Sunday, October 18, 2009

Holistic Management -

I'm currently undertaking a Winston Churchill Memorial Fund Travel Fellowship ( around the USA and Australia looking at Holistic Farm Management.

HM isn't really well known about in Europe but as a farm and ranch management technique it is growing in other parts of the world. The aim of this trip is to see what concepts are relavent to farming and the public in general.

Holistic Management is quite a difficult concept to explain in a few short words so I'll do my best and try and explain the essentials as I see it:

Firstly my approach to it is as a result of long been unhappy about the trenchlines drawn between different interests when it comes to talking about the environment and food production. Debates about this are turning increasingly dichotomous so for example we end up thinking about things like conservation land vs farmland, or organic vs conventional, or GM vs non GM. I could go on... but really its too boring!

The point is farming, whilst not natural, operates in an environment that is a Whole. Scientific thinking encourages us to think mechanically and with science we reduce things to a hypothesis to understand them. And as our mechanical scientific achievements (such as chemistry, machinery, breeding etc.) have developed we have had ever increasing problems in our non-mechanical environment - our ecology. We therefore need to make sure we design our farming to manage the whole not just from the perspective of narrow disciplines such as soil science, animal nutrition, economics etc.

I'll stop here before you think I'm some crazy deep thinking hippy! I'm not though - I'm just a farmer concerned that the debate about sustainability and agriculture is not being articulated enough by farmers.

HM encourages us to thing of our farm, our community etc. as not just a sum of parts with various boundaries defined by scientific disciplines but that everything is interconnected and that there wholes within wholes.

Everything effects each other - therefore we need to think and act Holistically. In accordance with the natural systems with with which we operate.

Follow my journey around the world and make your own mind up. I'm as confused sometimes about it as anyone, but please ask questions if you have them. Finally remember there is no one way of doing things - you gotta keep looking at the trade offs, but fundamentally think of this as a management framework that helps us make the right decisions in three ways: Economically, Ecologically and Socially.


  1. How are you getting on will? Did you go to visit Bart?

  2. Sounds interesting Will. I already use a rotational grazing system but I graze far tighter than you advocate. I like to see the grass all tidied up but I get your point. The other thing I am discovering is that the type of cattle I am now using are far more suited to their environment. So much so that I need a lot less grain and more grass, which is more economical to grow in my part of the world. Surely stock type must come in to your study?

  3. Keep reading drumdow, I have some more for you later on.

  4. Will how do the people you are visiting get from the ley phase to arable cropping in a no til regime? If you have visited any like that. Do they all use roundup or is anyone doing something that could be done under the organic rules? Thanks BSH

  5. generally they will spray. nothing that I can think of will work under organic rules. BUT most of these guys don't get too excited about organic rules because organic has a different type of approach here.

    In your situation I'd say nothing would work but as a counter argument the mob grazers may say why bother with the arable cropping bit if the mob grazing allows higher stocking rates and lower fixed costs?

  6. Will how do these guys handle the extra grass at spring/early summer? Do they just feed the surplus as foggage later on or do they make hay/silage with the surplus and bale feed? Also do the mob sizes stay the same and the duration change or do they change the stocking density?

  7. Some like to keep the mob all as one. Some will seperate bull calves or weaned calves for a time. It all depends really.

    I guess they don't really call it extra grass as they get round to it eventually. I suppose if your asking what happens if some turns rank then they argue that another species will be coming along so if the cow tramples the old and eats the new thats fine. Some make hay. But also remember that the species diversity may mean that there isn't such a early spring spike because its not all rygrass any more.

    They will play around with paddock sizes quite a bit. The duration changes yes - high summer seems to be more moves tighter, winter less moves maybe a bigger space with supplementary feed and rationed grass. Alot depnds on the farmer.

    What do you reckon about it? Will it work with you?

  8. I would like to try some of it. My main issues are that i have a complicated system of both autumn and spring calving pedigree herds and some cows with bull calves kept entire and i need to be able to know pedigree status of calves so i cnat just run one big mob but instead have to have several smaller groups. Because of this my grazing has become more and more inefficient. I intend this coming year to do some paddock division with elec fencing to start controling the grazing but i will have to think quite hard about how i could alter the system to do more of the 'extreme' mob grazing. I like the idea of it for sure. I just cant quite get my head around the outdoor wintering bit. Can you ask any of the people you meet about the welfare of the cattle in mobs. How do they cope on very hot days with no shade and how do they cope with wet cold days without the shelter of a hedge? Do the cattle get protection from the weather just in the mob? I also am struggling with the foggage idea and how even with a lot of growth you avoid poaching to the extent that there is an opportunity for weeds in the following spring. At the moment i shut up nearly half the farm in the spring and take a late cut of silage in june which just sees me through with no bought in forage or concentrates. If i just used this as deferred grazing and say 50% was trampled then i would only have half the winter feed i currently use although my system of feeding with a bale unwinder does leave waste. On that basis i would have to have less cattle but a number of my fixed costs wouldnt change such as insurance etc. I am thinking that there might be other ways in the short term of building the OM and fertility such as importing horse muck etc. Any ways i am fascinated by what you are seeing and hearing about. Hopefully there will be a chance to catch up with you on your return and see a bunch of photos?

  9. Hi,

    I'm on skype if you want to have a chat.

    I think fundamentally you start at whatever you feel comfortable doing.

    I will probably do a few presentations on my return as a way of saying thanks to the churchill trust so if your part of a grassland group or whatever I can do something.

    Thanks for showing the interest.


  10. Thanks will, how much longer are you going to be out there?