3. Design 1 - Holisting Management

It is all about the soil!
I want to learn what there is to learn about holistic management in general and use this knowledge here, on our farm.
A part of this design is also getting to know more about the sheep, goats and animal husbandry in general, I hope to get more involved in chickens and pigs at some point and also figure out how to incorporate guinea pigs and quails into the holistic grazing management.
Then spread this knowledge and experience out - around the islands and the world.

4.Next Steps

Maja 20Aprl17
  • Update the maps (made few modifications)

Maja 25Feb17 
Go through some materials about elements of Holistic Management and present it to Jose, Stef, Abena and Chris

Maja 03Aug16
  • work with the EVS volunteers and if any of them is interested in this design - take charge of it. Train them to handle the sheep so I can take holiday next year to visit family - EVSers left

MajaB 4Jun16
  • learn about holistic management : read my PDFs
  • make the aerial map of our paddocksdone
  • take pictures of each of them - once a week? At least before, after and after-after - continuous
  • note down how much time sheep spend in each of the paddocks - continuous
  • describe here our rope systemdone
  • create holistic context with Stefania, Jose and Nicola
  • as I learn, write here all the ideas that come to my head, test them with holistic context and if they pass - introduce - continuous
  • observe the land more often and more carefully. Take notes to estimate the best recovery times for each plant. - continuous

1.What's going well

Maja 1Feb17 - The sheep are out since 24Dic17 (link to the spreadsheet with exact dates is at the top of the page).
I just realised that I should also track the number of sheep we have!
So we started with 8 grown up sheep, 1 very young, still feeding (Bianca) and 1 goat

Maja 03Aug16
I have finally finished the maps of our paddocks. Overview is here : 

And more detailed you can find in this album
Jose, please check it out and see if I marked the paddocks correctly, especially I am not sure about the number 18 - can we really go all the way up there? 

and here I prepared the spreadsheet for documenting the amount of days the sheep spend in a field and a catalogue of numerous photos we will be taking: spreadsheet
it is pending until we get them out on the fields again (now it is too dry - there is no more food for them. 

Keep in mind to never go over 10 sheep again, unless we have more land)

MajaB 7Jun16
New Ideas - I am reading one of my PDF's and there is a picture of cattle behind a very interesting fence - it is just a string with a white curtain on it. As soon as I come back from Berlin I will spend another day with sheep and see it that might somehow work

Give straw bales for the sheep on the field - observe the herd effect

MajaB 4Jun16
  • I have plenty of resources to learn from about holistic grazing
  • I am on a farm where we have a nice small herd of sheep I take care of and we have other animals to incorportate to!
  • I live with people who are also very dedicated to regeneration of the environment and are open to new ideas
  • I am still as excited as ever when I realise that I can do it!


Maja 23Aprl17
First answer to Stef:
This was exactly what I wrote - an impression I got -  I didn't really make any effort to test it in any way. I was thinking about finding some control fields but after 3 years of undocumented grazing it would prove very difficult. I can find fields that are in the similar conditions to the one we are grazing, but I have no idea if the ones we are grazing were similar to them before our impact or not. So often it seems that everything is the same but it isn't. 

The winter has passed, the fields are drying up and there are still paddocks were we didn't put sheep at all. So in the effect a huge amount of vegetation is drying up, increasing danger of fire and not being an attractive food for the sheep anymore. The fields are resting too much. I see few reasons for that:
  • I wasn't moving them around fast enough (I was worried we will run out of fields)
  • we were keeping them in for the weekends - we should not.
  • Because we were resting the fields all of the past summer, they got green more or less at the same time so some of them were bound to be overrested.
My plan for now to change it is to move them much faster and perhaps get our sheep pregnant at the end of this summer (that depends on the amount of work they will give us and how much we will be willing to handle)

Maja 31Dic16 - today when I went for a walk to find next fields for the sheep I noticed that in many places where we don't put them at all, the vegetation is much more lush than in places where we do put them. That made me wonder if maybe we are having some negative impact. Unfortunately, I'm not here long enough to really know - this observation is just an impression I got.   Jose says that he can clearly see that over the year the state of fields where we put the sheep is better. 
In the year 2016 we did overgrazed them a bit.   I don't know what was their state before.  Still, I am worried that because of the lack of practice and expertise, not enough observations made (mostly because it would be best to do the over few years), sheep are actually overgrazing and we do more harm than good.   Also, it is quite clear that we are diminishing the population of Tederas.  Not only they die when sheep get entangled in them too much, but constant nibbling doesn't really work good on them.  Not very surprising, as with grazing we are basically bringing back the grasslands, but I have doubts if that's a good thing in our particular situation.  The vision I have is that we use grazing to build up the soil, and then try to reforest the area, we should have forests here, not grasslands.
I can see that to do it properly I will have to be much more careful.

Stef 16Apr17 - great observation as you do need control plots to do a proper study!  What did you do to check whether it's just 'an impression you got'?  Which are your control fields?  
So it would be useful if you put more details about which areas exactly are more lush (maps, pictures, etc.) & also of plots which are the same as the grazed ones in all other respects but we don't graze.  Because what you see are not necessarily effected by non-grazing, if you take into account that in many fields (especially flatter larger sites which are those we use for grazing) the owners did in the past farm them, & more recently at least cut the grass - which is taken or flies away, baring soil for long periods in summer - to lower fire risk, as well as fertility, considerably - & sometimes even use herbicides to keep the weeds down.   Also edges do tend to be more fertile so if that applies to the sites you mention, take that into account (its comparative increase or decrease in fertility we're looking for).   
& "we should have forests here, not grasslands" isn't necessarily accurate: we are working in a culture which will not permit these fields to be forested (in the foreseeable future) unless you design in something to promote quite a big culture change - so if that is part of your vision for this area, do add that to the Big Vision section (it doesn't seem to include people like our neighbours, so far).  

MajaB 4Jun16
  • claiming the time I need to do all the researches and do the course too!
  • we don't graze our animals on our land, so I can't freely experiment with fencing (although - let's ask neighbors)
  • claiming the time I need to get to know the land properly 

3.My Big Vision

MajaB 4Jun16  
I am skilled and experienced holistic manager with a lot of knowledge about soil, animal husbandry and ecosystem in which I live. I work on constant improving the exisiting animal systems in 8thLife eco-village and also create animal systems in other parts of the island, working with local people, their land and livestock.   I work towards regenerating the old banana plantations.   The quality of soil and the biodiversity are constantly improving.    Rivers in barrancos flow again and we plant many trees in a deep, organic soil that we helped to create.   We have a source of very healthy meat and dairy.

Why I want to do it

MajaB 4Jun16
Because I care for nature. I want to see the biodiversity growing, rivers flowing, all life happy and thriving. Somehow, this particular technique resonated with me very much, so I decided to follow it. It is focused about regenerating the soils and I just love soil! I see it as one of the greatest treasures the planet has and I was thrilled when I have found out that we actually can DO something to help it. I want to do it. Because I get super excited at the very thought of it, when I read about it I want to stand up and just start doing it, when I see and feel healthy soil my heart sings and when I see it bare and destroyed it screams from anger. I believe I can make a difference with it.

Research / Observation Notes

Maja 20Aug16
I have found a nice website about handling animals and I leave it here for future reference http://stockmanship.com/
and also some nice videos!

YouTube Video

Rope system

Maja 6Jun16
Right now we have in place the rope system designed by Jose.
The basic part is a main rope system which consists of ropes expanded in between trees and other features of landscape (mostly trees though). On this ropes we attach sheep that have their leads. 
During the day we check them regularily and move them around to be sure that they do not get tangled around plants or themselves and have enough food.
Placing the sheep requires training and experience. I have put together some rules, but they change with time according to, for example which sheep is pregnant. 
  • they can't be close enough to each other to get tangled between themselves
  • they can't be close to :
    • fig trees
    • very young trees (especially Gaffitas is good at killing them)
    • edges 
    • stone walls
    • slopes
    • erosion
    • if you HAVE TO put someone next to a slope or erosion choose the most calm ones - young males. Definitely NOT the powerpuff girls (Mu, Milagros, Maria)
  • Priority for food (state for 14/05/2016)
    • Canarina and Gaffitas - they are pregnant
    • old male - to be killed soon
    • young males - also to be killed
    • Higo - is still sick at was stressed very much lately
    • Ciervita and Bambi
    • Mu, Milagros, Maria
  • Where to put Bonita?
    • where there is loads of food! Especially high stuff, she also likes young almond trees and she can eat them.
    • But not close to trees that are too young - she will kill them.
Advantages of this system
  • low-tech - it is easy ti fix, doesn't rely on industrial civilization
  • working well for small herds
  • helps in creating close relationship with sheep and the land
  • it is very movable and does not interfere with the land

  • requiers training and experience
  • possible disasters : dead sheep (tangles, strangled etc.), erosion, ruined walls, destroyed trees (if not put in place carefully enough)
  • herd effect is not big enough (low density of sheep)
  • affects the group dynamics of the herd
  • keeping sheep on leashes is not nice for them
  • there are places in which we can't make the sheep graze - on the slopes and near the borders or walls
Pictures to follow soon

Herd effect :

“We use the term ‘herd effect’ to describe results produced by a herd that is trampling the ground because it is excited or bunched. The trampling pushes down the dead plant material and chips and breaks hard soil surfaces. This is a result of their behavior and is different from the effects produced by animals calmly walking. Bunching naturally occurs when animals are under threat by predators, in full migration, or when being driven or jostling each other.

Normally, grazing or walking animals place their hooves carefully, avoiding coarse plants and barely breaking the soil surface. When herd effect occurs, the same animals trample coarse plants, lay down litter, raise dust, chip soil surfaces - opening them to aeration - and compact them enough to provide seed-to-soil contact”

From “Tools to manage the ecosystem processes” Savory Institute

The more I read about Holistic grazing the more I realize that we should get some sort of fencing. Or a dog. But would dog be able to keep them in place? Does anyone here have experience with shepherd dogs?

Electric fencing

Maja 16Dic16 - The sheep are out, but in our gardens. I am really motivated to move with electric fencing, so I have done some research and it's still ongoing. 


There are two basic options :
And Reel system:

Netting is cheaper and easier to use, Reel system I would have to construct myself from the bits and pieces. Could do that, but it turns out more expensive than netting. The problem with netting is that the live lines go quite close to the ground, so with big vegetation, we might be loosing some power. To prevent that, I will have to cut the grass around the netting (more work, but I expect vegetation to be that big only few times a year).
The only way in which I would go for reel system if we can find cheap / afford Gallagher SmartFence 2 
which super easy to use, fancy, all-in-one fence.


We might have problem with grounding, as our soil is dry for most time in the year. To deal with that I will make a hot/ground return system, in which the current goes back on the wire, not through the soil :
It is usually done with reel system, but I asked around, and it is totally possible to do it with netting as well


I'm still not sure if I want to solar energizer or the one for battery. So I decided to get the one that can use solar assistance, battery only AND go from mains : Gemini HLC40 (they send to Canaries as well!)


I wanted to buy a proper battery special for this purpose, as everyone of course recommends it, but they don't send it so far, because it's so delicate and expensive too. So I decided to buy just used car battery 12V, charger to it and at some point (if we want) we can add a solar assistance to charge it from the sun. Right now I'm not 100% sure about solar, but I know it will be useful to not be dependent on it. I've heard that you can plug in solar assistance to most of batteries 12v, that's what people do when they want to go off-grid, so there are plenty of tutorials on the internet. 

Maja 19Aug16 - Since I came here I am thinking about getting an electric fencing in here. Jose is reluctant to it and I couldn't understand it. Now I can see disadvantages of it but also benefits. Let's see it:

Stef 20Aug16 - added some comments in blue.  & remember that to get it 'past the group' here it would help to get everyone involved in the voting, by using the group PMI method, which will also highlight just how differently we value the individual items.  You can get the template for that here.

Maja 20Aug16 - great idea! So here is the PMI sheet for that, I included all of the things below.

  • Holistic Grazing could be done more accurately and thoroughly
  • no problem with attaching the ropes where there are no trees
  • no problem with sheep ruining the walls - we could graze close to them as well
  • moving the fencing would take less time than moving the ropes (depends on the fencing)
  • sheep don't have collars, are not on leashes, don't get stressed while moving them around, can't get strangled
  • easier maintenance - ropes don't get lost, sheep don't need to be checked every 1,5 hours etc.
  • might be easier to persuade lots more farmers to take this on - which is the ultimate aim of this project - precisely because it is more high-tech (ironically..) and even county authorities might take it more seriously because it is a more expensive ('professional-looking') solution than ropes.
  • and there's a major eco-business right there is supplying them with the fencing materials (if well-set up..)
  • cost
  • it has a particular durability, so at some point we have to get a new one - when civilization collapses we would have to probably go back to ropes
  • contact between sheep and shepherd is less personal
  • sourcing the fencing (do you have a contact for buying yet?)
  • & shipping to the island (if doable) might well be a lot more expensive than the things themselves (problem=solution to this would be we have to learn how to do it here... which would take a lot longer to implement but then provide you with a good eco-business base)
  • could 'go wrong' & get us to loose all of our sheep at once?(although they are not likely to get very far, depends how long they are free), eg. if the fence is broken, electricity cuts off, a pack of dogs scare them out of it ...
  • danger for wandering children?  or tourists (I know the voltage isn't deadly but it might upset people if their kids get a shock ... and cause trouble)
After last conversation about automatizing watering in the gardens I decided to keep researching electric fencing. In few years it could raise the effectiveness of our grazing enough for it to be worth it. 
My friend recommended me this one - Gallagher Smart Fence :

YouTube Video

And then I have found this one - Stafix

What I like about Gallagher is that it is super easy to move around, where Stafix you have to reassemble it every time you move it. But I like that you basically buy all the separate parts so it is custom-made.
Still, we would be moving the fence every week or so, so it is important that it is easy to move. 
I have two concerns, both about the soil we have now. These fences are obviously designed for a pasture with quite deep soil. First of all I don't know if our soil is good enough for these poles to stay in and secondly - you have to have a grounding pole that sits at least on meter in the ground, preferably in moist soil. We do not have moist soil and I don't think there is any guarantee that in every paddock there will be a place to put the grounding pole in for one meter. We have loads of rocks in the ground and in some places the soil is not as deep as one meter. 

I have written to Gallagher customer service and they reminded me that the electric fence is a psychological barrier, not physical, so the poles don't have to be very strong, and they don't go deep even in nice, seep soils, that's just how they are designed. So that could not be a problem. 
But what about the grounding pole? I will be looking for people who were using electric fences in the soils like ours and I'll try to get their opinion on that matter.

Rope system we have is low-cost and low-tech, and it works well for a small number of sheep. I want to document it well to be able to convince other people for grazing even if they can't afford the electric fencing. So I want to have a whole year of excellently documented rope system and then I am willing to switch to the electric fencing.

Cooperation with Savory Institute

Maja 25Feb17 - I attended the webinar about how to get involved with Savory Institute. I attached pdf files that are a summary of this. Basically, I could go for the Champion and later on for Acredited Professional, for the Hub we don´t have right resources yet, most important - land and focus.
Anyway, I realised that to get involved with Savory Institute in any way, I shouldn´t consider Grazing without the whole Management structure. That includes the Context, decision-making processes, Monitoring and Financial planning. 
I would like to start implementing that step by step, I will present the idea to the rest od 8thLife community, as we all should be on board with that. 

Also - Abbey Smith pointed out that Savory Institute is focused on recovering grasslands. From what I know, Canaries were forests once and that is what we want to do - not grasslands.   My idea was to use Holistic Grazing to build the soils and then plant trees on them.   Is that viable? Is working with SI viable then?

Stef 16Apr17 - very good question, why not ask them directly?   See my comments above under Challenges about clarifying your vision in this respect.     Was looking forward to the presentation you mention but ... could have combined very well with your end of EVS presentation!?    Please do add details here of courses you could take with SI and make some plans (but try to first contact them about your doubts).


Maja 23Aprl17 - answered Stef and added another challenge

Stef 16Apr17 - made comment in this colour under Challenges & under Cooperation with SI.

Maja 29March17
I created a new subpage - Electric fencing. In the coming weeks, this will be the place to look for updates

Maja 25Feb17
News in next steps and "cooperation with Savory institute" (new files attached as well)

Maja 31Dic16 - in difficulties, I put my latest thoughts on the system.

Stef 18Dic16 - great work, brilliant all the research you've done into electric fencing!   I've tidied up a little, just to simplify headings ok.    No Next Steps since August?

Maja 17Dic16 - today the sheep went out, so I added pictures and description of the first paddock where I put them.

Maja 16Dic16 - added some infor from my electric fencing research
Maja 20Aug16 - put the PMI in the spreadsheet here , can also find it in the What's going well section. Everybody vote! :)
And I added some nice resources about stockmanship - in the next steps

Stef 20Aug16 - great that you did the PMI on electric fencing :)  Plse rem. to keep a 'desig trail' here, and DATE your entries, whichever heading they are under ok (it will make this a lot easier to follow, as well as credible, as a certificate or diploma design).

I've dated that section & added some comments in blue - but when did you do the Rope System one?  (plse date it?).

Brio 9Aug16 - just checking in to say I am still here, admiring your work. Looking forward to the spreadsheet and before/after photos.

Maja 03Aug16 - maps are here! See what´s going well

Nicola 9/6/16- Wooohoooo! You are so thorough <3
MajaB 7Jun16
added a comment about the herd effect and the "new ideas" section

Brio 6Jun16 - thanks for compiling the rope-rules, it's nice to be able to read it all in one place. I am looking at doing some part-time wwoofing in germany, have applied to various farms, hope I get one with sheep :) Will report back and keep studying your findings with interest.

MajaB 6Jun16
described our current rope system

MajaB 4Jun16
I am on my first design :)

Maja Borkowska,
25 Feb 2017, 12:02
Maja Borkowska,
25 Feb 2017, 12:04
Maja Borkowska,
25 Feb 2017, 12:06