Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Allan Savory and The Kimberley Project

Mike and I would like to contact Australian Aboriginal cattle ranchers in the Kimberley region of Western Australia to see if anyone is interested in trying Allan Savory's method of cattle management. Do you know any? :-)

If you haven't heard of Allan Savory before, he has done a famous and controversial TED Talk on an alternative method of cattle farming, called holistic management. His method has three basic points:
  1. Put a herd of cattle in a small paddock (about a quarter of the size of the usual paddock OR four times the herd size in the usual paddock). This 'crowding' causes the animals to replicate herding behaviour; in nature, a group of animals will herd together tightly to protect themselves from predators. Cattle in Australia are not generally predated, but you can condense the animals together to replicate this natural phenomenon. 
  2. The herd are grazed over grassland in the paddock for a short period of time (up to a few days, depending on herd size and food available). Over that time the grasses are eaten and trampled and the ground is covered in urine and faeces. As soon as the paddock is eaten and 'fertilised' then the herd is moved on to the next paddock. 
  3. The grazed pasture has now been naturally turned and fertilised, and is left to re-grow the grassland. The herd rotation continues over an area large enough so that the first paddock is not revisited until the grass is at the optimum level to be grazed again.
This methodology has been tried and tested in various countries in Africa, in the U.S. and in Australia over the past 20 years, and there seems to be very good evidence that the land under this management scheme has healthier soil and plant life as well as increased biodiversity.

What I haven't been able to find is any detailed studies or research that proves that the benefits outweigh any deficits. Critics of Savory's method claim that increasing cattle stock does more damage than good by increasing methane gasses released by the herd and by causing ground compaction. I can imagine ground compaction being an issue where the soils have high levels of clay, but in the sandy soils of Western Australia this would not be an issue.

In fact, I think the sandy-soiled grasslands of the Kimberley region would be perfect for Allan Savory's holistic management, and that the aboriginal owners of the land are best placed to profit from these methods. Since the cattle need to be regularly moved over a large area of land then ideally a mob including men, women and children could move with the stock, keeping aboriginal cultural practices alive at the same time.

I would love to discuss this further with the aboriginal pastoralists of the Kimberley region but haven't found a direct way to contact them. I will keep trying and report back how I go.

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