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.
Veld (rangeland) 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” chapter).
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 “Forage and pastures” chapter.
The Grassland Biome is considered to have an extremely high biodiversity, second only to the Fynbos Biome. It is one of the most seriously threatened vegetation types in South Africa, with more than 40% irreversibly transformed. Agricultural activities are largely responsible for this, with maize, sunflowers, sorghum and wheat extensively cultivated, and livestock farming also impacting on the remaining grassland areas. Furthermore, a considerable portion of this biome has been impacted by mining, industrial and urban development.
Sources [Adapted from]: ARC-Plant Protection News, Issue 9. Guide to Grasses of South Africa, Frits van Oudtshoorn.
2. 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.
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