At a talk on veld management, the late John Fair (pastures consultant and agricultural writer), made a point to an audience of cattlemen that their source of income was not from livestock but from veld. The cattle were there to convert that veld into cash. After that, he had their undivided attention!
Grass plays an essential role in nature, especially as a source of food, but also to provide shelter and nesting material. There are few food chains that do not include grass in some form or other. The reason for this is that grass occurs very widely over the subcontinent and is virtually always edible. It is usually the animals at the bottom of the food chain that utilise grass. Most predators are therefore also indirectly dependent on grass.
South Africa is blessed with good, mainly perennial grazing grasses which occur naturally in the region. Many of our grasses, such as weeping love grass (Eragrostis curvula), couch grass (Cynodon dactylon), guinea grass (Panicum maximum), Smuts finger grass (Digitaria eriantha) and Blue buffalo grass (Cenchrus ciliaris) are cultivated worldwide as grazing. Refer to the “Fodder crops” page.
Veld management should focus on maximising grass cover. Well covered soils can retain up to three times as much water (Meissner, 2020). This is important for effective water retention in soils, combating soil erosion and beneficial to forage production.
Sources [Adapted from] Van Oudtshoorn F. 2016. Guide to Grasses of Southern Africa. Pretoria: Briza. Meissner H. 2020. “What lies ahead for livestock farming towards 2050?” RPO January Newsletter. Available at https://rpo.co.za/information-centre/rpo/newsletters.
Broad veld types
What is Sweetveld and what is Sourveld?
These are broad veld types and refer to the palatability or sweetness of the veld as it is affected by temperature and rainfall.
- Sweetveld is palatable throughout the year.
- Sourveld is generally unpalatable in winter due to high rainfall in these areas which has leached the soil over many years and leaves the soil with a low pH. This leaves the grasses low in nutrients. Animals should thus be provided with licks in the winter.
Why is sweetveld “sweet”?
Sweetveld occurs in areas with low rainfall and mild winters. The soil is fertile due to little leaching and therefore the grass grows in fertile soil and has a high nutritional value. Due to the sweetness of the grass, sweetveld is easily overgrazed. Dry bushveld and karoo are examples of sweetveld.
What is mixed veld?
Mixed veld occurs between sweetveld and sourveld. It is an intermediate form between the two and has characteristics of both. In mixed veld, sweetveld grasses usually occur in protected parts with fertile soil e.g. in the lower lying parts and next to rivers. Sourveld grasses, on the other hand, occur in open areas.
Why is sweetveld sensitive to overgrazing?
In sweetveld areas, available surface water is very scarce, especially during winter, with a subsequent sparse distribution of grazers. Sweetveld did not adapt to continuous grazing, but rather short periods of grazing by migrating animals. These areas are also more prone to droughts e.g. the karoo. During times of drought, when the veld is already in a condition of stress, the most damage is caused through overgrazing.
Sources [Adapted from]: Van Oudtshoorn F. 2016. Guide to Grasses of Southern Africa. Pretoria: Briza.
Reclamation is often the only alternative to making land more productive, even if it is not profitable over the short term. The aim of veld reclamation is to obtain a dense plant population, and thereby protect the soil and offer grazing. No veld reclamation project can succeed if it is not accompanied by improved grazing practices or not fully supported by the land owners.
- Rows of stones can be stacked along the contours to obstruct the runoff of water, improving the moisture status of the soil.
- Stone walls can be stacked in crescent-shaped rows with the crescent facing the top of the slope. Grasses and trees can be established within these crescents.
- Small dams can be made in the bare patches with a hand hoe, with the walls at the bottom of the slope. Here again, grasses can be established on the walls.
- Branches or grass hay can be packed over the bare patches which protects the patches against wind and sun. It also protects new seedlings against early grazing and the elements of nature.
- Where slopes are involved deep holes can be dug and trees planted in the holes. The holes can be only partially filled with soil so that enough water collects in the holes. Grasses can also be established in the holes, together with the trees.
- Depending on the money you have at your disposal, there are fertilisation measures that may be applied.
- With the reclamation of erosion gullies or dongas, an attempt is made to break the speed of runoff water in the gullies and to collect sediment.
- The cheapest method is to stack a stone wall in the gully. This wall catches up the sediment but allows the water to pass through slowly. Stones are often placed in wire baskets (gabions) and used for this purpose.
- Branches can also be stacked in gullies to capture sediment.
- Parallel rows of vetiver grass or common reed can be planted across the gully. These grasses capture sediment and a natural wall is formed over time.
- Reeds can also be planted on the upper side of the wall (where sediment accumulates) to stabilise the sediment and to filter the water.
Grasses and veld reclamation
Grasses used for reclaiming veld must be adapted to the climate of the immediate surroundings. The trend is to use perennial grasses because they are denser and offer greater coverage. Palatable grasses should be avoided, particularly where grazing animals cannot be removed from the area. The grasses can be sown if seed is available. Some effective indigenous grasses are: Eragrostis curvula, Andropogon gayanus, Cynodon dactylon, Stipagrostis uniplumis, Aristida canescents, Eragrostis lehmanniana, Eragrostis superba and Hyparrhenia hirta.
Source: Guide to Grasses of Southern Afica. Frits van Oudtshoorn; an article by JCO du Toit in African Journal of Range and Forage Science, Vol 26(2), pp. 97-102.
For the newcomer
Veld is defined as uncultivated land on which indigenous or other vegetation occurs which can be grazed by animals. It provides the main forage resource for livestock and wildlife in South Africa, with supplementary feed, mainly in the form of irrigated or dryland pastures and fodder crops, grown by some livestock farmers to provide forage for the dry winter season (see the “Fodder crops” page).
The proper management of veld is vital to its continued productivity and the production of domestic livestock and game. Mismanagement leads to:
- Overgrazing – this occurs when the number of animals per unit area of land (the stocking rate) exceeds the number of animals the vegetation of land can support (i.e. carrying capacity). The recommended grazing capacity may be obtained from the Departmental norms or from veld condition assessments.
- Erosion – is the excessive soil loss through the action of water or wind.
- Bush encroachment – occurs as a result of overgrazing, badly timed burning, drought and incorrect combination of animals (grazers and browsers).
- Desertification – is a process which arises through bad land use. The end result of desertification is the total degradation of land which is extremely difficult to reverse.
The number of animals that can be run on a farm must not exceed the grazing capacity of that farm. If stock numbers exceed the grazing capacity then:
- There will be insufficient fodder for livestock resulting in deterioration of the condition.
- Overgrazing of palatable species will result in reduced productivity and veld deterioration.
- All living organisms require rest, yet resting of veld is not practiced by many farmers.
- Rested veld contains a high proportion of palatable species and provides excellent winter fodder.
- Rested veld promotes vigour and plant regrowth.
A land user may apply the following measures to protect their land against degradation:
- Reduce animal numbers on veld showing signs of deterioration – or move them.
- Make use of a suitable grazing crop established to supplement the natural grazing.
- Should any part of the veld show signs of wind erosion, suitable wind breaks should be created either mechanically or biologically. Denuded areas should be covered with either branches, hay, stray crop residues or any other suitable material.
Rotational grazing is highly recommended. Fencing assists with the division of camps and is used as a management tool to control veld condition.
You might use, say, a four-camp system. Each one of these is given the chance to rest for a year while livestock are rotated every two months among the other three camps.
Some suggest “high density, short duration” where the grazing period is one to three days. A large number of camps are needed, sometimes laid out in a wagon wheel configuration to help with logistics like watering and stock management.
When veld is rested, plants have the time to recover and reseed, and roots are strengthened. When livestock is left to graze everything in sight, the veld never gets the opportunity to recover, leading to soil erosion and reduced water infiltration. Instead of soaking into the ground, rain water runs off it and away.
Source: “Get the grazing right!” in Farmer’s Weekly 14 December 2014; Farmer’s Weekly, 17 January 2014 p 25
National strategy and government contact
Grasslands are critical water storage, biodiversity and food production areas for South Africa, yet 65% of South Africa’s grasslands have been irreversibly transformed (Dugmore, 2012).
Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development (DALRRD) www.dalrrd.gov.za
- Directorate: Land Use and Soil Management
- Directorate: Animal Production Veld and Forage Resources sub-division
Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE) www.dffe.gov.za
South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) www.sanbi.org
- Ecosystems Services Unit www.sanbi.org/biodiversity
The Agricultural Research Council (ARC) is involved in Rangeland Monitoring. Find details under the next heading.
- Find the list of members at www.grassland.org.za. An additional source of role players is the most recent delegate list for the GSSA congress.
Associations and NGOs
The Grassland Society of Southern Africa (GSSA) advances rangeland ecology and pasture management in Africa through its Congress held in July each year, during which current research is presented to a mixed audience of scientists, practitioners and consultants. The Congress includes field trips to practical demonstrations of grassland science in practice, as well as special farmer information days and courses.
The GSSA publishes the internationally recognised African Journal of Range and Forage Science, and the popular publication, Grassroots. The website of the Society hosts all back issues of Grassroots as well as a searchable database of literature relevant to all aspects of grassland science. Grassland science encompasses applied fields such as livestock production, wildlife management, nature conservation, water catchment management and range and mine-dump rehabilitation. The disciplines that it encompasses include, amongst others, ecology, botany, zoology, range and pasture science, animal science, soil science and genetics.
The GSSA intermittently produces information days in collaboration with other organisations on a range of subjects, and has recently unveiled a mentorship programme to provide support to young scientists. The GSSA hosts a members’ expertise database for the public who seek expert advice in different areas. Find contact details for the GSSA, other associations and role players below.
Training and research
It is essential that ongoing research be undertaken to increase understanding of the driving forces that determine changes in vegetation. The productivity of all the rangelands of South Africa has been deteriorating as a result of inter alia desertification, bush encroachment and the loss of palatable plant species. Should this deterioration be allowed to continue unchecked, sustainable animal and food production will not be possible in the long term.
The Grassland Research Database is a fully searchable database that provides an easy to use gateway to all research in the grassland biome. Find it under “Resources” at http://grassland.org.za. Funding is available intermittently for postgraduate student research – contact info [at] grassland.org.za.
Agricultural colleges cover grasses (grassland science) and pastures in their diplomas. Short courses on veld management are also presented.
Find notes on the Agricultural Research Council (ARC) Animal Production campus below. The ARC conducts research on the ecology and management of rangelands, and is involved with traininig and community projects.
Research is also undertaken at provincial departments of agriculture, universities, the South African National Parks (SANParks) and the provincial tourism bodies.
Websites and publications
Find the African Journal of Range & Forage Science, official publication of the Grasslands Society of Southern Africa at www.tandfonline.com.
Grassroots, the Newsletter of the Grassland Society of Southern Africa and incorporating the Bulletin, is published quarterly and distributed to all members and subscribers as well as a select VIP mailing list. It can also be downloaded at www.grassland.org.za.
The Best practice reference manual for wool sheep farming in South Africa, available in English and Afrikaans, includes notes on dealing with invading alien plants management. Find the document on www.capewools.co.za or www.nwga.co.za.
Find the many articles and publications at http://gadi.agric.za, website of the Grootfontein Agricultural Development Institute.
A number of pamphlets on grasslands and pastures can be viewed at www.arc.agric.za.
Several publications are available from ARC-Animal Production in Irene. Call 012 672 9111 for the following:
- Scale-related vegetation sampling
- Strategic Use of Intercropping for Small-Scale Farming Systems
- The wheel-point method of survey and measurement of semi-open grasslands and Karoo vegetation in South Africa
- Amasu oku Tshalahlangana anga setshenziswa ngabalimi abanendawo encane
- Know Your Veld
- Principles in managing veld
- Cultivated pastures for South Africa, a compilation of 25 brochures on indigenous and exotic pasture species for use under dry land and irrigated conditions
Find “Bird-friendly burning and grazing best-practice for grasslands” at www.birdlife.org.za
- Coleman A. 2022, December 12. “First global study on the effects of livestock grazing”. Farmer’s Weekly. Available at www.farmersweekly.co.za/agri-news/south-africa/first-global-study-on-the-effects-of-livestock-grazing
- Hofmeyr I. 2022, June 16. “The gift of grass-fed meat”. AgriOrbit. Available at https://agriorbit.com/the-gift-of-grass-fed-meat
- Phillips L. 2019, April 28. “Beefing up cattle using the continuous grazing system”. Farmer’s Weekly. Available at www.farmersweekly.co.za/animals/cattle/beefing-up-cattle-using-the-continuous-grazing-system
- Global Rangelands “Access Thousands of Rangelands Resources” https://globalrangelands.org
- On the National Wool Growers Association (NWGA) website, www.nwga.co.za, resources include grazing and pasture management DVDs (links to Youtube where these can be watched).
- Read about the GEOGLAM Rangelands and Pasture Productivity initiative (GEOGLAM RAPP) on www.geoglam.org.
- Acocks J.P.H. & Zacharias P.J.K. 1990. Acock’s notes: key grasses of South Africa. Howick: Grassland Society of Southern Africa.
- Gibbs Russell G.E., Watson L., Koekemoer M., Smook L., Barker N.P., Anderson H.M. & Dallwitz M.J. 1991. Grasses of Southern Africa. Pretoria: National Botanic Gardens.
- Dannhauser C., & Jordan J. 2014. Practical Veld and Pasture Management. Contact Kejafa at 014 577 8006 or order via www.kejafa.com.
- Fouche H., Avenant P. & van der Westhuizen M. 2014. Grasses of the Kalahari Vegetation Types. Upington: KLK Landbou.
- Moffett R. 1997. Grasses of the Eastern Free State. Phuthaditijhaba: Qwa-Qwa Campus University of the North
- Van Oudtshoorn F. 1999. Guide to the Grasses of South Africa. Pretoria: Briza. A full-colour guide to the common grasses of southern Africa and includes descriptions and illustrations of the 300 most important grasses in southern Africa. There are more than 800 excellent colour photographs.
- Van Oudtshoorn F. 2015. Veld Management Principles and Practices. Pretoria: Briza. Also available in Afrikaans. Contact 012 329 3897.
- Van Oudtshoorn F. 2016. Guide to Grasses of Southern Africa. Pretoria: Briza.
- Smith G. 2004. Sasol First Field Guide to Grasses of Southern Africa. Cape Town: Struik Nature.
- Tainton N.M., Bransby D.J., & Booysen P. 1990. Common veld and pasture grasses of Natal. Pietermaritzburg: Shuter and Shooter.
- Tainton N.M. 1999. Veld Management in South Africa. Pietermaritzburg: University of Natal Press.
See the “Invasive Alien Species” page
Veld and pasture management
- Bothma J. & Toit J.G. du (eds.). 2010. Game ranch management. Fifth edition. Pretoria: JL van Schaik.
- Danckwerts J.E. & Teague W.R. 1989. Veld Management in the Eastern Cape. Pretoria: Government Printer.
- Engelbrecht A., Kirkman K. & Swanepoel A. 2004. Veld and Pasture Management Guidelines for Sustainable Animal Production on the Mpumalanga Highveld. Pretoria: Department of Agriculture.
- Esler K.J., Milton S.J. & Dean W.R.J. 2006. Karoo veld – ecology and management. Pretoria: Briza.
- Frame J. 1992. Improved grassland management. Ipswich: Farming Press.
- Smith B. 2006. The farming handbook. Pietermaritzburg: University of KwaZulu-Natal Press.
- Snyman H. 2012. Gids tot die Volhoubare Produksie van Weiding. Order it from Landbouweekblad at 021 406 4962 or lbw [at] media24.com.
- Tainton N.M (ed.). 1999. Veld and pasture management in South Africa. Pietermaritzburg: Shuter and Shooter.
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