Holistic Management (from ὅλος holos, a Greek word meaning all, whole, entire, total) is a value-based decision-making framework that integrates all aspects of planning for social, economic and environmental considerations. Originally conceived as a means for reversing desertification, Holistic Management was developed in the 1960s by Allan Savory, a wildlife biologist, rancher, parliamentarian and military leader in Rhodesia.
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. Savory determined livestock could be substituted for natural herds to provide important ecosystem services like nutrient cycling.
Holistic planned grazing is similar to rotational grazing but it provides a framework for adapting to the four basic ecosystem processes: the water cycle, the mineral cycle including the carbon cycle, energy flow, and community dynamics (the relationship between organisms in an ecosystem), giving equal importance to livestock production and social welfare.
Holistic management planned grazing has four key principles:
Nature functions as a holistic community with a mutualistic relationship between people, animals and the land. 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 areas of the environment.
It is crucial that any agricultural planning system must be flexible enough to adapt to nature’s complexity, since 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.
Using Holistic Management at Circle Ranch, we’ve been able to increase water infiltration and moisture retention in the soil; increase organic matter in the soil; harness the sun’s energy instead of chemical inputs to increase vegetative productivity; and increase ground cover and heal erosion.
We are convinced management based on these principles will yield equally positive results in the grasslands and forests of the Rocky Mountain West.