Are we mimicking Nature by grazing the “top third” or by preventing “overgrazing at all times?”

Similar scenes to that in the above photo of Wildebeest migrating over the plains of Western Zambia inspired Allan Savory to suggest that we have to replace cattle with wildlife in order to manage veld appropriately. Later, with the Non-Selective Grazing concept of John Acocks from South Africa he realized that cattle can be used in lieu of severe grazing wildlife. The problem that Savory encountered was the inability of ranchers to mimic the predator pry effect by implementing sufficiently high Stock Density.  This was achieved on 12th January 1995 via portable electric fences.

I, and others, have made many mistakes since then due to the fact that we concentrated on managing for maximum grass growth at the expense of cattle body condition.  It is variously suggested that we graze “selectively” or “only the top third”.  This is NOT the answer.

If we consider the situation of grazing in nature, as depicted in the above photo we realise:

  1. Impact is essential.
  2. Overgrazing (repeated defoliation) does occur due to groups / herds of grazers that are territorial.

Therefore in managing for maximum sustainable profit / ha we have to keep the following in mind:

  1. Maximum grass does not necessarily translate into maximum productivity, particularly on sourveld (low octane grazing).  In such circumstances we have to shorten the recovery period at certain times to benefit body condition.
  2. Non-Selectivity of grazing is essential in order to achieve efficient grass harvesting without negative changes in species composition.
  3. A drought reserve is essential.
  4. In arid environments high animal impact may not be required at every grazing. However, it is essential at periodic intervals.

Let’s use common sense in all our breeding and management decisions.