Animal ForageLandLivestockPlant SystemsSeedsSoil BiologySoil CompositionSoil ConservationSoil RehabilitationStructure

Holistic Management

Allan Savory has an interesting background. Amongst his experiences, he is also a biologist. I think this will have served him well as he sought to address desertification in his native Zimbabwe.

While many call for less livestock, and for good reason, Allan blames their detrimental impact on management (or lack of, as the case may be), rather than absolute numbers. Allan’s Holistic Management techniques instead use dense livestock herds to increase fertility and biomass (and thus soil carbon) and to increase human prosperity.

But Savory’s prescription seems shockingly simple – and it’s taken him 50 years of work to convince others that he’s not crazy. The core of Holistic Management is simply grazing local livestock in super dense herds that mimic the grazing patterns of big-game (which have since disappeared). Those livestock in turn till the soil with their hooves and fertilize it with their dung – thus preparing the land for new vegetation in a cycle that was evolved over millions of years.

Surprisingly, that flies in the face of modern wisdom about land management – the typical response is to rest land completely, and livestock are often named as the chief culprits in desertification. "We’ve been ridiculed for 50 years," says Savory. But he argues that examples from around the world show that resting the land doesn’t prepare it for the return of vegetation – instead, it simply remains barren, with rain simply running off soil that stays cracked and dry. "But when you range animals correctly, the land starts returning," he says. "The only thing that can do it is a heavy herbivore with a wet gut." –

This year Allan’s work was recognised by becoming the 2010 Buckminster Fuller Challenge Award recipient.

As permaculturists already acknowledge, it’s simply about putting a little observation and design into our systems – and emulating those natural systems that have worked successfully for millennia. As we move into an era of energy descent, an increasing awareness of how to implement systems which require less energy inputs (fossil fuel and human) whilst increasing soil carbon, water absorption, biodiversity and overall climate stability, will serve us very well indeed.

A few more short videos from Holistic Management:


  1. Craig … Allan Savory’s Holistic Management – A New Framework For Decision Making, is an amazing piece of work. He hints at an Africa, pre-European settlement supporting massive numbers of animals, rich landscapes, and good soils. He then goes on to explain how this all works and how we can replicate it in the here and now. Also full of wonderful stories. Very similar to Joel Salatin’s way of thinking only fleshed out with greater detail. Great post to be shared. Cheers. Len

  2. I’ve had two problems with Savory’s book “Holistic Management”. First, it actually is two books in one: the one is about general management principles, the other one is about quite specific issues connected to pastoralism in arid landscapes.

    Second, the book is based on keen observation presents solutions for a number of deep problems that evidently have killed many well-meaning approaches. Now that’s good, of course – but the problem is that this material is presented in a way that makes it completely non-obvious what specific problem actually is addressed by a particular aspect of the holistic management approach. In order to find out about that, one has to read between the lines a lot.

    It is a very good book – but I think it would really help HM if more background were provided on how the different aspects of the methods evolved, i.e. why they are there and what they prevent going wrong.

  3. I find it interesting and puzzling that Allan Savory has attracted such long-lasting controversy among range scientists. It seems incredible to me that the debate of continuous vs rotational (aka short duration grazing) still rages on. One would think that the question would be quite amenable to scientific experiment and resolution, but apparently it’s not.

    I’ve read Voisin, Allan Nation (Stockman Grassfarmer magazine), Salatin, Gred Judy, and many others extol the great virtues of rotational/mob grazing. My animals are rotationally grazed. Yet, the volume of scientific literature showing no advantage of these methods over continuous grazing (at equal stocking rate) is too much to ignore.

    I don’t claim have the answer here. I’d like to hear others’ thoughts on this controversy.

  4. I am currently doing a one year internship at Zaytuna looking after the animals. I am fine tuning the rotational grazing of all the animals using HM decision making. HM is a framework for decision making so of course it is not specific, it can be applied to any problem and fits very well into Permaculture. There are 2 books on HM, one is the textbook which outlines the theory and then there is a workbook that helps you to use HM to plan your farm and life. There are also many great HM educators around who can help you

  5. I’m facing a little dilemma about this grazing technique and what I’ve learned about the impact of hard footed animals in Australia.

    From what I understand the continent never had hard footed animals before they were imported by the early settlers and the soil compaction that follows is a major reason to why the landscape can’t absorb much of the rainwater that it was able to absorb when the soil was in its natural “spongy” state. Lot of hard surface runoff leads to lots of overland flow and eventually manifests as gullying etc.

    This technique was developed and imitates the patterns in Africa that has initially been full of all kinds of large hard footed grazers so I’m just wondering if anyone has thought about or researched the impacts of this kind of cow based system when looking a the big picture and natural patterns in Australian context?

  6. Hi Mari

    The images you see in the film clips are of Australian landscapes. Those Australians who practice HM grazing well are seeing the same ecological results that others around the world are seeing: improved landscape resilience with an increase in solar energy capture, an improved water cycle and nutrient cycling and benefits to biodiversity. When HM is successfully linked with a broadacre design strategy such as keyline, which addresses the clever placement of water storage, roads, trees and subdivisions in a way that enhances the productivity and health of the landscape, in my opinion you have a winning combination.

    Have fun everyone

  7. There are also quite a few papers in journals showing that the soil bulk density, one way of measuring and comparing soil compaction, IS lower under HM and time-controlled grazing when compared with continuous grazing (also called set stocking). Lower bulk density is better in terms of water penetration etc.

  8. after 6 ys of rotational grazing my native grasses have never yielded so much and fields have wild violets and other interesting plants orchids etc.
    I have added No fertilizer just spent 8k on electric fencing that’s 20kms+ worth in 6 yrs and have increased my breeding heard by 50% @ no other cost than a bit of time and fence
    never knew the farm could produce so much
    its not the time you graze its the time you give it to regenerate that’s important
    happy fat kows cya kowboy

  9. Pitty Zaytuna farm only uses rotational grazing, instead of Holistic planned grazing. There are severely overgrazed plants on the lower flats.

  10. hi,
    I am a very late bloomer, in my mid-sixties came across Allan Savory and his brilliant work.
    Is there a book I can look at that will show me how to practically set and attain the herd size and management plan.
    I did read that Allan said even the illiterate can do it, it is so simple.

    Sjoerd van den Berg

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Related Articles

Back to top button