Last update: April 10, 2012 11:31:24 AM E-mail Print

 

Veld Management in the Marginal Grassveld Areas

C. E. Tidmarsh 

 

THERE appears to be a rapidly growing interest in the conservation and management of veld among the farming communities of the marginal grassveld areas. It is therefore important that a brief outline of some of the more promising results of recent researches in this region should be submitted as a guide to the incorporation or grazing systems in practical farm management. Since, however, many farmers in the region are probably not familiar with the term marginal grassveld and what it implies, it will be as well to define the area, and describe some of its more pressing problems at the outset.

 

Outline of Region

The region, which has a mean annual rainfall ranging from about 18 to 25 inches, comprises a relatively large tract of country (approximately 10,000 square miles), bounding the Mixed Karoo areas on the north-east, east and south-east, and includes the districts of Brandfort, Bloemfontein, Thaba 'Nchu, Dewetsdorp, Reddersburg, the western portion of Wepener, the eastern portions of Edenburg, Smithfield, and Rouxville, the district of Aliwal North, the lowlands of Lady Grey, the districts of Burghersdorp, Molteno, Jamestown, the eastern portion of Tarkastad, and western portion of Queenstown.

 

Menaced by Advance of Mixed Karoo

This tract of sweet grassveld is at present in a 'critical' condition. It is seriously menaced, along its western border, by the rapid advance of the Mixed Karoo, to which it has already yielded vast areas during the past century.

Although, from the point of view of sheep farming, the conversion to mixed veld is indeed welcomed by many, it is in truth an extremely dangerous process. The inroads of the Mixed Karoo, with its sparse, open vegetation, are wreaking havoc on the soils of the grassveld areas so invaded, with the result that these areas have, in general, become the worst eroded in the country. It is both urgent and vital, therefore, that further advance of the Mixed Karoo be halted, and it is this that gives to the Marginal Grassveld region its strategic importance, and places on the fanners or this region a burden of responsibility towards the grasslands to the east, since it is here, in the sweetveld areas, that the bulwark against the destructive invasion of the Karoo must be built. This can best be achieved by consolidation of the grass cover by means of careful and judicious veld management.

 

Grazing Systems

To this end, researches were begun in 1941, on the farm Elandshoek, owned by Mr. L. S. Dorrington, in the district of Aliwal North, and these have yielded some valuable results.

1st System. -The following 3-camp system of grazing rotation, in which cattle alone were employed, has proved eminently successful.

 

This system has produced a remarkable improvement in the composition arid cover of the veld, and has maintained the cattle in good condition throughout each year, and also during the past severe drought, during which period no supplementary fodder was fed. An important feature has been the great increase in the more desirable and palatable grasses at the expense of the less nutritious species, and the high carrying capacity of 1 head of cattle per 3½ morgen attained.

2nd System. - Although there is no, doubt that the problem of veld restoration is much simplified by the elimination of sheep, and by the use of cattle alone in a system of grazing rotation our researches in the Marginal Sweetveld indicate that the veld can also be satisfactorily conserved when both cattle and sheep are employed in suitable grazing rotation, as in the 5-camp system set out below.

It will be noted that the sheep always follow the cattle in this system. The cattle, given first choice of the veld in anyone camp, graze it down fairly uniformly, and leave for the sheep an even stand of short, nutritious veld.

Both cattle and sheep have been maintained in satisfactory condition in this system, which has supported approximately 1 head of cattle and 4 sheep per 4 morgen of veld. By the inclusion of sheep with cattle, it will be noted that a great increase in the carrying capacity of the veld has been achieved, as compared with the 3-camp system outlined earlier for cattle alone.

Although, from the point of view of the, veld also, the 5-camp system, with this heavy rate of stocking, shows distinct promise of success, it would, however, be safer, in general farm practice to adopt a lighter level of stocking during the first few years at least.

 

 

3rd System. -A third system of grazing rotation, which is proving satisfactory elsewhere, and which might well be adopted in Marginal Grassveld, is the following 4-camp system, with both cattle and sheep.

 

 

This system is but a simple extension of the 3-camp system for cattle alone. The same seasonal grouping is employed, and one additional camp provided for the inclusion of sheep in the rotation. From the point of economy, this system has the advantage of the 5-camp system in necessitating one camp less, and where water provision presents even greater difficulties than fencing; this is a most important, practical consideration.

 

Grazing Periods not Rigidly Defined

An important feature of all the systems of grazing rotation outlined is that the grazing periods are not rigidly defined according to the calendar, but according to the natural and variable seasons themselves. Further, the practice of the systems is made as elastic as possible, in conformance with the erratic climate. Thus, during periods of drought, when the veld is dormant, departure is made from the schedule, and the animals allowed to graze wherever grazing is to be had. On .the advent of rain, however, return is made to the system, and the animals are again confined to the camps scheduled for that particular season.

In conclusion, it must be made clear that any of the systems outlined in this article can accommodate only a single herd of cattle, or otherwise one herd of cattle and one flock of sheep. Thus, for example, if three separate herds of cattle, and three separate flocks of sheep are to be maintained (as in common farm practice), a minimum of 12 camps is required In the case of the 4-camp system.

 

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