The following questions and answers will be reviewed and updated regularly as we review the communities' questions and realize additional clarifications are needed.
Animal wellbeing and proper management are at the heart of the Savory Institute’s approach to land management.
The Savory Institute maintains that human and animal interactions are complex and region specific. We are well aware that some people do not believe in the use of animals for any human purpose. This is a belief we respect but do not share.
50+ years of experience by Savory Institute and its network have demonstrated that animals are a critical component to healthy soil and thriving living communities, and have been key to soil health for thousands of years. Properly managed domestic herbivores play a crucial role in maintaining the integrity of grasslands. Additionally, more than a billion people in the most impoverished parts of the world rely on animals for both their primary food and a sole income source for their families. They live under remote and in many cases harsh conditions that offer very few food choices. An increasing number of people who raise livestock are now working with the Savory Network to learn how to manage their animals in a way that will heal their land.
The Savory Institute defends and believes in these farmers and ranchers who are making a real contribution to heal the land and the environment in the process of feeding and clothing our global community. Their hard work makes all of us more resilient to the impacts of our own daily uninformed decisions.
Therefore we encourage conscientious consumers and corporations to dig deeper into ethical questions about food and farming, into the realities of our food and fiber supply chains and how our daily choices impact the entire global community.
The least we can do as consumers, business owners, and conscientious human beings is to strive to become reconnected to the source of our food and fibers. Careful selection, evaluation, and vetting of the sources of information that shape our opinions and decisions is also vital and one of our biggest responsibilities.
Holistic Management is a decision-making framework and a suite of planning processes which results in ecologically regenerative, economically viable, and socially sound management of resources. Holistic Management specifically helps land managers, farmers, ranchers, policy makers and others understand the relationship between large herds of wild herbivores and the grasslands and develop strategies for managing herds of domestic livestock to mimic those wild herds to restore balance to the land. Holistic Management is successful because it is cost-effective, highly scalable and nature-based.
Like their wild counterparts, domestic ruminants – cattle, sheep, goats, etc. – emit methane as a result of bacterial digestion of cellulose in the rumen – the first of their multiple stomachs. Despite large populations of wild grazing animals worldwide before the introduction of agriculture, atmospheric methane concentrations did not increase to environmentally harmful levels. And despite a 70% increase in livestock between 1999 and 2008, atmospheric methane levels did not increase from decades before. Therefore it is reasonable to conclude that an intact ecosystem effectively balances ruminant methane production and breakdown. While there are indeed excessive sources of methane from conventional livestock management, such as manure lagoons and land use changes (for example, conversion of forests and grasslands to croplands for animal feed), other than market-related transportation costs, Holistic Management requires none of those practices. Healthy, well-aerated soils – a characteristic quality of grasslands under Holistic Planned Grazing – harbor bacteria called methanotrophs, which break down methane. Soil-based decomposition of methane may be equal to or greater than ruminant methane production, depending on animal density, soil type and soil health. Thus, the benefits of eco-restoration through Holistic Management far outweigh methane emissions resulting from livestock.
Livestock, properly managed on the grasslands of the world, have a critical role to play in mitigating climate change. Although it is crucial that we greatly reduce CO2 emissions, more is needed. Excess CO2 in the atmosphere needs to be drawn down to Earth and safely stored in the soil if we are to maintain a livable climate. The microorganisms in the soil convert CO2 into stable forms of soil carbon that contribute to its ability to absorb and hold water, support life forms, and increase resilience. Grasslands, because of their sheer size – 40% of Earth’s land surface – and their inherent ability to store more carbon in their soils than any other environment, are our best opportunity for carbon sequestration. For each 1% increase in soil organic matter achieved on the world’s 5 billion hectares of grasslands, 64 ppm of carbon dioxide would be removed from atmospheric circulation.
Proper management of the wild and domestic grazers that evolved in and still inhabit the grasslands of the world is key to restoring healthy grassland soils and engaging this carbon sink. In one study we have seen a 400% increase in permanent soil carbon on land under Holistic Planned Grazing, relative to the neighboring land managed conventionally.
Holistic Management increases the health of the soil and the productivity of the land, enhancing its ability to provide food. Holistic Management is successful because it is cost-effective, highly scalable and nature-based. It is sustainable because it increases profits for landowners without compromising the long term viability of the resource base. Holistic Management guides the use of livestock to prepare crop fields increasing yields by over four times with no additional inputs.
Holistic Management equips land stewards with tools and processes to properly manage livestock by mimicking the once vast herds of wild herbivores and their associated pack-hunting predators. Bunched and moving, herbivores are essential for to the productivity of grasslands. Their hooves chip capped soil and trample plant material allowing for seed germination and enhanced water infiltration. Grazing stimulates grass growth, and dung and urine fertilize the soils. Only when the plants and roots in a grazing area have fully recovered, are livestock returned to it to once again do what Nature intended. As a result, Holistic Management has been shown to increase productivity by up to 400%. This productivity doesn’t only improve profitability and food security but also enhances wildlife habitat and biodiversity.
Holistic Planned Grazing is a strategic planning process that brings simplicity to the great complexity livestock managers face daily integrating livestock production with forage, crop, wildlife needs, and other myriad considerations, while working to ensure continued land regeneration, animal health and performance, and profitability. Holistic Planned Grazing helps ensure that livestock are in the right place, at the right time, and with the right behavior.
For many years, large areas of grasslands around the world have been turning into barren deserts. This process, called desertification, is happening at an alarming rate around the world. Desertification creates large areas of exposed soil which dramatically decreases the effectiveness of rainfall. Water evaporates or runs off instead of soaking into the soil where it is available for plants and living organisms and recharges water tables. This change leads to the increasing frequency and severity of floods and droughts — even with no change in rainfall in a specific region. Holistic Planned Grazing increases the organic matter in the soil and therefore increases its ability to hold water, reducing the risk of floods and droughts. In one study we have seen a 40% increase in water holding capacity on land under Holistic Planned Grazing compared to adjacent land that had no grazing on it.
Holistic Management is a decision-making framework with associated planning processes that address the ever-changing complexity surrounding land management, using sound established scientific principles. Given the uniqueness of each situation and context, processes can never be replicated as can prescriptive practices. Savory Institute is working in collaboration with research institutions and partners, to measure the outcomes of managing holistically, by monitoring the health of ecosystem processes, levels of permanent soil carbon, quality of life of the people, as well as financial vitality. There is solid evidence that Holistic Management works – both in peer reviewed journals and from the experiences of holistic managers throughout the world. One of the challenges is that many researchers see Holistic Management only as a grazing system and do not acknowledge the decision-making and feedback loop underpinning the practices. No plan is ever the same anywhere, and is never the same year to year within a given context. Moreover, the plan is never executed as planned – we assume we are wrong and as we implement we monitor our assumptions, forage estimates, animal and wildlife performance, markets, quality of life, weather, etc. and adjust so that we stay on track. Please visit the Evidence section of our website to find peer reviewed articles and data on the outcomes of Holistic Management.
Managing livestock holistically to mimic the behavior of wild herds, results in healthier soils, that can absorb rainfall, and grow more food for people and animals. In the world’s vast grasslands, livestock production is the primary source of livelihood and cultural pride. Healthier land means more livestock, and more livestock, means more wealth. The grasslands are also where most grains are grown and when we include holistically managed livestock in the mix with crops, we have demonstrated substantially increased yields as a result of better soil health. Improvements in the effectiveness of the water cycle on any area of land, such as reduced evaporation and runoff, means that water sources are more secure and people, livestock (and wildlife) can stay healthy and resilient. Healthy people and healthy livestock are productive rather than impoverished.