The first important point to consider is the difference between veld and pasture in Southern Africa. Veld is the natural grazing which is found in the country, and it is made up of grasses, shrubs and trees. The actual species of these are different in different parts of the country and this affects the type and amount of grazing available for animals living on the veld. Veld management is the way in which the veld is treated by the farmer or rancher and is based on the following factors:-
- The Carrying Capacity of the veld. This is the maximum number of animals which can be grazed on the veld without doing any damage and destroying the natural Species. This can be worked out by an expert who looks very carefully at the grasses, trees and shrubs growing in an area of veld. It is expressed as the number of hectares of veld that will supply one animal with its basic food requirements. A Carrying Capacity of 1 to 4 means that one mature animal, a cow or a steer will require 4 hectares of veld for grazing. Carrying Capacity depends on the rainfall of the area, the species of grasses, shrubs and trees in the area and the past management of the veld by the farmer – whether it has been under-grazed or over-grazed.
- The Stocking Rate of the veld. This is the number of stock actually grazing on the veld and this factor is controlled by the farmer, who decides how many head of cattle, or sheep, to graze on a given area. The Stocking Rate should never be more than the Carrying Capacity. If the Carrying Capacity of an area of veld is 1 to 4, the Stocking Rate can be 1 to 4, 1 to 5, or 1 to 6, but it must never by 1 to 3. That would mean that 1 animal is being grazed on 3 hectares of veld, and the area would then be over-grazed. The worst mistake a farmer or rancher can commit is to over-graze his veld: this does great damage, not only to the grasses, but also to the soil. The golden rule in veld management is to allow the animals to take half the available grass.
- Management Factors. These are such things as the amount of fencing on the veld, as thisdetermines the sizes of the camps and paddocks on the farm or ranch. This, in turn, controls the Stocking Rates of these camps or paddocks. The location and distance between water points is important because if water points are too far apart the animals will not graze the distant veld areas at all; they will graze only within a reasonable walking distance of water i.e. 1.5 km. Another point is the amount of burning that is carried out on the veld: this can be caused by accidental bush fires, or it can be carried out by the farmer as part of his veld-management programme.
Having discussed the veld, let us look now at pastures. Pastures are made up of grass, but the grass has been planted and fertilised by the farmer; in other words he has treated it exactly like any other crops that he grows on his farm. In most cases, a single species of grass is planted in a pasture, and – pasture management is the management of a single crop – a monocrop. Pastures are much smaller in area than the open veld. They are well-fenced, well-watered, fertilized each year, and they are much more productive than is the veld. Their carrying capacity is much higher than that of the veld, and an example would be 4 to 1, which is 4 animals grazing on 1 hectare of pasture. Pastures are expensive to establish and maintain, and they are divided into dry land and irrigated pastures.
The management of veld and pastures differs greatly, although we are talking about the same type of plant, which is a grass.
2. VELD TYPES
Veld can be broadly classified into sweetveld, sourveld, and mixed veld. This is largely determined by the amount of rain an areas receives. Sweetveld is invariably found in areas of low rainfall while sourveld occurs in areas of relatively high rainfall with leached soils.
The main characteristics of the sweet veld are as follows:
The grass remains palatable and nutritious when mature; that is, it retains a relatively high protein status during the winter. An explanatory note here: – sweet does not refer to the actual taste, but refers to the nutritional value–of the veld. This is a point which should be clearly understood.
This particular veld type has valuable edible shrubs. Now you will note if you are familiar with the veld as we know it in this country, that it comprises not simply grasses, but also many shrubs and trees. Some of the shrubs are edible, likewise some of the trees. When we refer to the trees, however, it is the pods produced or the leaves which are edible when they fall to the ground during the autumn. Examples of edible bushes are Donkey Berry and Chinese Lantern.
This particular veld type occurs mainly at the lower elevations and is almost frost-free. This is an important point that the area is relatively free of frost. The reason for making this point is that frost has a damaging effect on the protein status of the veld. The earlier that frost occurs, the sooner the veld becomes non-nutritious, or of a relatively reduced nutritional value.
The particular veld type has a scanty and uncertain rainfall which makes growth erratic. One can immediately conclude that the sweet-veld type is found in the lower rainfall areas of the country.
It has a sparse cover and a relatively low carrying capacity. This agrees remarkably well with the pattern and distribution of the rainfall. If the rainfall is higher, then the cover obviously would be greater.
This particular veld is easily damaged by persistent grazing during the growing season. You will appreciate, because of the erratic nature of the distribution of rainfall, that, when there is moisture in the soil, a certain period should be allocated for the recovery of the grasses, and also the early establishment of seedlings. These are incredibly tiny plants and should that particular veld be subjected to continuous grazing, this will result in a tremendous amount of damage, that is, hoof damage as well as damage caused by excessive grazing. It follows, therefore, that the plant has little time for recovery or establishment as a seedling. Hence, one can introduce into the veld a degenerated condition by this excessive or heavy grazing.
The veld type is very prone to encroachment by the acacia types or the thorn -bush type shrub and trees. This particular type of plant tends to do extremely well under arid conditions. Therefore, where there is competition for moisture, and there is no grass, these plants succeed in establishing themselves and thereby increase the amount of competition. Grasses are not able to survive under these conditions and hence they become less frequent and the thorn bush establishes itself successfully, thereby eliminating the grass and reducing the carrying capacity substantially.
The veld type is largely unsuitable for mowing of hay owing to the sparse cover and the density
of the bush. When you talk about conservation of fodder for the long winter periods, it is essential that you are able to harvest as much of the fodder during the growing period as possible. But, as already pointed out, this particular veld type has a very sparse cover. It is increasingly difficult to mow this veld during the optimum growing period for recovery of the forage which should be fed during the subsequent winter.
The climatic conditions and the natural lateness of the veld usually result in poor spring grazing. This is due to the fact that the rains are normally late and also, if they do occur, they are fairly light showers at the beginning of the season. Therefore they do not contribute substantially to the relatively dry soil profile. In this case, the moisture situation of the top soil is low. It is essential, therefore, to take this into consideration when grazing that particular veld: grazing during the early part of the season should be for a fairly short period, followed by a substantially longer rest period for recovery and establishment of the veld type.
Provision against drought usually takes the form of rested camps. I other words, the farmer should have more grazing in a normal season than his cattle require, and the surplus is kept as provision against drought. But instead of cutting it and storing it as bales, which is impractical, as explained above, it is stored on the land where it has grown, by resting certain camps, so the grass does not get grazed.
It should be pointed out that the rainfall distribution pattern in these dry areas starts in October and the main rains fall during November, December, January and February. The season comes to an abrupt end in March. During the period April, May, June, July, August and September, a period of some 6 months, there is little or no rain. Hence any use of the veld should take into consideration this fact, and provision should be made for.
SUPPLY OF FORAGE DURING THE WINTER PERIODS.
In general, therefore, sweet veld can most economically be farmed where it is used solely as. winter grazing, but when circumstances demand that the livestock be carried on sweet veld throughout the year, the veld requires to be camped, that is, to be sub-divided into small, manageable paddocks, and carefully managed to keep it in a stable and vigorous condition. These two points, that is stability and vigour of the veld, are extremely important in the economic utilization of the veld for substantial beef returns at the end of the season, when we review the success or failure of our veld management programmes. Therefore, it can be said that the success of the beef enterprise depends to a very large extent on the careful and judicious application of the basic principles of veld management. These can be summarized briefly as follows:-
- Understanding the veld type which you are dealing with.
- Careful Management of that veld type within the constraints applied by the agro-ecological limitations.
- Distribution of water within the subsequent planning and utilization of the veld type.
The main characteristics of sour veld are:-
The grass sward consists almost entirely of sour grasses which provide palatable grazing only in the growing season, during which time, however, it is valuable, i.e. sour veld is unpalatable and low in protein in the winter. If we talk about sour veld and again explain what we mean when we talk about ‘sour’ then the following comes to light.
Sour, as indicated by the first characteristic, is that the grasses are palatable only during the grazing season. This type of veld is found primarily in higher rainfall areas.
It occurs mainly at elevations higher than 1 350 meters above sea level, and generally experiences a more severe climate than either sweet veld or mixed veld. The rainfall varies from 625 to 2000mm per annum. According to the type of sour veld, the veld growth is usually more regular and vigorous.
The grass sward is usually dense with a high carrying capacity.
The veld is capable of withstanding considerable harsh treatment. We must be very careful how we interpret this characteristic because any veld, regardless of type or quality can become degenerated with over use.
It is mainly very lightly bushed, and encroachment does not normally constitute a menace, although it can, particularly in a situation where there has been over grazing.
It is almost devoid of edible bush.
Some of the sour velds are mowable, others are not. This to a large extent depends on the soil types and terrain within the area. Where it is mowable, obviously, you are at an advantage, since you can mow the veld during the desirable portion of the summer and utilize the hay during the winter.
The veld usually provides good spring grazing, but is far less satisfactory in the autumn and winter. This is borne out by the definition of the sour veld. What is more is that nowadays we are able to get a certain amount of benefit from the winter grazing with the use of urea. Urea is a substitute for protein and can be used to increase the activity of the microbe organisms in the rumen for the utilization of the carbohydrates which are found in the grasses at this time of the year.
During winter, unless sweet veld is available in conjunction with sour veld Protein (or urea) supplements must be fed to cattle and sheep to make it possible for them to digest sourveld grass.
Provision for drought should take the form of fodder conservation augmented by concentrates. Remember that, as soon as you import concentrates, that is, the concentrated form of feed on the farms, the whole exercise becomes increasingly expensive. The farmer has to be aware of the situation and also to ensure that, whatever his input costs, they are minimal so that he can get maximum benefit from the performance of his animals. Invariably the increase in performance from feeding protein licks, more than compensates for the cost of the licks.
In most sour veld areas, fodder production by growing cultivated or artificial pastures is economically possible. Now this goes with the rainfall situation in that particular part of the country because if you have a high rainfall then you could embark on the exercise of dry land pastures, but again as mentioned before, pastures require a certain amount of crop knowledge. Lands have to be prepared, the pasture has to be maintained on a seasonal basis even during grazing, and the whole exercise is a little more difficult.
A majority of sour-veld farms are mixed farms, and have crop residues in the form of maize stover or other crop residue, so that drought is not as big a problem as it is in the sweet-veld areas. Also, sour-veld is usually found in the more reliable rainfall areas.
Mixed veld is intermediate in character between sweet veld and sour veld. The main characteristics are:-
It provides a certain amount of palatable grazing throughout the year. This can be deduced from the benefit of the sweet veld and the sour veld. It occurs mainly at altitudes intermediate between sweet and sour veld. Obviously the changes are not abrupt ones from the sweet-veld to the mixed-veld, and then from mixed-veld to sour-veld. There is a gradual transition from one type to the next, and the mixed veld can be predominantly sweet-veld or it can be predominantly sour-veld at either end of the transition.
The rainfall varies between 340 and 750 mm per annum. Veld growth is rather more regular and vigorous than that of sweet veld.
The veld is denser and the carrying capacity is higher than that of sweet veld.
It is more resistant to damage than sweet-veld but less so than sour-veld. Again, this characteristic has been put in here to explain the difference as far as the vigour of the particular veld is concerned.
Certain of these veld types are prone to bush encroachment. This depends upon whether it is more sweet-veld or sour-veld. This information you will glean from previous discussion.
It is moderately rich in edible bush.
In some types of veld, it is mowable. In others, the bush is too dense. This derives from the characteristics of both the sweet and the sour veld. As this is mixed scrub, you can appreciate that, where the transition is more like sweet-veld, then it is less mowable. Where the transition is more like sour-veld, then it is more mowable.
Spring is the most difficult period of the year but less so than on the sweet-veld.
Little supplementary provision for winter is required, other than suitable veld management. However, it might be wise to have a contingency plan in the form of fodder conservation, or the importation of protein licks, should this become necessary.
Provision against drought may take the form of veld hay and other conserved feeds, as explained before.
In some areas with higher rainfall and soil fertility, a certain amount of crop production may take place.
We can now summarize very briefly the main characteristics of the three veld types.
The main characteristics of sweet veld are:-
- The grass remains palatable and nutritious when mature, i.e. retains a relatively high protein status during the winter.
- It is rich in valuable edible shrubs.
- It occurs mainly at low elevations and is almost frost free.
- It has a scanty and uncertain rainfall which makes growth erratic.
- It has a sparse cover and a relatively low carrying capacity.
- It is easily damaged by persistent grazing during the growing season.
- It is very prone to encroachment by thorn bush.
- It is largely unsuitable for mowing of hay due to the sparse cover and the density of the bush.
- Provision against drought has usually to take the form of spared natural grazing.
In general, sweet veld can most economically be farmed where it is used solely as winter grazing, but where circumstances demand that the livestock be carried on sweetveld throughout the year, the veld requires to be camped and carefully managed to keep it in a stable and vigorous condition.
The main characteristics of Sourveld are:-
- The grass sward consists almost entirely of “SOUR” grasses which provide palatable grazing only in the growing season during which time however, it is valuable. Sourveld is low in protein in the winter.
- It occurs mainly at elevations over 1 350 m above sea level and generally experience a more severe climate than either sweet veld or mixed veld.
- The rainfall varies from 625 – 2000 mm per annum according to the type of sour veld and veld growth is usually more regular and vigorous.
- The grass sward is usually dense with a high Carrying Capacity.
- The veld is capable of withstanding considerable punishment.
- It is mainly very lightly bushed and encroachment does not normally constitute a menace, although it can.
- It is almost devoid of edible bush, although browse can be present albeit seasonal.
- Some of the sour velds are mowable other are not.
- The veld usually provides good spring grazing, but is far less satisfactory in the autumn.
- During winter, unless sweet veld is available in conjunction with the sour veld, provision has to be made to carry stock through the winter months in the form of protein supplements.
- In most sour veld areas fodder production by growing cultivated or artificial pastures is economically possible.
- Provision for droughts has to take the form of fodder conservation augmented by concentrates.
- A majority of sour veld farms are mixed farms and have crop residues so drought is not as big a problem as in the sweet veld areas, coupled with the fact that sour veld is usually found in more reliable rainfall areas.
MIXED VELD ONLY
Mixed veld is intermediate in character between sweet-veld and sour-veld. The main characteristics are:-
- It provides a certain amount of palatable grazing throughout the year.
- It occurs mainly at altitudes intermediate between those of sweet-veld and sour-veld.
- The rainfall varies between 340 – 750 mm per annum. Veld growth is rather more regular and vigorous than that of sweet veld.
- The sward is denser and the carrying capacity is higher than that of sweet-veld.
- It is more resistant to destruction than sweet-veld, but less so than is sour veld.
- Certain of its veld types are prone to bush encroachment.
- It is only moderately rich in edible bush.
- In some types of veld it is mowable, in others the bush is too dense.
- Spring is the most difficult period of the year, but less so than it is on the sweet veld.
- Little supplementary provision for winter is required other than suitable veld management and protein licks. However it might be wise to have a contingency plan.
- Provision against drought may take the form of veld hay and other conserved feeds.
- In some areas with higher rainfall and soil fertility, a certain amount of crop production may be undertaken.