Nature vs science – stocking the Karoo – Stop wasting time

The article, the trial, the thinking of the academics involved and the conclusions can only be described as pathetic. Firstly, the terminology used is incorrect.

- Advertisement -

What they refer to as a stocking rate is actually stock density and what they refer to as grazing capacity is generally known as stocking rate. Secondly, they tried to test a variable (stock density) by applying a ridiculously low range of stock densities (4, 8 and 16 SSU/ha).

This is analogous to testing whether sugar (stock density) will sweeten tea (improve veld) by applying 1, 2 and 3 grains of sugar per cup of tea. No matter how much stirring is done or which panel of judges is to taste the tea, the inevitable conclusion has to be that sugar does not sweeten tea.

Thirdly, they have no definite conclusion: “We think that a low stocking rate has the least detrimental long-term effect on the veld. This doesn’t mean that a high stocking rate should be avoided”. They could just as well have said that they ‘think’ that one grain of sugar in a cup of tea has less health hazards than three grains of sugar, but that should not prevent you from taking more sugar!

- Advertisement -

For over 50 years, farmers have tried to test and prove the beneficial effects of time-controlled, high animal impact and severe grazing on veld and overall farm profitability. Many of these efforts have been ignored or ridiculed by academics. The more diplomatic, yet feeble, response has been that “this approach is not currently advocated by the department of agriculture because there is no long-term data to support these contentions”. (Farmer’s Weekly 19 July 2002, pg 26).

Judging by the efforts of Prof Hennie Snyman, Gerrit du Toit and Paul Malan, the ‘scientists’ will never be able to prove much. The academics have clearly been left behind in terms of what farmers have achieved on the ground on a practical scale. Their thinking and conclusions are irrelevant. For the benefit of interested farmers I would like to highlight the following:

  • The highest stock density of 16 SSU/ha achieved by the three researchers is peanuts in comparison to the 8 000 SSU/ha achieved by André Lund of Beaufort West.
  • There is a threshold (unique to each environment) in terms of animal impact that has to be exceeded if certain results are to be expected. In the Karoo this was historically achieved by the movement of millions of springbok in a single herd. The effects can’t be duplicated by 16 sheep/ha for an extended period as attempted by the scientists.
    Another example from tropical sourveld relates to grass utilisation. Herd A was moved daily. Herd B was moved through four ‘paddocks’ per day. Herd B was able to utilise the veld 100% by being exposed to small areas of fresh grazing. Herd A, on the other hand, quickly fouled its larger allocation of fresh grazing resulting in only 50% utilisation. The stock density of Herd A was extremely high, but not high enough. If there was no Herd B to compare with then the obvious, and erroneous conclusion would be that high stock density does not aid grass utilisation.
  • Time is an extremely important variable the scientists never considered. The effects of 16 sheep/ha for days, weeks or months is not the same as 8 000 sheep/ha for an hour. One sheep walking between two points every day for one year will create a well worn path, but 8 000 sheep walking between two points once every few years will not create a path.
    The problem of dung and urine deposition at the water point does not occur if stock density is high enough and timing is appropriate. The opposite will be the case. Imagine the effect of rain on plants after concentrated fertilisation (365kg of fertiliser on 1ha at a particular time is not the same as 1kg per day over 365 days).

Regardless of what the so-called scientists may say, farmers can be assured that they can improve their veld as well as their bottom line by applying very high animal impact. The increase in carrying capacity and profit per hectare on a sustainable basis is nothing less than double the current and probably much more.

My suggestion to the scientists from the University of the Free State is to stop wasting time and money on useless research. Rather heed the words of Thomas Huxley: “Science is nothing but organised common sense”.