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Yes, It’s True: Cattle Grazing Can Reverse Desertification

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Check out this TED Talk by Allan Savory on the secret to fighting desertification and reversing climate change. Hint...the answer rests in the cattle business!

On Monday, my blog in response to NPR’s article blaming cattle grazing on the degradation of the environment and declining wildlife populations stirred up a lot of conversation. Many readers commented that while the content I provided to counter the misinformation presented in the article was good and valid, it wasn’t going to reach the masses like the NPR piece did.

Whenever I respond to negative articles of this ilk, it’s always my hope that the beefmagazine.com community will help me spread the word, whether it be through sharing the blog post on social media channels, adding your thoughts in the comments section of the original article, or discussing it further with folks in your area. The more we can disseminate the truth, the quicker we can stop these falsehoods from spreading like wildfire.

 

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Monday’s blog also showed me the interest that BEEF Daily readers have on the topic of grazing and land management. While we know that cattle grazing is truly beneficial to the environment, our consumers have been told otherwise.

After reading the blog, one reader sent us this TED Talk with Allan Savory that shares the secret to fighting desertification and reversing climate change, and that secret is livestock grazing.

In his talk, Savory says that two-thirds of the world has turned into desert, including many national parks here in the U.S. As a biologist, Savory had been taught that livestock production destroys the environment, but in his personal travels around the world, he discovered otherwise.

“I love wildlife, so I grew up hating livestock,” he admits. “Well, we were just as certain the world was flat. We were wrong then, and we were wrong again. There is only one way to reverse desertification, and it’s the unthinkable -- it’s livestock grazing.”

Just like the days where herd animals used to group up to protect themselves from predators, he believes that by allowing livestock to graze the land that has now become barren, we can reverse desertification. You can watch the entire talk below.

Let me know what you think about Savory’s conclusions, and help spread the word to your contacts about the positive impacts of livestock grazing on the environment.

 

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Discuss this Blog Entry 14

Jay O'Brien (not verified)
on Apr 2, 2014

If this were all of Savory's message, it would be very productive. Unfortunately, he gets into increased stocking rates and grazing systems and people invest vast amounts of money and do damage to the land trying to follow his system. University research done over 25 years across the world absolutely disproves the benefits of his grazing system.

W.E. (not verified)
on Apr 3, 2014

Amanda, we are delighted that you have discovered Allan Savory’s grazing systems. Jay, we don't know what your purpose is in saying that Savory's system doesn't work, but it has changed our lives and vastly improved our land. The thing that doesn't work is overstocking without giving the land an opportunity to rest and the forages time to grow back stronger and healthier. Back in 1989, in a twelve-acre pasture that was overrun with invasive pasture weeds, we began using the Savory system, also known as management-intensive grazing. The key word here is management, not intensive. We divided that pasture into twelve one-acre paddocks using inexpensive portable posts and polywire electric fencing—low input technology. Twenty-plus heifers grazed that twelve acres, staying on each paddock for about three days before we rested it and let it grow back. By the time the last paddock was grazed, the first one had re-grown, with many fewer weeds and much better quality fescue and clover predominating. By the end of that summer, having repeated the grazing process and adjusted the grazing times according to available moisture, we found the paddocks were covered in healthy, diverse and desirable forages, and the noxious weeds had disappeared. The heifers had shiny, healthy coats, and were growing and developing extremely well. Today, substituting a few inexpensive single-wire semi-permanent fences, we are still using that field for grazing in that same way, and have added a means of watering the heifers in the paddocks using extra profits they have generated. A waterway that had washed out in the middle of the field during seven years of drought in the 1980s is now an invisible part of the pasture. Savory’s system allowed us to increase the number of cattle we can feed on the same amount of land. We had 35 cows and calves, no steers, and a few bulls for sale on about 100 acres in 1989, and had to herd them wherever we wanted to move them. Over the past fifteen years, we have been able to take about 100 acres land out of row crops and convert them to pasture, and have tripled the number of cows in our herd. They follow us whenever we call them. With the help of about 100 to 150 acres of row-crop land where we usually winter our cattle on soybean stubble, corn stalks and cover crops, we can now run 300 head of cows, calves, steers and bulls on about 200 acres of gently rolling permanent pasture. We can do this here in the upper south, without the use of any chemical fertilizers and no irrigation. Our main inputs are for legume seeds, which help to feed the grass and improve the quality of the beef in our grass-finished steers. Wintering the cattle on crop land and feeding hay there also greatly improves soil quality and crop yields. Fencing off the riparian areas and leaving them sown down has protected the waterways and prevented erosion far better than no-till farming could ever do. Grazing has built topsoil, improved tilth, and increased the penetration of water into the soil so that flooding is far less of a problem downstream from our pastures. The grazing system and management Savory advocates works, and could indeed save the world from starvation. Even poor folks (which we were at the end of the 1980s) can do it.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Apr 2, 2014

Savory has had some success improving the environment with grazing. That doesn't mean that all cattle grazing improves the environment.

Just as the internet can be used in very helpful ways or very harmful ways, livestock grazing can have a very positive or very negative effect. I'm glad to see beefmagazine.com promoting a very thoughtful and carefully managed approach to grazing.

While I generally agree with Savory's methods there are a lot of folks that attack his ideas. Some of these attacks are based on poorly designed research, some seem to be personal attacks, and some of the criticism is actually well written and very thought provoking.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Apr 2, 2014

Cattle that grazed according to Savory’s method needed expensive supplemental feed, became stressed and fatigued, and lost enough weight to compromise the profitability of their meat. And even though Savory’s Grazing Trials took place during a period of freakishly high rainfall, with rates exceeding the average by 24 percent overall, the authors contend that Savory’s method “failed to produce the marked improvement in grass cover claimed from its application.” The authors of the overview concluded exactly what mainstream ecologists have been concluding for 40 years: “No grazing system has yet shown the capacity to overcome the long-term effects of overstocking and/or drought on vegetation productivity.”

http://www.thewildlifenews.com/2013/11/12/allan-savory-myth-and-reality/
http://www.slate.com/articles/life/food/2013/04/allan_savory_s_ted_talk_...
http://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2013/03/17/adam-merberg-on-grazin...

W.E. (not verified)
on Apr 3, 2014

Cattle can co-exist with wildlife, if farmers and ranches make a little room. Keeping some of our land restricted so that the cattle cannot graze it more than once every year or two has allowed wildlife to flourish on our farm. Our cattle graze only the edges of our wooded land. In and around our fenced-off wild woods and riparian zones, we have observed many white-tailed deer, raccoons, squirrels, opossum, skunks, and a wide diversity of birds including flocks of wild turkey, red-tail hawks and bald eagles, herons, quail, migratory and resident song birds, ducks, and geese. The deer often get first access to clovers, and like to give birth in our field of eastern gamagrass, which provides great cover for the fawns. Coyotes often roam our pastures without harming our calves, because there are plenty of mice, rabbits, snakes and other small creatures living there to feed them. Coyotes take out weaker animals, including fawns from the local deer population, which sometimes gets out of hand. For a few years, we had had some trouble with a very smart killer coy-dog that liked to feast on newborn calves that had gotten under our single-wire fences; a local hunter finally caught him in the act. We consider keeping a tenth of our most fragile land out of production as a part of our duty as land stewards: a tithe.

on Apr 2, 2014

Thanks for sharing this information with me. I think the point we can focus on is he is promoting cattle grazing as a positive for the land. Instead of focusing on his struggles with that theory, perhaps some of us cowboys need to befriend him and teach him proper land management.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Apr 2, 2014

I think the main point is that the NPR article was wrong and some of what Savory says may be wrong. But there is middle ground in there. Proper grazing management complements the ecosystem and wildlife. Proper management depends on your location and land - so you have to fit it to your specific area. You can try some of Savorys theories and some of the University theories and apply the ones that work best.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Apr 2, 2014

I think that many people miss the point. Like Savory, many times over it has been shown that eliminating grazing is as or more devestating to the environment than overgrazing. Although if you take an overgrazed range and eliminate grazing it will improve for a certain period of time. However after this period of recovery with no grazing activity the range will start to decline and will again result in poor conditions. This is exactly why in many areas CRP is REQUIRED to be either grazed, mowed or burned periodically.

Keith Dorman (not verified)
on Apr 2, 2014

Dear Amanda: I may be the one who sent the Alan Savory talk to you. I see there is a huge amount of response material to read now. Savory said something like "it can take 200 years for knowledge to get into an instution. I have a couple examples of knowledge lag: I graduated from SDSU in 1967 and returned to family ranch and farm. I started using fertilzer. The next 15-20 years many farmers told me that would "burn my crops". Then all of a sudden many adopted my practice. In 1990 I began no-till farming. The next 10-15 years many told me it would not work. Now most farmers here do no-till. In the end, I believe more will prove Allan Savory is correct. But in as in fertilzer and no-till there are many who cannot make it work. Keep up the good work. Thanks, Keith

cowmandan (not verified)
on Apr 2, 2014

Jay, intensive grazing done right is very successful, and Amanda, no cowboy or rancher or any of us commenting on this page is going to teach Allan Savory anything about land management or grazing cattle.

on Apr 4, 2014

Amen!

Anonymous (not verified)
on Apr 23, 2014

As with most stories and readers today; people will take away the message they want to hear not necessarily what is true. As a Rangeland Ecologist, this subject is troubling. Management is the key, not the system. Many ranchers successfully ranch and improve the environment without a fancy system. Hard work, wisdom, and a willingness to adapt to new and changing conditions on the ground and societally. Carbon sequestration and reverse desertification.. Read some of the peer reviewed articles published in the Society for Range Management. There has been much written on these subjects.
If anyone can link me to a peer reviewed article on the Savory system I would appreciate it

Anonymous (not verified)
on Apr 25, 2014

It's hard to argue with Alan Savory's 'aha' moment that grazing animals were a natural part of the grassland ecosystem before we started using grasslands to raise domestic livestock. It seems very logical that attempting to mimic the actions of those animals would be healthier for the land than simply removing a vital component of it's vegetation cycle and replacing it with fire, which we know is bad for the environment.

King (not verified)
on Jul 12, 2014

You've got it in one. Codu'nlt have put it better.

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BEEF Daily Blog is produced by rancher Amanda Radke, one of the U.S. beef industry’s top social media “agvocates.”

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Amanda Radke

A fifth-generation rancher from Mitchell, SD, Amanda grew up on a purebred Limousin cattle operation in which she and husband Tyler are active. She graduated with a degree in agriculture journalism...

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