The following is a post by Holistic Management educator Spencer Smith. He writes about the Holistic Planned Grazing workshop hosted by the Jefferson Center in mid-June 2015. The workshop was led by Holistic Management educator Rob Rutherford. 

Diversity matters

We recently held a Holistic Planned Grazing workshop in Fort Bidwell. We were lucky to get Rob Rutherford, a Savory Institute accredited educator,  to lead the workshop. He was an animal science professor at Cal Poly for more than 30 years and is on the advisory board of the Jefferson Center.

We had a great turnout of a very diverse group of land managers. It was nice to see how people from all backgrounds grasped the concepts of holistic management. Attendees came from the Israel Longhorn Project based in the Bay Area of California, ranches in Northern Oregon and vermaculture operations in Southern California.

We had a wonderful time learning how to manage our cows for ecosystem processes. Mr. Rutherford broke down planned grazing in a way that we could all understand. He took us through the step-by-step and explained the importance of “managing like the grass matters.” We learn why holistic management is the land management practice and philosophy that builds soil and increases production and profits for its practitioners.


Good, local food

We ate some of the best food our area has to offer and enjoyed many meals together. This included local veggies produced by Bidwell Canyon Farms,  a tri-tip BBQ fresh pies made by a local baker. We talked about how to think of livestock as a tool to build the future resource base to support the life we describe in our holistic context. We also:

  • Discussed the importance of having a holistic context: the “why” behind all our actions.
  • Once we have the “why” how do we make decisions that will get us the results in our life that we want?
  • We practiced the holistic decision making framework.
  • We learned how to estimate feed left on hand by figuring how many Stock Days per Acre (SDA) we have in our fields. We developed our eye for estimating SDA.


Humans and complexity

Mr. Rutherford explained that people are good at managing the things that we make, things that are made of parts. People are not good at managing complex relationships, like the relationship between cows and soil or relationships like marriage. The average refrigerator last longer than the average marriage, he said.

We discussed the succession of a healthy grassland ecosystem. People were amazed to learn that spraying weeds is just dealing with a symptom of a low successional soil with little diversity. What we should be doing is managing for a healthier, higher successional landscape. To do this we must create a balance of bacteria and fungi in the soil and then the seeds and plants that you desire will express themselves. If we manage for a simple grassland (not a diverse grassland ecosystem), one with little community dynamics, then we will never get that diverse life in the soil that favors higher successional plants, like perennials.

“When you want to make small changes, change the way you do things. If you want to make large changes, change the way you see things,” Gabe Brown said.

Teaching people how to estimate animal days per acre was a big take away for our guests. They were excited to learn how to estimate how much feed was on hand and how much feed they were likely to have in a season. Once they had an understanding of how to estimate forage production, we then went into determining stocking rates for the grazing unit.

Creating a Holistic Grazing Plan allows for planning, managing and improving biological capital. This builds wealth for a sustained business and livelihood. The main tool of the grazing plan is the grazing chart. This chart lays out all tools available to help create the Future Resource Base described in the Holistic Context.  We use holistic planned grazing to get animals to the right place, at the right time, for the right reasons.


The conversation extended beyond the workshop as the group supported each other via email as they got home and started working with their own plans. The Jefferson Center is available for on-going support to all attendees. We are only a phone call away. Our neighbor Lillie Sommer already invited us down to help think through her grazing plan using her goat herd. In a follow up email conversation, Mr. Rutherford reminded us all that:

“For most of us – any new process seems confusing and daunting. I’m sure we can all remember trying to learn how to ride a bike. Imagine what the directions would be like, explaining just how to make your muscles and connective tissues, your joints, etc. etc. had to move precisely to make the pedals rotate and drive the chain which propelled the bike. Then there was the fact that you had to watch for cars, your little brother or sister, slippery spots in the road, know when to apply the brakes or not. And it goes on and on and on…..but somehow, most of us learned how to ride a bike. Printed directions for complex processes are always going to be lacking and maybe confusing – but they are far better than the alternative. Holistic Grazing Planning offers us the hope that we can stabilize our ecosystem processes, improve the bottom line with our economics, and restore civility and culture to our communities…..we can build opera houses!”

He left us with a reassuring reminder that: “Mother Nature is very tolerant. She has put up with a lot of our screw-ups and is still trying to help us all survive. My guess is that you will begin to make sense of it, particularly as you are working with your own livestock on your own piece of the earth within your own holistic context.”


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