By Joshua Dukart
In the childhood years of our formal science education we were questioned and tested on our ability to identify experimental responses as Cause or Effect. Remember when we first learned the word stimulus?
When managing holistically, it is paramount that we take the same approach and identify obstacles or challenges on our farms and ranches as Causes or Effects. More simply put, we need to be able to decipher a problem (cause) from a symptom (effect).
In most cases in our society it is much easier to address a symptom. A symptom is usually plainly visible to us, bothers us to some degree, and is something different than what we would prefer. But generally we can purchase something to suppress it. Addressing a symptom satisfies the human nature components of urgency, quick fix, and instant gratification. However, just like any other symptom, we will get the opportunity to address it over and over….that’s what makes it a symptom.
Now if we decide we are not in the mood to continually spend money, time and energy addressing the same thing over and over, then we must dig deeper. In order to do this we must remove the cluttersome symptoms and their baggage out of the way. We must also continue to ask ourselves questions until we get to the bottom of the situation. Such as, “why is this happening? If this is so, than why is that happening?” Through this process we will achieve greater depths of understanding and eventually reach the root cause of the problem.
For instance, if you were to continually punch me and in response I took Tylenol for the pain, I have only addressed the symptom I am experiencing, not the actual problem. Now that may seem very elementary (and maybe you have a legitimate reason for punching me), but conceptually and unfortunately, the same type of response occurs all too frequently on our farms and ranches.
How so? Why can we get pests, weeds, diseases, overgrazing, and poor performance on the land and in our cattle? More importantly, what do we do about these issues? All of these items generally happen because of management methods that create a discontinuity or void in nature, not because we are having bad luck or because someone or something has it in for us.
Let’s say we have poor animal performance and we have identified that heavy fly load or pressure is the issue. To address the symptom (heavy fly pressure) would be quick and easy. Purchase and apply fly spray or pour on, purchase and install an oiler, and/or purchase and attach fly tags. All of these items should have some effect on the fly pressure this season. But guess what, we get to purchase and apply all over again next year, maybe even later this year. Each and every year will require more of our money and more of our time.
Now if we are interested in addressing the actual problem, and therefore only treating the issue one time, we will need to take a different approach. We would start by asking “why do we have poor animal performance? Too much fly pressure. Why do we have too much fly pressure? There is an imbalance in the natural system. Why do we have an imbalance in the nature system? Management has simplified the system favoring only a few species of organisms and minimizing the numbers of species such as dung beetles, predator beetles, and cow birds which would balance the fly population. In addition, our management may also have decreased the natural ability of cattle to repel pests. Why is our management as such? In the past we were still able to be potentially profitable with low input costs, plentiful labor, and managing out of sync with nature. This is not the scenario we are currently in and will not be sustainable for future generations either.
In most cases our management of the soil-plant-animal complex holds the key to identifying and addressing actual problems and allowing each step we take to be a step forward for our business, land, and family. When we embrace nature as a dynamic and ever changing web of relationships that we will never completely understand (nor do we need to), then we can realize that nature also holds the keys to solving our management issues and can be the most effective and profitable template to follow.