Environment

David Marsh thanks Allan Savory's African grazing plan for revival at Boorowa

Normally impulsive on his small Boorowa farm, David Marsh waited a decade before embracing rangeland ecologist Allan Savory's advice to mimic the vast grazing plains of Africa.

Mr Savory is devoted to stopping land turning to desert after establishing national parks in Africa, where he convinced the government in the 1950s to shoot 40,000 elephants to help restore the land. It was the greatest blunder of Mr Savory's life. Without the elephants, the desert landscape worsened, instead of improving.

Boorowa farmer David Marsh has turned cattle grazing on its head by focusing on the landscape instead of livestock.
Boorowa farmer David Marsh has turned cattle grazing on its head by focusing on the landscape instead of livestock. Photo: Supplied

But Mr Savory learnt the value of moving livestock, as Mr Marsh has at Allendale, his 814-hectare mixed farm where in 1999 he stopped cropping and spending lots of money on fertiliser, chemicals and machinery.

Changing took a while, because Mr Savory's theories seemed impracticable. "We are not getting b-doubles of wildebeest coming in," Mr Marsh said.

Mr Marsh sold his sheep and bought cattle. He focussed more on the landscape than the livestock, which he moved on every few days after dividing 26 paddocks into 90 paddocks, providing enormous capacity to control his animals' grazing. He plans for no pasture growth for 210 days – seven months of the year – providing a broad contingency for dry spells.

"The living [plant] community, if allowed to complicate itself, provides all the goods and services it needs by using the energy from the sun," he says. "Its natural tendency is to do that. Conventional farming tends to simplify the community, the opposite trend of evolution, and lays a lot of costs onto farmers."

Advertisement

He doesn't mind what plants turn up, so long as they continue to arrive, adding to the number of species at Allendale, which he regularly counts.

"After a few years we started to see wallaby grass plants start to pop up, a lot of them were beside fences. I conjectured some seeds were stuck in the feathers of birds. They were sitting on the fences, fluffing their feathers out and the seed was falling down and plants were establishing. Seed moves around all the time, it's blowing around in the atmosphere," Mr Marsh said.

"The big thing we are able to provide is the time the plants that are able to grow here need to express themselves to their potential whenever they are trying to grow.

"We used to leave animals in one place for a long time, in one paddock with a certain amount of feed in it and graze it until the animal performance triggered you to move them," Mr Marsh said.

"Now we want animals to stay on [land] for only the time they don't damage the plants, only a few days. The big thing the movement of animals is dictated by the rate of growth of plants."

Mr Marsh is one of the speakers at the Upper Murrumbidgee Catchment's forum, Managing Your Land for the Future, which will be held on March 18 at Murrumbateman and March 19 at Jerrabomberra.