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

Painting Eyes On The Butts Of Cattle Surprisingly Effective At Scaring Off Would-Be Predators

Here is another example of low-tech, non-lethal ways to protect cattle from predators.     NOTE: this article was originally published to IFLScience’s Apple News Channel on August 7, 2020. It was written by Katy […]

Stewardship with Vision, Episode 9: Sieben Live Stock Company

Sieben Live Stock Company is a family owned and operated ranch in north central Montana which raises cattle and sheep. The Hibbard family believes proper grazing techniques can improve overall land health. Their practices include […]

Climate Change Mitigation is a Side Effect of Regenerative Ranching: Insights From Australia And The United States

“Whatever the causes of climate change, human damage to our environment cannot be denied. As the authors of this paper explain, more and more people are rejecting industrial agriculture in favor of regenerative (restorative) ag […]

2020 Tony Coote AM Memorial lecture – with Allan Savory

The Mulloon Institute presents a unique opportunity to hear from one of the world’s leading experts in Regenerative Agriculture, Allan Savory, as he presents the 2020 Tony Coote AM Memorial Lecture.

Is the Way Cattle Are Grazed the Key to Saving America’s Prairies?

“The article below gives another example of the application of holistic grazing concepts for the purpose of regenerating rangelands.

Wildlife-Friendly Cattle Fences in an Idaho Forest

This is the most wildlife-friendly fence design that we have seen. It would work great on large properties, whether placed around perimeters or inside for pastures. It goes up fast and uses a minimum of […]

Ranching Alongside Predators in an Idaho Forest

“Using domestic animals to restore overgrown forest near Yellowstone Park in Idaho.”

Allan Savory on Permaculture and Holistic Management

Here is a very interesting interview with the ecologist Allan Savory who, in the opinion of many, knows more about rangelands than anyone alive. He is best known for his discovery that global desertification can […]

Bison Bunch Up to Protect Calves

Over millions of years, rangelands have evolved under grazing by nomadic herds that travel in mass, bunched up to protect both young and adults from predators. And, plants have evolved to need this. This observation […]

Wolf Species Rebounds in Southwest, Angering Ranchers

The success of the Mexican gray wolf reintroductions is great news. Limited wolf hunting would change wolf behavior,  making wolves less of a nuisance, according to ranchers quoted in the article below. Wolf advocates should get […]

Jim Howell, Part II – Restoring Ecological Capital Through Grazing

A business and investment model based on sustainable grazing of open ranges in the mountain West.  

Using Goats to Open an Idaho Forest

At Pitchstone Waters near Yellowstone Park in Idaho, we use goats to clear brush, weeds, and stimulate grasses on forest floors. Sixth in a series.   Goats Grazing Idaho Forests from Christopher Gill on Vimeo.  

Soil-Carbon Cowboys

A new documentary series in 10 parts (paddocks) directed by Peter Byck …please watch soil-carbon cowboys first.       

Pablo Escobar’s Hippos Fill a Hole Left Since Ice Age Extinctions

According to the article below—and the study on which it is based—humans have caused the extinction of many large animals over the past 100,000 years. This has changed ecosystems greatly, generally for the worse.   […]

Why This Cattle Farmer Moves His Cows Every Day

Methane emissions from cattle contribute to climate change – but Will Harris says he has a solution.

How Beef Eaters in Cities Are Draining Rivers in the American West

Paraphrasing the authors below, “The biggest user of river water by far, is not lawns and showers, but agriculture. New research shows that across the Western United States, a third of all consumed water goes […]

Stewardship with Vision – Episode 5: David Spicer

Quoting the producers of the video below, “David Spicer’s leadership in restoring springs, wetlands, and riparian areas on his ranch and beyond has helped keep a species from being listed under the ESA and supported […]

If Crop Insurance Rewarded Conservation Practices, Would More Farmers Go No-Till?

“As described below, a private task force is developing a crop insurance product that would reward farmers for adopting regenerative conservation practices.  If the task force succeeds and the product is approved by the Federal Crop […]

The Resistance to Holistic Wildlife Management

Across the West as well as in Texas, agencies, universities, governmental and conservation organizations resist holistic wildlife and agricultural management practices. Most Western public grazing rules make holistic grazing very difficult if not impossible  In this […]

Massive Juniper Tree-Cutting Project Aims to Aid Sage Grouse

According to the article below: “Overall, sage grouse numbers have dwindled from an estimated 16 million before European settlement of the West to no more than 500,000 today in 11 western states. The project that […]

Deer Culling Does Not Improve Deer: Common Sense Habitat Management Does

In a landmark 13-year study based on 15,000 animal trappings, the Comanche (Farias) Ranch near Eagle Pass, Texas, has proven that culling of so-called “inferior” bucks, including spikes, does not increase antler size in wild […]