A blog on holism from David Marsh (Boorowa)

David is a well known grazier in the Boorowa district which is situated between Cowra and Yass. His grazing routine is based on holistic cell grazing principles. You will find many interesting blogs on the ARLASH site written by David.

Image source: Arlash - Learning to match ourselves to the dynamics of change
Image source: Arlash – Learning to match ourselves to the dynamics of change

 

David Marsh

I stumbled across this quote from Goethe today and felt it had relevance in all realms of human endeavour:

 

Nine requisites for contented living:

Health enough to make work a pleasure.

Wealth enough to support your needs.

Strength to battle with difficulties and overcome them.

Grace enough to confess your sins and forsake them.

Patience enough to toil until some good is accomplished.

Charity enough to see some good in your neighbor.

Love enough to move you to be useful and helpful to others.

Faith enough to make real the things of God.

Hope enough to remove all anxious fears concerning the  future.”

~ Johann von Goethe

These nine values, prerequisites for contented living, whilst profound and meaningful, do not go far enough for those trying to manage holistically.

The future resource base that has to deliver the above values, needs to be described and we need to manage in such a way that we allow the future resource base to become what we know it must be, or the costs our behaviour imposes on ecosystems are ignored or deferred, leaving future generations of people to pick up the tab.

This is an ethical question that has been ignored for far too long and must now be addressed. The first step would be for Australia, and all Nations to adopt a set of environmental accounts. The Wentworth Group has already done some work on this.

In agriculture our quest to make a profit often causes us to behave in a manner at odds with ecologically beneficial outcomes. So often we take the ‘instant benefit for me’, over the ‘long-term ecosystem function benefit’, that could lead to longer term low-cost, resilient farm ecosystems.

We do this because we either have not yet learnt ecological literacy, are driven by economic imperatives that ignore ecological costs, or we are yet to realise our farm’s business is bound up in the health of the invisible army of minute creatures in soil and the above ground biodiversity, that dictates the daily affairs of people and all life, and ultimately the long term survival of species, both human and other forms of life.

The supply of solar energy coming from the sun is constant at any moment in time, but changes as the seasons come and go. Thus we see greater potential for growth as day length and temperature increases, at least until the heat and dry of the usual Australian summer; this also occurs when rain falls as temperatures gradually cool into the autumn, until increasing cold and shorter day lengths again limit growth. There is however, always the variable that can trigger more or less growth, which is the unknown and unpredictable volume of rain that comes our way.

Whilst this can be a source of agony to farmers desperate for a return against the investments they have made, it also teaches us over time to understand we are not in total control. I find that uplifting as well as challenging.

Last year I read The Biggest Estate on Earth, Bill Gammage’s opus about how aboriginal people managed Australian ecosystems with fire to allow diverse biological communities to develop and also supply their people’s needs over the longest run of human culture that we know about; perhaps 60,000 years.

There were many compelling ideas in Bill’s book, and one in particular jumped off the page to me. It was the notion that aboriginal people had learnt through the hard buffetings of time, to manage their affairs so they could survive in the toughest conditions this land could throw at them. Long and hard experience had taught them that to do otherwise led to many people dying when drought years came along. This ‘policy’ of conservatism meant that for most of the time they were living in abundance.

Right now on our farm we are adjusting our livestock numbers.

The cattle market is historically high and our numbers indicate we had too many stock for the available feed that has to get us through from December to the end of June, assuming no growth. So we have sold 120 cows in November, and we have sold another 90 in mid February.

Recently the brassy heat and glare of summer has subtly been replaced by the cool soft air of autumn. This is most evident in the early morning and evening; light fogs have been a recent feature as the cool night air reaches dew point, and in the evenings you can feel the cool air pushing into the low spots and forcing the warmer air up.

It is that transition time that occurs at least twice and sometimes more each year. A time when the farm ecosystem hangs in the balance between future abundance or a gradual slide into the jaws of drought. We once used to just accept that if it stayed dry we would start hand feeding and watch the cover in our paddocks gradually disappear.

These days we have confidence in being able to quickly assess how many days of grazing we have on the whole place, and in our dormant season grazing plan, we can work out if we have too many stock, and a plan to ration out the available feed.

What we are effectively trying to do is to manage for a tough season every year. Managing holistically is borrowing from the wisdom of the oldest human culture on earth (see reference above to Bill Gammage’s book ‘The Biggest Estate on Earth’). This means that if the season turns out better than planned for, we can choose to run light stocking rates, buy stock in, (usually when others are selling), and the market is down; or sell grass to those wishing to run more stock than their own land can handle.

Managing holistically is about always having enough for the ecosystem to easily supply its needs, and adjusting livestock numbers as the ever-changing season unfolds.

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Link to David’s blogpost can be sourced from the ARLASH website http://www.arlash.com/2015/03/11/learning-to-match-ourselves-to-the-dynamics-of-change/

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