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Livestock herder Joel Herrmann: a catalyst for change

Peter Donovan
Joel Herrmann
Joel Herrmann in his camp in Owhyhee County, Idaho, USA.

Peter Donovan
dense, tall grass
Joel Herrmann shows good perennial grass growth in a cattle loading chute that receives heavy animal impact once or twice per year.

Near Bruneau, Idaho, Joel Herrmann has been working for Joe Black and Sons for eight years, mainly herding cattle. Joel began to teach himself holistic management using Allan Savory's book Holistic Resource Management. He interested his employers, and Joel began experimenting with grazing planning and monitoring. The results he has created with his grazing management -- including improved water cycle and considerably more ground cover -- have raised considerable interest in Idaho. Linda Hestag, who founded the Idaho Roundtables, says, "Joel's work is the catalyst for other people. Just that one man in a sheep camp has created all this change."

"Monitoring is one of the best ways to learn your ground," says Joel. "I've put a lot of time in it, and gained a lot."

"It's important to monitor year after year, to see if you get to your goal or not. Monitoring taught me more about what's happened biologically out there, than any reading or anything else I've done. It's got me down to scratch the ground and really look at what's going on. It has done more to make me realize that we're not anywhere near the potential that this land has offered. This land can produce more, and be healthier."

"The enterprise is not real estate. It is taking care of the land and producing from it," says Joel.

He has devoted a great deal of attention to herding. "There are no experts in the handling of livestock, possibly excepting Bud Williams. There's a lot of good cowboys, a lot of good horse hands, a lot of good ropers. But handling livestock -- as far as herds… When you stop and think about it, we [the U.S.] are one of the few places that use horses. Most places they go afoot. But we think you have to have a horse or a motorcycle or something to move cattle. Of course I'm not ashamed of it -- we've only been at it 200 years or less. We really don't have any experience."

Joel's employer Jay Black says that "Joel has been the backbone of what we've done here." Jay says that the land part of holistic management is easy -- it is the people part that is difficult. "Holistic management is not a belief system, but a test of our beliefs."

Published September 1997