This article originally appeared in the May 2017 issue of ACRES USA magazine. It is written by Abbey and Spencer Smith, edited by Jody Butterfield. Readers may view and download a full PDF of this article. 

A key concept in Holistic Planned Grazing is recovery time. It is not about how many times cattle or other livestock are rotated through a pasture. This is too prescriptive. Plant re-growth matters. The pace of re-growth drives the entire grazing plan. Faster growth means faster moves. Slower growth means slower moves. This is why no two grazing areas, or ranches, are the same. The manager must observe, plan, adjust, monitor and re-plan, if needed. The diversity of the complex communities we desire require managers to be observant, aware and flexible while moving the whole community toward greater diversity and health.  

Once the managers know what landscape they want to create, it is time to commit to this vision by describing it in their holistic context.   


When creating a grazing plan, discuss the lifecycle of valued species. When are they most vulnerable? What do they need? If the birds are nesting and need an animal-impacted but cattle-free environment, we make sure the cattle have left the nesting area at the time when the birds really need it. If a species needs thick vegetation at a certain time for cover, we make sure they have access to this before it is grazed.

Once the grazing plan is working, conservation values are being managed. It is exciting! The key step is to make sure the future resource base of the Holistic Context is a true reflection of the decision maker’s (and those with veto power) values.


If this step is tended to, then it is simply a matter of managing toward the desired outcomes on a daily basis. Holistic managers acknowledge that they are managing complex systems where an action may have unintended consequences. This means the manager must be constantly observing the land to watch for the first signs of change (negative or positive), these observations inform the plan. Small tweaks or big re-planning sessions may be needed based on these observations. A holistic manager must be humble and flexible when working with nature.

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