Thursday, September 8, 2011

Widening Your Focus

One of the advantages to thinking holistically is that you are open to more than one avenue of thought when it comes to problem solving. While there are times that the reason for a problem may be obvious, at others there may be a variety of causes for a problem. The problem with not thinking holistically is evident in a recent experience. 
I had the opportunity to be involved in a grass survey so that a family could determine whether or not they wanted to graze cattle this winter. This West Texas ranch focuses on hunting quail, deer, sheep, and antelope, using cattle as a tool to improve range conditions. Several of the owners had reluctantly agreed to the holistic grazing as they have their doubts about whether or not grazing could improve range conditions. For the last several years the deer and antelope have not been reproducing, and quail numbers have been dropping.

The only reason that the people reluctant to try holistic grazing can see for this (beyond the current drought) is that the cattle are to blame. They are so narrow in their focus they cannot see that forage conditions on their ranch did not improve until they began grazing. They also cannot seem to grasp the fact that game numbers should automatically improve when forage improves. When it does not, you have a problem which is not related to limited grazing with cattle. In order to uncover the cause of your problems you must look at all of the changes made in management as well as possible biological reasons not directly related to management.

The two biggest management changes concerning the quail were installing waterline for quail drinkers and changing methods for supplementing quail feed. The water shouldn't make a difference but may (which I will cover in the next paragraph.) Presently they are feeding a free choice quail block. To see quail feeding on these blocks, you have to be there at exactly the right time. The old method was feeding millet out of a pickup. Like Pavlov's dog, the quail would be drawn to the road every time a pickup went by. Now with more cover(from the grazing) and no reason to come to the road, they are seeing no quail.
When range conditions improve, fertility of the game animals should increase, resulting in more, not fewer deer and antelope fawns. As the forage conditions across this ranch are dramatically better than before they grazes (and astronomically better than their neighbors) they need to be looking at the whole picture to see what the problem could be. Do they have a parasite problem? Is there a disease such as brucellosis or vibriosis which displays its by abortions?

One other improvement which happened at the same time as grazing began, was new water wells were drilled and tied into the existing water system. This is also apparently just prior to the time deer and antelope started having fewer young, and quail numbers dropping in the improved areas.
With all of these possibilities the only “reason” some of these owners can see that could cause the problems is grazing. Rather than graze areas of the ranch which (especially in this time of drought) could be improved they have decided not to graze. This decision will not be detrimental to the ranch, but it will not solve the problems they have. It would not be difficult to start eliminating the causes of the problems.
First, check the new wells for contamination (which could be a toxic mineral). Second, begin feeding the quail from the pickup again to see if quail numbers suddenly increase. If the wells are not contaminated, tranquillize several deer and antelope and take blood and fecal samples to see where the problem lies.

To manage holistically you have to be aware of the whole without being overly focused on only a small portion of it. Doing so only slows progress and prevents you from solving problems in a timely manner!