What is Holistic Planned Grazing?
Holistic Planned Grazing is a planning process for dealing simply with the great complexity livestock managers face daily in integrating livestock production with crop, wildlife and forest production while working to ensure continued land regeneration, animal health and welfare, and profitability. Savory Global
Of all the Holistic management tools the three actions of living organisms; grazing, animal impact and rest from both are those which we use within holistic planned grazing.
Four management guidelines help us make decisions when using these tools; population management/stocking rate, time, stock density and herd effect.
Demarcating land into divisions – commonly called pastures or paddocks – is important for planning in advance but these paddocks need not be fenced they can be managed through herding or the use of attractants/deterrents and even technology.
Most land management occurs as a result of the continuation of an inherited system or a reaction to the nutritional needs of an animal – it is rarely proactively planned out well in advance.
Holistic management is about guiding decisions so they move us toward our holistic context or goal. The holistic planned grazing element of this management is about ensuring we use our animals or manage our wildlife on the land in a way that achieves what we want to see happen – the holistic context.
If you plan your grazing so that you can:
- Move closer to your overall goals
- Increase profits or reduce losses
- Improve livestock and wildlife health
- Increased productivity
- Minimise overgrazing
- Minimising over resting/rank grassland plants or habitat with no minerals cycling
- Maximise new seeding potential and water infiltration
- Optimise biological decay to encourage new growth
- Help coordinate livestock management activities such as lambing, tupping and weaning or habitat management goals such as resting in the breeding bird season or allowing hay meadow flowers to set seed.
- Reduce labour and infrastructure costs and fit management tasks with natural cycles.
Before we start developing a plan we should focus on these questions:
- What is the landscape we’re trying to create?
- How much forage or output will your unit need to supply or provide in the period we are planning? How should we measure this?
- How much forage/output will each acre/Ha have to supply or provide?
- What reserves do we need for the non-growing season and contingencies and how well will they achieve our aims through that period.
- How long should animals spend in each area?
- Where and when do you want to use herd effect or animal impact to achieve management aims.
On grasslands for livestock production, we are mainly focused on forage production and increasing the volume, resilience and nutritional value of it through good management practices.
For these purposes, we work with a forage volume unit called ‘animal days.’ The principle is this:
If a paddock will feed one animal for 10 days or 10 animals for one day but the volume of forage produced is 10 animal days per acre.
A cow day is the volume of forage eaten by a cow in a day.
The animal used to create your ‘animal day’ can be the one most relevant to your system and can be converted to allow for multi-species, breed and age scale planning. The relative ratios will be based on your personal experiences of those animals and your forage consumption rates.
Good grazing plans depend on refining the accuracy of your animal day estimates. Your animal days per acre figures will be continually changing as forage quality changes and experience of the optimal grazing periods/height/trample % and interaction with wild grazers is gained.
Here is Rebecca Hosking showing us the difference between mob grazing and Holistic Planned Grazing in our ‘non-brittle’ Uk climate.
Overgrazing happens to plants not land. One area of land could – and often does – have zones of plants that are overgrazed and areas where some plant species are long rested, rank and unproductive.
A plant becomes overgrazed when an animal returns to graze it before its roots and foliage have fully recovered. This could happen if the animals are returned to a pasture without a sufficient rest period or if they linger too long without being moved soon enough.
A couple of generations ago in the Yorkshire Dales and Lakeland farmers would say that a sheep should never hear the church bells chime in the same field in the same week. In other words, they should be moved regularly allowing for adequate rest periods and minimising overgrazing. Sadly this is no longer the case and often the field boundaries of small fields are allowed to collapse so livestock continuously graze larger areas with little – if any – long rest periods.
A grazed perennial plant must tap into previously stored energy from its roots or crown to grow new leaf. Generally speaking, the more leaf removed the more energy it takes to regrow. Many withdrawals from this plant energy account can lead to serious harm or death to that plant.
Over time the land will produce less and less forage and the minerals contained within the plants will be inadequate for maintaining healthy animals. Feed, fertiliser and vet med costs go up; profits, soil health and plant diversity go down.
Even annual grasses – we now know – are hindered by repeated grazing. Luckily, we will inadvertently prevent the overgrazing of annual by properly managing the rest periods for our perennial plants.
I think it is important to get away from thinking of the forage produced from a grassland as simply a feed growing that we should crop efficiently – the ‘maximum utilisation’ trap.
Soil is a living organism that, if nurtured will produce an abundance of mineral rich forage without the need for any artificial fertiliser. By thinking of the trampled and half eaten long grass as a green manure, rather than a ‘terrible waste,’ we can increase the amount of money held in the bank account and therefore make a lot more in interest – forever!
Recovery timescales vary hugely and will depend on climate, soil health, altitude, soil type and the species of plants. Runner type grasses are harder to overgraze than upright bunch grasses as the animals have less overall leaf to ‘get at.’
It is important to establish your own parameters for rest periods based on careful observations and feedback. A great way to do this is to cage areas of pasture or habitat and monitor the recovery periods compared to the protected and totally rested plants.
Overgrazing and recovery is on a sliding scale and is not either on or off. A plant that has been allowed a significant period of rest will be allowed to develop a deep resilient roots system that can tap into layers of minerals and water reserves that will enable it to regrow very effectively. The same plant if grazed and allowed adequate rest may never develop the same overall health and resilience even though it can be highly productive.
This is where your context comes in; if you are managing an area of land to create aeration and reduce water logged areas it could be appropriate to allow a period of long rest to achieve deep roots growth first. If you are trying to achieve good finishing times for a beef herd, we can concentrate on working with the grass growth curve to become efficient at regrowing leaf.
The time of year matters and if you have distinct growing seasons or periods of rapid growth the paddock moves in this period will need to happen faster and the recovery periods can be shorter. In the slower growing seasons, the moves can be slower and the recovery will take longer. If you get a season of dormancy with no plants growing (virtually never in the uk), then during this period you can’t overgraze the plants – you could however, make a paddled mess!
When you’re planning your divisions and moves it’s important to remember that moving one day early from a paddock will have an effect on the recovery period for all the other divisions. This is why planning the seasons grazing on a wall chart is useful so you can easily see the implications of a change of plan.
Holistic planned grazing is best used when you have formed your holistic context, have a good understanding of holistic decision making and a deep understanding of the ecosystem processes and holistic management tools. If you are interested in learning more then take a look at our other resources or take a look at our consultancy options.
Take a look at Holistic Planned Grazing at work in this inspiring project in a brittle environment.