LIVESTOCK PRODUCTIVITY AND ECONOMIC RETURNS
Supporters say the Savory Grazing Method is the ideal way for a producer to maximize livestock production and economic returns. However, the research conducted in Africa, the U.S., and Canada does not necessarily support this conclusion.
Research clearly shows that as stocking rates increase, individual animal production will increase, peak and then decline. Animal production/unit area follows this same rule. Therefore, at stocking rates that maximize individual animal production, the animal production/unit area is relatively low and vice versa. However, stocking rates that create high levels of animal production/unit area are ecologically unstable.
Net return also follows the same pattern. As stocking rates increase, net return rises, peaks and then falls. Research in the United States shows net return for most ranches peak at stocking rates 10 to 30 per cent above the stocking rates recommended by government agencies. However, similar research shows individual livestock production peaks at stocking rates below those stocking rates recommended by government agencies. Thus, although the Savory Grazing Method may maximize animal production and economic return per unit area, it does so at the expense of individual animal production.
NATURAL ECOLOGICAL PROCESSES
Allan Savory used observations of natural ecosystems to create a working model that he later applied at the ranch level, i.e., the Savory Grazing Method. At first glance, this seems an appropriate way to create a grazing philosophy. However, subsequent research in North America and Africa has shown his ideas oversimplify the interactions taking place in these complex ecosystems. Nevertheless, Savory then commits a number of serious errors. He assumes the ecological processes associated with African ecosystems also apply to North American ecosystems. He believes herbivores control the ecological processes associated with arid and semi-arid ecosystems. He assumes it is possible to control a large number of ecological variables on a small scale using holistic management.
ECOLOGICAL AND ECONOMIC SUSTAINABILITY
Savory claims the Savory Grazing Method has superiority over conventional grazing (conventional rotation grazing and continuous grazing) in terms of both ecological sustainability and economic performance. However, a number of studies conducted in Africa and North America refute this position.
In 1972, using a short-duration grazing system designed by Allan Savory, the Liebig’s Ranch was stocked at 100 per cent of the recommended rate. From 1972 to 1980, the ranch experienced above-normal precipitation rates and forage yields. Although the ranch experienced an improvement in range condition without any compromise to livestock performance, less intensively managed ranches also showed similar improvements in range health.
However, for the next two years precipitation fell to normal levels causing animal performance and range condition to deteriorate, and forcing the owners to reduce cattle numbers. A drought then forced the ranch owners to remove all of the livestock from the ranch due to the lack of forage. Some range specialists noted those ranchers who utilized a more conservative approach to stocking fared much better during the drought and did not have to destock as severely.
It is important to note this same series of events have taken place in North America. Ranchers using the Savory Grazing Method have stocked their ranches at high stocking rates during times of above normal precipitation, only to drastically reduce the stocking rate or by forage during a drought due to forage shortages. Invariably, this has created considerable economic hardship for those ranchers.
In 1969, Savory played a major role in implementing the Charter Estate Trials to evaluate two short-duration grazing systems against a control grazing system. Despite the relatively small increases in economic returns, researchers concluded short-duration grazing tended to reduce individual animal performance and an increase production per acre. Nevertheless, this trial did not show there was any appreciable difference between short-duration grazing and conventional grazing systems when plant species composition or basal plant cover were measured.
There has been a considerable amount of research conducted on North American grasslands over the past 30 years. The purpose of much of this research was to test Allan Savory’s grazing hypothesis. The conclusions reached by researchers on the research conducted on the arid and semi-arid native grasslands of North America and Africa include:
No evidence showing an improvement in water infiltration, seed establishment, nutrient cycling, improved litter accumulation or defecation rates at the stocking rates recommended by Allen Savory.
Significant deterioration in range health, and an increase in soil erosion, at the stocking rates recommended by Savory.
That it is not possible to halt patch grazing and simultaneously improve animal performance using the stocking rates recommended by Savory.
The best way to restore range health is to reduce stocking rates and improve livestock distribution.
At moderate stocking rates, the Savory Grazing Method does not offer any special advantage over conventional rotation grazing systems or continuous season-long grazing.
It is the stocking rate and the rancher’s management capability, not the grazing system, which determines the effectiveness of a grazing strategy.
Stocking rates 10 to 30 per cent above the recommended stocking rates tend to maximize ranch income. Some researchers feel this is sustainable with rotation grazing, with adequate management, on rangeland in healthy condition and under normal precipitation conditions.
The high stocking rates and grazing practices, as recommended by Savory, are ecologically and economically unsustainable. †