Today I want to talk about Permaculture and Holistic Management. For those of you who don’t know Permaculture is similar to Holistic Management. The term or idea is a product of Bill Mollison an Australian Ecologist. Holistic Management was developed by Allan Savory who was a game manager, farmer and consultant from Zimbabwe. Permaculture is hard to define, but it’s a set of design principles and techniques for planning a permanent agriculture. It’s mainly focused on small animal, fruit and nut production. Holistic Management can best be described as a framework for decision making or how to make decisions that lead toward your goals. Please keep in mind that these definitions for Permaculture and Holistic Management are simplified.
What I really want to talk about today is the fact that these books or philosophies, if you will, were developed by people who do not make their living from agriculture. I’m not in any way dismissing their works. Without the work of Mollison and Allan Savory we would be in a dark place as far as agriculture is concerned!
The point is that when you are practicing Holistic Management or Permaculture, you should not follow everything “by the book.” I know many people would like to do this but you need to find what works for you and is financially viable. For example Allan Savory talks about “healing the land” in the book Holistic Management and mentions nothing about animal performance. So, when you read the book, you come away with the mindset that you need to look at the land. When in fact, if you want to be sustainable or make any money, you need to look at the animal first. Ian has talked about this with me on his farm on several occasions. When Ian first started practicing Holistic Management his focus was entirely on the land. Consequently he did not succeed. All of his animals were thin, conception rates for cows were awfully low (30%) and he was losing money everyday.
When Ian refocused himself on monitoring the animals and making sure they were healthy, his land started to become healthy too. He has told me, “monitor for animal performance first and the rest will come!” Needless to say Ian has a 98% conception rate, fat cattle and his land is healthy.
I don’t have a similar example for Permaculture for you but I hope I’ve illustrated my point with the example above. There may be times when you need to make the decision to go for making money, even if that means not following all of Permaculture’s principles all the time. You make this decision knowing that you are not following the particular principle, but in the future you intend to do so. When you start understanding how your decisions are being made, you learn quite a lot about yourself and your business.
Here is the point. Allan Savory and Bill Mollison do not make their living from agriculture. Be careful about applying all of the ideas mentioned in their works. You have to make decisions that work for you and enhance the long-term viability of your business.