Open Gate: Montesino Ranch Recap

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The web of life – land and water health taught at Montesino Ranch Open Gate

Collecting samples in the Blanco river

Collecting samples in the Blanco river

HMI Program Manager Peggy Cole filed this report on our most recent Open Gate Learning Day….

The October 25th Open Gate at Montesino Ranch was an amazing exploration of mutual aid among people, plants, soil and water systems. HMI Program Manager Peggy Cole welcomed the group and explained the various HMI programs in service to our mission to educate people to manage land for a sustainable future. Holistic Management Certified Educator, Peggy Sechrist facilitated the day and opened with a short talk about the role of Holistic Management in creating a well-functioning water cycle necessary for the resilience needed to withstand drought.

Holistic Management practitioner Betsy Ross leads a discussion on Bermuda grass in the garden

Holistic Management practitioner Betsy Ross leads a discussion on Bermuda grass in the garden

Betsy Ross was her always-dynamic self in teaching the microbial balance by having the participants play the roles of bacteria and fungi, reacting to management decisions by dying or thriving (dramatically!). The results on the remaining web of life were obvious – we need all in balance to create a resilient landscape.

Betsy joined ranch manager Pam Mitchell Gayler on a tour of the ranch, describing the role of the weeds relative to soil needs and the microbial balance, while Pam talked about the various enterprises at the Ranch. The market garden at the farm is operated by Sam Woodward. Peach and fig orchards and blackberries dot the 9-acre farm. Guest-stays in the studios and the event production add income, as does hunting and the grass-fed beef operation, all managed by Pam. Chickens, eggs, a kitchen garden and recreational hike and bike trails have been added primarily to enhance the guest experience of local, organic foods and clean country activity. Sheep and goats have been added to the beef operation as meat and as landscaping tools. Scenic but rustic buildings provide an atmosphere of functional beauty.

Ranch Manager, Pam Mitchell Gayler describes the enterprises at Montesino.

Ranch Manager, Pam Mitchell Gayler describes the enterprises at Montesino.

Tracy Litle showed a few slides of her Faith Hollow Ranch in south Texas, demonstrating the improvement over the past 3 years since she began her practice of Holistic Management. Livestock and compost tea have made great strides in turning her “Thorn Forest” into beautiful grassland.

After a delicious Thyme and Dough sandwich for lunch, we turned our attention to water. Lauri Celella used the rainfall simulator to emphasize the benefits of deep-rooted grasses in optimizing the water cycle. Biodiversity adds variety to the depth and place in the food web of the various root structures. Litter eases the raindrops’ fall and protects from evaporation.

Ricky Linnex talks about the plants most desirable for holding stream banks in place while creating a riparian sponge.

Ricky Linnex talks about the plants most desirable for holding stream banks in place while creating a riparian sponge.

The group of 70 participants walked down to the river for a lesson in assessing water health by identifying the macro invertebrates and their ability to live in polluted waters. Lindsay Sansom from Meadows Center for Water and the Environment helped us understand the food web in rivers and streams and let us go fishing for critters to identify (we found that the Blanco River hosts pollution-sensitive organisms, which means it is a clean environment).

NRCS plant specialist Ricky Linnex gave a short talk about riparian function and the best vegetation for stream bank stability. He answered questions about NRCS programs to aid in riparian management. Peggy Sechrist led a discussion about the take-aways from the day. Though it was hot and very sunny, most agreed it was a great day of learning and networking.

Participant Comments

“Very positive. This is my second HMI event. I brought my brother and mother along to introduce them to these ideas which excite me.”

“I loved it! Very well put on.”

“I enjoyed being with land owners interested in a holistic approach to managing land.”

“It was very enjoyable and intensely educational. I began the day knowing close to nothing about land and resource management. I left with a lot of new and exciting info!”

“Great event for newbies.”

“Exciting, informative, great networking, good knowledge shared.”

“Great opportunity to learn and meet people interested in managing holistically.”

Participants tour Montesino, learning the benefits of no-till and weeds.

Participants tour Montesino, learning the benefits of no-till and weeds.


Question% Participants
Overall Satisfaction (Rated good to excellent)98%
Would you recommend this event to others100%
Expand your network today be meeting new people or learning about resources available to you?98%
Intend to change management practices practices/apply ideas you've learned.79%
Intend to pursue biological monitoring on you land.80%
Understand the role of soil biology in the water cycle89%
Understand how the use of grazing can influence soil health89%
How to assess the water quality in streams77%
Understand critical monitoring criteria to build biological wealth and mitigate drought84%
Why riparian areas are managed differently than uplands82%

Getting Started Introduction to Holistic Management Whole Farm/Ranch Planning Course Results

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HMI’s Online Learning Series Getting Started Introduction to Holistic Management Whole Farm/Ranch Planning course began in September 2014 with 32 participants from all around the world. This course focused on key Holistic Management planning concepts and principles to help participants manage their farm/ranch for the triple bottom line (social, environmental, and financial sustainability) and more effectively manage resources. The participants were excited to improve their ability to observe, understand, and make decisions, based on what they can control. Through these new skills the participants are eager to improve their ability to partner with nature on their farms and ranches and to increase their productivity.

The participants contributed to the course and experienced key knowledge and behavior changes including:

Knowledge/Behavior and Confidence Increase% Increase
How to inventory your farm resources 80%
Ability to integrate social, economic and environmental factors into your decisions82%
Your ability to understand ecosystem health 82%
Your ability to assess ecosystem health 100%
Intend to develop a whole farm goal100%
Overall satisfaction of the course 100%

What the Participants Had to Say:

“It was a good blend of reading, peer interactions and the webinars were enjoyable.”

“The instructor did a good job of explaining each screen in the PowerPoint.”

“The course content was good and I found the webinars effective.”

“Good value for the price. Convenient and allowed us to take this training, which we’ve wanted to for years, but have been unable to due to distance and cost.”

“Very well managed.”

The Future of Animal Agriculture

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Holistic Management Practitioners, Texas, Montesino ranch

Two recent events have created an opportunity to reflect on important issues affecting the future of animal agriculture. The first is a recently published National Geographic article entitled Carnivore’s Dilemma by Robert Kunzig and photographs by Brian Finke. The second is the recent release of the Principles and Criteria for Sustainable Beef  by the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef. Both occurrences highlight both the complexity of and the increasing attention to sustainability within meat production. The good news is that HMI is in a great position to contribute to the continuous improvement of the sustainability of production agriculture.

In the case of the National Geographic article, the discussion focuses on the extensive list of challenges, and the consequences and complexity of meat production (heavy emphasis on beef production). While some in our community emphasize the negative aspects of “big agriculture”, an honest assessment must also recognize the positive contributions as well, such as increased efficiencies that contribute to producing more food with the same land base. However, there are serious issues that need to be addressed, such as a dependency on inputs and their consequences on the environment. The article, although short on conclusions and recommendations, not necessarily a bad thing considering the source, does a fair job of pointing out the range of issues and both the negative and positive implications. I recommend anyone interested in the sustainability of animal agriculture to read the article.

Ross-cows-2012-295x210The second event was the release of the much anticipated Principles and Criteria of Sustainable Beef by the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef. Curiously, until the recent release of these principles and criteria there hasn’t been a broadly accepted definition or understanding of what constitutes sustainable beef. The definition, which was developed by a multi-stakeholder group, is a major accomplishment. The interesting aspect of the Principles and Criteria is that they were developed using a consensus building process that included input from across the beef value chain and with input from all major beef producing areas around the world….a truly ambitious understanding that is unprecedented in both scope and scale. The implications of this bold step toward creating a broadly accepted baseline understanding of beef sustainability is that the discussion will soon shift from “what is sustainable beef” (current) to “how do we produce sustainable beef” (future). This is where HMI is in an important position with our network to help shape the future understanding on how sustainability is accomplished. With our mission of ‘educating people to manage land for a sustainable future’, HMI is well-positioned to contribute to the upcoming dialogue.

So what does all this mean? Although few are talking about it, I suggest that sustainability self-assessment will become an increasing focal point in which various groups and organization will begin to partner. We need to answer questions such as: What is an adequate self-assessment of an operation’s sustainability? Where does one find an assessment? How is a self-assessment done? These questions will provide a great discussion in the months to come. HMI’s Holistic Management Certified Educator network could be an important delivery system for the next steps of sustainability. As an organization HMI will strive to create value by positioning ourselves to contribute to the upcoming discussions and opportunities to shape the world to manage land for a sustainable future.

2014 California Whole Farm/Ranch Business Planning Series Report

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Whole Farm/Ranch Business Planning course at the TomKat Ranch in Pescadero, California

Whole Farm/Ranch Business Planning course at the TomKat Ranch in Pescadero, California


From the northern to southern ends of California, a very diverse group of farmers/ranchers attended the HMI Whole Farm/Ranch Business Planning workshop at TomKat Ranch in Pescadero, California starting in September and concluding in mid-October taught by a team of Certified Educators including Richard King, Rob Rutherford, and Calley Hastings. Limited to 30 participants, the workshop was sold out. The five sessions covered whole farm/ranch goal setting and decision-making as well as financial planning, marketing, and business planning with time built in to learn the process, work on exercises leading toward a sound financial plan for the coming year, and learn from each other as well as the instructors.

Rob Rutherford leading a small group exercise.

Rob Rutherford leading a small group exercise.

The Holistic Management framework for decision-making includes successfully managing income and expenses as well as building healthy land and fostering effective relationships among the people involved. In this workshop participants learned a step-by-step financial planning process that helps people who raise products or provide services from the land be successful at living the kind of life they value. They also learned that holistic financial planning includes successfully managing their human relationships as well as their money.



Small group experiential learning is an important part of HMI training.

Small group experiential learning is an important part of HMI training.

For the Marketing and Business Planning sessions, Calley Hastings used her family’s farm business as an example. She shared how the family has made decisions along the way and used their holistic goal to guide them as they have grown from a small diversified farm to a goat dairy producing goat’s milk caramel sauces for national distribution. Building on this example, farmers then reflected on marketing decisions in their own businesses and ran those decisions through the Holistic Management testing questions.

Calley Hastings teaching Marketing and Business Planning

Calley Hastings teaching Marketing and Business Planning

Additional time was spent looking at key components of a marketing plan and how each aspect, like understanding your demographic and thinking about your competition, help to inform your overall marketing strategies and budget. The marketing plan is just one element to the business plan, which can help guide how your business grows and can be used to leverage capital for your business. On the second day, participants looked at a sample business plan and went through each component to understand what was involved. They worked in small groups to understand each aspect of the plan and then presented to the whole group using the sample business plan along with an example from their own farms.

Overall the farmers involved in these sessions were exposed not only to effective marketing techniques and strategies, but more importantly, ways to think through how you develop a marketing plan for you business that is based on solid information and sound decision making. They also saw how a business plan weaves together many of the elements they had been working on in the previous classes and helps provide a road map for your business to follow. While every farmer brought something different to the table, they all left with lots more questions and ideas from their fellow classmates on how to move forward with their farms.

Participants ranged from those who are direct marketing through farmer’s markets, farm store, etc. to others who are selling through commercial channels. Many described this series as a ‘great’ or ‘awesome’ workshop. There seemed to be a lot of excitement about the potential within the group to stay in touch and engage in further conversations and learning.

Our thanks to the TomKat Ranch for providing a great location and for being gracious hosts. Also, thanks to the Christiano Family Fund, an advised fund of the Community Foundation for San Benito County, for providing funding for this program, and to the San Francisco Foundation, a donor-advised fund, for funding scholarships.

Here’s what the participants had to say:

I learned how to quantify/identify my values and apply them to business practices and decisions.

It helped me develop a more comprehensive approach to planning.

Everything I learned will help me be a better farmer.

I learned the practical considerations of other ranchers and land managers and how to apply general principles to specific farm/ranch cases.

I need to put actions into a holistic context before jumping in.

I learned ways to convince other decision makers to get on board.

I learned the difference between the way I have been operating vs. the way I could be operating.

I learned how in depth financial planning has to be.

Planning for profit was one of the most useful things taught.

I learned the tools to prioritize & budget complex systems, making the complex clearer.

I learned the difference between drawing profit vs. building net worth, and also how effective brainstorming can be for idea generation.

This all takes a lot of time but I think it’s worth it!

I learned why the process is structured/ordered the way it is, and how to replan when things don’t go according to plan.

I was reminded to pay myself first.

Evaluations showed the following results:

Question% of Participants
Increased ability to integrate social, economic and environmental factors into your decisions84%
Increased ability to identify needed systems and protocols to create a successful farm84%
Increased ability to make complex on-farm decisions96%
Intention to complete or modify a written whole farm plan as a result of this course100%
Increased confidence in using the testing questions92%
Intention to use the testing questions in your farm decision making96%
Intention to change management practices as a result of this course100%
Increased ability to determine viable profitable enterprises for your farm 81%
Increased confidence in how to increase your farm’s net worth75%
Improved attitude towards financial planning76%
Increased ability to determine your farm’s projected revenue75%
Increased ability to identify logjams and adverse factors on your farm 100%
Increased skills in developing a whole farm financial plan88%
Increased confidence getting the profit you need from your farm 88%
Increased confidence prioritizing and cutting farm expenses to guide reinvestment in your farm 88%
Intention to complete or modify a financial plan for your farm88%
Increased confidence in develop a marketing plan that meets your farm needs and goals 78%
Increased confidence in promoting your farm products 74%
Increased confidence in assessing your competition to understand your farm strengths 70%
Intention to complete or modify a marketing plan as a result of today's session? 78%
Increased knowledge of how to develop a Marketing Plan 91%
Increased knowledge about where to turn for resources to assist in developing a business/strategic plan for your farm 85%
Increased ability to develop a business plan for your farm 95%
Increased ability to use your financial plan to determine viable markets for your farm 75%
Intention to complete or modify a business plan as a result of today's session? 100%
Increased confidence in developing a business/strategic plan 100%
Increased confidence in implementing important strategic systems and projects on your farm 75%
Overall satisfaction for course100%



Restoring Texas Grasslands with Planned Grazing and Keyline Plowing

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There’s a great video just released by Holistic Management practitioners Chris and Laura Gill of the Circle Ranch in Texas. Learn how they’ve been restoring their desert grasslands using Holistic Planned Grazing and Keyline plowing. The video of fenceline contrasts and before and after pictures are pretty remarkable. Congratulations to Chris and Laura for demonstrating what good ranch management can achieve and for taking the time to share their videos with the Holistic Management community.


National Young Farmers Coalition Water Conservation Tour

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Dan James explaining James Ranch vegetable CSA enterprise.

Dan James explaining James Ranch vegetable CSA enterprise.



The National Young Farmers Coalition and the Family Farm Alliance organized a Water Conservation Farm Tour up in the Durango, Colorado area on Oct 27-29th. We spent the first day at the James Ranch, a great example of a holistically managed operation.





Dave and Kay James and their adult children with their families are all working on this 400-acre ranch outside of Durango.

Enterprises include a raw milk dairy with herdshares and cheese, pastured pigs, laying hens, vegetable CSA, beef herd, native tree nursery, and an on-farm grill/farm market.


James Ranch dairy cattle are Jersey/Normande crosses

James Ranch dairy cattle are Jersey/Normande crosses

Dan James showed us his Jersey/Normande cross dairy cattle and explained how he grazed them. He also showed us his New Zealand style dairy parlor.


Dan James explains about the New Zealand style dairy they installed.

Dan James explains about the New Zealand style dairy they installed.

After the tour we heard from Paul Kaiser of Singing Frog Farms in Sonoma, California about his no-till operation with 125 CSA member program being fed year round from 2.5 acres. Excellent soil fertility practices!

The next day there was a tour of the Ute Mountain Farm and Ranch where the tour participants learned about how the 3500 acres of cropland was irrigated with an efficient irrigation system to reduce water use.



Pat Kaiser of Singing Frog Farm outside the James Ranch Market

Pat Kaiser of Singing Frog Farm outside the James Ranch Market

In the afternoon we had 4 concurrent collaborative workshops that participants selected from to help create a roadmap for western agriculture at the crossroads of productivity and conservation. Topics included: soil health and diversified vegetable production (led by Mike Jensen), grazing croplands (led by George Whitten), irrigation efficiency and land stewardship (led by Pat O’Toole), and farm and ranch planning for drought resilience (led by Ann Adams).


George Whitten and Pat O'Toole discussing sustainable ranching at the video premier.

George Whitten and Pat O’Toole discussing sustainable ranching at the video premier.


That evening we viewed the National Young Farmers Coalition’s premier of: “RESILIENT: Soil, Water and the New Stewards of the American West.” Over 60 people attended the premier and stayed to ask questions of the panel who included Mike Nolan, Travis Custer, Brendon Rockey, George Whitten, and Ann Adams.


Harrison Topp of the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union

Harrison Topp of the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union

The final day of the conference included presentations from Eric Kuhn on the Colorado River Basin, Michael Melendrez on the science of soil health, Harrison Topp on incentives for microhydro, and case studies of conservation in action by Pat O’Toole and Brendon Rockey.

Thanks to Kate Greenberg and Daniel Fullmer of the National Young Farmers Coalition for organizing this educational and inspiring event and the Walton Family Foundation for their support of the program.


Kentucky State Holistic Grazing Planning Course

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Joshua Dukart at KYSU

Joshua Dukart at KYSU



On October 16th, Kentucky State University (KYSU) Research and Demonstration Farm in Frankfort, Kentucky offered a Holistic Management® Grazing Planning course taught by Holistic Management Certified Educator Joshua Dukart, Ken Andries of KYSU contracted with HMI to deliver this programming as part of KYSU’s “Third Thursday Thing” series. This event drew 68 participants who learned about Holistic Planned Grazing. In addition KYSU shared some of the grazing trials they are experimenting with at the Demonstration Farm. Several participants mentioned they hope that a longer program is offered at a later date to allow more intensive training in this subject.

Weaned goat kids on grazing demonstration plot.

Weaned goat kids on grazing demonstration plot.

The day focused predominantly on grazing principles, although participants were given the HMI Grazing Planning Manual and both paper and electronic grazing planning forms to help them in their grazing planning. Joshua shared his experience with these grazing principles and there was opportunity for others in the group to share their experiences and knowledge to further the networking portion of this event.


Evaluations from the day showed the following knowledge and confidence change:


Question% of Participants
The value of grazing planning 100%
How to assess quantity of forage in a pasture85%
How to improve land health with livestock85%
How to determine the number of animals your pasture can support100%
How to determine the number of paddocks100%
How to determine grazing periods92%
Calculating the number of paddocks for your system 85%
Determining how long animals will stay in each paddock (residency rates/grazing periods)85%
Assessing recovery periods77%
Ability as a grazier69%


What the Participants Had to Say

Have been putting together plans for pasture renovation, attending workshops, meetings with County Extension etc. This course has been excellent to help put it all together. Thank you for a great course!

I have a better understanding of overgrazing and rest periods.

I know how to assess available forage now.

I now know how to plan my kidding season to correspond with optimal grazing times. (seasonal grazing)

Grazing Cover Crops Video

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GabeBrownSunflowerHolistic Management practitioner, Gabe Brown is featured in this video posted by SARE outreach. He does a fantastic job talking about the grazing cover crops and benefits for livestock production….


You can read more about Gabe and how he got started with Holistic Management in this case study. And be sure to check out our training programs so you can get started learning Holistic Management today.


Focused Ag Conference in TX

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Kathy Harris, Holistic Management Certified Educaor, TexasHolistic Management Certified Educator in Training, Kathy Harris will be participating in the Focused Agriculture Conference in Mt Pleasant, TX on October 17. She’ll be joining speakers and sponsors which include:
Texas Farm Bureau, Sheri Salatin – Polyface Farms, Carrie Mess aka “Dairy Carrie”, Lone Star Ag Credit, Axium Solar Solutions,  and many more.  Topics including: solar energy for farm and home, direct marketing ag products, pest management-3 CEU’s, and establishing winter grass pastures. A total of 16 sessions will offer up a wide variety of relevant topics to improve your operation’s profitability. Featured events at the conference such as the Farmer’s Market/Farm Show and farm tours at Efurd’s Orchard and Los Pinos Ranch Winery ensure that this will be an event to remember!

You can register for the conference and get more information by contacting Rene’ McCracken,

Canadian Holistic Management practitioners in the news

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I just came across this nice little article about Holistic Management practitioners Connie Smith and  The Western Producer LogoBrian Chrisp in Alberta Canada. Here’s an excerpt from article, written by Karen Morrison and published in the Western Producer

This warm day, Chrisp shows off animals grazing belly deep in grass and pastures with a dense trash cover.

“When looking at the grasses in pastures, it goes without saying it’s working,” said Smith, who was raised on a grain farm near Govan, Sask.

Chrisp owns eight quarters and rents another seven quarters of pasture for the 150 purebred cows he keeps on abundant stands of grass. He winters about 350, buying most of his feed, and sells purebred bulls at a sale in April each year.

“There’s no crop farmer in me. I love grass and cattle,” said Chrisp, who has also taught farm management and cow-calf production at nearby Lakeland College.

“I like cows rather than tractor operations.”

He adopted holistic management practices, including shorter grazing periods and longer rest periods, to better manage grass and extend the grazing season.

“I have grass stands that were seeded in 1983 still productive,” said Chrisp.

Read the full article on the Western Producer website.