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.
Read more about holistic land management practices
Beavers in Arizona Deserts
Beavers are keystone species in desert ecosystems. NOTE: this post was originally published to this site on July 30, 2018. And again on May 27, 2020.
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 […]
Book Review: Man, Cattle and Veld by Johann Zietsman
Note: Originally posted January 9, 2017. This remains one of the most informative and entertaining of all books on cattle and grazing for habitat improvement. Man, Cattle and Veld by Johann Zeitsman records the journey […]
New Research Documents Domestic Cattle DNA In Modern Bison Herds
As reported below, Texas A&M says there is no such thing as genetically-pure North American bison, including Yellowstone Park’s. While good to know, this discovery shouldn’t change bison restoration efforts. There’s nothing new in […]
Stewardship with Vision – Episode 2: Malpai Borderlands Group
In the high desert of southern Arizona and New Mexico, almost a million acres of important habitats and nearly 30 at-risk species are being protected and conserved…by a coalition of ranchers who manage from […]
Rotational Cattle Grazing to Restore Degraded Chihuahuan Desert Grasslands and Promote Watershed Health
Describing the Mimms Ranch in Marfa, Texas, the authors write, “The Foundation aims for practical conservation, with the belief that restored grasslands improve overall watershed health, resources for native wildlife, and continued support of ranching.” […]
“As discussed below, well-managed domestic cattle, bison, other livestock and grazing animals can restore ecosystems and biodiversity, upcycle grasses humans can’t eat into bioavailable nutrition, reduce wildfire risk, and help us create a better planet […]
Researchers Designing Rugged Virtual Fence Tech for Animal Management
As discussed below, a ‘virtual’ fence system for livestock is under development at the University of Idaho. Several “virtual fence” systems have been designed through the years. They have mostly failed. If successful […]
Goats Clearing Meadows and Forest at Pitchstone Waters #1
On the Fall River in Idaho, 5-miles from the southwest corner of Yellowstone Park, we use goats instead of herbicides to control weeds and stimulate grasses in forests and meadows. It is fascinating to watch […]
Farm Animals May Soon Get New Features Through Gene Editing
Hybridization of plants and animals is as old as agriculture. However, most GMOs have made plants more tolerant to herbicides, and thus are essentially drivers for the agrochemical companies that sell both the […]
The conflict between private landowners and the bison and elk living in Yellowstone National Park exists in large part because the Yellowstone herds are infected with brucellosis. Brucellosis is a highly contagious bacterial disease […]
The Rules that Govern Life on Earth – with Sean B Carroll
The author of ‘The Serengheti Rules’ has shown that in order to be healthy, grasslands need (1) keystone grazers, (2) many prey species and (3) many predators. In this 50-minute video he explains these ideas […]
New Texas A&M Research Documents Domestic Cattle Genetics in Modern Bison Herd
“Cattle and bison readily crossbreed. It was ranchers who saved bison in the late 1800’s, but they ran these bison alongside their domestic cattle herds. New research from Texas A&M says that all bison, […]
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 […]