Bring back the animals to reclaim the deserts

This is an amazing and counter-intuitive take by Alan Savory on the cause and potential solution to the process of desertification that is proceeding over large areas of the world. The start is not promising because he seems to be finger-pointing at fossil fuels but that might be just to get the audience on side. By the time he gets to the end he suggests that the desertification will not be reversed by reducing emissions. The answer is to return grazing cattle in large herds that are kept together while they graze and fertilize the soil, then they are moved on to allow the soil to absorb the next fall of rain and produce green growth.

Almost 100 years ago I was an agricultural scientist and I might have been able to make a judgement on the science of it, he is convincing and I am inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt until more information comes in.

The presentation describes the various efforts that have been made around the world to save the grasslands by taking animals away or s hooting them in large numbers and locking up the national parks. He describes the laborious process of trial and error that eventually led back to something like the original state of the grasslands with nomadic herders moving their herds from one place to the next, grazing, dunging and pissing on a limited area and then moving on to a fresh area while the previous area turned green after the next rain.

In a nutshell the answer was not less stock on the range, but many more, properly managed, not running wild. And far from saving the ecology of the deserts by getting rid of farting animals, we save the world with more animals, and that saves people as well in those arid parts of the world where people live by way of animals rather than agriculture.


In a companion presentation he looks at the matter of management and stocking rates because the intuitive response to pasture degradation is to reduce the rate. His point is that the key variable is the amount of time the grass is exposed to the grazing animals, more than the stocking rate. So stock densely and move them on.

The Savory Institute.

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43 Responses to Bring back the animals to reclaim the deserts

  1. stackja

    Almost 100 years ago I was an agricultural scientist


  2. stackja

    Australia had Sid Kidman who upset city folks.

  3. Zulu Kilo Two Alpha

    Australia had Sid Kidman who upset city folks.

    Before Sid Kidman came one James “Hungry” Tyson – large scale cattle station owner, and Australia first self made millionaire. He was never known to smoke, drink or swear, and was supposed to have been so frugal that he sacked one of his stockmen for using a lucifer (match) to light his pipe, rather then a burning branch from a nearby campfire..

  4. John Barr

    People Fart. Especially Greenies & Vegans. So the very first thing is to reduce their numbers. 😉

  5. John Stankevicius

    Dr Savory is in Rhodesia. Rhodesia has a wet and dry season . Oz is desert it’s no wet season . How do we improve our land.
    Why are the cammels and goats considered pests ?

  6. Frank Walker from National Tiles

    Come on Rafe, it has been a long time for Parramatta, but they weren’t admitted to the league until 1947.

  7. It’s an interesting theory.
    I’d like to see it played out.
    However it won’t be allowed because the self haters of the Left will balk at anything that seems to be pro human/domesticated animal.
    You see, the role of mankind is to extinct itself and all its works.
    Animal husbandry is like daylight to these vampires who will never add a jot to the benefit of mankind. Only when the planet is in its “natural state” i.e. without humans, will they be happy.

  8. Frank Walker from National Tiles

    The Irish and English countryside is incredibly fertile from 4000+ years of intensive sheep and cattle grazing.

    If you have read Savory and Peter Andrews this stuff seems like a no brainer.

    Allow cattlemen to maximise their profits and they will try on the best methods – this will catch on and carbon sequestration rolls on, no need for government intervention at all.

  9. Nob

    Australians have been brainwashed to believe farmers don’t know what they’re doing and are destroying the In-voyeur-ment.

    I hear this shyt several times a month from city smarts.

  10. John Constantine

    Instead of Australia having hot fires as the consumption part of the carbon cycle, grazing management would be the logical replacement for the megafauna.

    Fencing technology is expensive, and ‘rabbit-proof fence’ is a dirty phrase, but in australian conditions, the set stocking effect of rabbits and kangaroos kills the benefit of rotational grazing.

    Instead of trillions on windfarms/nbn/submarines/peoples liberation army slave labor solar panels/ blowing up the snowy irrigation scheme/ desalinisation plants/ dogbox apartment ponzis/dynamiting the murray darling basin—we could have done exclusion fencing on pastoral australia, wiped out the ferals, lifted pastoral soil carbon and lifted grazing production.

    If the State paid its half share of boundary fencing on the border of parks, indeed if the State put proper feral exclusion fencing around State land, it would prevent State ferals spiling out and damaging grazing country and prevent ferals reinfesting state land that was managed.


  11. One of my favorite novels is “A Town Like Alice” but I suppose that life style is no longer admired, if even tolerated.

  12. Win

    It’s a start. The ecolunacy of the Green messiahs so up themselves and stupid you can presume that they don’t know about the sustainable centuries old agricultural practices of the indigenous peoples. Deaths at sea, death by bush fire ,death to saline estuary wild life and poverty for all who survive. The Greens are starting to become a death cult.

  13. Eyrie

    “The Greens are starting to become a death cult.”
    They always were. It is that it is now obvious.

  14. Up The Workers!

    Sounds like an eminently worthy cause.

    Do these animals need to be selected two-by-two, or can you transplant a whole Party, Union or University of them at a time?

  15. Entropy

    I am not sure that grazing system would work in our climate for extensive beef production (dairy a different story, but the production is quite different).
    In northern Australia we have a fairly short, single wet season and a long dry season. And a very large arid interior with the most variable rainfall on earth. That holistic or cellular grazing system is also very hard on our types of grasses that evolve in our climate, especially as they tend to only grow in summer daylength and temperature (when it is most likely to rain).
    In much of central Africa, there seems to be almost two wet seasons. The big wet and the little wet with shorter dry seasons. And native grasses able to grow at any time of year. It expands your options, and also why we have tried to naturalise so many African grasses like kikuyu and buffel.
    Regardless, this type of grazing assumes the rain will come soon after the paddock has been flogged. In reality, decent rain won’t be until the next wet season. In the meantime, if it does rain, weeds take off as they aren’t wet/dry season cycle like our native species. Out of season rain = weeds, not the grass our northern grazing systems depend.
    Anyway, I am pretty sure pastoral cell grazing has been trialled in Qld and was not a success. As I recall, there was a lot of angst about lack of ground cover and TEH REEF too.

  16. Junk science has removed the cattle that have been grazing in the Victorian High Country for over 100 years, to save some supposedly endangered flora and fauna that no one knows about:

    What’s happening now is the complete reverse of what was so adamantly predicted. Not only that, feral horses, deer, goats etc are spreading everywhere because they now don’t have to compete with cattle and cattlemen for territory.

    As the final part of the story says about the greenies:

    “They walk in one side and walk out the other,” he says. “We live in the bloody place. We fight the fires.”

  17. Rafe Champion

    Taking up Entropy’s point I think water storage would be a key to the system where there are very long dry spells. The soil can store a lot of water if it has decent structure so heavy rain can penetrate but animals need regular water and water storage never featured in his presentation as I recall.
    My wife did time in the Cultural Revolution in a remote village on the high plateau of Shanxi province where there was no running water and just enough rain to grow cotton and wheat. They had a small pond that stored some water that was only fit for the horse and the donkey for each of the brigades in the village. Water for human consumption came from a well 100m deep. God knows how they survived with virtually no fruit, vegetables or meat, it was subsistence living refined by thousands of years of practice.
    When the village got electricity after the Revolution they pump water from 150m deep and the cotton has been replaced by fruit and vegetables and a few pigs. The water table is sinking so I don’t know where they go next. There are gigantic river diversion and irrigation schemes in the country but nowhere near the plateau.

  18. Bill Archinal

    Time control grazing is a process which undertaken well, achieves amazing results,save the planet eat more beef and lamb.
    Greens politics are literally entropy

  19. Rafe Champion

    Regarding all the thousands of elephants that they shot in their first failed trial, I wonder what they did with the tusks? They could have run the poachers out of business for years.

  20. Mark M

    Perhaps there is some good science in the lecture, I didn’t watch it all as it loses me the moment they start conflating fossil-fuels and climate (the start).

    He had me at “How to green the world’s deserts and reverse [CO2 induced global warming] | Allan Savory”.

    If 97% desertification is the issue, build a coal mine (just not too big):

    “GREENS leader Bob Brown has pinned the blame for the Queensland floods on the coal industry.
    He says the sector’s contribution to global warming is responsible for the extreme weather conditions causing the floods.”

    If Allan isn’t including that ‘science’, either for a laugh, or seriously, he has missed the’science’ boat before it left the dock.

  21. Jonesy

    Desertification is more to do with the position of Hadley cells around the planet. Lack of moisture trumps fertile ground any day of the week and twice on Sundays.

  22. MACK

    Meat and Livestock Australia organised the Evergraze program which did lots of field trials on this:

  23. Shy Ted

    On a smaller scale get yerself some chickens in the yard and feed them seed for a while. As long as you aren’t too proud of yer herbaceous borders. Won’t be too long til they need hardly any seed. Fox proof at night of course. Jono Green can’t get ’em all you know.

  24. Karabar

    Entropy is correct, I believe.
    Pastoral cell grazing works well on New Zealand dairy farms, where, in the flush, a fortnight without rain is called a “drought”.
    In Northland some have modified the technique by feed the cattle in the yard and performing the cell grazing pat with a forage harvester, which eliminates the damage done to the wet soil by hooves.
    That doesn’t mean it will work anywhere.

  25. Herodotus

    Apart from Kidman and Tyson there were the Duracks, who pioneered in QLD and the far north-west of WA.

  26. Confused Old Misfit

    The Albrecht Papers Vol 1 Foundation Concepts by Dr William A ……/albrecht-papers-vol-1-foundation-concepts-by-dr…
    The Albrecht Papers are written by Dr. William A. Albrecht, professor of soils at the University of Missouri College of Agriculture.

    Soil Fertility & Animal Health ( The Albrecht Papers, Vol II ) : William A …
    Oct 6, 2014 – Professor William Albrecht was a premier soil scientist and was dismayed by the rapid chemicalization farming that followed WWII.

    Back when I was a fledgling TV producer, well over 100 years ago, I did a series of Ag & Resources programs applying these principles to the poor soils of Atlantic Canada. There, the high acidity if the native soils was a problem.
    Here, the lack of moisture in Australia might be a limiting factor.

  27. A few things to consider when thinking about this subject:-

    * For grass and trees etc, what we see above the ground is a fraction of the life form. These are actually subterranean life forms.

    * Grass grows at night time. It’s all about “searching for light”. Just like a tree will try to reach for the sky if its light is blocked by another tree. If you have a patch of grass at home, take a bucket and put it on the grass upside down. Within a couple of days the grass under it will be much longer than the grass in surrounding areas. Leave the bucket there too long, the grass will lose its green colour.

    * Shit and piss are food for microbes. It is these microbes that keep a soil healthy, not the shit and piss itself. Piss is ammonia which is toxic to plants. Certain microbes will quickly turn the ammonia into nitrites which are even more toxic, but then other types of microbes will turn the nitrites into nitrates which are essential for plant life.
    These microbes will need to be reintroduced, otherwise sparsely vegetated areas will be quickly turned into deserts by the herds of grazing animals.
    BUT…and this is the big BUT, eucalypts are soil killers because eucalypt oil is a disinfectant, which kills the good microbes. You’d need to clear off most of the eucalypts and replace them with other species. Difficult without sufficient water.
    (Aboriginals burnt off all the non fire resistant vegetation, leaving the fire resistant species like eucalypts to dominate and disinfect the soil. That’s why we have such poor soil)

    * Remember we exist in a soup called the atmosphere, it’s all connected. The more the ground dries out, the less it will rain.
    Unless we build a connected network of dams and billabongs, revegetating will fail. Rising moisture will help bring moisture down from the clouds.

    * Re-greening the semi arid areas of Australia will be very difficult for the above reasons, but not impossible. First we need to kill all the ecofascists and greenies.

    Kill the Greens to green Australia? Has a ring to it.

  28. Rafe Champion

    Come on Rafe, it has been a long time for Parramatta, but they weren’t admitted to the league until 1947.

    Not sure where that came from Frank, but to date my career as a agricultural scientist I was a student of Ag Sci in Hobart when the mighty Demons won their last flag in 1964!

  29. Rob MW

    hmmmm, what ?

    Explain this if not for under sea events altering the conveyor belts of ocean currents, maybe, there is a rise in the number of under sea events at this point in time. Sea cows are to blame !!


    Before the complete desertification of the Sahara, human habitation was widespread among communities able to thrive in some locations. Archaeological evidence indicates that one of the communities that lived in the Sahara was the Kiffians who lived approximately 8,000 years ago. The Kiffian community relied heavily on hunting to provide them with a source of food. The Kiffian culture died out due to the desertification of the Sahara. Years after the decline of the Kiffian culture, the Tenerians established themselves in the region. One of the earliest European groups to develop an interest in the Sahara was the Greeks as they set up trading centers in many areas. Sections of the Sahara fell under Ottoman rule before the onset of European colonization.

  30. Lee

    I thought that the Greens have been telling us that we need to kill of all the climate-affecting, farting cows?

  31. Dr Fred Lenin

    I always thought the Sahra became a desert because Mick the Demon Irish tree feller was there for a while , ,it was a Forest before Mick got there with his axe .

  32. Dr Fred Lenin

    Sorry Sahara ,

  33. Entropy

    The Sahara would have higher rainfall during the last ice age.

  34. Boambee John


    To my simple mind, a quick sanity check on this theory might be to check the condition of Australia’s travelling stock routes, the “long paddocks”. If the theory works, they should be in better condition that the grazing stations.

  35. Entropy

    He long paddock is weed and feral pest central.

  36. Entropy

    After national parks of course.

  37. Atoms for Peace

    Just ship all of the homeless crap machines from CA and WA to the deserts.

  38. Helen

    Rafe, the limiting factor in the desert is water. Drinking water. Cattle, horses whatever, have to water every day or they begin to loose weight, especially if they are reproducing. Dry cattle can get away with watering every other day.

    The cost of carting water is prohibitive. We had this issue on our property on the edge of the Simpson desert. Mr Savory himself was consulted. In the end, he had to admit defeat.

    Then there is the cost of the herding. Eight blokes in the camp including cook, for a droving mob of 1200 or so. Any more and the cattle cant get a decent feed. Those eight blokes or even 4, lets really bare bone it and they have to take turns watching all night because no yards – basic wage is 740 per week for 38 hours, Droving these days is 12 hours plus night watch of 3 hours each = 15 hours per day, seven days a week so 105 hours – 38 leaves 67 hours over time. lets just call it time and a half for all of it. So 1,305 over time plus 740.00 regular time = 2045.00 per week or 8,183.32 for the four of them. Or 425,532 per year. Plus all the horses etc or what ever means of herding they are using.

    1200 cattle worth about 950 each (ours are anyhow) 1,140,000 – oh dear, I will have to sell half of them to pay the wages. Maybe they have some calves. Lets pretend they are all cows and 70% of them have calves. that is 840 – I could sell them as yearlings – about $500.00 out here, that si $420,000.00 Almost there! Now the food for the four for the year, the oncosts, the super, the holiday pay the everything else.

    Going backwards, my friend.

  39. Helen

    Cell grazing has been meaured at Douglas Daley research farm in the NT over the past few years. Cell grazing was worse in all measurements than set stocking .

    Rotational grazing is a bit different – bigger paddocks – 30-40 km square, longer grazing times, incorporating a hot burn every 4 years in a four paddock rotation is best. Can work well.

  40. Helen

    Instead of Australia having hot fires as the consumption part of the carbon cycle, grazing management would be the logical replacement for the megafauna.

    Except research on Kidman Spring Research Station over 20 years shows that anything less than a very hot foire every 4 years leads to increase woody weed thickening.

    Want the grass, you have to burn and keep burning.

  41. Rafe Champion

    Thanks Helen, interesting that Mr Savory got involved, clearly water is a key, the landscapes where he was working elsewhere seemed to have creek beds that might have been running some of the year. He appears to be willing to learn from experience and I wonder what he learned from Australia. Suppose I should ask him.

  42. Frank Walker from National Tiles

    Boambee John
    #3118273, posted on July 29, 2019 at 5:17 pm


    To my simple mind, a quick sanity check on this theory might be to check the condition of Australia’s travelling stock routes, the “long paddocks”. If the theory works, they should be in better condition that the grazing stations.

    No, because a common isn’t going to be grazed at a set period like every 90 days.

  43. Helen


    The way we got round it in one large paddock was to create ‘moving water’ where a pipe line was laid round it in a sort of rough circle over flattish ground and a trough point every km. The trough was moved every few days. It and the tank were on skids so it could be towed by a toyota.

    Man hours were driving out, hooking it up dragging to next site plus a motor bike.

    The really interesting thing was the animal behaviour and how quickly the cows adapted. Some of the cows – about 10-20% refused to adapt and these were let go out of the mob, it was too many hours mustering and remustering them. The cows that did adapt quickly used the trough as the nursery. All the calves would be planted round and the cows would graze out from there. The first thing they attacked was top browse. native bushes have a kind of toxin they turn on when they are eaten as a sort of survival mechanism, but the first two days or so this is not activated, so the top graze was avaialable in abundance.

    When the toxin was switched on the cows then began to graze the grass.

    As soon as they heard the bike start up, the cows would come together, pick up their calves and move on down the line, following the trough and tank, ready for the next site. It was really exciting and most pleasurable excersise.

    But it was not Savory who thought this up, it was my brother. Although Savorys mob tried to claim credit for it in the media. Dogs!

    it cost about $250,000 at the time, the mob of cows was about 500 head. I have no idea of the pay back time or the recurrent costs, Bruce O Newcastle might be able to help there, given that a normal water to drill and equip is northwards fo 60K for a mono per site – which should also only carry about 500 cows, and these 500 were in addition to the other 500, in effect you are carrying 500 cows extra so maybe payback in 5 years if interest and man hours included?

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