Animal production in Southern Africa has traditionally relied on natural veld for part of or the entire life cycle of the animal. The cost of beef production from the veld will always be the lowest, even at expensive land prices.

Veld production

It is generally understood that veld management practices can lead to either the deterioration or the improvement of the veld. The effect of veld condition on a number of production parameters are well documented by Snyman (2003). Veld in good condition and with a basal coverage of 8,3% was compared to reasonable veld (6,4% basal coverage) and poor veld (2,9% basal coverage).

The dominant species on good veld are Themeda triandra (red grass or rooigras) and Digitaria eriantha (finger grass); on reasonable veld Eragrostis chloromelas (curly leaf ), Eragrostis lehmanniana (Lehmann’s lovegrass) and Sporobolus fimbriatus (Bushveld dropseed); and on poor veld Aristida congesta (tassel threeawn) and Tragus koelerioides (common carrot-seed grass).

The production of dry matter on good veld was 1 238kg/ha, on reasonable veld 768kg/ha and on poor veld 368kg/ha, with respective grazing capacities of 5,2, 8,3 and 19,4ha/LSU. The carrying capacity of good veld is approximately 270% better than that of poor veld, and other criteria such as evapotranspiration, rainwater runoff and sediment loss are much less on good veld. Veld in good condition is also much less sensitive to drought, and proper management practices will reduce the risk of drought.

Methods to improve production

It is therefore clear that the conservation of veld quality should be at the centre of our approach to livestock production. A practice that undoubtedly improves veld production, veld composition and animal production is the implementation of a full period of rest during the growing season, every second or third year. Seasonal rest not only allows plants to rest, but also to recover by building root reserves.

Kemp et al. (1994) found that the production of red grass in sourveld areas improves by 170% after seasonal rest, compared to red grass that was normally grazed the previous season. In sweetveld areas it might even be necessary to allow the veld to rest for two consecutive growing seasons to promote vigour and production.

A final comment on veld management is that various studies showed that a stocking rate in line with the production ability of the veld, will yield the highest profit per hectare. Overgrazing can be advantageous over the short term, but has disastrous financial consequences over the longer term. In contrast, a conservative stocking rate and good veld management will reduce drought risk.

Supplementing deficiencies

Du Toit, Louw and Malan drew the following conclusion as far back as 1940 following a comprehensive survey on the composition of pastures:

“Judged by the estimated requirements of cattle and sheep for growth, all South African pastures, composed mainly or wholly of grasses, are deficient in phosphorus, crude protein and in certain areas sodium, for a period ranging from five to nine months of the year, depending on the area. There are indications that in certain of these regions the pasture may be deficient in phosphorus throughout the year. Provided sufficient food is available, an intake of phosphorus, crude protein or sodium below the optimum requirements for growth, will seldom occur on pastures composed mainly of bushes.”

The nutritional value of pastures thus differs as drastically as their environments, and it is obvious that there is no one recipe to correct the nutritional deficiencies and/or imbalances in all types of pasture. Voermol, which has become the leader in the field of supplementary feed for ruminants over the past 50 years, has developed systems and products that complement deficiencies and/or imbalances in specific areas.

For example, Voermol’s three-phase lick programme was developed for a cow-calf system in areas where major differences occur in the nutritional value of wet and dry season pastures, as well as where acute to moderate deficiencies in phosphorus occur. The purpose of the Voermol three-phase lick programme is to ensure that the cow herd’s condition and nutritional status is adequate during the critical stages of the production year. This will ensure a high weaning percentage and acceptable weaning weights for the
environment.

Voermol’s lick programme

The three-phase lick programme briefly entails the following:

Phase 1: Wet season licks (± 150 days) 

This period starts approximately four to six weeks after good rains. The veld is abundant, green, high in protein, highly digestible and palatable. Phosphate and trace elements are the most limited nutrients on green natural veld and the purpose of the wet season licks is to maximise growth.

Depending on the area and infrastructure on the farm, one of the following products may be used: Voermol Superfos (V17422) or Voermol Rumevite 6P (V11995). Both these products require no further mixing and can be fed as is. In areas where salt is readily available mix Voermol Rumevite 12P (V11994) with 50% salt. In high rainfall areas, consider the Voermol Phosphate Block (V10264) to limit lick losses.

Phase 2: Dry season licks (± 150 days)

This period starts in autumn when temperatures start dropping, rainfall declines and the veld grows at a slow rate. It is recommended that beef producers bridge this period with a transitional lick, particularly in sour grass veld areas where wet and dry season pastures vary considerably.

The advantage of this practice is that the last phosphate supplement can still be given and animals will become accustomed to the urea contained in the dry season licks. Voermol Superfos is a transitional lick; or a transitional lick can be mixed with Voermol Premix 450 (V4676) or Voermol Dundee Lick Concentrate (V10737) (refer to the Voermol product guide on www.voermol.co.za).

As soon as plants are dormant and their nutritional value therefore poor, dry season licks must be provided. Winter veld is dry, low in protein, poorly digestible and less palatable, causing lower veld intake. The primary deficiency is protein, or more specifically nitrogen (N) for the rumen micro-organisms. Therefore, protein – in particular degradable protein and nonprotein nitrogen (NPN, urea) – is the most important nutrient in dry season licks for maintaining body condition.

Various licks are available, depending on the individual producer’s environment and preferences. These include Voermol: Premix 450 (V4676), Dundee Lick Concentrate (V10737), Ekonolick (V11147), Highveld Lick (V16150), Protein Block (V10448) and Winslek Concentrate (V17865). The nutrient specifications and feeding recommendations of each of these products are available on the Voermol App, or in the Voermol product guide.

Phase 3: Late dry season supplements; production licks (± 60 days) 

In late winter, veld is usually very dry and very low in protein with low digestibility; intake is low with little available material. The purpose of a supplement is to limit weight loss and both energy and protein must be provided by a production lick. This period is the most expensive and producers must therefore be very selective when putting out licks. Cows calving in this period must be given a production lick.

Products to consider are Voermol Production Lick (V10108) or Voermol Super 18 (V355). Production licks can also be mixed with Premix 450, Highveld Lick, Dundee Lick Concentrate or Winslek Concentrate (refer to the Voermol product guide or Voermol App).

Intake by animals

A typical beef cow weighing an average of 450kg will consume approximately 4,1 tons of veld per year. Their intake during the wet season will be approximately 2,7% of bodyweight (BW), while in the dry season and due to the lower passage rate and unpalatability of the grazing, intake will drop to around 2,2% of BW. During the late pregnancy and early lactation period (perinatal period), the cows will consume at their highest rate due to their high nutrient requirements.

By following the three-phase lick programme as discussed, the total annual intake of licks for this cow will only be around 165 to 200kg. This equates to less than 5% of her annual feed intake. Given the benefits of a sound supplementation programme as part of the fodder flow programme, implementing a carefully planned supplementation programme is an easy decision to make. – By Dr Francois van de Vyver, national technical manager, Voermol Feeds

For more information, contact Dr Francois van de Vyver at Francois.vandevyver@tongaat.com.