Julie bought me the book Holostic Management 5 or more years ago. We took a stab at reading it at the time but really couldn’t get through the meat. We had a conceptual understanding of grazing but no real hands-on experience…and experience was needed. So we put the book aside.
I am overdue for another stab at the book and as I read it again I am fascinated. This time I seem to be getting it…or, at least, getting more of it. And that’s good since I sent a copy of it to dad’s friend Marty…and I know he’ll breeze through the book.
Chapter 3 kicks off a discussion of Jans Christian Smuts’ book Holism and Evolution, presenting the concept that, though we tend to break things down into individual parts, we need to look at wholes. In a recent post I discussed the loss of native diversity because in our local oak/hickory forests, Yellow Lady’s Slipper orchids are a part of the whole. Remove that part and the whole is diminished by the loss…the remainder becomes increasingly fragile.
The book gives several examples of ecological degradation caused by predator removal. If I trap out the minks I will open a void in predation. Minks eat mice. Extra mice may be a benefit to other predators but the loss of the mink makes our farm slightly more fragile. What happens when I kill the mink and disease removes the coyotes and foxes? Can the owls pick up that much slack?
But who cares about mice and minks and owls? We are farmers. We grow cows and pigs and chickens. And minks eat chickens. And owls eat chickens. So why not just kill the minks and scare off the owls and raise chickens in greater security?
Because of the whole interconnected web occurring on the farm. Owls also eat skunks. If there are no owls what will eat skunks? Maybe I could get a big dog? But that won’t eat large numbers of mice. So…barn cats? But those will eat song birds too. I could keep searching for substitutions to force my will on the land but it is not hard to imagine that I would be better off nestling, rather than imposing, my farm into the countryside. To make my farm an enhancement of the natural order rather than a replacement of the natural order. I need to find a pattern of farming that compliments the patterns of the landscape.
So I have to manage for diversity. And that includes making room for my enemy, the mink.
But I also need to recognize and enhance patterns. Hackberry trees grow alongside walnut trees. Gooseberry grows in their shade. Opossums eat gooseberries. Squirrels eat and plant walnuts, acorns and hickory nuts. Hawks eat Squirrels. All of them add manure.
The wildlife can’t begin to eat the gooseberry, nut and squirrel crop. I happen to like gooseberries, hickory nuts and squirrel. I have to find ways to fit myself into the landscape without diminishing the whole. Further, I have to fit cows, pigs and chickens into the landscape while retaining and respecting coyotes, foxes, mink, mice, squirrels, owls, hawks, deer, raccoons, groundhogs, skunks, opossums, rabbits, gooseberries, walnuts, hickory nuts, acorns and Yellow Lady’s Slipper orchids.
There are patterns holding this abundance of life together and my job, as a farmer, is to weave myself into the pattern, not to unravel it.
That only scratches the surface of the chapter but it is enough for today’s posting.
How are you weaving yourself into the patterns you observe?