What’s the first thing that pops into your head when you hear the word ‘holistic’? Daily meditation? An all-kale diet? Yoga retreats that cost more than most houses? For some people, it’s holistic planned grazing (also called HPG), a system that supposedly increases the health of your land. Like anything that has a lot of supporters, it also has doubters. So, is this method going to save our lands? Today, let’s explore holistic planned grazing and if it is right for your land.
Holistic planned grazing caught the attention of the land community after a 2013 Ted Talk by Allan Savory, a Zimbabwean ecologist and farmer. He claimed that, contrary to popular opinion, reducing the number of animals on the land actually made the land condition worse. He concluded that the natural grazing patterns of animals is actually better for land.
Savory’s TedTalk, which currently has over four million views, sparked a debate in the land community. Some blogs, such as GrainNews, are singing the praises of HPG. Others, like the Sierra Club, are more suspicious of this new method.
So, what exactly is this practice that is causing so much controversy? Simply put, holistic planned grazing is a pattern of grazing that mimics how wild herds would have grazed on the land before it was cultivated. In theory, this practice will help the land return to a more natural state. HPG will be different for every landowner based off of their amount of livestock, type of land, soil type, and your overarching goals for improving the land.
Holistic planned grazing isn’t just letting your cattle out into the fields and hoping for the best. In fact, it requires quite a bit of planning and tracking. Timing is key when it comes to holistic planned grazing. Have your livestock stay in a pasture for too long and you run the risk of overgrazing. Too short a stay and the land will not reap the full benefits.
Many farmers who have tried this method have reported positive results. In one study, organic dairy farmer Dharma Lee tracked the health of their land over three years. Here is what they noticed:
- A 120% increase in the number of grazing days per year, from 76 days to 167 days per year, which translated into an annual savings of $27,300 for them.
- A drop in feed cost from 60% to 48% of the total cost of production.
- Improved profitability, with a gross margin of 41%.
- Increased carrying capacity of the land, with a 68% increase in grass harvested by cattle on the pasture.
- A significant improvement in livestock health, with a key indicator – mastitis – dropping from 73% to 3% within the herd.
You can read the full study here. Other landowners have reported similar results in their land.
“Holistic management is a method of managing livestock in rapid rotation to increase greater production, sustainably, and profitably,” says Jennifer Sandy, a cattle rancher.
As we mentioned earlier though, not everyone is a fan of holistic planned grazing. American ecologist Dr. John Carter believes that HPG relies too heavily on personal anecdotes and not enough on science. He also points out that the study ignores the negative effects of intense trampling on a land’s water storage and plant productivity.
So, is Holistic planned grazing right for your land? That depends on a number of factors:
- Are you trying to improve the health of your land?
- Do you have the time/resources to plan and carry out moving your cattle?
- Can your land recover if your livestock occasionally over or under graze an area?
- Do you want your landscape to mimic its original growing patterns?
- Do you have enough livestock to cover the land? And if not, does it make financial sense to invest in more livestock?
If you answered yes to all of these questions, HPG might be great for your land. Be sure to watch the original TedTalk, see what other landowners have to say, and work with a land expert in your area before making your final choice. Since it is a newer method, only time will tell if holistic planned grazing is the future of land or just a passing trend.
About the Author: Laura Barker is the Membership and Communications Specialist for the REALTORS® Land Institute. She graduated from Clark University in May 2017 and has been with RLI since October 2017.