Holistic Management Beyond the Pasture

I recently wrote an article (Pigs, Pride, & Permaculture) on the recent re-evaluation of our farm endeavors. Basically, we had become overwhelmed by trying to do too much. On top of that, my wife and two daughters were injured in a farm accident which, thankfully, was not serious.

The culmination of these events made us stop and really think about what and why we are doing what we are doing. I explained how we are using Permaculture as a general lens to evaluate our goals. I hinted at our using Holistic Management, but I didn’t really go into it in that article.

I had an overwhelmingly positive response from that article, and I am so appreciative of that. But I did have one reader ask a probing question. We are planning a Holistic Management course in November, and this reader asked why, if we are feeling so overwhelmed, are we still planning on running a 3-day course?

I thought this was a great question, and I wanted to dive into this a bit more. Let me start with the paragraph I use to describe Holistic Management:

Holistic Management is a systems-thinking approach to managing resources. It is a process of decision-making and planning that gives people the insights and management tools needed to understand nature: resulting in better, more informed decisions that balance key social, environmental, and financial considerations. In the context of the ecological restoration, managers implement Holistic Planned Grazing to properly manage livestock and improve pasture and grazing lands.

This may seem like a really wordy definition, so let me break it down a bit.

Holistic Management was developed in Zimbabwe by Allan Savory to combat desertification… that is, the desert’s expansion into areas that were previously not desert. By learning how to regenerate grasslands, prairies, and savannas, Alan Savory developed a system that can be used to manage highly complex ecosystems. And while Holistic Management can be used on ranches and farms, it can also be used to manage any system with complex socioeconomic and environmental factors such as a family enterprise or business.

The Permaculture Wardrobe

I see Holistic Management as an amazing tool within the “Permaculture Wardrobe”. For those unfamiliar with the Permaculture Wardrobe, let me explain. I first heard the term from Geoff Lawton (current director of the Permaculture Research Institute Australia), and I am not sure if the concept originated with him, but the wardrobe is an idea that describes the knowledge that can be drawn from and the skills that can be applied to a Permaculture project. I drew the illustration above after many years of hearing about the wardrobe. All our tools and methods must agree with, or fall in line with, Permaculture’s Three Ethics engraved at the top of the wardrobe.

Holistic Management is a wonderful system I personally use to implement systems on my homestead and farm. I use it within the guiding umbrella of Permaculture… the Prime Directive, the Ethics, and Principles. Specifically, it provides a framework to implement Permaculture; a way to actually put all of these great Permaculture ideas and ideals into practice.

We have attempted to filter all our farm/homestead decisions through the personal holistic goals we developed. This isn’t some new-age, philosophical, pseudo-religiosity. This is a practical and intentional method to set goals and work toward them. This is the actuality of Holistic Management used in the real world. It has worked beautifully on our pastures, and when we use it, it works beautifully beyond our pastures into almost every aspect of our farm and homestead.

Unfortunately, we stopped using Holistic Management. It wasn’t on purpose. We just drifted away from it. And then things started to unravel. I wrote about this in my article, and I had so many people comment through my website, through Facebook, and through email that I know I am not the only one who has felt overwhelmed, felt over-extended, felt like I’ve got too many things going on, felt like I am spending too much time on things that are not important to me and my family.

So, we are going back to the basics, so to speak. We are going back to our Holistic Management plan. We are going to actively use it to get ourselves back on track.

And this is why we want to bring a Holistic Management course to our area… because we personally see the benefit of using it. Holistic Management is not a cure-all, but it is an amazingly effective tool.

Kirk Gadzia has over 30 years experience teaching the concepts of Holistic Management and has taught over 250 Holistic Management training seminars and workshops internationally.

Ultimately, I feel good about sharing my successes and failures so that others can benefit from them. I am glad to be able to offer a Holistic Management course at our farm, and I am really excited that we were able to book Kirk Gadzia to teach it. Kirk is probably one of the best Holistic Management teachers in the world… and I mean that literally.

I am not a salesman, and I really hope I never sound like one. I strongly recommend taking a Holistic Management course, but I don’t care where you take it. Another course or another location or another date may work better for you. But if our course works well for you, that is great, and I really look forward to meeting you!

In closing, I’ll share a video of Allan Savory’s Ted Talk, the originator of Holistic Management:


Holistic Management in Practice course at the Bauernhof Kitsteiner
Bulls Gap, Tennessee
2-4 November 2017 (Thursday, Friday, Saturday)


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Plasson Bell Waterer Installation Instructions

After running broilers in our Salatin-style chicken tractors for one season, we decided to upgrade watering systems. Last year (our first year raising broiler chickens), we used Salatin’s book, Pastured Poultry Profits, as our guide. Our watering system last year was awful. We used the 5 gallon galvanized waterers suspended on a chain. This was heavy and awkward. It was time consuming. We will never do this again!

We run Salatin-style chicken tractors.

We run Salatin-style chicken tractors.

After doing a bit more research we learned that Salatin uses the Plasson Bell Waterer. This may have been in the book, but I don’t think it was. Either way, the Plasson Bell Waterer is a massive step forward for us. This gravity-fed system can be attached to a 5-gallon bucket as a reservoir. It doesn’t need to be removed each watering. We can just tip it to clean it out. To replenish the water, we only have to refill the 5-gallon bucket, which sits on the top of the chicken tractor. The entire process is so much easier. If you are running the Salatin-style chicken tractors, I highly recommend this product.

There is not a great “how to” with this waterer, so I thought I would provide a step-by-step for anyone who may need one.


All the parts from the box.


The hanger rod screws onto the ballast bottle. This photo shows the parts from two waterers just to show the parts assembled and unassembled. The ballast bottle is filled with water to keep the waterer properly positioned.


The waterer mechanism attaches to the bell; just insert and spin to click/lock in place on the bell.


The ballast bottle (with attached hanger rod) and the red bell (with attached waterer mechanism).


Just put the bell over the ballast. The hanger rod top extends up past the bell.


Attach the handle hook to the hanger rod.


To attach a 5-gallon bucket to the waterer system, we need to perform some DIY work. Drill a hole in the 5-gallon bucket just a bit smaller than the diameter of the hose.


Use a pair of needle-nosed pliers as needed to pull the hose through the hole about 2 inches.


On the waterer side of the hose, attach the union unit; just push it into the hose.


Here is the union attached to the hose.


Attach the union to the watering mechanism by screwing it on.


Then attach the hose to the hose lock (the center clip on the handle hook.


Tie the string to the cord adjuster.


Wrap the string TWICE around the hook end of the cord adjustor. This lets you adjust the waterer down and up (right and left photo).


I tied a loop into the string. Then the cord adjustor lets me raise or lower the height of the waterer.


The whole unit assembled and attached to the 5-gallon bucket.


We have water! As the water fills the bell, the bell drops (due to gravity and the weight of the water), and the water flow is shut off. This is a simple and effective design!


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    The Difficulty with Changing Direction… my plan for Continuing Permaculture Education.

The Difficulty with Changing Direction… my plan for Continuing Permaculture Education.

The painting above is Fishermen at Sea by JMW Turner, 1794. Making the decision to change direction often makes us feel vulnerable, like we are being tossed about in a dark sea.

Scientists, psychologists, pollsters, and statisticians are always trying to categorize people into groups. Are they conservative or liberal? Are they introverts or extroverts? Are they right-handed or left-handed? Do they prefer that the toilet paper rolls over the top or from the back?

I guess I am no different, because I found myself putting people into two groups, although I had no agenda. My categorization of people had to do with personal decision making. I was making some significant decisions for myself, and I found myself wondering why certain decisions were difficult. Let me explain…

I was going to go to Australia as an intern under Geoff Lawton at Zaytuna Farm. This was my plan for many years. I just needed to complete my service commitment to the U.S. Air Force. I had already spoken with his staff about it. I spoke briefly to Geoff about it at the Permaculture Voices conference last year, and I sent in a deposit to hold a spot. I was getting ready to move back to the United States, and I even had a job that was going to allow me to take a leave of absence. However, after much consideration and deliberation I decided that I would not take the path I had planned on for so long, and I realized that this was a very difficult decision to make. I will go into the reasons for my decision in a moment, but first I want to share why I feel this decision was so hard for me. I believe others may benefit from this analysis as well.

First, and here comes my people-catagorizing, I initially thought people could be lumped into two broad groups: Those who change direction easily and those that do not. I think there is some truth to this, generally speaking. The people who change direction easily are often considered “flighty”. They hop from project to project, idea to idea, job to job. They never quite finish anything. They are often impulsive. They can be a lot of fun, but they are not always dependable. Conversely, the people who don’t change direction easily are often considered “determined”. They see things to the end, sometimes to the bitter end. They will often forsake much in the pursuit of their goal. They often accomplish a lot, but they can leave a lot of damage in their wake. Of course, these are the two extremes. Most people lie somewhere in the middle of the two, just like a right-handed person still uses their left hand for many tasks through the day.

This initial categorization held up, but not for long. I looked at my own past, and I saw that I was flighty with some things and very determined with others. Why was this? What I realized is that it is easy to change direction on things that are not that important to us, on things that we have little invested, on things that we have not planned on for very long. Whereas things that are important to us, things we have invested in, and things we have planned on for a long time are much more difficult to give up.

I also came to understand that there is a potential danger in becoming determined about a task or goal, for once we have become determined to accomplish a certain task or achieve a goal, we tend to lose introspection. We tend not to reevaluate. We tend not to ask ourselves if that goal is still the goal we should accomplish. So I asked myself again, why was this? I think it all comes down to having more at stake when we change our mind about things we have become determined. Here are some reasons why it is hard to change direction:

  • We may have money invested.
  • We may have time, sometimes a lot of time, invested.
  • We may have people relying on us to accomplish that task/goal. They are probably relying on us, because we have talked about it so much.
  • Our pride may be wounded when we change our mind. People may say, “I thought you were going to do…”, “But you told me you were going to… “, “Ha! I didn’t think you’d be able to…”, “That was a bit lofty, don’t you think?”
  • When our pride is wounded, we may feel disappointed in ourselves.
  • When we decide not to accomplish something we have wanted to do for so long, there may be a sense of loss.

On a side note, I think I should add that changing direction is very different than failing. Failing can occur for many reasons, many of which are outside our scope of influence, but not always. Changing direction may occur due to failure, but it is not failure in and of itself.

To me, this thought process about changing direction reinforced Permaculture Principles One (Observe and Interact) and Four (Apply Self Regulation and Accept Feedback). And while I am not an expert on the subject, a decision-making framework is exactly what Holistic Management is all about. I would highly recommend looking into HM as you move forward with any project.

Ultimately, we need to be constantly reevaluating what it is we are doing and understand why we are doing it. We need to be comparing the “what” and the “why” of the specific project on which we are working to our larger, big-picture goals (HM would say our Holistic Goals or Context). We need to adjust or completely change directions when needed, and we can’t be too afraid or too blinded by our determination to do so.


How things feel when a wise decision is made. Fishing Boats in a Calm Sea, by Charles Brooking (1745-1759)

This is how things feel when a wise decision is made. Fishing Boats in a Calm Sea, by Charles Brooking (1745-1759)

Now that I have given a little insight into the difficulty of changing direction, I will share the specifics on why I decided not to go to Australia:

  • It was going to cost a lot of money. Yes, the internship itself was not cheap, but I honestly felt it was worth it. However, I also had to factor in the cost of airfare and the cost of lost wages, since I would not be earning an income while I was gone for 10 weeks. I also had to factor in the cost of maintaining my household (wife and four children) who still needed to eat while I was gone. This was turning into a very expensive trip. In reality, I had first planned on taking this trip before my first child was born. Goodness, but time changes a lot!
  • In the same vein, I would be spending the money I was saving for a land downpayment. Spending this money for education, while a good investment, was going to set me back a few years. This would further delay our big-picture goal of purchasing land, and this goal had already been delayed more than I would have liked… I have been waiting for YEARS to complete my Air Force commitment.
  • I spent four years living overseas at very small military bases. The assignments officer (that is the person who decides who goes where in the military) always had difficulty filling spots for physicians in Turkey and in the Azores. Nobody wanted to go to these bases, so someone would be “volun-told” to go there. These were rather remote assignments, and they were considered “less desirable” bases for a number of reasons. But there was one benefit to these bases. Because there were only 1-2 regular staff physicians at these locations, they almost never got deployed. I understood that I was in the military, and if I deployed, that was my job. I wasn’t going to complain about it. However, I was very proactive about trying to avoid deployments. I had seen too many really good people (physicians included) who were forever changed, for the worse, by their war experience. I had no desire to have that kind of emotional and psychological baggage, especially when I had my own personal questions about the mission as a whole. I also had no desire to leave my wife and very young children if I could help it. So I volunteered to go to these remote bases, because I knew the chances of my being deployed would be so low. The assignments officers were always a little surprised about my requests. But, truth be told, I loved living in Turkey and the Azores, and I really wonder why they have such a bad reputation. I wouldn’t ever trade that experience, and my wife agrees. With all that said, I spent four years proactively avoiding being separated from my family. And here I was about to volunteer to be gone from my family for almost three months for a trip to Australia. Granted, it would be nothing like a deployment, but it just seemed a little backwards.
  • When I first started learning about Permaculture, I was like a kid in a candy shop. Everything looked amazing, and I wanted to try it all. Actually, I think I still feel the same way, but I have realized I can’t do it all. As I have continued to grow and mature and learn about Permaculture, and sustainable/regenerative agriculture in general, I have begun to develop a vision for what it is I want to do. I want to exercise Permaculture on the broad scale. I want to be a food producer. As a physician, I always try to look for the root cause of the problem; I don’t want to just put a band-aid on it. I feel that our country’s health is very poor, and while there are a lot of contributing factors to this, I feel like the ultimate root cause is how our food is raised. It is the soil, or rather the dead soil (dirt), where our food is being grown that is the problem. The internship at Zaytuna Farm has a lot of great education, but the goal of that farm is different than what I want to do. Their focus is on education and getting a broad Permaculture experience. I didn’t want to take the time, and money, to do things that were not directly and entirely in line with my primary goal, even though I know I would have a great time and learn a lot at Zaytuna.
  • I realized that if I did not take this trip to Australia, I would instead be able to attend a number of other courses closer to home. These courses would focus my educational time on things that would help me reach my primary goal. In addition, because I was not gone for months at a time, I could still keep saving for our land.
  • I hope that this doesn’t sound arrogant, because that is not how I see it. Over seven years ago, when I first decided I wanted to attend a Permaculture internship, I had so much I needed to learn. But I have learned a whole lot in the intervening years. I don’t think it would benefit me nearly as much as it would have seven years ago. In addition, internships offer the opportunity for people to do the same thing many times so that they can master it, or hopefully at least get proficient at it. But I realized that my learning style is really one of seeing, not doing over and over. If I see how something is done, I get it. I don’t need to do it over and over again before I understand it and can replicate it. This may be related to the classic style of medical education I endured, “See one, do one, teach one.” I am sure that if I did an internship, I learn something new every day. However, I decided that I would rather spend my time “seeing” as much as possible over this next year before we acquire our land. I will then be able to “do” on my land. I have no issues with internships. I’ve done a physician internship myself. There is great education in internships, and I plan to offer internships on my land as well. I have just decided that an internship is not my best use of time right now.
  • Finally, and this development occurred after my decision was made, but Geoff Lawton is no longer even offering his 10-week internship! Zaytuna Farm revamped their courses, and now they offer 4-week Specialized Work Experiences. I actually think this is a great change, and it actually addresses some of my reasons for deciding not to attend the internship. After reading about it, I may consider attending one of these in the future. But that is a whole other decision!
My photo from the Keyline Course.

My photo from the Keyline Course.

So, with all that said, I am planning on attending what I call Continuing Permaculture Education (CPE). As a physician, each year I am required to maintain a certain level of Continuing Medical Education (CME) to maintain my license. Why should I not do the same with Permaculture? Here is what I plan on doing this year… if all goes according to plan. Maybe I’ll see you there!




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Upcoming Conference at the Seed Savers Exchange!

I wanted to do some free advertising for an organization I support. The Seed Savers Exchange is a wonderful non-profit whose goal is to preserve and share heirloom seeds. They have been offering a conference with workshops for the last 32 years! Their next annual conference is in about a month. I have been to the farm four times I believe. It is a beautiful place with woderful staff. If any of you are in the Decorah, Iowa area (or are willing to travel), I highly recommend attending. Once we are living in the U.S. again, I plan on driving up for this event… unfortunately, this will not be for at least another year.



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    Get Your Kids in the Natural World! – Part 1: Get them in the garden!

Get Your Kids in the Natural World! – Part 1: Get them in the garden!

I have written previously about how important it is to get children into the garden… into nature in general. I want to share a few photos and stories of how I do that now. But first I really want to make a point that it doesn’t have to be your own biological kids you teach about the natural world. All kids deserve to know about it, to experience it. My wife and I dealt with infertility and were married for 10 years before we welcomed our first child into our home, so I know that not all people reading this will have a son or daughter to teach. But you probably have a niece or a nephew or a neighbor’s kid. Get them into the garden. Get them into nature. You will never regret it!


My daughter deciding which beet needs to be picked.

This first photo series is of my almost 2 year old daughter. She is more into plants and gardening at a younger age than either of her older brothers (so far). She has spent hours with me plucking and eating cherry tomatoes, planting seeds (she loves to taste test the distinctly colored Hidatsa Shield and Calypso beans… yeah, we are working on that!), and harvesting any produce she can.


Got one!


uhhh… now what?

Later that week, I was spreading some old straw as mulch around my newly planted tomato and pepper seedlings. A blur of brown fur clued me in that a mouse had taken up residence in my old garbage can full of straw. I hadn’t opened it in months. Well, sure enough, after a few minutes of removing straw and spreading it in my garden, I uncovered a bunch of newborn mice.


Five “pinkies” from the garden straw pile… their eyes were not yet opened.

Not one to let an experience like this pass, I called the kids together and showed them what I had found. They were ecstatic. They were giggling and laughing. Asking question after question before I could even answer the first one. There was no fear. No shivers. Just interest and awe. If only we as adults could maintain this wonder.


The kids loved seeing the baby mice!

After about five minutes of letting the kids see the mice, gently touch them (and then have mom help them wash their hands!), I put the mice in a pile of straw. I finished my mulching work, and I placed them back in the original pile and lightly covered them up again. The next morning they were gone. Did the mom come back and move them? Did the mom come back, smell human scent, and kill them all? Did a predator come by and eat them (I had a lesser weasel living in one corner of my garden last year)? I have no idea. We don’t have much of a mouse problem inside our house. We had one mouse this Winter which my dog quickly dispatched. In the garden, I see mice as a welcome part of a healthy ecosystem. If my disturbance of them while I was going about normal garden work interfered too much in their lives, I honestly feel a little bad. But not that much. It is part of life. Ours and theirs. I do think that the few minutes my kids were able to watch these tiny creatures was a treasure.

Finally, and with no photos, I will share how I spent some time planting seedlings with my sons and their friends. I really have no idea how much experience these two boys have had in a garden, but they got to plant some seedlings with my sons and their dad. I know which ones they planted, so each time they come over, I ask them to check on their plants. Who knows what seeds will be planted in them, no pun intended. I do think that we are connected to this Earth in a way that many of us have forgot. Deep down, there is a longing in all of us to be a part of the natural world. I just think it is buried deeper in some than in others. Is this a spiritual thing? Maybe. I am not really sure. As a Christian, I read about the perfection in the Garden of Eden, but I also know of the essence of nature that runs in almost all world religions. It makes me think that there is something intrinsically “right” about humans working with nature instead of against it. I guess this is why I am so passionate about Permaculture. This is why I am so passionate about getting kids back in the garden and back in nature.


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  • All photos are mine. Please ask if you would like to use them. Thanks!