The Namibian livestock industry is in decline. There is a large-scale loss of palatable perennial grasses, widely spread bush encroachment, and Namibia is regarded as a country that will be severely affected by climate change.
To counter this trend, the Department of Agriculture, Water and Forestry (DAWF), together with industry partners such as the Namibian Farmers’ Union, initiated and developed an innovative rangeland policy that can annually add N$4 billion to the GDP if fully implemented.
ProAgri BNZ will publish extracts from the policy document to make sure that all farmers understand this plan that can help them to survive the next drought.
The best practices presented in this section are intended to give an idea of methods available and how they have been applied.
Case study 4: Holistic management (b)
*Part (a) is in our previous ProAgri BNZ edition.
Multi-camp with ultra-high-density grazing (few herds and long recovery) High stocking rate and non-selective grazing
With non-selective grazing, a drop in the body condition of animals must be effectively mitigated because the animals are forced to eat grass they would not normally eat. This creates competition between animals, forcing them to eat more.
During this process, the shy feeders will drop out. This must be overcome by farming with animals that have a good inherent body condition score; frequently moving livestock to ensure that they move onto fresh grass; adequate recovery periods to produce improved grass; rumen supplementation; and farming in sync with naturally occurring nutrition.
Sound breeding and management practices that select for good body condition score and early maturing animals will result in better production figures. Johann Zietsman, veteran cattleman and former researcher of the University of Pretoria, believes that small-framed animals have an unfair advantage over large-framed animals because they are more efficient grass converters, fatter, more fertile, and do not need high levels of nutrition to be productive.
Johann also says: “If your goal is maximum production per animal, the biggest obstacle is the scale, tape measure and computer … I am not saying that one cannot measure at all, but inappropriate criteria for current performance testing have to be reviewed and replaced by appropriate selection criteria.”
Communal and title deed – Planned grazing and combined herding (flexible but mostly high density, with few herds and variable recovery as grazing intensity can be controlled daily)
Outokotorua grazing area in Ehirovipuka Conservancy
At the National Rangeland Forum in 2018, Amon Kapi said: “Farmers in the Northern Communal Areas of Namibia know from experience that it is not only the quantity and distribution of rain that determines the productivity of the grass and their animals, but also the management of grazing and livestock that makes a difference.”
Amon explained the approach of planned grazing and combined herding of livestock, where wildlife and tourism are also important. He shared what the farmers from the Outokotorua grazing area of the Ehirovipuka Communal Conservancy are doing to develop synergies between key land use options in the area.
“The grazing area has boundaries agreed to by the conservancy and the neighbours, and the ‘camps’ have no fences. All livestock within the grazing area are combined into a single herd, herded daily by herders according to a grazing plan based on the principles included in the National Rangeland Management Policy and Strategy Coordinating Unit (NRMPS). Currently, the herd being managed has about 500 productive cattle and is herded by four workers. The grazing plan is flexible to accommodate recovery of grass plants, animal performance needs, as well as the impact of animals on the grass.”
The principles of planned grazing and combined herding that the conservancy farmers practice include the following:
1. Having a growing season and nongrowing season grazing plan.
2. Taking livestock to each part of the grazing area only twice per year: once in the growing season and once in the non-growing season.
3. Allowing for selection and recovery in the growing season.
4. Bringing in as many animals as the land can support in the dry season until the next rains are expected in February.
5. Grazing firebreaks first around the grazing area to prevent fire, and leaving the best grass close to the kraal for the calving season.
Amon also explained the way in which the community manages the herds by joint budgeting and payment of herders. The stockmen on foot control the animals from sunrise to sunset, using low stress livestock handling techniques. Their close proximity to the animals does not stress the animals. Although herders are isolated, they are equipped with spotlights, torches, crackers and radio communication.
Most of the cattle owners live close to Opuwo or adjacent villages and are able to give good support to the herders. This approach of herding during the day and kraaling at night ensures that there are only a few losses due to predators.
Increased stocking rate and animal performance
Having only one herd makes management relatively simple within the conservancy. Bulls run with the cows all year, resulting in high conception rates when the forage is good. Herding the animals reduces the distance they move every day, which conserves their energy. Every evening, the animals return to lion-proof kraals for the night, where water is provided to ensure that they get adequate water in the mornings and evenings, as well as targeted supplements in the evenings.
This approach ensures fresh grass for the animals every day, with the added benefit that the grazing promotes grass growth, ensuring higher grass quality in the following year. In addition, no livestock losses to predators have been experienced over the past two years, whereas livestock owners in neighbouring grazing areas experienced up to N$80 000 in livestock losses per month due to lions and hyenas. The watering system enables elephants to drink freely without disturbing the livestock.
Amon stressed the importance of monitoring animals on a daily basis to see whether they have adequate food, are healthy and free of ticks, or are pregnant. Herd numbers are also checked twice daily for theft and losses. Last year’s drought caused forage shortages, which was worsened by game migrating into the conservancy’s grazing area. Other challenges are ‘grass poaching’ from neighbouring farms; getting and keeping well-trained stockmen; and managing stockmen from a distance.
Working as a group and reaching consensus on management affairs is not always an easy task. Amon and the grazing area committee are currently pursuing liaison with conservancies and tour operators to develop mutually beneficial arrangements for sustainability.
Advantages of planned grazing and combined herding
The most important benefit of the conservancy’s approach is the good grass production, which ensures excellent animal performance and calving percentages. Due to correct kraaling, infrastructure and good herders, communal farmers are living in harmony with predators and elephants. An added benefit of farming without fences is that it keeps costs down and increases the value of wildlife tourism. Creating large-scale employment for semi-skilled workers could be another spin-off of the approach.
The rest of the rangeland approaches or case studies will be discussed in our next edition.
*The National Rangeland Management Policy (NRMP) was approved in 2012. In 2014, the NRMPS Project was commissioned in support of this policy under the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry (MAWF), to address the declining natural resource base in Namibia.
Extract from Reviving Namibia’s Livestock Industry, Regenerative Livestock Production Trends, Key Profit Drivers, Case Studies and Recommendations, NRMP Best Practice Strategy Document (Revised edition from 2012 NRMPS), based on Namibia Rangeland Management Policy (NRMP): A