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

Addressing Brucellosis Will Help Ranchers and Wildlife

Quoting the PROPERTY AND ENVIRONMENT RESEARCH CENTER (PERC) article below, “Because ranchers bear the cost of brucellosis—and the stress of the very real possibility of transmission of the disease—they are understandably reluctant to have elk […]

Livestock: A Powerful Tool for Wildfire Control

Quoting the article below, “Livestock grazing is also proposed as a potential solution for wildfires such as those that have devastated several western states this year. Researchers with the University of California Cooperative Extension are […]

Working Dogs – Farm To Fork Wyoming

Highly attuned to their partnership with man, livestock herding and guardian dogs are powerful and essential forces in the balance of nature and predation for today’s Wyoming rancher.

The Gray Wolf Leads the Way for Other Endangered Species

“Common sense advice on how best to advance wolf restorations, from the PROPERTY AND ENVIRONMENT RESEARCH CENTER of Bozeman Montana. PERC is the home of free market environmentalism.  

Belching Cows and Endless Feedlots: Fixing Cattle’s Climate Issues

The so-called climate problem of cattle burps and farts is a phenomena of feedlots.   When cattle are on the range – grazing as nature intended –  they reduce atmospheric carbon.   NOTE: this article […]

Burned, Beetle-ravaged Wyoming Forest Expected to Flourish

As demonstrated across the West, refusing to “manage” forests is a powerful management practice. While the practice of keeping human hands off of forest resources may be well-intentioned, it is detrimental and destructive. The “hands […]

Brucellosis Outbreak in China Worsening as Disease Spreads to Farms

The many sincere and well-intentioned “defenders of wildlife” who oppose treating the brucellosis that infects Yellowstone Park’s elk and bison should read the article below.   The current Covid pandemic demonstrates once again that animal […]

Allan Savory – Saving Western Ranching Culture

“In this interview Allan Savory explains why the Western ranching culture is dying along with other cultures.

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.