News / USA

US Cattle Farmers Adopt Eco-Friendly Methods

Holistic herding was first developed in Africa more than 40 years ago

Massachusetts beef farmer Ridge Shinn uses holistic herding to reduce his carbon footprint.
Massachusetts beef farmer Ridge Shinn uses holistic herding to reduce his carbon footprint.

Multimedia

Erika Celeste

Concerns about the climate-changing effects of carbon dioxide, or CO2, emissions in the United States have focused attention not just on big industrial polluters and automobile exhaust, but also on agriculture.

Farming and ranching contribute six percent of the country’s annual CO2 emissions. Beef production accounts for a third of that, which is roughly equal to the exhaust from 24 million cars. To lower these emissions, many American cattle farmers are adopting an environmentally-friendly ranching system first developed in Africa more than 40 years ago.

Holistic herding

Massachusetts beef farmer Ridge Shinn is using a time-tested agricultural model known as holistic herding, which he says helps cut his farm’s carbon emissions by putting CO2 back where it came from; in the soil.

"What we’ve discovered is that you actually sequester huge amounts of carbon by grazing correctly," says Shinn.

Holistic herding was developed in the 1970s by Allan Savory, a biologist and game warden-turned-rancher in what is now Zimbabwe. While observing herd animals, such as buffalo, deer, and antelope, Savory noticed how they naturally move to new grazing areas daily, unlike domesticated animals, which are typically penned in the same pasture for months at a time.

As a result, the domestic herds denude the land of CO2-absorbing plants and churn up the ground with their hooves, releasing soil-sequestered carbon in the process.

Shinn says he’s preventing that kind overgrazing by employing Savory’s holistic herding system on a section of pasture.

"What we do instead is we take that same 50 animals and put them on a very small part of that 50 acres for one day. And then, the next day, we move them off that one acre. So, that acre is now resting and by the time we get around the whole 50 acres, you know, putting them on an acre a day, 50 days have passed and this piece of ground has had a chance to rest and reinvigorate."

Building on nature

Holistic herding builds on nature’s carbon cycle. Soil needs carbon to help create the rich nutrients essential for healthy plant life. When herd animals roam through an area, they graze down the vegetation. Their hooves act as tillers for dead and decomposing plants. Their manure and methane waste act as fertilizers to help grow more vegetation. Pasture plants such as clover and grasses help to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it in the soil. And so the cycle continues.

Philip Metzger, with the US Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, says holistic herding can prevent the serious reductions in farm output caused by overgrazing.

"You can see it in agriculture today as we’re having to put more and more inputs into the soil to get the same yields," says Metzger. "That’s because we have reduced organic matter, in many cases by 50 percent, so that soil now has much less holding capacity for water and nutrients."

Speeding regeneration

Metzger says holistic herding can also speed the regeneration of badly overgrazed soils in just three to four years, compared to the decades it can take if the land is simply left fallow.

The results with holistic herding have been so positive over the years that developer Allan Savory was awarded the 2010 Buckminster Fuller Challenge Award, a privately-sponsored $100,000 prize to honor strategies that help to solve humanity’s most pressing problems. The award cited Savory’s Operation Hope, a program that trains African communities to practice holistic herding. The method has also proved popular with ranchers in Australia, New Zealand, and with agricultural extension services across the United States.

U.S. ranchers like Shinn are passionate advocates of the system. "It’s amazing. It’s so optimistic that you can change a whole biological system that quickly by applying the herbivores correctly. It’s a complex story but it’s very exciting."

In addition to reducing CO2 emissions, holistic herding also requires less land because cattle are kept together in a series of adjacent fenced paddocks, instead of being left to roam over large, unmanageable areas. And sheep, goats and other large livestock can also be grazed this way.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture hopes new federal farm legislation due next year will include incentives for U.S. ranchers to adopt holistic herding practices, encouraging them not only to reduce overgrazing but also to shrink agriculture’s big carbon footprint.

You May Like

ASEAN Ministers to Push for S. China Sea Agreements

According to documents obtained by VOA Khmer, ministers will stand up for 'freedom of navigation, unimpeded lawful maritime commerce, trade and over flight' More

Puerto Rico Defaults on $58M Debt Payment

Payment was due Saturday, default is first in country's 117 years as a United States possession More

Turkish Public Fears Jihadists More Than Kurds

Turkey facing twin threats of terrorism by Islamic State and PKK Kurdish separatists, says President Erdogan’s ruling AK Party More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Iraqi Yazidis Fear Death of Their Communityi
X
Sharon Behn
August 03, 2015 2:23 PM
A year ago on August 3, Islamic State militants stormed the homelands of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, killing hundreds of men and enslaving thousands of women. The scenes of desperate Yazidi families crowding on the top of Sinjar mountain without food or water spurred Kurdish fighters into action, an emergency airlift and the start of the U.S. airstrike campaign against the Islamic State Sunni extremists. VOA's Sharon Benh reports from northern Iraq.
Video

Video Iraqi Yazidis Fear Death of Their Community

A year ago on August 3, Islamic State militants stormed the homelands of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, killing hundreds of men and enslaving thousands of women. The scenes of desperate Yazidi families crowding on the top of Sinjar mountain without food or water spurred Kurdish fighters into action, an emergency airlift and the start of the U.S. airstrike campaign against the Islamic State Sunni extremists. VOA's Sharon Benh reports from northern Iraq.
Video

Video Bangkok Warned It Soon Could Be Submerged

Italy's Venice and America's New Orleans are not the only cities gradually submerging. The nearly ten million residents of the Bangkok urban area now must confront warnings the city could become uninhabitable in a few decades. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from the Thai capital.
Video

Video Inclusive Gym Gets People With Disabilities in Fitness Spirit

Individuals with special needs are 58 percent more likely to be obese than the general population. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, they also have an increased likelihood of anxiety, depression and social isolation. But a sports club outside Washington wants to make a difference in these people's lives. With Carol Pearson narrating, VOA's June Soh reports.
Video

Video Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missions

Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Special Olympics Show Competitors' Skill, Determination

Special Olympics competitions will wrap up Saturday in Los Angeles, and the closing ceremony for athletes with intellectual disabilities will be held Sunday night. In a week of competition, athletes have shown what they can do through skill and determination. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Civil Rights Leaders Struggled to Achieve Voting Rights Act

Fifty years ago, lawmakers approved, and U.S. President Lyndon Johnson signed, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The measure outlawed racial discrimination in voting, giving millions of blacks in many parts of the southern United States federal enforcement of the right to vote. Correspondent Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights leaders who were on the front lines in the struggle for voting rights.
Video

Video Shooter’s Grill: Serving Food with a Touch of the Second Amendment

Shooter's Grill, a restaurant in Rifle, Colorado, attracts visitors from all over the world as well as local patrons. The reason? Waitresses openly carry loaded firearms as they serve food, and customers are welcome to carry them, too. VOA's Enming Liu and Lin Yang paid a visit to Shooter's Grill, and heard different opinions about this unique establishment.
Video

Video Despite Controversy, Business Owner Continues Sale of Confederate Flags

At Cooter’s, a store in rural Sperryville, Virginia, about 120 kilometers west of Washington, D.C., Confederate flags are flying off the shelves. The red, white and blue battle flag, with 13 white stars representing the Confederate states, was carried by southern forces during the U.S. Civil War in the 1860s. The South had seceded from the Union over several key issues of disagreement, including slavery. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

VOA Blogs