To Grill or not to Grill: Musings on Sustainable Beef

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Operation Grassland Community, a program of the Alberta Fish and Game Association recently posted a blog on their website discussing why sustainable beef isn’t just about the environment. The article has a very interesting and important perspective on the challenges & opportunities associated with sustainability, and I think provides background information for people interested in the subject. Of particular interest to me, is the mention of the important work the Global Sustainable Round Table for Beef and the Canadian Round Table for Beef  are doing to bring together a variety of stakeholders in the beef production value chain.

When it comes to the topic of sustainable beef production, there are no shortage of opinions.

Often centered on environmental effects, the loudest voices tend to heavily land in two camps 1) Beef production provides great ecological benefits or, 2) Beef production is harmful to the environment. Both camps are correct, although neither in its entirety. (And both could benefit from a mutual sit-down over a pint or two). There have been countless articles—both research and popular—dedicated to the facts, figures, and stats of beef production and its effects on water, soil, biodiversity, carbon sequestration, and greenhouse gas emissions.

The consensus? It’s complicated….

Read the entire blog on the OGC website >>>


Low Carb & Paleo Show with Holistic Management Certified Educator, Owen Hablutzel

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Holistic Management Certified Educator, Owen Hablutzel is featured in this video from the LowCarb Paleo Show. Owen talks about how practicing Holistic Management allows farmers and ranchers to produce more food for less cost — while ensuring the land remains healthy for generations to come. He also touches on  keyline plows and a paleo ancestral approach to health.


Beginning Women Farmer in Texas 2015 Report

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Beginning women farmers in Texas take turns explaining their land plan options in experiential exercises.

Beginning women farmers in Texas take turns explaining their land plan options in experiential exercises.

HMI’s 2015 Beginning Farmers & Ranchers: Women in the NE & Texas program funded by the USDA/NIFA Beginning Farmer/Rancher Development Program, has been going full steam through the winter and spring with some states beginning to wrap up. The Texas program coordinated by HMI’s Program Manager, Peggy Cole, completed all 10 sessions by the end of February. Lead instructor was Holistic Management Certified Educator Peggy Sechrist and mentors for the program were Tracy Litle, Lauri Celella, Kathy Harris, Pam Mitchell, Lauren Bradbury, and Katherine Napper, and CD Pounds. We’ve been busy entering the data and crunching the numbers. Thanks to the USDA/NIFA BFRDP for their support of this program.

Here’s what we’ve learned from our 33 Texas participants who graduated:

Land Planning exercise during Beginning Women Farmer Training

Land Planning exercise during Beginning Women Farmer Training


Of the 28 participants responding

  • 27 are currently farming and all plan to continue farming
  • The average years of farming was 4 years (range: 0.2 to 9 years)
  • The average acres under production was 89 acres under production (range: 0.5 to 500 acres) with a total of 2569 under production
  • The average age was 47 years old (range: 24 to 75 years old)
  • The total retail customers of all participants was : 624 and 18 wholesale customers
  • 33 participants were trained and 32 graduated for a 97% graduation rate
  • Overall satisfaction of the program was an average of 94%
Beginning women farmers in Texas explore land planning options

” Beginning women farmers in Texas explore land planning options

Here’s what the participants had to say:

“The network has introduced resources and expertise I may never have encountered.”

“The network has supported me in many ways. With my mentor – my mentor supports me and assists me with such unparalleled generosity and expertise and kindness. She is an invaluable gift. With my mentee team – my fellow mentees are also great supports.”

“I think the relationships I made here have saved my mental health and will greatly enhance my effectiveness as a person for as long as I live.”

“The suggestions from others are invaluable. Seeing what others are doing helps generate ideas.”

“In the BWF network we have teamed up, borrowed equipment, bought/sold equipment & goods/services, exchanged information, troubleshooting, delivered programming, met with 3rd party & mutual friends, been introduced to new clients, etc.”

“My mentor visits are very helpful! Great ideas & knowledge!”

“It helps to know my decisions and goals are shared by others who also struggle to succeed – and some have made it!”

“My mentor will walk the land with me to help me understand our next steps.”

“The relationships w/fellow classmates is incredible.”

“I have made connections that led to borrowing equipment free of charge, volunteer labor and new customer base.”

“I feel like the class provided an inspiring network of other beginning & established farms & ranches with a wealth of knowledge & resource. Learned of new mentors & programs.”

“I know I can turn to many of these women, especially in my management club, with questions or for help in need. To have this support is invaluable.”


Katherine Napper Ottmer reviewing the testing questions during a land planning class.

Katherine Napper Ottmer reviewing the testing questions during a land planning class.











Results of Surveys

BWF PARTICIPANT BEHAVIOR CHANGE (completion of plans) % of participants
Holistic Goal/Whole Farm Plan 97%
Financial Plan 93%
Business Plan 78%
Marketing Plan 81%
Land Plan 100%
Biological Monitoring 90%
Grazing Plan (grazers in group) 95%
Forge Relationships That Positively Impacted You 100%


Tracy Litle explains concepts of brainstorming options during land planning

Tracy Litle explains concepts of brainstorming options during land planning

Post-Program Outcome Changes
Topic % Participants ExperiencingChange
Increased satisfaction with Quality of Life 79%
Increased satisfaction with Communication 86%
Increased satisfaction with Time Management 86%
Increased satisfaction with Ability to Determine Needed Profit 93%
Increased satisfaction with Ability to Make Complex Decisions 97%



Post-Session Impacts Achieved Percent of Participants
Human Resource Management  
Clearer sense of what you are managing towards 100%
Better Ability to Determine Resources Available to You 100%
More Efficient Use of Resources 90%
Improved Communications on the Farm 86%
Improved Decision Making 90%
New Policies and Systems Implemented 83%
Better Relationships 79%
Financial Resource Management  
Increased Farm Profits 21%
Increased Net Worth 21%
Increased Gross Income as result of training 43%
Ability to Identify Business Challenges from Previous Years 76%
Strategies for More Effective Reinvestment in the Business 83%
New or Improved Record Keeping Systems 76%
Enhanced Understanding of Your Farm Finances 79%
Changes in How Your Prioritize Expenses 83%
Reduced Farm Expenses 38%
Improved Ability to Prioritize Land Planning Investments 86%
Improved Ability to Incorporate Social, Environmental, and Financial into Your Land Plan 86%
Improved Ability to Articulate Goals and Objectives of Business to Others 83%
Improved Understanding of your Market and How Your Business Fits In 69%
Prioritized investments 66%
Improved ability to determine most effective enterprises 76%
Improved ability to effectively market products 62%
Natural Resource Management  
Achievement of Environmental Goals in Your Land Plan 48%
Increased Forage Production 24%
Reduction in Feed Costs 43%
Improved Environmental Conditions 48%
Improved Herd Health 43%
Improved Ability to Manage Animals 81%
Less Stress for Farmers 52%
Less Stress for Animals 52%
Longer Grazing Seasons 24%
Reduction of Overgrazed Plants 48%
Improved Understanding of Your Farm’s Eco-System 100%
Improved Ability to Determine Appropriate Management to Address an Environmental Issue 86%
Implementation of Specific Management Practices to Remediate an Environmental Issue 79%
Improved Understanding of Your Forage Composition 83%
Improved Environmental Conditions on Your Farm 59%
Desired Change in Species Composition 55%


Knowledge Change Summary Per Session
Course % Participants Experiencing Knowledge Change
Session One – Goal Setting
Defining Effective Management Team 85%
Inventory Farm Resources 85%
Develop a Whole Farm Goal 94%
Define What You Are Managing Towards 85%
Identify Needed Farm Systems and Protocols 79%
Integrate Social, Economic, and Environmental Factors into Decision-Making 94%
Session Two – Time Management
Ability to Make Complex On-Farm Decisions 97%
Assess How Time is Spent on Farm 100%
Understanding Seasonal Time Demands/Flows 88%
Effectively Manage Time on Your Farm 97%
Session Three – Financial Planning I
Attitude Toward Financial Planning 76%
Ability to Develop Balance Sheet 83%
How to Increase Farm Net Worth 86%
Determining Viable Profitable Enterprises for Your Farm 93%
Determining Your Farm’s Projected Revenue 90%
Identifying Logjams and Adverse Factors on Farm 97%
Session Four – Financial Planning II  
Skills in Developing Whole Farm Financial Plan 100%
Getting Profit You Need from Your Farm 88%
Delineating Farm Expense Categories 88%
Prioritizing and Cutting Farm Expenses to Guide Reinvestment 92%
Assessing Farm Cash Flow 92%
Monitoring Your Financial Plan 92%
Session Five – Marketing  
Using Whole Farm Goal and Financial Plan to Develop Marketing Plan 100%
Profitably Price Products and Services 93%
Effectively Promote Products and Services 86%
Marketing Outreach Towards Your Whole Farm Goal 93%
How to Develop a Marketing Plan 86%
Session Six – Business Planning
Knowledge of Resources for Developing Strategic Plan for Farm 93%
Attitudes Towards Value of Having a Business Plan to Guide Farm 74%
Ability to Develop a Business Plan for Farm 89%
Ability to Use Holistic Goal to Guide Business Strategic Plan 96%
Ability to Use Financial Plan to Determine Viable Markets for Farm 89%
Ability to Implement Systems and Projects to Move Towards Whole Farm Goal 89%
Session Seven – Leadership and Communication
Effective Communication Tools for Farm 85%
Conflict Resolution Skills for Farm 85%
Incorporating Diverse Learning Styles toward More Effective Leadership and Communication 85%
Using Whole Farm Goal to Guide Communication on Farm 85%
Session Eight – Land Planning
Prioritize Land and Infrastructure Development/Investments 84%
Design Strategies to Build Resilient, Diversified Farms 97%
Assess Management Considerations to Guide Land Planning 87%
How to Incorporate Natural Resource Issues into Land Planning 87%
How to Incorporate Social/Legal/Contractual into Land Planning 81%
Session Nine – Grazing
Value of Grazing Planning 89%
How to Assess Recovery Periods 100%
How to Assess Quantity of Forage in Pasture 96%
How to Improve Land Health with Livestock 100%
How to Determine Number of Animals Your Pasture Can Support 93%
How to Determine the Number of Paddocks 96%
How to Determine Grazing Periods 100%
Session Ten – Soil Fertility
Importance of Improving Soil Fertility Sustainably 71%
Value of Organic Matter in Soils 79%
Benefits of a Covered Soil 82%
Benefits of Biodiversity 79%
Indicators of a Healthy Farm Eco-System 86%
Ability to Monitor Farm Eco-System Health 96%


Increased Confidence as a Result of Session % of participants
Developing Written Whole Farm Goal 94%
Identifying Systems and Protocols for your Farm 82%
Manage Your Time on Your Farm 100%
Make Complex Decisions on Your Farm 97%
Using Testing Questions for On Farm Analysis 97%
Determine Your Farm’s Net Worth 83%
Increase Your Farm’s Net Worth 69%
Determine Viable Profitable Enterprises 76%
Getting Profit You Need From Your Farm 65%
Prioritizing Cutting Farm Expenses to Guide Re-investment 69%
Determining Weak Link in Farm Enterprises 81%
Identifying Cash Flow Issues on Farm 73%
Pricing Your Farm Products 72%
Promoting Your Farm Products 90%
Developing a Marketing Plan that Meets Your Farm’s Needs and Goals 83%
Assessing Your Competition to Understand Your Farm’s Strengths 66%
Developing a Business/Strategic Plan 89%
Identifying Resources to Assist You in Developing a Business/Strategic Plan 89%
Implementing Important Strategic Systems and Projects 89%
Communicating with Decision Makers 81%
Communicating with Farm Workers 81%
Providing Leadership on Your Farm 78%
Ability to Prioritize Land/Infrastructure Improvements on Farm 94%
Ability to Incorporate Natural Resource Issues into Land Planning 94%
Ability to Incorporate Social/Legal Considerations into Land Planning 71%
Ability as a Grazer 89%
Assessing Recovery Periods 81%
Assessing Quantity of Forage and Pasture 81%
Determining the Number of Animals Your Land Can Support for Grazing 78%
Calculating the Number of Paddocks for your System 78%
Determining How Long Animals Will Stay in Each Paddock 74%
Monitoring Your Farm’s Eco-System Health 100%
Improving Eco-System Health on Your Farm 89%
Building Organic Matter in Your Soils 79%



Open Gate: Mangarara Station Day Results

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About 60 participants from the South and North Islands of New Zealand gathered at Mangarara station, Hawkes Bay for HMI’s very first international Open Gate.

They were mostly cattle and sheep graziers, but also included gardeners, activists, foresters, an alternative fertilizer salesman, and even a local council senior land management officer.

In presentations, discussions, and through on-the-land exercises, participants learned about managing grazing to improve rainfall absorption on the more than 24,000 hectares they manage in total.  Participants were challenged to lengthen time between grazing to allow for full plant recovery, understand the benefits of pasture litter and diversity, monitor key factors on their land, and explore how to improve the ecosystem function of their land for greater farm performance and resilience.  Some highlights of the day included:

  • Host Greg Hart discussing challenges of farming in southern Hawkes Bay, and how managed grazing helped their land become more resilient
  • Malcolm White sharing how Holistic Management of their hard hill country property changed their grazing practices, deepened their topsoil, and probably saved them from selling the farm.
  • Dr Phil Schofield presenting evidence from John Kamp’s Mangleton property showing the shift to tall pasture and soil mineral balancing
  • John King focussing on the pastoral ecosystem, and leading a bio-monitoring exercise to get participants looking at the soil surface, identifying and evaluating litter, bare soil, diversity of pasture species, maturity, and erosion
  • Hosts Greg and Rachel Hart showing off their new Ecolodge overlooking Horseshoe Lake, a natural landscape feature which is becoming another enterprise to their diverse operation

Here are some of the results we collected from our post program evaluation.

Question% Participants
Overall Satisfaction of this event (Rated good to excellent)100%
Facilitator's Effectiveness (Rated good to excellent)100%
Producer's Effectiveness (Rated good to excellent)100%
Intent to change management practices as a result of this event92%
Intent to conduct biological monitoring as a result of this event 82%
Recommend this event to others100%


lunch 5

Participants enjoy a delicious lunch at the Mangarara Station Ecolodge, overlooking Horseshoe Lake.








What participants had to say:


“Excellent and well worthwhile the distance traveled”

“Informative, interesting, encouraging”

“It created great opportunities for networking”

“Very well run.  Lovely setting and food.  Great delivery.  Valuable info.”

“Thought provoking, challenging”

“It was good, engaging, fabulous hospitality & food & very informative”

“Strong observed results, some clear guidelines, some gems of wisdom!


Texas Drought & Flooding

Holistic Management Flooding
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I have been struck by the amount of loss as a result of the recent flooding in Texas. My heart goes out to those who have lost loved ones, and those who are now forced to rebuild or relocate as a result of the devastation of last week’s floods. Perhaps it is still too early to reflect on how the situation could have been avoided or minimized, but the unfortunate situation does highlight a few points worth discussing.

Holistic Management FloodingThe sad irony is that parts of Texas are still suffering from drought, and even many of those areas hit by flooding will be recovering from drought long after the recent flooding has subsided. Weather patterns have become more extreme, more boom or bust, and more able to create havoc than ever before.

No one likes to dwell on negatives, especially in the face of horrific events, however it is worth assessing if more can be done to prevent future disasters. Of course an event like the Texas flooding isn’t caused by a single misfortunate situation, or an isolated management failure. Events of nature can’t be controlled or manipulated by humans the same way we can control what hat we wear, or what movie we watch. Nature is much more unforgiving, and manmade solutions such as flood control or water diversion systems, although often necessary and important, have shown themselves, time and time again, to be no match for the forces of nature, and the times they are needed the most are when they are most vulnerable to failure. These types of “stop gap” management strategies are expected by the public, but they can never can be the complete answer, and shouldn’t be looked upon as an invincible defense against the forces of nature.

Instead, the answer lies in a more broad approach, a Holistic Management approach that works with nature and plans for major events.  For example, what if an entire watershed had a drought mitigation plan that accounted for natures fluctuations in precipitation? What if land managers across an entire watershed had a land management plan that contributed to soil health soil with increased infiltration rates more able to absorb and hold water in the soil instead of allowing it to  rapidly run off into streams and rivers carrying with it precious top soil and forming overwhelming floods?

Are these important Holistic objectives? Would they have prevented the recent floods in Texas? Probably not….unfortunately catastrophic events are sometimes just a part of nature. However, flooding events can be minimized by better land management planning. And if enough people within a watershed make managing for soil health a priority, nature’s own system would be better able to deal with major weather events (whether drought or flooding). With healthier soil flooding events would be less frequent and the severity lessened, and the health of the natural resources we cherish would be improved as well.

Such an approach isn’t easy since it goes against humans demand for quick fixes. It takes advanced planning (well ahead of drought & flooding), years of monitoring, adapting and re-planning, and most of all it takes a Holistic Goal shared by many decision makers. Hopefully more people will take a holistic approach to proactively manage the land resources under their stewardship in order to contribute to healthier, more resilient ecosystems better able to absorb major weather events and even out their affect.

Open Gate: Green Fields Farm Day Results

rainbow over cows
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In spite of a very wet spring, and predictions of even more rain, a diverse sell-out crowd of almost 90 participants came out to HMI’s Open Gate: Green Fields Farm Day on May 16th.   bio monitoringThe recent flooding and wet weather conditions did not dampen the day’s events, though some activities were modified to avoid damaging the water saturated pastures.

Shuttled to the barn in a cattle trailer lined with hay bale benches, participants arrived to hear about Green Fields Farm journey with Holistic Management.   Jennifer Brasher and Kaylyn Cobb, recent graduates of Holistic Management International’s Beginning Farmers and Ranchers: Women in Texas program, talked about how Holistic Management has given them a new perspective—how writing their 3-part Holistic Goal and using the Decision Testing process has helped them stay focused and moving forward.   They shared their goal of building healthy soil, raising nutrient dense foods, and glorifying God by restoring his Creation to health, abundance of life, clean water and beauty.

The entire day was a testament to the work they have done and the effectiveness of Holistic Management, including:

  • Dr. Richard Teague,  Associate Director and Professor, Texas A&M AgriLife Research, dec testing groupspresenting the latest research on how holistically managed grazing can improve the health of your soil, affecting the microbiology in the soil, forage growth, and carbon sequestration
  • Walt Davis, Rancher, Consultant, and author, talking about how unnecessary pesticides and herbicides can be when you manage your animals and land holistically
  • Small groups working on a decision testing exercise and understanding the value of the decision testing process
  • Holistic Management Certified Educator and Program Manager Kathy Harris giving a lunch time demonstration on using refractometerrefractometers to measure the Brix (nutrient density) of foods, and a short presentation paralleling human microbiology and soil biology
  • Small groups practicing biological monitoring by looking at land and the effects of cover crops and grazing
  • Clint Walker, III, sharing his knowledge about honeybees and how to create an environment that promotes pollinators
  • Willie Durham, NRCS Texas State Agronomist, demonstrating the impacts of different land management techniques on water collection and infiltration with the rainfall simulator and slake and aggregation testsslake and aggregation test
  • Jonathan Cobb of Green Cover Seed and one of Green Fields Farm’s owner/operators,  taking participants on a virtual tour (slide show) of the farm including soil test data showing the improvements achieved with diverse cover crops and grazing management

Thanks to our funder for the day:  the Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation and our sponsor:  Greencover Seed.   We greatly appreciate the collaboration and support from these friends:  Dixon Water Foundation, Texas AgrilLife Research, NRCS, Walker Honey Farm, Dancing Bee Winery, Sand Creek Farm & Dairy, Natural Grocers, Farm & Ranch Freedom Alliance, and Weston A. Price Foundation.  Thanks to Green Fields Farm and all the folks who contributed to the outstanding nutritious and delicious lunch and snacks.

What participants had to say about the day:

“Of all the various schools and seminars that we have been to, this was one of the best, and lunch was absolutely the BEST!!!!!  It was truly a success!!!!!”

 “All speakers were excellent; this was the best of the 3 HMI Open Gate events I’ve attended.”

 “Very organized, great speakers, very generous on food.  Well done!”

 “Thank you so much for offering this high quality event.”

 “Content was wonderful!”

 “Very impressive.”

 “Fantastic, practical, timely info.”

 “Great – good material, good demonstrations.”

 “The best event ever!”

 “Very well organized.  Wonderful, knowledgeable people.”










Question% Participants
Overall Satisfaction (Rated good to excellent)100%
Facilitator's Effectiveness (Rated good to excellent)100%
Producer's Effectiveness (Rated good to excellent)100%
Speaker's Effectiveness (Rated good to excellent)100%
Intend to biologically monitor my land as a result of this event? 100%
Intend to test decisions for my operation as a result of this event?97%
Intend to change management practices/apply ideas I learned at this event?94%

Cattle Management Can Improve Habitat…and Prevent Global Warming

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Dixon-Deer.smallIt’s great to see more and more people acknowledging how practicing Holistic Management can improve wildlife habit. Our friends from the Kerr Wildlife Management Area, The Dixon Water Foundation – Mimms Ranch unit and Dr. Richard Teague are featured in an article by Robert McKee. Here’s an excerpt…

In arid West Texas in the northern-most parts of the Chihuahuan Desert, there’s an 11,000-acre ranch that uses cattle to groom and improve the desert grasslands just as the native bison did for centuries. At the Mimms Ranch, CEO Robert Potts will tell you how cattle are a tool to improve the rangelands. Potts shares, “…cattle are an important part of healthy range ecology. When managed as a grazing system, you can create or manipulate habitat to benefit birds, plant health, and soil fertility. What we’re seeing is more grass and more cover. For birds, it’s important for feeding, nesting, and for just staying out of the really heavy winter winds that whip across the desert plains out here.” The Mimms Ranch rotates cattle daily and has a full-time manager.

You can read the entire article on the Land Link website >>

Grazing Animals Down Under

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Using Grazing Animals to Increase Productivity and Profitability

HMI and Glenrock Farm would like to invite you to our Open Gate event in Cloyna, Queensland. Learn a holistic management decision making process that will help you improve land productivity, water holding capacity, increase soil health and much more – plus meet fellow land managers who practice the techniques we’ll be sharing. It’s going to be a fun day on the farm!

Event: Glenrock Farm Day
Date:  Saturday, July 4, 2015
Location: Glenrock Farm, Cloyna, Queensland, Australia

Click here for details and information on how to register.

Carbon Capture for New Mexico

holsitic management is good fro carbon sequestration , soils,
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David Johnson, Director of the Institute for Sustainable Agricultural Research at New Mexico State University, recently released this informative presentation about the importance of proper fungal:bacteria ratios and how this indicator is more indicative of production potential of the soil than even organic matter. He also explains how to build compost bins to create compost with good fungal:  bacteria ratios as well as the results he’s captured from his research on the dry and compost tea application of this compost. HMI Open Gate Mimms Unit, MonitoringLastly, he takes a look at the potential for carbon sequestration in soils that have the right fungal:bacteria ratios and how this method compares to other carbon sequestration strategies being considered by utility companies who must begin to mitigate their carbon emissions. A fascinating and accessible read for anyone although the information does focus on research done in New Mexico.

(If you open the presentation and hover over the comment icon in the upper left hand corner, you can see read the comments –works best in the Fire Fox Browser)

First Millimeter Documentary Now Online

10.3.11.How to Grow Grass
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We are very excited to announce that the full PBS Documentary, The First Millimeter: Healing the Earth is now on HMI’s YouTube Channel. We’ve also posted it on our 2015 International Year of Soils page.  If you’d like your own dvd copy, we are still selling those in HMI’s Store.  

Grab the popcorn and settle in to watch this amazing video that explains through interviews and stunning footage why the first millimeter of soil is critical to our collective future and how the practice of Holistic Management can heal the earth.