What really is the difference between managing holistically and rotational grazing? Aren't you just playing with words?

This is a fundamentally important question that deserves a full answer, so stick with me, please.  When I introduced holistic grazing planning to Australia in 1994, a great many good farmers said to me: "We did that in the 1960's, and it failed".  My response to them then was (and remains): "I bet it worked well for two years, and then crashed in the third year?"   Everyone agrees that is what happened to them.  There are a couple of key factors to consider:  

  1. The failures occurred most quickly in brittle tending environments.  This was new knowledge that had never been considered in grazing management before.
  2. Even though there was a change in management, the focus still remained on the animals, rather than on the plants that support them. 
Prior to to rotationally grazing these farmers set-stocked their animals, so there was already a mixture of over-rested and over-grazed plants in their paddocks.  Initially, the rotational grazing somewhat eased the over-grazing damage, and many plants initially thrived with more recovery than they were used to.  

The big problem however, was that speed of moves through the paddocks was still too fast.  The recovery periods were almost always fixed - people settled on a recovery period (usually much faster than was physically required by the plants) and stuck to it.  They did this oblivious to the fact that plant recovery periods are always dynamic: sometimes they are growing rapidly, and sometimes slowly (or even not growing at all).  In the first year, things were pretty good, and certainly far better than set-stocked.  In the second year plant deaths were occurring, but in the absence of detailed monitoring their loss was not noticed.  In the third year though, a great many plants suddenly ran out of root energy and died of over-grazing.  Productivity declined, and the whole thing was abandoned.

Allan Savory realised early on that recovery periods must always be matched to the actual rate of plant recovery: slow growth requires long recovery periods, and fast growth requires shorter recovery periods.  More importantly though, he realised that the entire process was far more complex than first thought, and that this required a level of attention to detail that was unexpected.  Through trial and error he found where that attention was needed.  In fact he adapted a military procedure to ensure that nothing "fell through the cracks" - and this is what we now call and use as the Aide Memoiré for Grazing Planning.

Finally, it was discovered that apart from profit, when all of the factors were brought together, the key role of the animals was actually the restoration of declining land health.  The management of land is intrinsically tied to the desires of the people on the land, and so gradually, what emerged was an entire process that simultaneously links the needs of the people with their financial objectives, whilst all the time looking to improve the underlying asset - their soils and plants.  So, whilst from a distance holistic grazing planning may look like rotational grazing, the key difference is that word: planning.  Holistic managers plan and achieve their outcomes - financially, environmentally and socially.  That is not the stated objective of rotational grazing.


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