The Badplaas Region: History of Rangeland Management and Fodder Production

Experiences of livestock production systems based on rangeland in the Highveld & Escarpment areas of Mpumulanga – formerly the S-E Transvaal sub-region of the Transvaal Region of the Department of Agricultural Services – pre-1994.

The Badplaas Region: History of Rangeland Management and Fodder Production

Experiences of livestock production systems based on rangeland in the Highveld & Escarpment areas of Mpumulanga – formerly the S-E Transvaal sub-region of the Transvaal Region of the Department of Agricultural Services – pre-1994.

From the 1960’s through to the new millennium, farming systems underwent drastic changes in this area. At that stage the traditional livestock production systems were dominated by wooled sheep systems, based largely on summer veld grazing on the Highveld and winter veld grazing in the Escarpment areas.

The summer period was characterized by late winter / early spring burning followed by heavy and frequent defoliation by sheep with yields being sacrificed to the objection of keeping the veld short and nutritious for the sheep, which had much higher quality requirements than cattle. Rotational Rest – despite being recommended since the 1940’s and 1950’s played virtually no role. Although dairy was already a feature of most systems this was also on the basis of semi-extensive, small herds with the emphasis on summer production from veld and pasture. Beef cattle were really insignificant and consisted of extensive use of dairy breeds in systems characterized by late breeding, open breeding seasons, low conception rates, high mortality and low weaning mass. Veld condition suffered badly! The winter period was characterized by summer burning of roughly ½ of the “Trek-farm” area each year to provide short, nutritious grazing for sheep in the autumn and winter months. The impact on veld condition was drastic, but this was compensated for by the fact that a particular area was rested for 1 ½ growing seasons (October – January / February) before being burnt and heavily grazed. At this time livestock farming in the S-E Transvaal underwent some drastic changes:

Planting of timber plantations in the Escarpment Areas expanded dramatically and tempting land prices resulted in the abandonment of the Trek System – The incidence of summer burning and winter grazing in these escarpment areas; the reduction in sheep numbers and a shift to beef production resulted in shift to taller grass species (especially Hyparrhenia & Hyperthelia). These escarpment areas are still essentially sourveld and the winter period was increasingly characterized by grazing of rested veld using supplementing licks, the use of crop residues from an expanded use of cropland and to some extent conserved fodder (especially Eragrostis hay and Digitaria foggage).

The expanded use of protein supplements for especially sheep on rested veld provided the traditional trek farmer with at least a partial solution for his over wintering problem which had been exaggerated by the loss / sale of escarpment trek farms. The advantage of this practice was that these farmers now at least practiced a rotational resting system to provide roughage for the winter.

Other solutions for the winter, especially for animals with higher nutritional requirements were provided by cereal and root crops planted on conserved moisture either in pure stands or as ley crops between spaced maize

  • hay and foggage from planted pastures on marginal cropping soils
  • silage crops from a better potential cropping soils
  • crop residues from each crops which had been expanded on the Eastern Highveld.

In the 1970’s and ‘80’s the expansion of dairy enterprises resulted in the increased use of pasture and fodder crops for such enterprises, while beef and sheep enterprises become increasingly dependant on veld and low input pastures. Lucerne, in pure stands or in mixtures with grass and in rotation with maize remained one of the options, which had not received wide expectance probably because of high management inputs.

With respect to veld utilization there was a period when controlled utilization (controlled selective grazing, high production grazing and even non-selective grazing) received considerable attention, but these principles -whilst being widely accepted and applied in more extensive rangelands – never became popular in the higher rainfall sourveld areas, where simplistic recipes involving: rotational resting, rotational controlled burning and stocking rates adjusted to current veld condition were more acceptable to farmers who had heavy management commitments in other (of more profitable) enterprises.

Since the 1990’s many of these farms have reverted back to extensive beef productions systems, game farms and the odd one or two cash cropping enterprises. This region stretches over an area that’s altitude changes from as high as 1720m down to as low as 450m above see level. This change in altitude results in this area having a high agricultural diversity and potential, and can be regarded as being one of the more important agricultural areas in the Mpumalanga province.

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