It All Together
    1. Each individual should now write their personal “Quality Of Life Statement”, don’t worry about combining them into a group statement at this stage. That will come later.
      • Using what you learned in the previous exercises (step 1) write your Quality Of Life Statement (some people call it a “personal mission statement” and that description may indicate the sort of statement we are looking for in this step… it should be something that inspires you!)
      • You do not have to include anything from the previous exercises if you don’t want to
      • Don’t over think it.
      • The format does not matter. You can even just use point form notes.
      • This part of the process should probably take somewhere between 5 minutes and 20 minutes to complete. The completed statement should be a few sentences at least, you don’t want to leave anything out that is important to you…
      • Review the statement you just wrote. You should make sure that it addresses the following areas of your life in some way (if not, revise it):
        • economic well-being
        • human relationships
        • personal growth
        • and contribution to others.

Organic-Lawn-Care-Web2

Determine your “Forms Of Production”

  1. Have each individual go through each part of their Quality Of Life Statement to determine what must be produced in order to make that goal become a reality.
    • ” This doesn’t mean that you merely go through each phrase in your statement and create a “product” to match it. It takes a little more thought than that. It becomes helpful if you ask the question: “What don’t we have now, or what aren’t we doing now, that is preventing us from achieving this?” Rephrase the answer in positive terms and you will know what you have to produce.One form of production might meet several of the needs described, and vice versa. If one of your desires was “to enjoy what we do everyday,” that could be met in part by producing “a balance between our work and personal lives,” “sufficient time for strategic planning,” or a host of other things….” from ‘Holistic Management’ by Allan Savory and Jody Butterfield

    • “Some have questioned the necessity of including such things as ” a balance between our work and personal lives” or ” a retirement plan.” But only by including them are they likely to be produced.” from ‘Holistic Management’ by Allan Savory and Jody Butterfield

    • Make sure you do not include any “how to’s” in your list. You only want to list what has to be produced, not how it will be producedHow something is to be produced is a decision that needs testing.” from ‘Holistic Management by Allan Savory and Jody Butterfield

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Determine your “Future Resource Base”

  • Now you simply write what your resource base will need to be like many years from now in order to sustain the things listed in your Forms Of Production. The three things you should always include in your Future Resource Base description are a description of the land, the people, and the community.
  • What will the landscape need to be like? What will it need to be like in 50 years, 200 years, or 1000 years? (almost all wholes that can be managed rely on physical land somewhere to sustain them)
  • What services will be required from the community to sustain your forms of production? What characteristics would you like your local, and regional, community to have, far into the future?
  • “In describing the people in your future resource base you describe how you and your business, organization, or whatever will have to be seen to be, far into the future, for these people to remain loyal to you, respectful, or supportive, or whatever is required. Vary the attributes according to the people you are concerned about, whether they be clients and suppliers, extended family, environmental groups, or a representative from a regulatory agency.” from ‘Holistic Management” by Allan Savory and Jody Butterfield

Put it all together

  1. Have each individual put their completed Quality Of Life Statement, Forms of Production, and Future Resource Base all on a single paper, or document. These are the Holistic Contexts for each individual. Congratulations!
  2. To turn all of your individual Holistic Contexts into a shared Holistic Context, follow these steps:
    1. Statement Of Purpose
      • If you are writing this goal for some sort of institution which was formed for a specific purpose you should create a “statement of purpose”. Put your “statement of purpose” right at the beginning of your Holistic Context, before anything else.
      • “If the entity you manage was formed for a specific purpose that you are legally or morally obligated to meet, you will need to ensure that your holistic [context] addresses this purpose…. In stating your basic purpose, you will want to get at the heart of the matter. The statement should reflect, in very few words, what you were formed to do. If it takes you more than a sentence or two, you have not thought carefully enough….” from ‘Holistic Management’ by Allan Savory and Jody Butterfield

    2. Group Quality Of Life Statement
      1. Combine the items from your Quality Of Life Statements to create a Quality Of Life Statement for the entire group. Collaborate and converse with each other to determine which items are shared values of the entire group, and which are not. You must reach a consensus about the Quality Of Life Statement. Try to engage with each other in a spirit of collaboration, think “win win”. Try to ensure that everyone has a say in the process. Give people who are quiet or shy the space they need to give their input. It can be extremely helpful to have a person who is not a part of the group to help facilitate this process. In the end, everyone should feel that they have contributed to the goal, and everyone should be motivated to make the goal become a reality.
    3. Now, based on your group’s new Quality Of Life Statement, complete the Forms Of Production and Future Resource Base as described above. Make sure every item in your shared Quality Of Life Statement is addressed in your Forms Of Production and Future Resource Base. If your group has a Statement Of Purpose be sure to include what must be produced to achieve that purpose in your Forms Of Production. 
    4. Combine your group’s Statement Of Purpose, Quality Of Life Statment, Forms Of Production, and Future Resource Base (in that order) into one document. Congratulations, you have completed your Holistic Context!

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Start using your Holistic Context

  • The first thing you should do after finishing your Holistic Context is use it to test a decision. It is only through use in the real world that your Holistic Goal will reach its finished state. And it will not help you if you don’t actually use it to guide your decisions. So think of some decision, big or small, and test it immediately using the “testing questions”.
  • I will be writing about the “testing questions” more in the future. But until then you can refer to this brief outline of them, or you can read the in depth version in the Holistic Management book.

Revise as needed

  • Your Holistic Context is not set in stone. You should revise it as necessary so that it always accurately reflects your values.

 

A Complete Guide To Holistic Management: For Permaculture People

Holistic Management For Permaculture People — Table Of Contents

  1. What is Holistic Management?
    1. Holistic Decision Making
    2. The Holistic Management Movement
    3. Holistic Management Tools
      1. Four Ecosystem Processes
      2. Holistic Financial Planning
      3. Holistic Planned Grazing
      4. Holistic Land Planning
  2. The Benefits of Holistic Management
  3. Permaculture + Holistic Management
    1. Integrating The Two Systems
    2. The Benefits Of Collaboration
    3. How To Move Towards Collaboration
  4. The History of Holistic Management
  5. Learn About Holistic Management

What is Holistic Management?

There are three parts to Holistic Management…

1. Holistic Decision Making

Holistic Decision making is a framework for making decisions (any decisions) which do not have unintended consequences. Holistic Decision making can be practiced by individuals, entire populations, or anything in between. Holistic Decision making will always produce better results than natural decision making regardless of whether the decision is insignificant or massively important. The framework looks like this:

  1. The managers first define the “whole under management” which becomes their Holistic Context. “What are we managing?”
  2. They then define what their deepest goals are within their Holistic Context. The combination of their deepest personal goals becomes the Holistic Goal. “What do we really want?”
  3. The managers then test every single decision they make (using specific Testing Questions) to ensure that they are always moving towards their Holistic Goal and not towards some goal of lesser importance.

To learn more about Holistic Decision Making please read the book “Holistic Management: A New Framework for Decision Making

2. The Holistic Management Movement

The Holistic Management Movement is the worldwide community of people who are using Holistic Decision Making in their management and in their lives. The Movement started in the 80s (similar to Permaculture) and has now spread to every continent. Hundreds of millions of acres are now under Holistic Management! There are two primary organizations which are the driving force behind the movement: Holistic Management International, and The Savory Institute.

3. Holistic Management Tools

The Four Ecosystem Processes:

When the Four Ecosystem Processes are healthy the ecosystem will be abundant, sustainable, and constantly improving. When they are unhealthy the ecosystem will be degrading, unsustainable and unproductive. These four processes help land managers to address the root causes of the problems in their ecosystems and attain the fastest and longest-lasting results.

  • The Water Cycle
    • Is your rainfall being absorbed quickly into the soil? Or does the rainfall stay on the surface and either evaporate or cause erosion? Bare soil is the primary cause of a dysfunctional water cycle. Cover your soil with living plants and litter.
  • Community Dynamics
    • Is biodiversity increasing or decreasing? Is ecological succession moving forwards or backwards? The more diverse an ecosystem is, the more stable it tends to be.
  • Mineral Cycle
    • Are minerals constantly being cycled from dead organism to living organism? Are minerals being lost through soil erosion, leaching, or escaping as gasses? Microorganisms are the key to the mineral cycle.
  • Energy Flow
    • All energy comes from the sun. How efficiently is sunlight being harvested on your land?

Financial Planning:

Holistic Financial Planning is probably one of the tools most desperately needed by Permaculture. If a landscape, organization, or person does not generate a profit than it will soon be replaced by something that does. Therefore, profit is an essential aspect of true sustainability. Profit allows us to achieve the quality of life we desire, and it also allows us to multiply our positive impact on the world. Imagine if you, as a Permaculture person, made as much money as a Wall Street investor? The world would be transformed overnight! Holistic Financial Planning is more effective than conventional financial planning at guaranteeing a profit while also taking into account your personal non-monetary goals.

Planned Grazing:

Holistic Planned Grazing was developed in the 70s and is the source of most “rotational grazing” systems in use today (mob grazing, management intensive grazing, high-density grazing, etc). However most offshoots of Holistic Planned Grazing have left out very important parts of the process. “Rotational grazing” systems will work well if you are in a non-brittle (humid) environment, but only Planned Grazing has been successful in brittle (dry) environments. (The concepts of “non-brittle” and “brittle” environments are more nuanced than “humid” and “dry”. If you are a land manager I highly recommend reading this guide to the Brittleness Scale)

Holistic Planned Grazing is, hands down, the best way to reverse desertification. Permaculture includes many techniques for regenerating deserts, but none of them are as economical or as scalable as Planned Grazing. I highly recommend you watch Allan Savory’s TED Talk on this subject. Holistic Planned Grazing is in use all over the world and has been proven to be able to regenerate even the most desolate landscapes in the world.

I have personally seen Planned Grazing increase the productivity/acre of one Canadian ranch by 200% in just 20 years, and the productivity is still increasing steadily!

Land Planning:

Holistic Land Planning is similar in many ways to Permaculture Design. It is a system for optimizing the placement of infrastructure on your land. I believe that the ultimate landscape design tool would be a combination of Permaculture Design and Holistic Land Planning. Holistic Land Planning is primarily aimed at livestock producers. It focuses mostly on where to position things such as fences, watering points, access roads, corrals, etc.

**To learn more about the Holistic Management Tools pleas read the books “Holistic Management: A New Framework for Decision Making” and “Holistic Management Handbook: Healthy Land, Healthy Profits“.

The Benefits Of Holistic Management

Holistic Management  allows us to simultaneously address environmental issues, social issues, and economic issues. As human beings, we usually focus mostly on one of these areas, and allow the other two to be neglected. The failure to address all three of these areas will always produce unintended negative consequences. If you implement a beautiful Permaculture landscape, which perfectly addresses the environmental side of things, but the project goes bankrupt or raises an outcry in the local community then the project cannot be sustainable.

Holistic Management dramatically increases personal happiness and well-being. Holistic Decision Making is basically a constant reminder to keep moving towards your deepest goals instead of wasting time “being busy”. If you stick with it you will discover that you are making faster progress towards your most important goals than ever before. As you might expect, this will make you tremendously happy!

Has the power to literally change the face of the Earth. With Holistic Planned Grazing it has been proven that even the world’s harshest environments can be regenerated into productive and diverse grassland ecosystems, while simultaneously producing food and profit! This work is already being implemented on millions of acres around the globe. Try to imagine a world where the vast deserts (like the Sahara , Sahel, Mojave, Middle East, etc) where replaced by grasslands, and their associated huge herds of livestock… it could change the world forever! The Earth could be entirely green. This is a goal that I think most Permaculture people share with Holistic Managers. However, before the discovery of Planned Grazing, there was no economically viable tool for regenerating the vast deserts of the world. Now we have one, lets use it!

Holistic Management works. Holistic Management has been proven on thousands of farms and ranches all over the world. All of them have increased their success since they addopted Holistic Management. The typical figures I hear from livestock producers are “100%” or “200%” increase in production within the first ten years. They also inevitably express the amazing, but non-quantifiable, benefits in terms of their quality of life, free time, and improved relationships. But, please, don’t take my word for it. Get out there and try it out for yourself. If it doesn’t work abandon it, if it does work keep doing it. Its that simple.

Holistic Management allows people to work together effectively. Holistic Management has been proven to improve the effectiveness of large companies, small families, and everything in-between. When everyone in the group is working towards a shared goal, one which everyone helped to create, people will want to cooperate and work hard. Not only that, but having a clear method for how decisions will be made also removes a lot of potential conflict from the group.

Permaculture + Holistic Management

Integrating Permaculture And Holistic Management In Practice

Permaculture offers a wealth of novel ideas. Holistic Management offers the framework to asses those ideas. 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. This is how Permaculture people can avoid the project stagnation or project failure which is so common in the Permaculture Movement.

Holistic Managers You Might Know Of:

  • Allan Savory (founder)
  • Darren Doherty (Regrarians)
  • Ben Falk
  • Joel Salatin
  • Gabe Brown
  • Greg Judy
  • John D. Liu

The Benefits Of Collaboration:

What Holistic Management Has To Offer The Permaculture Movement:

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

  • Holistic Planned Grazing: an unequaled land-regeneration tool, especially in brittle environments

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

  • Holistic Financial Planning: sorely needed, Permaculture people rarely make a profit

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

  • A global community of broad-acre farmers and ranchers, huge land base

  • Respect 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

Comparison Of The Permaculture Movement Versus The Holistic Management Movement

Permaculture

Holistic Management

Land Base

relatively small

huge (hundreds of millions of acres)

Number Of People

>200,000

<50,000

Location

Urban Areas, Homesteads, Gardens

Rural Areas, Large-Scale Agriculture

Demographics

More popular among young people

More popular among older generations

Online Presence

Large and growing fast

Small but growing

Influence

Generally not taken very seriously by outsiders

Generally has more respect among conventional farmers and in the industrial food system

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?

If we are Permaculture people:

  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. Educate our fellow Permaculturists about the necessity of Holistic Decision Making

  4. Start to attend HM events

  5. Read HM books

  6. Talk about HM online with other Permaculture people

  7. Invite HM people to our events

  8. Learn to communicate the value of Permaculture to Holistic Managers

  9. Begin to practice HM in our own lives

The History Of Holistic Management

The idea of Holistic Management was developed by Allan Savory over many years as he pursued his various careers in Africa (scientist, farmer, ranch consultant, politician, military tracker, etc). He was concerned about the desertification happening in his country, Rhodesia. He eventually figured out that the desertification was caused by lack of animal impact and that the desertification could be reversed using properly-managed livestock. As he applied his grazing techniques he found that the land would eventually begin to deteriorate again due to the decision making of the managers, not the grazing technique itself. He realized that in order to truly adress the issue he would have to adress the people and the finances, not just the land itself.

The Holistic Management Movement began in the 80s when Allan Savory was exiled from Rhodesia. He moved to Albaquerque, New Mexico and began to teach Holistic Management to ranchers. Originally, Holistic Management was marketed as a way to improve grass production for ranchers. This marketing technique was successful and now there are scores of long-time Holistic Ranchers in the US, Canada, and Mexico. The movement has since spread all over the globe. It is most prominent in English speaking countries. There are relatively few Holistic Managers in South America and Asia, although that is changing quickly. The movement has now grown to include annual conferences around the world, hundreds of millions of acres under management, and recognition among major world organizations. Allan Savory’s TED Talk by itself has recieved over 1 million views.

Because Holistic Managers are almost always more profitable than their peers (to say nothing of the other benefits), global adoption of Holistic Management is inevitable based on economic realities alone.

Learn About Holistic Management

If you are interested in learning about Holistic Management there is no substitute for the original source material:Holistic Management: A New Framework for Decision Making” By Allan Savory and Jody Butterfield.

If you wish to master Holistic Management in a short amount of time there is no substitute for taking a course with a Holistic Management Certified Educator.

If you are ready to start implementing Holistic Management then it is time to get the “Holistic Management Handbook: Healthy Land, Healthy Profits” which will give you more in-depth, practical knowledge.

Holistic Management Resources

Books

Videos

Websites

People

Holistic Management: A New Framework for Decision Making

Holistic Management Handbook: Healthy Land, Healthy Profits

Comeback Farms

Gardeners of Eden: Rediscovering Our Importance To Nature

How To Not Go Broke Ranching

Allan Savory Videos

Putting Grasslands To Work

Gabe Brown

-Greg Judy

-Joel Salatin on Holistic Management

-The First Millimeter: Healing the Earth

Holistic Management International

Savory Institute

Africa Centre For Holistic Management

-Allan Savory

-Don Campbell

-Darren Doherty

-Tony Lovel

-Greg Judy

-Ian Mitchell-Innes

-Gabe Brown

-Neil Dennis