Finally getting back to my idea of posting about area flora and fauna with this week’s contribution being the Trumpeter Swan. These past several trips to my farm – Tannachton Farm– has been highlighted by these graceful and seldom sighted birds.
Though the main reason for Dallas and my visit to Kenya was to learn about the new Savory Hub at Enonkishu Conservancy, we also had the opportunity to go on several game drives. Now, don’t confuse a western thought of game drive being like a cattle drive. Our purpose was not to move stock or wildlife, but to discover them and enjoy them in their natural habitats. So, you might say, ‘well, i’ve seen hippos, giraffes, elephants, cheetahs, lions, and such in a zoo.’ Sure, many of us have, but it surprised me at the excitement and joy of seeing wild animals in their natural homes just doing what they do. Living, killing, eating, raising young…. No one feeding or watering them and piles of poop and drainage on a concrete pen. Our guides, Moses and Boston, are expert at knowing where to find the animals by observing the tracks, habitat, and behaviors of other animals. As a matter of interest, guides are required to complete many hours of training and testing, including how to drive safari vehicles in some rugged country.
Our stay in mid July was simply stunning with temps in the mid to upper 60s during the days and mid to upper 50s at night. On the Masai Mara National Reserve we were so thrilled to see the start of the wildebeest (which includes zebras, antelope, and other wildlife) migration from the Serengeti. Clear skies provided excellent stargazing opportunities, including the Southern Cross!
Enonkishu Conservancy, (Maa for ‘place of healthy cattle’) located in southwestern Kenya, is one of the newest Savory Hubs. Designed to demonstrate the attributes of managed grazing in a challenging environment and to encourage local community involvement. The young couple who have pulled this endeavor together to qualify as a Savory Hub and move forward with implementation have indeed set a challenging yet heartfelt mission before them.
Their stated mission:
Enonkishu Conservancy is committed to sustainable rangeland management that allows space and resources for all people, cattle, and wildlife. To achieve this it seeks a balance between conservation of the ecosystem and appropriate enterprise for the resident Maasai communities. Enonkishu is adopting a unique approach to conserving land by creating a viable livestock enterprise through a Holistic Management (HM) Approach. Through HM, Enonkishu intends to improve productivity of the livestock in the region, improve livelihoods and maintain heritage.”
The desire to improve the land, livestock, and wildlife is admirable, but no more so than the commitment to lift up the lives of the local people by finding ways for more children to seek formal education and to put more dollars in the pockets of families.
‘Regenerative’ is the new buzzword and thinking to replace ‘sustainable.’ I think it’s a good change. Why sustain something that is in decline or degraded? Regeneration of poor soils is tantamount to improved lives. From the dust of the earth was man created -Genesis 2:7.
However, offering and encouraging education in holistic management or any other ideology must be introduced with gentleness and respect into a culture and society which may push back with decades of ingrained practices and customs. Even in our rural county in Missouri, USA with one of the premier managed-grazing schools at our fingertips, there is little adoption of the regenerative practices. To form a cooperative of producers willing to allow their comingled cow herds to be managed as one mob by someone else on comingled land would not even be considered. Yet this is the simplified explanation of one component of what is happening with Enonkishu Conservancy and the Mara Training Centre. With any new organisation, family or business, there are growing and learning pains. Rookie mistakes, which should be avoided by heeding advice from those who have already made them, creep into any undertaking. One of the key elements of Allan Savory’s management courses is defining goals and testing objectives. Good, basic advice for anyone at any point in their lives.
Admittedly, i’m glad i don’t have to manage the massive number of mega wildlife that Lippa and Tarquin do – no worries about lions, leopards, elephants, zebras here in north Missouri. Wow!
We learnt so much on this wonderful expedition – not only did we meet great travel mates, hosts, servers, and leaders, but we enjoyed safari and game drives, superb meals prepared by Chef Purity and graciously served by Godfrey, guides who surely have no equal, and opportunities to enjoy local life. More on all that in future entries.
Across our expansive lawn, Dallas relaxes on one of the swinging beds overlooking the Mara River, which was often visited by trumpeting hippos!
Two hours on that sort of gravel road was the last of our five hour drive from Nairobi to House In the Wild. I’ll not complain about gravel roads in Jackson Township, Linn County, Missouri, USA again!
Even though the soil is much better covered on the Enonkishu Conservancy, despite the massive amounts of wildlife (which continues to increase because of better forage), there is much work to be done. My observations are that the cows are the forward grazers and receive the more mature grasses. This, of course, challenges them to maintain body condition. I don’t know what the conception rates are. I asked about how the wildlife are managed and the comments was that oddly, the wildlife seems to follow the cattle. This is no mystery as to why they do this! The wildlife are getting that coveted second bite, the one that shouldn’t be taken until the grass has had adequate rest. This is one point that many graziers differ with Allan Savory’s grazing management. He says that the amount of time grazing is the most important, whereas many of us believe the amount of time rested is most important. The key is to move the stock before the blades can be grazed too short- often this is one bite, then move on. However, time grazing and time resting will vary with seasons and weather conditions. For example, in my operation in a typical fast growing cool season forages spring, the cows will be in a paddock no more than three days, then that paddock should rest at least 30 days. However, if the rains don’t come, this rest period could easily extend to 60 or 90 days. This would require longer stays in paddocks and possible herd reduction.
Anyway, my point is that the wildlife on Enonkishu are fat grazing the creme of the grass crop and quite likely slowing down the regenerative process. However, tourism is a huge part of the income and goals, so this must be taken into consideration and balance.
The boma is a mainstay amongst cattlemen and shepherds in conservancies of southwestern Kenya. Stock must be corralled each night for protection from serious predators like lions, hyenas, leopards, cheetahs, and other wildlife which like beef as much as we do. Bomas are designed to be easily set up and taken down and the overnight dunging by mobbed stock can improve soil structure and productivity very quickly IF the area is allowed to rest for along time after use.
The Enonkishu Conservancy as a new Savory Hub is doing a smart, yet difficult thing. Mistakes in management have been made and I hope that leaders will continue learning and talking to people who are not only ‘experts’ but also producers, those of us who put these ideas to practice. We’ve already made the mistakes and most are glad to share our failures and successes.
The benefits of managing trees and timbers far outweigh the tree-hugger (an environmental campaigner used in reference to the practice of embracing a tree in an attempt to prevent it from being felled) concept of saving all or specific trees. Biblically, we are instructed to tend and keep the garden – not let it run rampant into total chaos. Work is not a four-letter word in the negative sense and it behooves us all to manage for effectiveness, efficiency, helpfulness, integrity, and beauty.
As Greg Judy shares, there are two ways to establish silvopasture or savannah. One way is to clear out dead or unproductive trees in existing timber or to plant a diverse mixture of productive and valuable trees. Planting and establishing a new timber will take decades before reaching its full potential, but if you didn’t start decades ago, might as well start now.
Unmanaged timbers will eventually become worthless – full of scraggly crooked trees which will never grow if the older trees are not harvested at their peak of quality. The heavy canopy old tall trees prevent youngsters from reaching their full potential. Even though the old fogy’s will eventually die, the young trees may never recover and the timber itself will fail. This may take a millennia, but why not manage it, sustaining, regenerating, as well as taking off a cash crop to help pay the bills.
Trees and timber are so important in our environment – for people, livestock, wildlife, soil. Shade is the first benefit which often comes to mind. Evapotranspiration is the ‘coolest’ sort of shade there is – much better than that provided by a shade cloth or roof. Additionally, we harvest fuel, wildlife, forage diversity, shelter, lumber, and a beautiful landscape. But management is more than harvesting, it also requires protection from overuse by livestock and even wildlife, yet on the flip side, excluding animal use will allow brush overgrowth and a buildup of fire fuel, which during a dry hot spell could catch fire and destroy your timber in a matter of moments.
Trees which are allowed to grow large around ditches, draws, and branches destabilize the banks. Their large roots won’t hold the soil as well as millions of deep rooted grass plants, so it’s best to keep those sprouts cut out so grass can grow. My observation is that once trees are removed, sunlight can reach the bank which allows the grasses to grow, especially with the ready supply of water! Include timeliness of livestock impact (to knock down the steep eroded banks) and grass will quickly cover those leveled areas as well. This all works together to hold soil, reduce erosion during what we call gully washers and slow the flow of water across the landscape. It’s a beautiful thing to watch the land heal.
A word of caution in all this! It will not work if you hire a bulldozer and push out trees – roots and all. This moves too much soil which may cause a lot of erosion and make the scarring even worse. The trees must be harvested leaving the roots in place. I find it more attractive to cut the stumps fairly level to the surface, plus the convenience of not having a stump to run into, but it probably doesn’t make any difference from a soil saving aspect.
The final argument to address is to define my use of the word ‘management.’ One way to manage is to bulldoze, another is to clear cut, but i’m referring to managing for regeneration. Sustaining my unmanaged timber is not smart – improving for the next generation (regeneration) is more respectful all around.
Early in the days of managed grazing there was a huge and largely mistaken emphasis on grazing plants in Phase II, or vegetative state.
Pushed to its logical end, this resulted in what then grazing consultant Burt Smith once commented about New Zealanders: “They’re so afraid of Phase III growth they never let their plants get out of Phase I.”
Young forage is high in nitrogen/protein and low in energy, while older forage is higher in energy and better balanced in a ratio of nitrogen/protein, although it has higher indigestible content.
This older attitude foiled the greatest advantages of managed grazing. It never let the plants work with soil life to build soil. It never let the grazier build much forage reserve for winter or for drought.
Last but not least, we were told for years the quality of taller, older forages was so poor that cattle could not perform on it. That is not necessarily true of properly managed, multi-species pasture where soil health is on an increasing plane and cattle are harvesting forage for themselves. It’s all in the management.
Balance animal needs with grass management
One of the most important concepts to managing livestock well on forage is to recognize livestock production and nutritional needs and graze accordingly.
When your animals need quality for growth or lactation, you shouldn’t demand they eat deep into the plant canopy, consuming older leaves and stems.
If you have dry cows or are dry wintering cattle, you might ask them to eat more of the plants.
Remember the highest quality in mature, fully recovered forage is near the top of the plants and the outer parts of newer or longer leaves
Again depending on livestock class and forage conditions, an affordable and well-designed supplement program can let you graze more severely, also.
Erratic grazing breeds success
Nature is chaotic and constantly changing, so your grazing management needs to be also.
If you graze the same areas the same way and same time each year, you will develop plants you may not want because they will try to fill the voids you are creating and you may hurt plants you desire because they will become grazed down and weakened, perhaps at critical times.
If you move those grazing times and even change animal densities and perhaps also add other grazing species, you will create more diverse plant life and soil life.
Remember, too, that your livestock don’t need to eat everything in the pasture to do a good job grazing.
Cattle legs are for walking
Water is always a limiting factor for managed graziers, but the low-cost solution in many cases is to make cattle walk back to water.
Certainly you can eat up thousands of dollars of profit by installing excessive water systems and numerous permanent water points.
This can be overcome to some degree with temporary fencing back to water and using existing water sources.
Alan Newport, writer for Beef Producer magazine outlines basic managed grazing terms and techniques. A perfect foundation from which to begin an in depth study on how to improve soil quality, animal health, wildlife habitat, and human quality of life.
Properly managed, adaptive grazing should create profit in its own right, but it also sets up other profitable management options.
Since managed grazing is such a profit-maker, and such an enabler for management techniques that make more profit, this primer is intended to help newcomers with terminology and understanding basic principles.
Mob grazing, planned grazing, cell grazing, Savory grazing, MIG grazing, AMP grazing – All these terms and more have been coined to describe managed grazing. When we say managed grazing, it means cattle are being moved to fresh pasture often enough that the manager has some control over consumption level of the cattle, as well as the graze and recovery times for plants. It also implies the manager has a plan (planned grazing) for grazing that meets certain goals of both the soil-plant complex and the livestock.
MIG is management intensive grazing. AMP is adaptive multi-paddock grazing. Savory grazing was a colloquialism based on consultant Allan Savory’s early advocacy for multi-paddock grazing in the U.S.
Cell grazing refers to the once-common label of a grazing unit as a “cell,” with a grazing unit being the area where one herd is managed. This is less common terminology today. Mob grazing refers to very-high-stock-density grazing and has either Australian or South African origins.
Paddock — is the term defining an enclosure where cattle are contained for a brief grazing period. This might be a week, or more, or less. It might be a few hours. It could be made with permanent, semi-permanent, or temporary fencing.
Stocking rate – Typically refers to the number of cattle that can be run on a ranch, or more specifically the total pounds of a livestock type and class that can be run year-around. It is typically based on the number of animals that can be grazed on one-half of one-half (or 25%) of the total forage grown in a year. Arguably, this carrying capacity would not include additional animals dependent on purchase of hay and other supplemental feeds. It can be a way to measure ranch productivity, but improvements in consumption, regrowth and soil health under well-managed grazing should improve stocking rate immediately and long-term.
Stock density – Stock density is a measurement of the amount of animals on a paddock at one time, usually expressed in pounds per acre. Using pounds per acre allows reasonable comparison across livestock species of the consumption and herd effects such as trampling, and urine and feces distribution.
Why does stock density matter?
Stock density is inversely related to grazing time. The higher the stock density, the fewer pounds of forage will be available for each animal and therefore the shorter must be the grazing time. The longer you graze livestock in a paddock under any circumstances, the less residual forage you leave in the paddock and the more forage animals will consume. High stock density also increases trampling. Managing stock density also helps determine the evenness of grazing and of urine and feces distribution, and whether less-desirous plants will be grazed or left behind.
Further, high stock density is directly correlated to length of recovery time and to number of paddocks needed. Put another way, higher stock density requires more paddocks and increases length of forage recovery. In turn, that allows greater forage production and the chance to leave more forage behind, preferably much of it trampled onto the soil surface to make more available for consumption by soil life while still protecting the soil.
Like what you are reading? There’s more! Read Part 2 and Part 3.
Found a reliable logger locally who got started on my farm several weeks ago. He has been terribly hampered by weather (especially now that the ground is thawed and we are receiving about an inch of rain!) With Missouri’s unpredictable and challenging weather, it may be July before he can get back in!