Managing Holistically

The big picture contains many small pieces.

Holistic means understanding that in nature, all the parts of anything and everything are interconnected, and understandable only in terms of the whole.

Management means the process of dealing with or controlling things or people.

At Pitchstone Waters Ranch, we look at the big picture and manage the resources in our care holistically.

In the 1960s, a Rhodesian soldier, parliamentarian, rancher, wildlife biologist, and range scientist named Allan Savory added his observations and experience to previously proven science, combining these into a simple yet radical understanding of nature. Savory's insight was that all of nature, not just predator and prey, is intertwined. Because any change in plants, animals, water, soil or sunlight reverberates throughout the entire ecosystem, decisions must be made with an awareness of all consequences, both intended and unintended.

Proceeding from this viewpoint, early in his work in Africa Savory concluded that the spread of deserts, the loss of wildlife, and the resulting human impoverishment were related to the reduced size and number of large grazing animal herds, and, even more importantly, the changed behavior of the few remaining herds. Applying these insights as a rancher and wildlife biologist, Savory determined that livestock could be substituted for natural herds to provide important benefits to plants, animals and soil life.

Well-managed grazing allows us to improve the four basic parts of an ecosystem: the water cycle, the mineral cycle (including reducing carbon in the atmosphere by storing it back in the soil), the flow of the sun’s energy which powers all life, and the relationship between all living things of whatever size or type. By managing holistically, we can use livestock production to achieve economic and environmental benefits to people, domestic and wild animals, and their habitat. These include cleaner water, cleaner air and wildfire suppression.

Our grazing methods, which we have adapted to our own operation and landscape, are based on four key principles identified by Savory:

  • Nature functions as a holistic community in which people, animals, plants and the land are mutually dependent. If you remove or change the behavior of any keystone species like the large grazing herds, you have an unexpected and wide-ranging negative impact on other parts of the environment.
  • It is crucial that any agricultural planning system must be flexible enough to adapt to nature’s complexity because all environments are different and have constantly changing local conditions.
  • Animal husbandry using domestic species can be used as a substitute for lost keystone species. Thus when managed properly in a way that mimics nature, agriculture can heal the land and even benefit wildlife, while at the same time benefiting people.
  • Time and timing is the most important factor when planning land use. Not only is it crucial to understand how long to use the land for agriculture and how long to rest, it is equally important to understand exactly when and where the land is ready for that use and rest.

By managing holistically for more than two decades at Circle Ranch in far West Texas, we’ve been able to increase water infiltration and moisture retention in the soil; increase organic matter in the soil; use the sun’s energy instead of chemical inputs to increase plant productivity; and increase ground cover and heal erosion.

We are convinced that continuing to use these principles as we holistically manage our land, forest, livestock, wildlife and fishery will yield equally positive results in the grasslands and forests of the Rocky Mountain West.

Latest articles

Read more about holistic land management practices

Restoring Bison at the American Prairie Reserve

Buffalo were the keystone grazing animals of the American Great Plains. At the American Prairie Reserve in Northeastern Montana, the plan is to recreate the world’s largest bison herd.   NOTE: this post was origibnally […]

Church-Affiliated Ranch Balances Agriculture and Conservation in Central Florida

Deseret Cattle and Citrus, owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, has been going strong for 65 years. This commercial farming and ranching operation is situated on about 295,000 acres in parts […]

Securing a Future for Wolves in the West

Another excellent article by the Property and Environmental Research Center (PERC) the free market conservation think tank based in Bozeman.   This one is about how to address people and livelihoods while achieving the essential ecological […]

Restoration of Beaver in Arizona’s San Pedro River

Beavers are a keystone species in desert ecosystems. See how beaver restoration is healing a degraded Arizona river and its Mexican tributaries.   NOTE: this post was originally published to this site on May 28, […]

Gulleys for Desert Grassland Restoration #2

Using a gulley to create a riparian meadow in the desert.   NOTE: this post was originally published to this site on May 31, 2017      To see another example of this practice, […]

Allan Savory: Planned Cattle Grazing Where the Rubber Hits the Road

In this 45-minute video, the Dean of holistic range science – Allan Savory – discusses on-the-ground application of holistic planned grazing. West Texas and New Mexico ranchers will find many helpful insights, observations and suggestions […]

Rangeland Restoration: Subsoil Contour Plowing at Circle Ranch, in far-West Texas

Subsoil contour plowing is an excellent way to increase water absorption in the desert grasslands of far-West Texas and Southern New Mexico. The effectiveness of the practice is shown in these before-and-after comparisons.  

Herd Impact

Husband and wife ranchers Emry Birdwell and Deborah Clark have been going against the grain of North Texas ranching for decades – hiding their ability to raise many, many more cattle per acre than any […]

Judge Restores Protections for Gray Wolves Across Much of US

“This was inevitable once Montana, Wyoming and Idaho resumed their 150-year long war on wolves.  

Chihuahuas and Keyline

“Chichuahuas and Keyline” explains Chocolate the Keyline Dog’s take on contour subsoil plowing.   NOTE: this post was originally published to this site on September 13, 2017.  

Gulleys for Grassland Restoration: #7 Best Equipment

When we divert rainstorm runoff from eroding gulleys to restore desertifying canyons and grasslands, what are the best equipment & practices? Our conclusions might surprise you.   NOTE: this post was originally published to this […]

Nature Reserve Buys Ranch, Grows to More than 700 Square Miles

  According to the article below, the American Prairie Reserve has plans to assemble millions of acres of adjoining public and private lands to create a vast wildlife preserve.   As further explained, many traditional ranchers […]

Gulleys for Grassland Restoration #9: Harvesting Water in Steep Canyons

Restoring the Southwest’s desert grasslands takes water. Most ranches treat eroding gulleys and roads – and their stormwater runoffs – as liabilities. In fact these are potential water assets on every ranch. This little diversion […]

‘Oh, I’ll Keep ‘em Out’

Quoting the article below, “Buying a house in cattle country and complaining about cattle is like buying a house in a nudist colony and complaining that people don’t wear clothes.”  

The Once-Extinct Aurochs May Soon Roam Europe Again

According to the article below, restoring large wild grazers like bison and aurochs (wild giant cattle) will enhance the health of European forests.   Quoting the authors, “By disrupting forest growth, these mammals created varied […]

Gulleys for Grassland Restoration #5: Upper Pennel Canyon at Circle Ranch

Using a mountain gulley for erosion control and desert grassland restoration at Circle Ranch in far-West Texas.   NOTE: this post was originally published to this site on August 14, 2017.   

Using an Eroded Gulley to Recreate a Wet Meadow

This video, #8, is a companion piece to #3 in the series. It shows how Fred’s Dam works during a rain, how the redirected water has created a seasonal wet meadow, what is happening to […]

The Real-World Conflicts in Yellowstone Can Be Solved by Markets, Not Drama

“Founded in 1980 by a handful of outdoor-oriented economists in Bozeman, Montana, PERC—the Property and Environment Research Center—is a conservation and research institute dedicated to free market environmentalism  

Grazing to Promote Riparian Health on a Private Ranch in Nevada

On this Nevada ranch, cattle numbers were tripled under planned grazing, with transformational results.   NOTE: this post was originally published to this site on August 4, 2017 

Gulleys for Grassland Restoration #4: Los Cuates Canyon at Circle Ranch

Gulleys for Grassland Restoration #4: Los Cuates Canyon discusses specific gulley problems and treatments in a mountain canyon at Circle Ranch in far-West Texas. It is one of a series that demonstrates how to remedy […]

The Magic of Cow Manure

Animal wastes from confinement feed operations, trapped in giant lagoons, are an environmental disaster. The putrid lagoons and manure piles are rightly criticized for pollution and increasing atmospheric methane. They also poison groundwater and streams […]