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

Video On the Scene: In Gaza, Darkness Brings Dread and Death

Palestinians fear nighttime raids, many feel abandoned by outside world, VOA's Scott Bobb reports More

African Small Farmers Could Be Key to Ending Food Insecurity

Experts say providing access to microloans, crop insurance, better storage facilities, irrigation, road systems and market information could enable greater production More

University of Michigan Wins Solar Car Race

Squad guided its student-designed solar-powered vehicle to fifth consecutive time victory in eight-day bi-annual American Solar Challenge 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.
Gazans in Shelled School Sought Shelteri
X
Scott Bobb
July 30, 2014 8:16 PM
Israel's air and ground assault against Hamas-led fighters in Gaza has forced many Palestinians to flee their homes, seeking safety. But safe places are hard to find, as VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jabaliya.
Video

Video Gazans in Shelled School Sought Shelter

Israel's air and ground assault against Hamas-led fighters in Gaza has forced many Palestinians to flee their homes, seeking safety. But safe places are hard to find, as VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jabaliya.
Video

Video Rapid Spread of Ebola in West Africa Prompts Global Alert

Across West Africa, health officials are struggling to keep up with what the World Health Organization describes as the worst ebola outbreak on record. The virus has killed hundreds of people this year. U.S. President Barack Obama and other world leaders are watching the developments closely as they weigh what actions, if any, are needed to help contain the disease.
Video

Video Michelle Obama: Young Africans Need to Embrace Women's Rights

U.S. first lady Michelle Obama urged some of Africa's best and brightest to advocate for women's rights in their home countries. As VOA's Pam Dockins explains, Obama spoke to some 500 participants of the Young African Leaders Initiative, a six-week U.S.-based training and development program.
Video

Video Immigrant Influx on Texas Border Heats Up Political Debate

Immigrants from Central America continue to cross the U.S.-Mexico border in south Texas, seeking asylum in the United States, as officials grapple with ways to deal with the problem and provide shelter for thousands of minors among the illegal border crossers. As VOA's Greg Flakus reports from Houston, the issue is complicated by internal U.S. politics and U.S. relations with the troubled nations that immigrants are fleeing.
Video

Video Study: Latino Students Most Segregated in California

Even though legal school segregation ended in the United States 60 years ago, one study finds segregation still occurs in the U.S. based on income and race. The University of California Los Angeles Civil Rights Project finds that students in California are more segregated by race than ever before, especially Latinos. Elizabeth Lee reports for VOA from Los Angeles.
Video

Video Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spat

China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video A Summer Camp for All the World

VIDEO: During workshops and social gatherings, the Global Youth Village summer camp encourages young people to cooperate and embrace their differences, while learning to communicate with people from other countries. VOA's Deborah Block has more.
Video

Video From Cantankerous Warlock to Incorruptible Priest, 'Harry Potter' Actor Embraces Diverse Roles

He’s perhaps best known as Mad Eye Moody, the whimsical wizard in the Harry Potter franchise. But character actor Brendan Gleeson's resume includes dozens of films, and he embraces all the characters he inhabits with equal passion. In an interview with VOA’s Penelope Poulou, Gleeson discussed his new drama "Calvary" and his secret to success.

AppleAndroid