In the face of an extreme drought that has devastated large parts of the Karoo, including the Klein Karoo, it is important for farmers to learn how to mitigate the extreme conditions exacerbated by climate change, and to save their natural pasture.
A workshop where these mitigating principles were discussed, was presented by Sarah Cromhout of the Herding Academy, in conjunction with Dr Chavoux Luyt of the Cape Leopard Trust.
Seven participants, including commercial farmer, Herman van der Walt, conservationist, Louis Jordaan, Tembelihle Mjamba from CapeNature, Jan Jordaan of the National Wool Growers Association (NWGA), and smallholders Bridget Lloyd, Sally Adams, and Sue Harris, attended the workshop at Bella de Karoo guest house between Oudtshoorn and Calitzdorp.
The Herding Academy is a holistic learning centre where the ancient skill of herding animals is applied within a holistic decision-making framework to regenerate the landscape and bridge the socio-economic and cultural barriers between humans and wildlife throughout Southern Africa. The Academy, which is based in Graaff Reinet in the Eastern Cape, endeavours to revive the skills of herding livestock to mimic the effect of migratory wild herds of antelope that once roamed the land, to the benefit of the ecosystem.
The CATHSETA-accredited courses are presented by trained professionals and herders who provide practical holistic insight to landowners and student employees, and provide practical herding training to rural and communal stock farmers through short courses. The course outline usually focuses on teaching both theory and practice to address the ever-changing environmental and social challenges.
The course is based on the approach of Allan Savory, the father of regenerative farming, who states: “No individual parts exist in nature, but only wholes, and these form and shape each other.” Holism includes four aspects: a holistic approach, the brittleness of the landscape, the predator-prey connection, and time. All the parts of the farming system and nature are closely related and every decision that is made has an influence on something else. Ecosystems, which include farming systems, are rated on a scale of brittle to average or normal. When the ecosystem is brittle, it is subjected to erratic rainfall and an unpredictable climate. When it is normal, there is little variation between the years and seasons, high biodiversity, and predictable climate.
It is crucial to understand the brittleness scale of land, which indicates the way it responds to different influences, such as the annual humidity, or the lack thereof, throughout the year. A dry landscape is more brittle or fragile and may deteriorate far quicker than a resilient landscape where the annual rainfall is higher, and the veld responds quicker. In brittle systems, the duration of grazing and the mowing effect thereof is more important than the number of animals grazing it. This must be managed to prevent overgrazing. Plants and animals evolve together, and it is necessary to understand the predator-prey connection to the health of the land in brittle environments. In more brittle environments pack-hunting predators result in large herbivores moving in herds.
Prey-predator interaction has an important influence on naturally brittle systems, and the interaction can be used to mimic the mowing (grazing) and trampling (hoof action) effect of a herd. Time, and not the number of animals in the landscape, governs the health of the rangeland. Plants need time to recover once they have been disturbed by grazing and the hoof action of the animals grazing it.
“Eco-processes form part of ecoliteracy, which is how we read the landscape,” says Sarah. “These are also linked to each other and cannot be looked at individually.”
Four eco-processes are fundamental to all ecosystems: the water cycle, mineral cycle, community dynamics, and energy flow.
• The water or hydrological cycle refers to the movement of water from the atmosphere to the soil or oceans and through plant and animal life before it returns to the atmosphere.
• The mineral cycle refers to the movement of minerals from the soil to the plants growing in it, to the animals that eat the plants, and back into the soil again.
• Community dynamics, or succession, is the constant state of flux within a biological community. This includes the ever-changing composition of a landscape, the elements in the micro-environment, and the interplay of plant and animal species.
• Energy flow refers to the sun’s energy that allows green plants to grow through photosynthesis into the food that fuels all life.
The context should include these four processes and how the farmer wants these processes to look on his land. “Good management means we base our decisions on the context. The tools available to us depend on human creativity, money, and labour,” says Sarah.
A context description is fundamental to managing complexity as it shapes and informs decision-making toward a preferred future outcome. All conflict has a common origin, which includes that which is being managed, the people involved, the aim of the action, what we need to understand to manage, and what resource base and money are available to do it.
Management tools for effective impact on the veld include:
• resting of the veld,
• biodiversity, namely the variety of living organisms in an ecosystem,
• a grazing plan for the pruning effect and hoof action of a herd, and
• fire with controlled burns and a fire plan.
The main principles of drought management include:
For grazing, it is important to know the critical dates such as the changes of seasons so as to know when the veld is ready to be utilised. It is crucial to adjust the stocking rate to the carrying capacity, even if it involves reducing herds to breeding animals during a lengthy drought. It is equally important to use longer rest periods for the veld to allow it to recover completely. Rather combine herds to reduce the grazing period of a veld, especially if the veld is more brittle due to drought. Plan, and replan cash flow, as well as stock flow. It is essential to estimate in advance whether feed will be available, and plan destocking in time. “Never, ever drought feed,” she says. It is important to plan long-term water availability to take care of the land to the best of your ability. Also, ensure that your farming includes various income streams compatible with risk. “One must manage for a healthy, diverse, and perennial pasture.”
Everything revolves around grazing
Bridget Lloyd farms Meatmaster sheep on a smallholding of 18 ha at Noll’s Halt about 30 km from Uniondale. “Everything revolves around grazing for the sheep,” says Bridget. “I have been trying to do it regeneratively with no artificial fertilisers, pesticides, using mixed cover crops rather than monocrops. I use minimal tillage and restore the veld – no-till planters are costly, and I can’t afford them. But I am already seeing a difference!” According to Bridget, she has been following the Herding Academy ‘from afar’, but their executive land management courses were too expensive to attend.
“I booked as soon as I saw the workshop advertisement. I have heard some of the information presented by following the Academy, reading articles, watching videos and documentaries, and YouTube clips. But I will most definitely benefit from the workshop as it makes the information more tangible having it explained with concrete examples. “Being on a smallholding makes it more challenging than on a large farm, but I have already been walking around, looking at what I can apply and use and adapt for my circumstances.”
She will be interested in joining future workshops. “I took two friends along and they are also interested. I would also take Aubrey, the guy who works part-time on my farm, as I think he would also benefit.”
The next workshop on the management of problem-causing animals, such as jackal, caracal, and leopard, takes place on 19 April at Bella de Karoo. Advance booking is advised. Course cost: R200. Book in advance at capeleopard.org.za/shop/events
Contact Sarah Cromhout at the Herding Academy at email@example.com
Contact Chavoux Luyt at the Cape Leopard Trust at firstname.lastname@example.org.