Supporting natural cycles with Holistic Management

field day wrap up will be coming soon, but in the meantime this post will look at how Holistic Management has been applied by the Wrights and some of the benefits they have achieved.

Adopting Holistic Management

On his 3350 hectare property, Lana, and accompanying 780 hectare Kasamanca, Tim Wright has been applying Holistic Management practices for almost 20 years. After experiencing falling profit margins and increasing susceptibility to drought in the early 1990s, he was motivated to change practices by excessively high production costs and the opportunity to better use grazing management.

The Wrights undertook a number of courses – including a Holistic Management course (read the recent Soils for Life experience at a Holistic Management course) – through which they learned about the importance of decision making and working towards their own holistic goal.

As a result of testing all of their management decisions against their personal principles and holistic goal, the Wrights are now enhancing the productivity and resilience of their landscapes and grazing operations.

image of Lana paddock plan
Lana control board - the paddock plan

Grazing management is now the primary management tool used by the Wrights. Since 1980, the number of paddocks have been increased from 30 to some 350 by subdividing paddocks that had been 100-120 hectares in size to 10-15 hectare paddocks. This allows shorter, more intensive controlled grazing on, and longer strategic rest periods for each paddock. Eroded watercourses have been fenced off and a mix of troughs and dams are used for stock water.

Tim notes that the cost of development has been returned within two years as a result of productivity increases.

Using stock to manage fertility

Paddock layouts and the controlled movement of stock facilitate the redistribution of soil nutrients from areas of high to low fertility. Nutrients are thus deposited in a different part of the property from where they are taken. This process also enhances biological activity through the more even spreading of nutrient from manure and urine.

image of cow manure
Nutrient transfer in action

The nutrition and health of the pastures has increased consistently in response to this enhanced grazing management despite no fertilisers being added for several decades. This increase has resulted from the increased solubilization, availability and cycling of essential plant nutrients from what had been locked-up, unavailable soil nutrients by the deeper, longer lived perennial grass roots and associated rhizosphere microbiologies fostered by the holistic grazing management.

The periodic high intensity grazing and its urine and dung and the trampling of these pastures has also contributed to the transfer of essential plant nutrients from deeper in the soil profile and past fertiliser additions into available surface organic matter nutrient pools.

image of soil with worm on Lana
A good covering of plant litter helps to add organic
matter to the soil and creates a haven for worms

While in the long term Lana will require the nutrients that have been exported in products to be returned to its soils, the holistic grazing management processes has significantly increased the availability and cycling of essential plant nutrients from the former unavailable soil pools and thereby the productivity of Lana's native perennial pastures. These perennial pastures were also able to sustain this increased productivity even during the recent extended drought, underlying the resilience improvements able to be achieved through such holistic landscape regeneration and grazing management approaches.

By maximising the use of nutrients already available on the property and using stock to spread them, the Wrights have been able triple their stocking levels and productivities without requiring chemical fertiliser additions.

Taking advantage of enterprise diversity

image of sheep and cattle grazing on Lana
Sheep and cattle are grazed separately or together, depending
on fodder availability and animal requirements

The Wrights have diversified enterprises on Lana, providing flexibility and risk management in the farm ecosystem. They are optimising outcomes from their grazing rotation by mixing stock classes and animal types. This gains a greater level of pasture utilisation and subsequently nutrient cycling. In terms of the differing requirements of animals in their enterprises through time, the Wrights are able to spread the feed demand between production for fine wool, fat lambs, breeding cattle and fattening cattle, better utilising the resources naturally available at different times of the year.

By having a holistic goal and understanding all the aspects which contribute to successful production, the Wrights have changed from grazing practices with poor relationship and feedback loops between monthly feed availability and the stock rate being run, such as with set stocking.

They now have the flexibility and capacity to proactively respond to influences on production they cannot control, such as seasonal rainfall and temperature and related grass and water resource availability. They can then manage carrying capacity to match the resources on hand whilst there is time to manage the outcome of too much or too little feed, without degrading the natural resource base.

Increased outputs, reduced inputs

image of Lana paddock plan
Previously poor, bracken-infested areas now
support productive pasture

Since the 1980s, the Wrights have increased their carrying capacity from an average of 8,000 DSE [1] to 20,000 DSE and this production increase has been maintained through periods of drought. The improved groundcover and increased organic matter in the soil have allowed for improved rainfall infiltration and retention and increased resilience to periods of reduced rainfall.

Labour requirements have reduced from one person per 5,000 DSE to one per 12,000 DSE. While animals are being moved regularly, a pattern with which they become familiar, this increased human exposure also makes them easier to handle and monitor for general farm practices.

Keep changing with nature

The Wrights emphasise that trial and error is an important process in learning and adjusting practices to suit the landscape and personal goals. All of our case study farmers have noted that that they have made mistakes along the way, but, importantly, persisted with changing to sustainable, regenerative practices. As Tim highlights, "...we assume we could be wrong, and we monitor and replan. This is the holistic feedback loop, which is really important. Tomorrow is another day – nature is changing every minute and we have to change with Mother Nature".

Read the Lana case study for more of the Wright’s story, and keep an eye on our News page for the Lana Field Day wrap-up coming soon.
The Soils for Life Team

 

FOOTNOTE:
1 DSE is a stock measurement, ‘dry sheep equivalent’ based on the feed requirements of a 45kg wether. This can be multiplied for various type s of stock, for example a ewe with one lamb is measured as 1.5 DSE, and a dry cow is equivalent to 6-8 DSE.