On June 30th Greenacres Foundation and HMI collaborated to present a workshop on “Making Money Using Holistic Management.” 24 people from 6 states met at the Greenacres Art Center at their Indian Hill property outside Cincinnati, Ohio on a beautiful summer morning. Participants manage or influence a total of 113,587 acres of land.
Presenting were Michael Cox, Greenacres Education Director, Larry Dyer HMI Certified Educator, and Wayne Knight Certified Educator and Executive Director of HMI.
The morning discussions focused on pasture production, making the most out of forage by giving adequate, but not too little or too much recovery time for plants and the challenges of balancing quality of forage versus forage quality, and how the midsummer slump in the tall fescue belt requires a plan to cope with the variability in growth and animal nutrition requirements.
Michael explained how Greenacres uses a “pasture wedge“ to monitor growth rate and animal forage utilization. Wayne gave a brief overview of how a Holistic Grazing Plan can help determine when the planned grazing moves deviate from the actual grazing moves and, how the plan can lead managers to adjusting the plan to accommodate the variations, but not lose track of the 3 parallel goals of maximizing forage quality for animal performance while managing forage proactively to avoid overstocking and overgrazing.
Michael discussed how Greenacres manages the mid-summer forage slump, and his recommendation of allocating about 15% of the property for native warm-season bunch grasses to make up for the production slump when the dominant cool season grasses lose their edge during the hot, dry summer months.
Wayne pointed out that the Tri-State ecosystem had evolved with huge numbers of grazing ungulates, more numerous than the modern mind can imagine, and that is the dynamic under which these environments evolved. This inter-relationship between ungulates, their predators, and soil microbes interacted to keep ecosystem function functioning at a high level.
Any management of animals and native grasses should keep these interactions in mind and mimic these natural cycles and interactions as closely as possible. Most cool season management strategies conclude that 15 to 20-day recovery periods between grazing events is ideal. However, these short recoveries would lead to the annihilation of most warm season bunch grasses. Since we operate our business in complex, dynamic ecosystems, our management should clearly define the outcomes we want and adapt and alter management to achieve the desired outcomes using depth of graze (the proportion of available forage utilized in a single pass by grazers, the animal density (lbs/acre) and the trajectory of ecosystem health (water cycle, mineral cycle, energy capture and overall diversity of plants, insects and animals). Larry spoke of the need to trial management practices in a “safe-to-fail” way.
Before lunch participants were introduced to forage assessment on a stock days per acre basis and encouraged to work through a case study on using the STAC method to determine a hypothetical ranch’s total forage yield. The case study then steps the attendees through working out animal nutritional needs over a dormant season and how to match animal numbers with available forage over a timeline appropriate to dry or dormant periods. In this way attendees were able to use the STAC method to determine forage and walk through the steps to determine how many animals would need to be sold or bought to make use of available forage over a seasonal planning horizon specific to their region.
After lunch Larry introduced the group to Holistic Decision-making using a case study. With all significant management decisions guided toward a Holistic Context or Goal, the manager is encouraged to determine which of a set of actions is most appropriate to the issues, challenges, or desired outcomes being considered. Larry did a great job of introducing and challenging participants to consider the desired outcome and the options available to the case study.
100% of participants rated the workshop good or excellent. Everyone would recommend the workshop to other participants. Participants particularly enjoyed the concepts of planning on monitoring to ensure outcomes are being achieved. Many appreciated the ability to reduce costs by matching animal numbers with available forage using STAC. Also mentioned was the importance of managing utilization of forage and balancing that against animal performance, not just grazing for a targeted percentage of forage utilization.