Roots of Resilience

Category Archives: Interesting Articles

Greener Pastures


Greener Pastures

by Doug Warnock


Promoting Healthy Soil

Healthy soil is the foundation of life on earth. It is the basis for a viable, productive agriculture and plays a crucial role in creating a healthy ecosystem.


This December, people from 190 countries around the world will gather in Paris at the United Nations Conference of the Parties (COP21) to discuss what should be done to sustain a livable climate on this planet. They will be focusing on limiting carbon emissions. We will hear many recommendations from scientists and governmental officials at the conference about how to address this issue.



Healthy soil is the world’s greatest carbon sink and reservoir of water. Regenerating and maintaining healthy soil is one of the most important things that can be done to achieve and support a healthy ecosystem.


Grazing managers have at their disposal one of the most effective and productive tools to regenerate and sustain healthy soil, grazing animals. Properly managed, grazing animals will support a living dynamic ecosystem, achieved through healthy soil.


Soil will be at its best when it is covered with growing, healthy plant life and providing a viable home for micro-organisms and is effective in storing moisture. The plants and their residues protect the soil from eroding and provide nutrients and moisture for the many organisms that live in the soil. When the soil is bare, raindrops dislodge soil particles, beginning the erosion process. When the soil is covered with healthy plants and plant residue, it is much more difficult for invading plants to gain a foothold.

Land Management

The most effective grazing management is a planned, holistic approach to grazing. It includes several key elements: high stock density, limited plant exposure time, adequate recovery time and adaptive decision-making. Higher stock density results in more uniform utilization of the forage, greater animal impact on the soil surface and the plant material and uniform, abundant mineral residues and moisture from the animals’ gut.


By limiting the time of plant exposure to grazing animals, we avoid the possibility of animals biting a plant a second time and insure that adequate plant tissue is left to support plant regrowth. Animals should not be allowed to return to a pasture until the plants have had adequate time to regrow and recover from the last grazing. If animals stay too long or return too soon, the plants can be overgrazed. This reduces plant viability and makes it more difficult to survive. This adaptive management approach must include a process of monitoring to support making wise decisions.


Rangeland and pasture ecosystems are complex biological entities, which are subject to many factors. The manager must be constantly monitoring to know what is taking place and to adjust as needed to keep the grazing enterprise on target and producing the expected results.


With a planned, adaptive management approach, livestock managers will sustain viable, healthy pastures that support healthy soil, which in turn are effective carbon sinks and reservoirs of water. This supports healthy life of all forms, helping to create a healthy planet. Regardless of the discussions and decisions at the Paris conference, planned grazing management offers an inexpensive method to reduce carbon emissions and help restore ecological health.



Doug Warnock, retired from Washington State University Extension, lives on a ranch in the Touchet River Valley where he writes about and teaches grazing management. He is a member of the Pacific Northwest center for Holistic Management.

He can be contacted at    Doug Warnock





Grazing and Fire

Grazing Leads to Greener Pastures

by Craig Madsen, Healing Hooves

Travis Bruner recently published an article on The Wildlife News website claiming that “Grazing Leads to Blazing,” blaming cattle for the severity of this year’s fire season. He makes several common errors in reaching this conclusion.

The tool of grazing can have a beneficial or negative impact on plant communities depending on how well it is managed. It is true that poor management of livestock has resulted in significant changes in the plant community on western rangeland. There are areas throughout the West where overgrazing has resulted in the loss of native bunchgrasses and the invasion of annual grasses such as cheatgrass, but we need to understand what overgrazing really is. Overgrazing occurs when the plant is grazed a second time before it has time to recover from the first grazing. It is the level of management that determines whether or not the tool of grazing has a beneficial or negative impact on the ecosystem, not the simple presence of livestock.

As Aldo Leopold so eloquently stated, we must restore balance with the ““creative use of the same tools that have heretofore destroyed it – axe, plow, cow, fire, and gun.”

 Several studies have shown the beneficial use of the tool of grazing. Planned grazing has been used to reduce the amount of annual grasses on rangelands, as shown in the publication “Grazing Invasive Annual Grasses: The Green Brown Guide,” a publication by USDA ARS. Another study conducted on the Great Basin Experimental Range in Southeastern Oregon showed that moderate grazing of sagebrush plant communities with livestock increased the ability of the native plant community to tolerate fire and thus prevent cheatgrass from increasing (“Grazing History influences the response of Sagebrush Plant Communities to Fire, Davies, Svejcar, and Bates”). This study reported in areas where livestock were excluded for more than 50 years after a burn, cheatgrass production went from less than 10 lbs/acre to close to 300 lbs/acre. In the moderately grazed sites, cheatgrass production went from less than 10lbs/acre to about 30 lbs/acre. The significant increase in cheatgrass production in the ungrazed area could lead to more frequent fires. Proper grazing in that context appears to protect the habitat of sage-grouse and other wildlife that are dependent on sagebrush communities.

In both studies it is the proper application of the tool of grazing and animal impact that had the beneficial impact. Animal impact includes all activities of the grazing animal including depositing dung and urine and trampling of vegetation. Due to complexity of the ecosystem and the number of variables to consider in the application of the tool of grazing/animal impact, it takes careful planning and monitoring to get the beneficial results.

There are two key points to keep in mind. First, many plant communities, especially in areas where moisture is poorly distributed through out the year, depend on grazing and animal impact to maintain a healthy plant community. Second, timing is a critical factor in the proper management of livestock. Eliminating grazing from public lands or using artificial timetables for movement and stocking ignore these two points.

 In drier environments the biological activity necessary to break down plant material at the soil surface is limited to times when moisture is available. The grazing animal carries the moist environment needed to break down plant material within its digestive system. In these dry environments grazing and animal impact helps to maintain the vigor of the plants by cycling the nutrients through dung and urine, removing plant material that prevents sunlight from reaching the base of the plant where the new growth is starting, and trampling plant material on the ground which provides soil cover. The plant material on the soil surface reduces the erosive impact of rain drops, allowing for more water to be absorbed versus running off as well as covering the soil to reduce evaporation. Trampling the plant material places it in contact with the ground where microorganisms can break it down and create organic matter, continuing the nutrient cycling process.

Grazing Animals cycle nutrients more effectively than standing dead grass.

Grazing Herbivores Cycle Nutrients

 The role of timing is key factor in the use of the tool of grazing. Timing can be looked at in three ways: (1) the time of year the area is grazed, (2) length of time the animals stays at a specific location, and (3) the length of time before the animals return to a specific location. The correct timing of grazing is influenced by the context of each situation.

For example, assume we have a common situation where the predominant vegetation is annual grasses with a remnant population of native grasses, and our objective is increasing the native grass component. For this very simple grazing plan, our focus will be on preventing the annual grasses from producing seed and limiting livestock utilization on the native bunchgrasses. The time of year to graze will be when the annual grasses are green and the native bunchgrasses are dormant (brown). At this time of year the livestock are going to prefer the green annual grasses. The length of time on the site will be based on when the annual grasses are fully utilized while maintaining the desired stubble height on the dormant native grasses. When to return? The time to return depends on two main factors: regrowth on the annual grasses and whether or not growth has started on the native bunchgrasses. If soil moisture enabled regrowth on the annual grasses but the native bunchgrasses are still dormant, then a second grazing is allowed. If the native bunchgrasses are growing and growth is above the stubble height created by previous grazing, then grazing will be delayed until the native grasses have completed their growth cycle, after seed set. For more information on reducing annual grasses by grazing see the publication “Grazing Invasive Annual Grasses: The Green Brown Guide.”

Mr. Bruner calls for the “passive restoration of the landscape”. I am assuming he means applying the tool of “rest” to the landscape. We may not think of resting the land as a tool but it is a decision and resting the land has an impact.

 The tool of rest is a powerful tool. In moist environments you see an opening in the trees quickly reclaimed by the forest. In drier environments where moisture is not well distributed throughout the year, short term rest can result in native plants recovering from past overgrazing. Long-term rest in these dry environments can have the opposite results. In some situations you see native bunchgrasses dying, increased bare ground and as a result increased erosion. Allan Savory talks about this situation in his TED talk showing pictures of national parks in the Western United States where livestock have been excluded for over 70 years, native plants are dying, and erosion is increasing (

Grazed vs. ungrazed. The grazed area sports new growth.

Note the un-grazed area to the left of the fence. The right side was grazed six weeks before. There is significant green re-growth on the grazed side. The decadent un-grazed side creates more dry fuel for fire.

The tools of grazing, animal impact and rest all have impacts on the land. The impact is dependent on how the tools are applied and the type of environment the where the tools are being used. As with any tool the effect is dependent on how the tool is applied. The tools of grazing and animal impact have been used to reduce annual grasses on rangeland, improve wildlife habitat and increase the absorption of rain. These tools must be applied in a manner that deals with the complexity of the area being managed. Holistic Planned Grazing™ is one method of dealing with the complexity of the ecosystem as well as the context being managed. It planning system that places the right livestock in the right place at the right time for the right reason to meet the landscape objectives. For more information about Holistic Planned Grazing see the following link



Dead Dogs Do Tell Tales

Dead Dogs Do Tell Tales – Lessons Learned from a Two Year Old’s Eulogy

Yesterday my 17 year old Labrador had to be euthanized. Although he had done remarkably well until recently, it was his time.

My young grandchildren offered to help bury him. Outfitted with hand trowels, they flung dirt in the direction of the grave. Knowing how much they loved Blitz, I asked Rory – who just turned two – if she wanted to say anything to him. She thought for a moment and then nodded. Solemnly, she sprinkled dirt on his grave and offered her heartfelt eulogy.

“Good bye Blitz”, she said . “You are a dead dog now.” Then she patted the dirt with her trowel and went to look for flowers to decorate the site.

Clear, short, simple and to the point. I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Flowers on Blitz's Grave

Flowers on Blitz’s Grave

I learned something from her speech. Sometimes it feels hard to explain what Holistic Management is and what it offers. So in the spirit of Rory’s eulogy to Blitz, here is my attempt – although she could probably say it better and shorter.

Holistic Management is a decision making framework to help people improve their quality of life, the environment and their finances so they can live the kind of life they desire and leave something better for future generations. 

Good bye Blitz. You are a dead dog now but you will live forever in our memories.

Blitz's Last Good Day

Molly with Blitz’s on his last good day


Wendell Berry Honored

Wendell Berry was honored by the National Endowment of the Humanities some time ago but his message is worth revisiting.

He delivered the 41st annual Jefferson Lecture in the Humanities at the John F. Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. According to the NEH, this is “the most prestigious honor the federal government bestows for distinguished intellectual achievement in the humanities.”

He states, “For humans to have a responsible relationship to the world, they must imagine their places in it.”

When that connection is made, we develop an appreciation or affection for it. Only if when people have that connection to the land will they respect it.

Read the full article:

Wendell Berry Honored

Grazing Conference – Roots of Resilience

Grazing Conference – Roots of Resilience

Chances are, if you’re involved in livestock production, you’ve heard something about rotational grazing. Chances are, if you’re reading this blog, you’ve also heard a thing or two about Holistic Planned Grazing and the difference between the two. Many of you have seen the dramatic fence-line pictures, the breathtaking before-and-afters. But many folks, from producers to environmentalists,  are left with nagging questions about the scientific validity of a multi-paddock approach to grazing. Many livestock producers, at least in the Pacific Northwest, where our Savory Hub, the Pacific Northwest Center for Holistic Management, is located, wonder why, in a time of record-high beef prices and profitability, they should worry about spending extra money for infrastructure.  Environmental groups argue that there is no basis for claims that livestock can be kept from degrading ecosystems, let alone improving them.

Dr. Richard Teague

Dr. Richard Teague

One of academia’s biggest champions for multi-paddock grazing, Richard Teague, will be the keynote speaker at the Roots of Resilience grazing conference in Antelope, Oregon on May 6-7. Teague, originally hailing from Rhodesia, and now a researcher at Texas A&M, has brought a whole-ranch approach to his research of adaptive management and multi-paddock grazing, more typical of how ranchers deal with real life situations than your typical scientific trial. His research has found that planned grazing yields better production, higher profits, and healthier, more resilient forage plants. Teague is one of the most knowledgeable authorities on planned grazing and how it impacts ranch managers, measuring biological, financial, and social results.

One of the most impactful moments in my life occurred the last time that Teague visited the Northwest United States. I distinctly remember him standing in front of a skeptical group of central-Washington ranchers, imploring them to think about the potential impact of climate change on their ranches.  “You don’t buy home insurance because you think your house is going to burn down,” he told them. In other words, even if you don’t totally buy into the concept of global warming, you still ought to manage for resiliency. You don’t have to believe in climate change in order to take advantage of better water infiltration, healthier forage, and higher profits.

Washington Family Ranch at Sunset

Washington Family Ranch at Sunset

Work plus R&R. Ahhh… just what you need. WFR is peaceful, picturesque, and fully focused on hospitality.

I hope this message hits home again as Teague speaks to a diverse group of policy makers, ranchers, and environmental groups at the picturesque Washington Family Ranch in Antelope next month. Livestock, properly managed are integral to land health. Proper management is also integral to the social and financial profitability of ranchers. This conference is an opportunity to learn both from experts and each other in interactive, hands-on exercises to create a grazing plan and evaluate your results.

Visit for more information. Details at:

Register Here

Evenings will feature the musical stylings of internationally renowned yodeler, Beth Robinette.

Author bio: Beth Robinette is a fourth-generation cattle rancher and food systems activist in Spokane, Washington. She is also a second-generation Holistic Management Educator and founding member of the Pacific Northwest Center for Holistic Management, a Savory Institute Hub. She loves red cows (even though she only owns black ones), fast ponies, and making small children laugh. She is not actually a world-renowned yodeler, but she has yodeled outside of the United States, and isn’t that basically the same thing? Learn more about her family ranch at

The author Beth Robinette

The author Beth Robinette

Healing Qualities of Dirt

I came across this interesting article about the healing powers of dirt. I always felt I was healthier than my city friends. Now there is proof!