Science: How to save the world and reverse climate change by INCREASING livestock use

I found this video clip on Colin’s blog… and I was more than a little skeptical. I thought it would be about some sort of fake science, sponsored by cattle ranchers. After all, everyone knows cattle ruin the soil. Right?

By the end of the video my brain was on fire, connecting up the dots with a book I had read some years ago. That book was  ‘Back From the Brink’, by Peter Andrews, and it opened my eyes to a whole new way of looking at the land, even small blocks like mine. That book changed how I garden, and after watching this video, I’m convinced both Allan Savory and Peter Andrews are on the right track.

Thank you so much for introducing me to this mind boggling video clip Colin [and Mark!]. If the rest of your generation are as switched on as you two then we have hope. 🙂

 

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About acflory

I am the kind of person who always has to know why things are the way they are so my interests range from genetics and biology to politics and what makes people tick. For fun I play online mmorpgs, read, listen to a music, dance when I get the chance and landscape my rather large block. Work is writing. When a story I am working on is going well I'm on cloud nine. On bad days I go out and dig big holes... View all posts by acflory

16 responses to “Science: How to save the world and reverse climate change by INCREASING livestock use

  • Jennifer

    While I didn’t watch it all, I find that circle around Aus stating we are decertifying almost laughable. Most of our country has been desert for millions of years already….

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    • acflory

      lol – that’s true, but if you look at the stats on land lost to salination things start to look a little scarier. Plus places like Wilpenna Pound are dotted with the remains of failed farms. I think our problems are just more acute that in other places. And that ribbon of green on the map looks so very narrow. 😦

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  • metan

    I couldn’t watch it all either (download limit dangerously close this month… dial-up speed unbearable) but I can see that the desertification of parts of the world is a real problem. I am not sure how more hooved animals can help a delicate soil like that we have in Australia though, please tell me what I missed in the other half of the video!

    Have you ever heard of Goyders Line? When travelling in SA you can see where it applies, and the ruins of homesteads that were established further north than is recommended. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Goyder's_Line

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    • acflory

      Just checked that link. I’d never heard of Goyders Line and I’m amazed he could survey the whole state so accurately.

      What the video was recommending was the accumulation of huge herds of anything, but in practical terms cattle, and then basically droving them across the grasslands so they don’t completely destroy any one spot. Like what the old time jackaroos used to do on horseback, or what the old herd of bison used to do in the US. The herds would fertilize the soil one day at a time.

      To make that management plan work though you’d have to get rid of fences and employ a lot of manpower. I think that’s why it works in Africa. Here and in the US though? I suspect vested interests would make it impossible. 😦

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      • metan

        It is clear to us where Australia is dry but we have the benefit of satellite photos and long term weather reports, Goyder would have made his observations when some people still believed that ‘rain follows the plough’. It IS amazing how accurate he was!

        I understand that more cows might be a solution in some places but I thought that was pretty much what goes on in the interior of Australia.

        The massive cattle/sheep stations of the interior don’t have fenced paddocks and small herds, they have cattle grids across highways and paddocks that run from horizon to horizon. The environment can’t handle too many hooves so they are left to their own devices until they are needed and then rounded up.

        I would be interested to know if the areas they are living have improved since their arrival or degaded. Maybe we would be better off with huge herds of soft-footed (and equally delicious!) kangaroos instead.

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        • acflory

          If I understand the theory, our huge herds would have to be physically herded from one spot to the next… all the time. Another thing is that he talked about the wet/dry cycle only so maybe it would work in the top end but not in the more arid parts of the centre that get only spotty rain.

          You did get me thinking about proof though. I can’t help wondering whether pastures used for dairy are so lush naturally or whether decades of moving cattle backwards and forwards for milking might not have enhanced what was already there?

          I like kangaroos.. but not to eat! What about alpacas? They have soft toes and the way they feed naturally is to cover a wide area, taking only a little from each spot. Plus their poop is already in neat piles. 🙂

          I recently dug out a poop pile and there were like 2 worms to every inch. They were everywhere. It was quite amazing, especially as the base soil is pretty much crap.

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        • metan

          I expect that your average dairy paddock is green from good rotation and extreme levels of fertilizer! Having followed a dairy herd to milking before I have noticed that gumboots are the order of the day because they squish the damp ground up so much with their weight!

          What would the effect be in areas where there is no dampness to keep the soil from flying away? Could the delicate native plants withstand them?

          I wonder if the reason that dairy (for example) paddocks are so lush and green is because grass is the only plant that can handle that kind of treatment? How would it translate to the areas that have no grass seeds waiting to grow? (Now I’m trying to imagine how many bags of supermarket grass seeds would be needed to cover the deserts of the world! 😀 )

          Desert areas don’t have anything like traditional grass like paddocks, they have a diversity of tiny plants that hold the soil together. I wonder if the dose of fertilizer might be too rich for the things that have evolved for impoverished desert environments? (I know that the soil which had been enriched with pig poo from our temporary boarder was enough to kill a quite large kiwi fruit plant pretty much on contact! 🙂 ) Would the introduction of cattle to green these dry areas be at the expense of the native plants? Uniform green over the planet, no plant diversity?
          This idea has given me so many questions! 😀

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        • acflory

          I don’t know enough about any of that but I do know that what Peter Andrews said about weeds is spot on. Basically he said that weeds grow in the poorest soil and slowly enrich it. When the quality of the soil is rich enough, grass outcompetes the weeds. I know, that sounds really weird given how everyone complains about weeds in their lawn!

          For me, I’ve found that improving the soil /has/ reduced the really bad weeds – like capeweed. Now it only springs up on the bare patches that are pure clay.

          I don’t know how any of these tips and tricks would work in the arid areas of Australia but maybe they would work in ‘spots’. -shrug-

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        • metan

          We have the same attitude to weeds! If it is green it gets a go, the bad ones get yanked out but the harmless ones who are just making a bit of extra ground cover are left to do their thing 🙂

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        • acflory

          Going back to Peter Andrews, he says in his book that the best of the English racehorse breeders believe the best pasture MUST have 20 or more different kinds of weeds in it!

          So we should learn to love those weeds. 😀

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        • Colin

          I’ve been googling about Savory, and I think it’s a case of the usual thing between lay persons and scientists. The scientist uses a precise term, and the lay person hears a general term. So Savory talks about a specific type of landscape, grasslands or former grasslands, and then the lay person just hears the word ‘land’ and apply it to everything.

          I found this interview with Savory where he goes into more depth than he could in the video, which basically is a pep-talk about his pet project. It’s a lot to take in, and I’d like to read some criticism of his work, but he does make quite a bit of sense.

          http://chelseagreen.com/blogs/jtellerelsberg/2010/02/25/following-up-with-allan-savory-on-using-cattle-to-revsere-desertification-and-global-warming/

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        • acflory

          I read that article and it’s very good. I think the bottom line is that Savory specified a particular type of climate. His theory certainly seems to work for that type of climate but I don’t think it translates to all climates.

          Metan and I have been talking about whether his theory could work here in Australia where we have a wide range of climate types. I think there are parts of Australia where it would work in a purely physical sense, but the cultural aspect would be a huge stumbling block.

          This theory hinges on /management/ and actively moving huge herds from one place to the next. We used to do that a long time ago using indigenous drovers on horseback. I don’t know if most graziers would, or could, go back to such a management plan. 😦

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  • lorddavidprosser

    It sounded like Colin was sceptical too after Mark found the clip, but after watching it he accepted there’s a lot in what’s been said. There are times when what sounds daft initially really would work.

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  • Colin

    I think the problem with domestic cattle is that the herd don’t move much. I think that’s the reason why they can be so destructive. Farmers tend to keep herds in one place so that they eat everything, and then start to dig in the ground. What Savory wants to do is to have domestic cattle behave more like the wild herds, and that includes – if natural predators aren’t present – to force the herds to move. They can’t stay too long in one spot.

    I mean, the African savannah – and previously the American west – supported vast herds of herbivores, and problems with the land started once those herds were removed. Barring the introduction of lions into Australia (lots and lots of lions) his method seems to work well even in Australia. There was one example from there.

    And isn’t Australia partly quite green? I keep thinking of places like Queensland as near sub-tropical.

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    • acflory

      Yes, the moving and management seem to be the key. Oddly enough, back in the day, Australian drovers used to move herds of sheep and cattle long distances on horseback. Um the drovers were on horseback, not the cattle. Sometimes they’d be moved from a drought stricken area to somewhere that still had feed. Then they’d be moved again to be sold.
      Now all that happens in huge trucks.

      Queensland is sub-tropical with the wet then dry weather he was talking about. It’s mostly temperate along the coastline, arid inland.

      I can see this kind of land management working in Africa but western countries love their fences too much. :/

      Like

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