Rangeland management is one of the main influencers of livestock production profitability per hectare, with poor management negatively affecting fertility, calving and animal growth, driving up production and input costs, and rendering farmers more vulnerable to climatic risks.
A study by the Agricultural Research Council and the University of the Free State found that calving percentages achieved in South Africa are relatively low, averaging around 62% on commercial farms, 48% on emerging farms, and 35% in communal areas.
“Improved and sustainable veld management could go a long way towards increasing average calving percentages, which will improve farm margins and make South Africa less reliant on beef imports,” says Dr Mias van der Westhuizen, rangeland specialist at the Free State Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.
A livestock farmer’s first objective should therefore be to look after the veld and protect it against degradation; this will repay the farmer by providing enough nutrition for the animals.
First of all, however, the farmer needs to know what type of veld is growing on the farm.
TYPES OF VELD
In South Africa’s grassland biome, found mainly on the central plateau, which includes the Free State and inland areas of KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) and the Eastern Cape, differentiation is made between sweetveld, sourveld and mixed veld based on the palatability of each. Palatability, in turn, is determined by climatic factors and soil quality.
Sourveld generally occurs in areas with poor and therefore acidic soils, rainfall above 650mm and cold winters, such as the Highveld and high-altitude areas of the Eastern Cape and KZN. “The high rainfall in these areas leaches away the minerals of the soil, leaving it with few nutrients to feed plants. Farmers with sourveld, in effect, may have high volumes of grass, but with poor palatability and nutritional value,” explains Van der Westhuizen.
Know and understand what a healthy, balanced grassland system looks like under your specific production conditions.
Manage veld in a way that unlocks animals’ full production potential, without resulting in degradation or erosion.
Give your livestock supplements to address any nutrient deficiencies they may have.
Sweetveld is found in areas with lower rainfall and milder winters, such as the central and western parts of the biome. The soils have a higher mineral status, due to the lower rainfall, resulting in more palatable plants and grasses with a higher nutritional value than those found in the sourveld.
Mixed veld occurs primarily in areas of transition, where rainfall varies between 500mm and 600mm, with sourveld growing in more acidic soils and sweetveld in more alkaline soils.
The idea behind veld management is to create a sustainable grazing ecosystem whereby veld is managed in a way that unlocks animals’ full production potential without this resulting in degradation or erosion.
Sourveld grazing is limited to its growth period in spring and summer. In contrast, sweetveld can be grazed throughout the year without resulting in a drop in animal condition over winter, provided that grazing management is sound.
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