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The Grazier's Gazette

None So Blind As He Who Will Not See

cattle grazing
I find it amazing that some in academia still refuse to accept the successes of well-planned, well-executed grazing management.

It is hard for anyone who has been involved with successful planned, high-stock-density grazing to understand that some academics still deny the potential benefits of this practice.

Richard Teague, a professor of ecosystem science and management with Texas A&M University, is not among them. He recently rebutted the statements of some of these naysayers in a professional paper.

Teague said, "The debate on multi-paddock grazing is not over. Reviews of grazing management research by Holechek et al. (2000) and Briske et al. (2008) concluded multi-paddock grazing improves neither vegetation nor animal production relative to single-paddock continuous stocking.

"This hypothesis and viewpoint is deficient because it does not consider critical differences between reductionist science and management, the integration of ecological, economic, and social goals required for successful management, or the value of case studies for studying such phenomena."

Teague was very courteous in his rebuttal and I believe he was very thorough.

He explained that leading farmers and ranchers achieve superior results by the way they allocate resources, use different techniques, apply novel concepts and adaptively change these elements to achieve outcomes that exceed the sum of parts involved.

"This is the art of farming, long acknowledged as the producer of superior results," Teague also said. "Reductionist science is wholly inadequate for improving understanding of management because it simplifies and isolates inputs and treatments so as to preclude the discovery of emergent properties that are the signature achievement of leading managers as discussed in detail by the Dutch scientists van der Ploeg et al. (2006)."

The paper by Teague that I'm quoting from 2013 outlines how these two opposite lines of thinking have come about.

It says the majority of research referred to in the Briske academic paper has been short-term and has examined the managed grazing issue based upon a reductionist viewpoint. Such reductionist thinking has not included the critical influences of scale or how best to manage multi-paddock grazing strategies to achieve sound animal production, resource improvement and socio-economic goals. All this is done under constantly varying environmental conditions by managers on all rangelands.

To test that hypothesis, Teague compared ranches managed traditionally with ranches managed with multi-paddock grazing for at least 10 years. He said their findings were consistent with the hypothesis that "at a ranch-management scale, planned multi-paddock grazing, when managed to give best vegetation and animal performance, has the potential to produce superior conservation and restoration outcomes for rangeland resources, to provide superior ecosystem services for society, and to yield greater ranch profitability and greater socio-ecological resilience compared to season-long continuous stocking."

This research is published as Teague et al. (2011) and can also be found surmised in the August 2011 issue of Beef Producer.

It would seem this statement and the cited literature would be all the rebuttal needed, but sadly it was not. There was an immediate response from the naysayers involved to the effect that there was no "proof" in Teague's response, only case studies.

This reminds me of the children's playground stunt in which, to prevent hearing something they don't want to hear, kids stick their fingers in their ears and run around shouting, "Nah-nah-nah..." at the top of their lungs.

I realize that the perspective and the purpose of the research scientist are different from those of the grazing manager. The scientist attempts to understand a situation while the manager attempts to control the situation. But to deny the existence of self-evident facts because they did not come about under control of the scientific method is not the action of a true scientist, who should be a "seeker after truth."

Good grazing managers all over the world have increased animal production and profitability while improving the health and stability of the soil, plant, water and animal resources under their care. The vast majority of conservation-award-winning ranches practice some form of multiple-paddock grazing.

Dissention and criticism from peers is a necessary and valuable part of the scientific method so long as the criticism is scientifically valid. Scientists are also expected to attempt to disprove their own hypotheses. The purpose of a literature search or a research project should never be to prove a preconceived position but to discover the truth.

Grazing management is an art as well as a science, so results will always depend on the level of knowledge and skill of the grazing manager. Results will necessarily be more varied than those obtained in a rigidly controlled research project but the knowledge gained by practicing grazing managers will have great value in the real world.

It might be valid to disagree as to why certain facts came to be, but it is not valid to deny that real and valuable results have been achieved on several fronts and in many different areas by the thoughtful application and careful monitoring of planned, high-stock-density grazing.

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