So, the short story is that an awesomely talented and accomplished woman, Mimi Hillenbrand, has for some years owned and managed the 777 Bison Ranch in South Dakota in a holistic manner vis-à-vis that which is promoted by the Savory Institute or Holistic Management International. Bison on an open ranch of thousands of acres requires a bit different approach to grazing pressure and rest to improve the soil health and forage quality/quantity. It was very interesting to hear how she handles the animals.
These past few years, she purchased a smaller property in Chile she named 45 South to not only improve the pastures, (though using cattle this time) but also just to really enjoy the beautiful scenery and to live in a completely different culture –at least part time.
Enonkishu Conservancy, (Maa for ‘place of healthy cattle’) located in southwestern Kenya, is one of the newest Savory Hubs. Designed to demonstrate the attributes of managed grazing in a challenging environment and to encourage local community involvement. The young couple who have pulled this endeavor together to qualify as a Savory Hub and move forward with implementation have indeed set a challenging yet heartfelt mission before them.
Their stated mission:
Enonkishu Conservancy is committed to sustainable rangeland management that allows space and resources for all people, cattle, and wildlife. To achieve this it seeks a balance between conservation of the ecosystem and appropriate enterprise for the resident Maasai communities. Enonkishu is adopting a unique approach to conserving land by creating a viable livestock enterprise through a Holistic Management (HM) Approach. Through HM, Enonkishu intends to improve productivity of the livestock in the region, improve livelihoods and maintain heritage.”
The desire to improve the land, livestock, and wildlife is admirable, but no more so than the commitment to lift up the lives of the local people by finding ways for more children to seek formal education and to put more dollars in the pockets of families.
‘Regenerative’ is the new buzzword and thinking to replace ‘sustainable.’ I think it’s a good change. Why sustain something that is in decline or degraded? Regeneration of poor soils is tantamount to improved lives. From the dust of the earth was man created -Genesis 2:7.
However, offering and encouraging education in holistic management or any other ideology must be introduced with gentleness and respect into a culture and society which may push back with decades of ingrained practices and customs. Even in our rural county in Missouri, USA with one of the premier managed-grazing schools at our fingertips, there is little adoption of the regenerative practices. To form a cooperative of producers willing to allow their comingled cow herds to be managed as one mob by someone else on comingled land would not even be considered. Yet this is the simplified explanation of one component of what is happening with Enonkishu Conservancy and the Mara Training Centre. With any new organisation, family or business, there are growing and learning pains. Rookie mistakes, which should be avoided by heeding advice from those who have already made them, creep into any undertaking. One of the key elements of Allan Savory’s management courses is defining goals and testing objectives. Good, basic advice for anyone at any point in their lives.
Admittedly, i’m glad i don’t have to manage the massive number of mega wildlife that Lippa and Tarquin do – no worries about lions, leopards, elephants, zebras here in north Missouri. Wow!
We learnt so much on this wonderful expedition – not only did we meet great travel mates, hosts, servers, and leaders, but we enjoyed safari and game drives, superb meals prepared by Chef Purity and graciously served by Godfrey, guides who surely have no equal, and opportunities to enjoy local life. More on all that in future entries.
Two hours on that sort of gravel road was the last of our five hour drive from Nairobi to House In the Wild. I’ll not complain about gravel roads in Jackson Township, Linn County, Missouri, USA again!
Even though the soil is much better covered on the Enonkishu Conservancy, despite the massive amounts of wildlife (which continues to increase because of better forage), there is much work to be done. My observations are that the cows are the forward grazers and receive the more mature grasses. This, of course, challenges them to maintain body condition. I don’t know what the conception rates are. I asked about how the wildlife are managed and the comments was that oddly, the wildlife seems to follow the cattle. This is no mystery as to why they do this! The wildlife are getting that coveted second bite, the one that shouldn’t be taken until the grass has had adequate rest. This is one point that many graziers differ with Allan Savory’s grazing management. He says that the amount of time grazing is the most important, whereas many of us believe the amount of time rested is most important. The key is to move the stock before the blades can be grazed too short- often this is one bite, then move on. However, time grazing and time resting will vary with seasons and weather conditions. For example, in my operation in a typical fast growing cool season forages spring, the cows will be in a paddock no more than three days, then that paddock should rest at least 30 days. However, if the rains don’t come, this rest period could easily extend to 60 or 90 days. This would require longer stays in paddocks and possible herd reduction.
Anyway, my point is that the wildlife on Enonkishu are fat grazing the creme of the grass crop and quite likely slowing down the regenerative process. However, tourism is a huge part of the income and goals, so this must be taken into consideration and balance.
The boma is a mainstay amongst cattlemen and shepherds in conservancies of southwestern Kenya. Stock must be corralled each night for protection from serious predators like lions, hyenas, leopards, cheetahs, and other wildlife which like beef as much as we do. Bomas are designed to be easily set up and taken down and the overnight dunging by mobbed stock can improve soil structure and productivity very quickly IF the area is allowed to rest for along time after use.
The Enonkishu Conservancy as a new Savory Hub is doing a smart, yet difficult thing. Mistakes in management have been made and I hope that leaders will continue learning and talking to people who are not only ‘experts’ but also producers, those of us who put these ideas to practice. We’ve already made the mistakes and most are glad to share our failures and successes.
There seems to be a resurgence of retirees wanting to get back to a ‘simple’ life of growing their own garden and/or raising their own animals for food, milk, and/or fiber. Interestingly, it also seems to attract the young set as well with high hopes of being self-sufficient on the land. Nothing wrong with those ideals, but our American culture and requirements are different than what they were 100 or even 50-60 years ago. Many of our expenses are out of our control (health insurance, liability insurance, our reliance on electricity, phones, internet, medical expenses are out of sight, vehicles, petrol, etc, etc), so the ‘farm’ whether it is a hobby size or much larger needs to not only cover these expenses, but operating expenses as well. In other words, one must turn a profit to be sustainable. Don’t forget that ‘simple’ certainly does not mean easy.
I’ve blogged on this before, but one thing that is a killer to many striking out in an agrarian lifestyle is to get FAR TOO MANY irons in the fire. Focus on what you like to do and that which will also turn a profit quickly. After you become financially successful as to being out of debt and putting away a bit of savings, find other ‘holons‘ which will complement or add value to the core activity. Don’t be distracted by get-rich schemes – they do not exist in agriculture. If you have a town job – hang on to it until the farm is a going concern. Doing both is hard – no doubt – but staying out of debt is tantamount to being successful.
This type of operation is typically termed ‘holistically managed’ and there are resources to help you determine a course of action. Our first introduction to this type of thinking was through Holistic Management Resources now known as HMI, Holistic Management International. This link will take you directly to some free downloadable planning tools and and teaching materials. Allan Savory and his wife, Jody Butterfield, started HMI, but have now moved on to start a new organisation called Savory Institute. The Savory Institute website has numerous videos and papers for your perusal.
Marketing – where will you sell your product?
Equipment – how much will the initial investment be? How often will it be used? Does it have multiple uses? How can you make money with what you already own? If there is equipment you don’t use, consider selling it.
Time – when will the cash start flowing back to you?
Weather – Ag enterprises look so easy on paper, but consider that you have no control over the weather and inclement extremes can bring diseases in both plants and animals as well as drought and flooding, damaging hail can destroy thousands of acres of crops in just minutes. Be prepared, both financially and mentally, for complete failures and steep market price declines.
Government – you also have no control over government policies as it picks winners and losers.
Don’t spread yourself out to a lot of enterprises – especially those that are not related – you’ll be exhausted all the time and seldom see a financial reward. Also try to purchase multi-purpose equipment.
Learn from others’ failures, mistakes, and accomplishments. Your situation may be different, but there is no use setting up the same hurdles others have taken down. Some practices simply DO NOT WORK in some or all locales and situations.
Hindsight, of course, is much clearer as to making business decisions, but there are basic principles to be followed.
What is your dream job/career/life? And how are you moving towards it? Have you already experienced your dream job and found it wanting? Why?