by Louis de Jager, Kameelboom Akademie, Comprehensive practical farmer training
Natural grazing is an excellent and also the cheapest source of fodder for the livestock of South Africa and the majority of the eight million cattle, thirty million small stock and the unknown number of game are being fed by this natural resource. The natural veld forms the basis of the country’s production of animals and animal products.
The causes of veld deterioration:
According to the stipulated norms for grazing capacity, it is quite obvious that in South0 Africa, in spite of prolonged and hard pressing droughts, there are still five million large stock units in excess of what is prescribed by the long term grazing capacity. The majority of farmers are convinced that they do not keep too many animals on the veld because they are looking at veld production within a specific season while it is common knowledge that production can vary up to 300% within one season, depending on the rainfall.
Over-optimism of farmers
A recent survey unveiled that more than 50% of farmers overestimate the grazing capacity of their farms. There is a tendency with farmers to determine how many animals they should keep to maintain a certain standard of living without trying to determine if the resource is capable of carrying that stocking rate.
Stock numbers not adapted to natural environmental conditions
Stock farming is in many cases not adapted to natural environmental conditions like climate, soil and vegetation. There is a tendency to look at production per hectare instead of maximum production per animal unit.
Veld management practices
Only a small percentage of farmers apply tried and tested veld management practices. The major problem that leads to this is the poor provision of camps per herd. A survey showed that almost 50% of the farmers only have three and even less camps available per herd.
Misadministration most definitely leads to the deterioration of veld. Even with realistic stock numbers, veld can be seriously damaged if it is not utilised in the correct way. Remember that the vegetation cannot be adapted to the animals, but the other way around. Because this matter is always handled incorrectly, the vegetation is damaged and the process of veld deterioration continues.
Insufficient knowledge of grazing and fodder crops
Most of the farmers do not have sufficient knowledge about the grazing plant and the interaction with the animals. Intensive training in this regard is therefore very important.
The farmers’ vision of veld condition
A recent study revealed that the majority of farmers think their farms are in good condition even though experts know that only between 12 and 30% of farms are managed properly. The study also revealed that 66% of the farmers saw no reason to improve their management skills or the condition of the veld. The final conclusion is that farmers are overoptimistic about the condition of the veld and that training is a necessity to stop the process of veld deterioration.
Veld types and veld condition
The classification of veld according to vegetation regions
In South Africa the term “veld” is largely used to describe the natural vegetation. Without the interference of man, the physical appearance of the veld is heterogeneous and that is the result of climatic and other environmental conditions.
The physical appearance of veld differs from forests with favourable environmental conditions, to deserts with unfavourable environmental conditions. For practical reasons veld is classified in different broad vegetation regions according to the physical structure of the dominant vegetation type. There different regions are forests, fynbos, bush veld, grasslands and Karoo.
There are always natural variations in every region. Thus you will find mountain grassveld with an annual rainfall of 1 000 mm as well as the semi-arid grassveld with a rainfall of not more than 400 mm per annum in the same region. Obviously these two regions will not have the same potential and for stock farmers there will be major differences in respect of the best breed, the numbers and the management of stock.
Due to the many differences that occur within vegetation regions, it is further divided in veld types. A veld type can be described as a vegetation unit of which the variation range is small enough that it may be assumed that the farming potential will be the same everywhere. When referring to good or bad veld, that veld will be compared to the best condition possible for that specific veld type.
What does veld condition mean?
Although veld types represent areas with homogeneous (same) farming potential, it does not implicate uniform veld within a veld type. There is a considerable variation caused by humans. Between two farms in the same veld type, a dramatic contrast may be observed on either side of the bordering fence. Such differences are the result of mismanagement.
An acceptable goal for all stock farmers should be to strive for maximum profit which can be obtained on the short term by selling animal products, while the potential of the veld should be maintained in the long term.
Veld in a good condition should satisfy two criteria, firstly it should be both highly productive and palatable to maximise financial gain in the short term and secondly it must be stable and soil erosion should be prevented to maintain the condition of the resource for future generations.
How should veld be utilised?
How does a turf of grass grow?
• Spring – With the availability of moisture and sufficient heat units, we obtain initial growth, the plant starts to sprout and will eventually foliate. For this purpose, the plant extracts reserves from the roots.
• Spring/summer – Active growth takes place in the process of producing grazing material and also a certain degree of root growth.
• Summer – The active growth phase is completed and seed develops.
• Fall/winter – The plant is now in a quiescent stage but the translocation of carbohydrates from the leaves and stems take place to replenish the reserves in the root system. Active growth of the roots takes place and also the development of the stem buds for the next season.
• Spring – The cycle is repeated.
Correct methods of grazing
• Stock numbers should never exceed the carrying capacity of the veld. It is always better to keep less animals than the maximum carrying capacity to ensure that there will always be reserves.
• Veld should not be grazed continuously but should be grazed and rested intermittently. It is preferable that a camp should not be grazed for more than 14 days at a time and after that it should rest for about 90 days. To accomplish this, there should be at least six camps available for each herd and an open rotation system should be followed.
• It is preferable that about 25 – 30% of the veld should be withdrawn from grazing for a year to replenish the reserves in the root system to ensure vitality of the plants. The best time for this long resting period is from 1st August to 31st July the next year.
The effect of incorrect grazing methods
In a four camp system with a one week grazing period and a three week resting period, the end will be total destruction. Because the root system does not have the opportunity to recuperate, the plant will lose vitality, hay production will decline, animal production will decline drastically as a result of the lower production in hay and the composition of the veld will consist of inferior annual plants and no stock farming will be possible. Again, if the reserves in the root system are not supported by long resting periods, no production of grass or meat will be possible.
For practical training in the agricultural industry, contact Louis de Jager at 082-211-1533.