In my first post on rangelands (Part 1, posted 22nd June), I wrote how these are vast areas covering most of Australia. And I asked the question, how should these areas be managed/not managed?
Graham Finlayson is a reader of this blog and has a property near Bourke in New South Wales. Graham is also an advocate of ‘holistic management’. His property has been destocked for 15 months out of the last 41. He has had 60mm of rain over the last fortnight.
According to Graham, “My decision on when to restock will be based on if and when the condition of the land and pasture are capable, as a minimum ground cover level is targeted.I always try to keep in mind what I want the place to look like in 5 to 10 years time and base todays decisions on that.”
Graham emailed the following comment on rangeland management:
“There is currently a lot of conflicting debate over how we are managing our rangelands, or in fact any of our land or ecosystems in general. This has been accelerated I believe by the ongoing drought, to the extent that most of the metropolitan population are now more aware and concerned.
Rather than look for pity for ‘the poor farmer’ with this kind of exposure, I feel embarrassed at the extent of the damage that we have inflicted on our landscape. The paddock does not become a dust bowl because of ‘the drought’, rather it is a direct result of the decisions we have made. If our management of stocking rates, crop choice, animal movement etc are based on hope, tradition, ignorance or apathy, and we do not put the health of our land first than it will suffer. This can happen in any season but we feel it the most when it just ‘won’t rain’.
I am a firm believer in the methods and philosophies of Alan Savory, which are being practiced in differing variations all over the world with great success. Rather than fight against what I was starting to learn, I embraced the new way of thinking as the answer that I had been looking for in my never ending battle against mother nature. Suddenly I realised that not only do we not have to be constantly struggling to survive, but we also have within our grasp the ability to greatly improve our ecology as well.
This country is badly scarred by claypans (bare ground) which I believe probably formed originally in the late 1800’s as a result of very poor grazing management. The Western Division (aprox. 45 per cent of NSW) actually carried 15 million dry stock equivalents (dse) or sheep in the late 1880’s until the inevitable drought of the 90’s which saw that number decimated. Since then, in over one hundred years we have averaged approximately 7 million dse with plenty of good and bad seasons throughout that period. This tells me that not only have we dramatically altered the landscape to the extent that we have halved its capability, but also that it had that capability. Even though we greatly improved our water and fencing etc we continued to gradually mine our resources through using management techniques not suited to our environment. If the land could sustain 15 million dse before we altered the environment then perhaps it will again, if we provide that sort of environment for a similar system to flourish.
Imagine the benefit to every country town of doubling production and profitability. Economic independence, more jobs and younger people, less crime and welfare dependence. The positive effects would be enormous, especially if the land management took into account inevitable dry spells as just another factor to be aware of and managed for without reducing profitability. It is these interrelated aspects of ecology, economics and people that holistic management is all about.
For us to be able to improve our grazing management and control we almost quadrupled the number of paddocks we have. This allows us to combine the effects of using larger mobs for beneficial “herd effect” where it is required, and the ability to ‘rest’ the paddocks for 48 to 50 weeks every year. The amount of time the livestock are out of the paddock is more crucial then the number of head that you have present when grazing. This system negates the need to use fire as a tool that is used often. It seems to me that fire is the only tool in the tool box for many people in decision making positions.
Remember that if the only tool in the toolbox is a hammer, then all your problems look like nails.”
I appreciate not everyone is a fan of holistic management. I am keen to post alternative views. Email me at email@example.com.