Grazing Naturally, by Dick Richardson, with Remarks by Allan Savory

Grazing Naturally, by Dick Richardson, with Remarks by Allan Savory

“Holistic Management International (HMI) published the article below by Dick Richardson, describing a better grazing system.  I asked Allan Savory, HMI’s founder, what he thought of it.


 Dick Richardson’s article, and Allan Savory’s response, appear below.


NOTE: this paper was originally published to It was written by Dick Richardson.


Allan Savory on Dick Richardson’s Article


April 9, 2021

Dear Chris,

Sorry for delay but I needed time to read the HMI article by Dick Richardson carefully. You asked my opinion and, in brief, the answer is that it is useless. I am guessing that having studied the holistic planned grazing process yourself and responded to many academic critics (CLICK), you likely agree that is unusable. Nonetheless, thank you for alerting me to it.

Richardson outlines his basic premise in the opening paragraph when he writes:

“Holistic planned grazing was originally developed based on the old science that soils build from the top down and building masses of soil surface litter is the secret to soil health. However we now know this is not true. Soil is built by biological activity living off root exudate from green actively growing plants.”

  • I did not develop the grazing planning process on “old science,” but on Voisin’s discovery that some type of planning process had to replace grazing systems.
  • He also says (and I am paraphrasing) that avoiding overgrazing plants at any time results in diminishing plant growth, stagnation in biological activity, less soil development and poorer feed quality for livestock. In my experience, this is not the case and the statements are wrong.
  • His assertions that soil development from the surface is old science and it occurs below the surface conflicts with basic ecological knowledge. To wit, the earliest plants such as algae and lichens that colonize and start the process of soil development do so at the surface not underground. Water, oxygen and carbon (from plants)—essentially energy—moves into the soil from the surface.
  • If Richardson seriously claims soils developing from the surface is old science and wrong, I would love to see him try developing soil from rock, sand or clay (as soils do) by starting inside the rock, sand or clay!
  • While Richardson implies that through my writing and teaching I’ve suggested that “building masses of soil surface litter is the secret to soil health”, neither that nor any other “prescription” will be found in my textbook on Holistic Management, in my talks or in any source of information that can be directly traced to me.

This article is particularly disappointing. In his own cited reference (“Grasslands by Richard Teague et al 2009 describes Venter and Drewers’ grazing system…), Richardson identifies this multi-paddock/zone method as a grazing system. Unfortunately, for more than 60 years, we’ve known that no rotational, mob, multi-paddock, adaptive or any grazing system can ever reverse desertification and biodiversity loss.

As you know, no business can be successfully managed by applying a management “system” (i.e. a series of actions based on pre-determined formulas), even though within all businesses it is advisable to use such management systems in areas where things are predictable, as in accounting and inventory control. This is especially true with agriculture – the production of food and fibre from the world’s land and waters – including ranching.

What Richardson is advocating is typical reductionist management, which bears little relationship to Holistic Management and fails to achieve the purpose for which I founded HMI at the request of far-sighted people in the USDA. The Holistic Management framework and its holistic planned grazing process covers every concern—including social and economic—on any farm, ranch, pastoral area. Frankly I cannot see Richardson’s paddock-and-zone system ever reversing desertification and addressing mega-fires as Australia needs to do.

Gradually I am trying to simplify Holistic Management to make it even more understandable and accessible to all people. If we are ever to address the cause of global desertification, mega-fires and climate change, it is vital that management becomes holistic instead of reductionist. As you will have seen in my recent talks almost all scientists acknowledge (unknowingly) that management particularly at scale through policy, is the sole cause of man-made climate change.

Here, for your information, is my talk presented two days ago in Australia at the Savory Institute hub (CLICK).

As you know from your own experience with Holistic Management, we humans only manage three things: humans/organizations, nature and economies. We don’t make or produce these things; we manage them. Everything else we do involves making or producing things from resources found in nature, be it food, fibre, electricity, music, space crafts, cities or any other of our myriad human endeavors. While many people wrongly assume we manage these enterprises, we do not. Instead we are managing the economies and natural resources (nature) from which everything that sustains civilizations is produced. This article, which is about managing subsurface soil through an elaborate grazing system, ignores this truth.

Hope you and your family are staying safe.



Allan Savory

Ranching, wildlife management, finance, oil & gas, real estate development and management.
  • Hello Chris, thanks for sharing this correspondence you had with Allan.

    More people are starting to understand that a grazing systems doesn’t work because the unavoidable and important complexity present is not considered in a system. This results in unintended consequences and failure to achieve best possible outcome. Managing livestock has to be guided by a holistic plan.

    However, Richardson point about new science suggesting that soil is formed from the bottom up is worth taking a deeper look at. He would be referring to the work of who I consider to be the worlds leading soil scientist Dr. Christine Jones. Like Allan, she has come up with new information that goes against old belief. She claims that soil is formed via the Liquid Carbon Pathway as she calls it, which is a process where plants feeds the soil with simple sugars through the roots. After this food has passed through enough microorganisms, it eventually becomes a stable form of carbon which is what makes up the black color we see in soil. This goes against the old belief that soil is formed from biomass, she calls it “the biomass model”. When biomass on the ground is decomposing about 98% of the material goes back into the atmosphere and you will be left with a dead soil within a few years if not replenished, this is not the case with stable carbon. Check out her paper describing these findings more thoroughly. Also check out the other writings on her website

    In case her videoed lectures on YouTube has interest, I will share a few that I found worth watching:

    All that said, Richardson is still wrong because ground cover is not going to limit soil building, quite the opposite in fact, ground cover is vital for the ecosystem for many reasons. Dr. Christine Jones touches on this in some of her lectures.

    It’s possible that Allan is not aware of this science, but it doesn’t really matter, this science is just suggesting that we should focus on capturing as much solar energy as possible, which we already knew. We can manage well without knowing exactly how all of natures complex process works, if we just understand the 4 ecosystem process, that has us covered.


  • Savory still appears to be somewhat arrogant like when he was a captain in Selous Scouts – and that grazing systems revolve around Savory?

    One of he most powerful scientists on soil and grass science in Australia is Walter Jehne who has covered the history of land degradation in terms of the break down of the grasslands due to continuous overgrazing.

    Stan Parsons put it all into a very powerful book which he gave us permission to reprint and we have now built on Stan’s concepts and principles in terms of timing which both Johann Zietsman and Walter Jehne have identified as major issues.

    The PPS systems attempt to lower the stocking rate in the main growing period to increase the volume of grass grown and then it has the sheer bulk of fibre to carry the stock for a longer period in periods of drought. PPS is conscious of the Green Date concept when one is likely to have green feed – but we actually rely on dry grass that we have that we can measure to predict and plan for the next 6 to 12 months. A very wise neighbour of our’s near Bembezi, Matabeleland once told me that when times are tough cattle will eat grass that is three years old and in in the drought of 1984 we fed the thatch off the house that was about 60 years old. Growing enough grass by lowering the stocking rate in the growing season appears to be more critical than pontificating? The exudates deal with the roots and the soil microbiology “downstairs” in the soil, and the leaf and litter deals with the soil ”upstairs”above the soil to reduce soil temperature. So, for a layman nature seems to work both above a below the soil to improve the soil? Walter Jehne describes this as the “cool moist soil carbon sponge.” Walter has defined this as the A, B, C and D process. A is for agriculture, B is for biology, C is for Carbon and D is for dividend. We have thoroughly tested Walter’s science and found that we can grow double the grass than before and maybe more in 22” rainfall areas in Australia. Relying on green dates has now become far too risky to plan off.

    • Only a forceful personality like Savory could have persevered against the institutional hostility to planned grazing. His (“arrogant”) concepts have certainly taken hold.

      A Marine Colonel friend first learned of Savory 20-years ago when he studied his counter-insurgency methods at The Command and Staff College. Again, his (“arrogant”) concepts have taken hold.

      Savory has always told me that he built his grazing on the ideas of others. I have been to Stan Parson’s school, Ranching for Profit (RfP). Whoever came up with the ideas, RfP advocates grazing under methodologies very similar to those advocated by Allan. As I am sure you know, Parsons was Allan’s partner in the day.

      Johann Zeitsman is a person whom I greatly admire, and about whom we have written on this blog. I just reread the piece I wrote and remembered why I find him so logical and entertaining.

      “Success has many fathers; failure is an orphan”. At the risk of offending everyone, I think the differences have to do with differing approaches to broader ’strategic’ planning. Anglo-Rhodesians are often strong personalities; rangeland and military science aren’t popularity contests.

      I am pleased that you are succeeding with your iteration of these rangeland principles. Maybe you have an article which describes this? I will post it.

      Many thanks for your comment.

      • Thanks. This year or season Australia will have about 62 million tonnes of grain. Put simply, we add quite small amounts of starch to the rumen via a number products and designs to assist with rumen fermentation. This was done by Dr. Dick Elliot at the University of Rhodesia and Nyasaland in Salisbury in about 1962. Similarly, Schalk Viljoen did it on a Lonrho Ranch in Rhodesia (the company was owned by Tiny Rowland) also in the sixties. In the seventies Dr. Johann Meaker did similar work at Dundee Research Station in South Africa. Over a period of about ten years we have discovered that there is no sin in reductionism – because it is probably better to understand each individual part in entirety before attempting to understand the whole? My personal example is when I get on an Airbus or a Boeing – I believe that somewhere along the maintenance programme there has to be a whole heap of reductionism in conjunction with the Holism – as in 100% reduction and 100% Holism. Once we isolated the individual components we were able to analyse them a lot better and into simple cause and effect. Once the cattle business can be divorced from a least cost mentality to a profit maximisation mentality – we are no longer tied to a spring calf (to save money) based off a premise that it will rain when the cow has the greatest demand of about 22 kgs of grass a day. We actually now calve in winter and then use that really good pasture to feed the calf with grain assist – and the cow reverts to a dry matter requirement of about 11 kgs in the growing season. Put simply – a cow eating 11 kgs in the growing season instead of 22 kgs makes a huge difference on how much grass you grow! PPS makes the assumption that it will not rain as hoped and has energy supplements (not urea) to ensure that the rumen function is enhanced. The cows spend more time lying down. If it does rain we can wean later. If it rains less we can wean earlier. I am sure that you are aware in the military you always need an exit strategy – and we have done the same with beef production. Rotational grazing, rotational rest, water points, genetics, nutrition, fertility and market demands have become hygiene factors like a round tyre that holds air – they are no longer a novelty. Just as Zietsman has identified time as a major factor – so we have taken his observation and increased time in the growing season via reductionism. Leaf area and root length or mass per inch or mm of rain are critical factors. There is always a net energy import on to degraded land and in about five years we have managed to increase stock numbers by put to 100%, improve fencing and water, select for fertility and growth – and rely less on drinking tea on the verandah hoping that it might rain. If it does not appropriately we are more than happy to cull half the cows and feed the same number of heifers to mate. To quote Stan – we are not just in the weaner and cull cow business – we have made a conscious reductionist decision to focus on how to make more money from surplus cows, and sell them quickly at between 600 to 700 kgs when the market is a bit hungry. We love big heavy cows that are worth a lot of $ per kg because we sell them. The starch factor is about turbo charging the rumen to work better 365 days x 24 hours, lay down IMF, reduce calving interval, increase growth rates and always have sale ready cattle in perfect order. Around 26% of all imported feeds on the property goes straight back into the soil in the form of manure. The Fed, the IMF, Richard Nixon or Henry Kissinger cannot get their fingers on it if you keep it in the soil and it will continue to pay a genuine dividend – day in day out. Feeding your growing cattle in such a manner currently delivers about 60% or more on your money not counting the soil benefit. So, we say “if you are not prepared to spend $100 000 to generate $150 000 and improve your soil – you obviously have enough money and do need not to improve. It was actually Louis Bromfield from Malabar Farm in Ohio who really taught us all these great ideas. So we sued them in Zimbabwe until Kissinger’s friend Mugabe came up with Plan B and now we apply them in Australia and can take them back to Southern Africa when they are ready to look after the soil. Ref : Louis Bromfield, Malabar Farm, From my Experience and Out of the Earth. It has all been done in the USA – in Ohio in the forties. We salute you Louis Bromfield, amongst many others.

      • Further to my reply yesterday – the trail farm weaned 145 calves overe the weekend. The average weight was 216 kg and these calves had gained 1.44 kg per day for the last 61 days. Taking a birth weight of around 25 kg we can deduce that the average age of these calves was around 130 days. Quite quickly we can deduce that these cows would have lactated for 130 days and will be dry cows for 235 to give a total of 365 days. In terms of pressure on the land – the cow will eat say 11 kg for 235 days and 22 kg for 130 days when she is lactating. The weaned calf will perhaps eat about 2.5 kgs of pellets and perhaps 3 kg of grass from here on. 11 plus 3 is 14 so we have saved about 8 kg of grass a day and we are in the prime growing season when we expect most our rain but it has become very unreliable now. Put simply, we are not prepared to put the entire 400 cow breeder operation at risk to save money because if the season turns against us it will cost a fortune to keep the show on the road. This is reductionism. We are very happy to cull 100 to 200 cows if we need to because the 216 kg heifers will go to the bull within 7 months aged 14 months and we will be back in business without flogging all hell out the country. Simple diets used strategically in lactating cows and weaners can change the entire grass growing process. Ref: Dr. Dick Elliot, Dr. Johann Meaker, Schalk Viljoen and Dr. Mick Gammon we salute your works and also Johann Zietsman and Walter Jehne for their reductionism of isolating time as a key factor.

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