A Closer Look at Holistic Planned Grazing
by Evan DeMarco on Sep 27, 2022
Regenerative agriculture uses a number of techniques to work with the natural environment, rather than against it. One of these techniques is holistic planned grazing, which helps livestock managers integrate livestock production with crops, wildlife and forestry. The technique ensures that the land continuously regenerates, while protecting animal health and welfare.
In short, holistic planned grazing ensures that “livestock are in the right place, at the right time and with the right behavior.”
This regenerative agriculture technique requires ranchers and land managers to plan ahead, then direct their livestock to the appropriate locations. Here’s how it works, the benefits and how it differs from rotational grazing.
A plan for the future
Holistic planned grazing requires a great deal of forethought. Considerations include the terrain, such as where and when fields might be covered in snow or subject to wildfires. They need to know the current ground conditions: are they eroding? Has the crop field been recently harvested? Next, they must plan around when the farmers plan to breed and wean the animals. Finally, they need to now when and where wildlife are nesting, laying eggs or birthing their young.
Clearly, holistic planned grazing requires an intimate knowledge of the land and surrounding ecosystems, as well as the livestock lifestyle, their nutritional needs and reproductive cycles. They also must divide their land into several different areas, which helps control when and where the livestock can graze.
When planning, ranchers and farmers must consider their goals. This includes regenerating crop soil and other land uses, wildlife or forestry goals. Similarly, they’ll need to know how much forage the land must supply for the animals, both currently and when the livestock are unleashed to graze. Finally, farmers need to consider how time impacts the food supply and growth, including whether the reserves will survive wildfires and wildlife, when the animals will be moved and when they can return.
That’s a lot of extra work—but the benefits are well worth it.
How holistic planned grazing benefits the environment
Holistic planned grazing offers the following benefits:
- Reduces greenhouse emissions: Greenhouse gases can be trapped in topsoil. Increased photosynthesis helps “clean up” the air, while methanotrophs digest methane trapped underground. This reduces the amount of carbon and methane released into the atmosphere.
- Preserves and regenerates the soil: Our topsoil layer is rapidly dwindling, and desertification is taking hold. Regenerative practices, including holistic planned grazing, doesn’t just protect the soil. It actually improves it and contributes to a greater, richer topsoil layer. Leaving grass and other forage material in the soil creates a stronger, deeper root system. It also improves water retention and water capacity, which helps protect the land from floods, erosion and wildfires. In turn, the increased water and plant matter support the soil biome.
- More wildlife habitats: Using holistic planned grazing can also increase wildlife habitats, especially when combined with other techniques like agroforestry.
- Increased profit: One often-unsung benefit of regenerative agriculture and holistic planned grazing, specifically, is that it often reduces costs associated with raising livestock and crops. The healthier and more productive the land, the more plant and animal life it can support. Because the animals forage, food costs go down. Finally, there’s less human or machine labor involved, which also keeps costs lower. Farmers and ranchers can enjoy better profits while helping the planet.
What’s the difference?
Holistic planned grazing shouldn’t be confused with rotational grazing, which primarily works in humid environments. There is less planning involved, and livestock typically rotate between planted and fertilized pastures. Unfortunately, rotational grazing still suffers from traditional farming issues: soil erosion, poor soil biodiversity, water runoff and reduced photosynthesis.
Rotational grazing is not suitable for seasonally humid areas, and a very wet or dry year can throw a wrench into the situation. It tends to lead to decreased land and animal production over time, which detracts from its overall benefits.
In contrast, holistic planned grazing allows farmers and ranchers to work with real-time information, including weather, animal behavior, crop and forage quantity and more. While it’s a complex, highly orchestrated system, the benefits are clear.
The bottom line
Ultimately, holistic planned grazing is a smart way for farmers to manage the land and livestock, protect the planet and even increase their own profits. Supporting farms who practice this technique, along with other regenerative agriculture ideas, will ensure that you make a difference every time you eat a meal at home.