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.

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