What is Holistic Management?

Holistic Management is a system for organizing action and making decisions about land management. It uses holistic planned grazing to manage and restore land using cattle, sheep and goats (or any grazing animal) — grazing them in a way that mimics nature.

The natural way for herds of grass-eating mammals to graze is for them to bunch together out of fear of predators. This causes intensive grazing of the grasses, lots of stomping down of dead grass stems and leaves, breaking up the hard crust that forms over bare ground, which allows new seeds a place to sprout, stamping those seeds into the ground, and fertilizing the area with manure and urine.

After a little while there isn't much grass left and there is lots of manure on the ground, so the herd moves on.

That's the way herds naturally graze. Then they move to a new area and do it all over again. They don't go back to grazed areas until the grass has grown back.

The same thing can be accomplished with domesticated cattle, sheep and goats. If a rancher has 2000 acres, he or she divides it up into smaller sections and then lets the animals into one section at a time, allowing them to graze intensively, fertilize, etc., and then the rancher moves the animals to another section.

When animals are grazed this way, the grasses thrive, the land fills in with life, the soil becomes rich, erosion becomes almost non-existent even during heavy rains, the land becomes very resilient in the face of drought because it holds so much water and there is no bare ground, and even wildlife have more to eat. The land is converting far more sunlight into food per square foot.

Why? Because grass needs large, hoofed animals grazing it to thrive. The animals and the grasses evolved together, like bees and flowering plants. They require each other. When the animals are grazed in a way that mimics nature, the grasslands regenerate.

If you'd like to see some spectacular before and after photos of land regenerated through the use of Holistic Planned Grazing (besides the one shown above), watch Allan Savory's TED talk, How to Green the World's Deserts and Reverse Climate Change.

The usual way animals are grazed on land causes more and more bare ground over time. In other words, it causes desertification. It's called "overgrazing" but it should be called "unnatural grazing," because when Holistic Management is used, the grazing is much more intensive.

But when land management experts saw the land desertifying from the grazing, they did what seemed obvious: They made large tracts of land off limits to grazing animals so the land would recover. But in semi-arid ecosystems like grasslands, the land does not recover. It continues to desertify. For grasslands to regenerate, they need grazing animals.

One of the most important outcomes of reversing desertification is that it takes CO2 out of the atmosphere and puts it underground. When the land regenerates it has far more life in it — more grass, more animals eating the grass, more animals eating the animals that eat the grass, and more earthworms and fungi and bacteria and protozoa and nematodes and arthropods and insects down in the soil. All of that life is made of carbon. Where does the carbon come from? From the air. 

Regenerating grasslands can sequester an immense amount of carbon. It can remove more carbon from the air than even the complete elimination of all fossil fuels. Holistic Management can literally save the planet.

Read more about Holistic Management here: How to Stop Grasslands From Turning Into Deserts.

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