Managed Grazing

The LAND Project is researching managed grazing and collaborating with local farmers to implement better grazing approaches on communal land in South Africa.  Managed grazing, including techniques such as Management Intensive Rotational Grazing (MIRG), provide a means for farmers and land managers to avoid degradation of their valuable pasture and grazing lands, which are often common-pool resources subject to overuse.  Compared to other pasture management methods, MIRG may improve the quality of forage and increase the potential for carbon sequestration.  (You can read more about the University of Wisconsin’s research on rotational grazing in Wisconsin here.)

In rotational grazing, livestock are rotated through relatively small pasture zones (called “paddocks”) quickly enough that the livestock feed on all varieties of available pasture plants. This reduces the impact of invasive species and maintains levels of desirable species by not allowing livestock to “pick and choose” their forage.  It also reduces compaction and the spoilage of pasture through excess defecation. Fencing is a common way to create paddocks for rotational grazing, but other low-maintenance methods include the use of salt or molasses licks or moving the available water source.

All in all the benefits of rotational grazing include increased forage mass, increased animal nutrition, soil fertility, water absorption, reduced compaction, reduced spoilage, decrease in invasive species and maintaining high levels of desirable plants.

Livestock are an important source of income and nutrition for the villagers of Mmangweni (part of Kumanzimdaka, in the Eastern Cape of South Africa where we work). However, the health of the livestock pasture is being threatened by overgrazing. The LAND Project assessed forage mass in July of 2016, during South Africa’s winter season. This preliminary assessment showed very low numbers, even lower than one would expect for the winter season. Communal pasture lands near the river had approximately 883 lbs/acre of forage, enough to support only 5 sheep (or 1 large cow) on one acre for one month. Mmangweni has approximately 802 sheep, 121 cattle, 37 goat and 3 donkeys, grazing on an undetermined amount of land (based on numbers from a LAND Project trip in 2015). Livestock health and the health of the pasture is compromised when forage mass is low. The LAND Project is working with villagers in KuManzimdaka to set up a rotational grazing system to improve pasture and animal health. We are arranging a field trip for villagers to see rotational grazing in action. If villagers conclude they want to start rotational grazing, the LAND Project will support them in finding the appropriate system that works with their time constraints, pasture plant varieties, weather, climate and animal needs.

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