Modeling veld production using MODIS LAI – Phase 3

Modeling the net primary production of arid and semi-arid rangelands in southern Africa using MODIS LAI and FPAR products – Phase 3

Industry Sector: Cattle and Small Stock

Research Focus Area: Sustainable Natural Resource utilisation

Research Institute: University of Pretoria

Year of completion : 2019

Researcher: Anthony R. Palmer

The Research Team

TitleInitialsSurnameHighest QualificationResearch Institution
DrM.M.ScholtzPhDARC-AP
ProfEvan Marle-KosterPhDUP
MrsA. Theunissen MSc Vaalharts Research Station

Aims of the Project

  1. To evaluate whether the Celtic mutation on the POLL locus is the causative mutation for polledness in Bonsmara and Drakensberger
  2. To perform a genome wide association study of the Polled and Scur genes based on phenotypic data and genotypic data from the GGP Bovine 150K SNP bead chip
  3. To apply sequence data available from the Bovine Genomics Program to finemap the suspected regions for the Polled and Scur genes

Executive Summary

The objective of this study was to compare four commonly used growth promotants in a commercial sheep feedlot. The steroidal growth promotants chosen for this trial were Ralgro (zeranol), Revalor G (Rev G; TBA/oestrogen- 17β), Revalor H (Rev H; TBA/oestrogen- 17β) and Zilmax® (zilpaterol hydrochloride). The growth promotants were compared with one another and within three sex groups, namely ewe, ram and wether (castrates), to determine which molecule or combination of molecules, if any, had the most benefit and profitability when measured against a control group.  Sheep were stratified based on initial weights and then randomly allocated to treatment groups in a completely randomised control study. All sheep originated from the same farm, and they were of  similar age, breed,  transport method,  processing method, feed (the only difference being  the groups receiving Zilmax® during the last 18 days of feeding, making provision for 3 days withdrawal), weather conditions, housing and time on feed. A time constant termination date was used in this study, in order to measure the performance of lambs in treatment groups over time.

This project has continued upon earlier, RMRD-SA funded projects that evaluate the using of earth observation (remote sensing) to model net primary production in South African grazing systems. The final results of this research are included in several research papers, students completions (PhD and BSc (Hons)), as well as a popular article. An Android application (Smartphone only) has been developed to determine the grazing capacity from the Google Earth Engine database of Landsat and MODIS imagery. This application is in the process of being tested in on-farm situations and is available to individual smartphones and tablets onto which the application can be installed. A further extension of the app development is an MSc project at Stellenbosch University that has prepared a new map of the fractional cover of grass, trees, shrubs and bare soil across South Africa. There has been one scientific paper published on the project since the last report, and two conference proceedings. A mini thesis (Geo-informatics Hons) describes how the application works. This application has also been made available in the public domain in the Google Earth Engine environment: https://liezlvermeuln.users.earthengine.app/view/spacegrazer

The objective of this phase of the project was to further validate the production estimates being made using MODIS LAI and fPAR, and to develop an Android-enabled application that can convert these estimates into grazing capacity model that could be used by farmers.

Results

Aim 1  All MODIS LAI and fPAR data are now available via the Google Earth Engine (GEE) interface. It is no longer necessary to download and archive these data from the NASA Distributed Archive. A large number of Java scripts have been written to extract data for livestock farmers throughout the Eastern Cape from the GEE user interface. Ms T Zondani has been appointed on the project and has been trained to extract data from GEE. Through GEE, data acquisition has been extended to other MODIS products, including the enhanced vegetation index (EVI), net primary production (NPP), gross primary production (GPP) and evapotranspiration (MOD16). Water use efficiency maps (WUE) have been prepared for all the years 2000-2017.

Aim 2  During this phase of the project we held workshops with the farmers in several rural villages to determine their response to the climate change predictions for that region, particularly where it is predicted to become hotter and drier. The project has established a world-class scientific installation on a livestock farm in the Smaldeel. This part of the project has seen the establishment of two eddy covariance systems on a site that had experienced bush encroachment in the past 50 years (See attachment).  Each eddy covariance system measures the direction and amount of carbon and water that moves between the earth and the atmosphere, and is a major contribution to South Africa’s understanding of the dynamics of this exchange between the earth and the atmosphere. The installation provides the opportunity to explore the consequences of climate change on grassland and bush encroachment. The RMRD-SA contribution to this site has been the transport to and from the site.

Aim 3 Using data from an eddy covariance (EC) system in the Albany Thicket, the project assessed the C sequestration options for farmers in the thicket. Carbon sequestration rates for the thicket biome are in line with those predicted by Aucamp and Cowling and Mills (2013) of 0,13-0,15 kg C m yr-1. The EC system has been moved to the farm Endwell in the Adelaide District and the C sequestration benchmarks for this area, which is being invaded by Vachellia karroo, will be available during 2018-2019. The development of the grazing capacity of South Africa based on the NPP data from 2009 has been published in both the peer-reviewed (Meissner et al 2013) and popular media (Palmer 2013). Since 2014, we have tested the map against other estimates of carrying capacity.  This beta testing of this map showed that the estimates for grazing capacity were too high (50%) and this was most likely due to the high fraction of woody plants (trees and shrubs) in the Eastern Cape. The new MSc project to prepare a tree/shrub/grass/bare soil fractional cover map was therefore initiated. The climate change predictions for the West Coast (hotter and drier conditions) have been incorporated into workshops and grazing management recommendations for two rural communities.

For the east coast, the predictions are more promising, with an increase in rainfall predicted. The effect is already being experienced in this region, with an increase in grassiness and a general improvement in the net primary production being reported. In order to deal with this understanding and its implications for commercial livestock farmers, a new experimental site has been established at Endwell farm.

Aim 4.A BSc (Hons) project was completed using the relationship between Landsat NDVI and biomass production. The application accessed Landsat and MODIS databases via the Google Earth Engine portal (GEE). The student has registered for an MSc (Stellenbosch University). She developed an Android application called Land Suitability Index (LSI) using hybrid model technology. The application determines the geographic position of the farmer from the geo-location options on an Android smartphone. It uses GEE web-interface to collect data on the NDVI history of the specific site. This provides a long-term (19 year) summary of the photosynthetic performance of the site, and evaluates the current NDVI relative to the mean for the 18 years. This history is converted into the available biomass produced in the last 12 months. The farmer can then adjust his stocking rate based on the actual production. An improvement is the addition of proportion of vegetation that is grass, as this is the major one relevant to cattle and sheep. In order to achieve this, Ms Vermeulen, in her MSc, has developed and tested a new fractional cover map. The output is now available as a Google Earth Engine application called Spacegrazer.

https://liezlvermeuln.users.earthengine.app/view/spacegrazer

This application can be used by anyone to ascertain the grazing capacity of a site in southern Africa.

Ms Vermeulen conducted field surveys where she measured the fraction of grass, shrubs, trees and bare soil in pixel of a Sentinel scene. The results from this analysis will form part of her MSc thesis.

Conclusion

The project has made excellent progress since its inception in 2010. The has been exceptional growth in the understanding of the benefits and dis-advantages of using remote sensing to estimate net primary production. In commercial farmland, where farmers tend to leave standing biomass available for the dry season, the predictions of NPP provided by the MODIS products have been very useful, and can be used to predict the grazing available to the farmer. This certainty has been converted into two applications: 1) for an Android device and 2) on-line application in the Google Earth Engine environment. Both of these applications have been tested on several commercial livestock farms and on several game farms. Several farmers have been signed up to receive monthly predictions of the biomass available for their property. One of the big challenges when using remote sensing to predict production is the presence of woody species. This is being solved through a national map of fractional woody cover which has now been produced by the project through an MSc at Stellenbosch University. However, in communal rangelands, where most biomass is consumed as it is produced (the so-called continuously grazed systems), the MODIS products are not able to detect all of the net primary production. Fially, the project has also enabled us to establish, in collaboration with Rhodes University and the National Equipment Programme, two eddy covariance systems that measure the actual C sequestration and water use of  rangelands. This collaboration has resulted in the establishment of a world-class experimental facility on a commercial livestock farm. At this site we are computing the impact of woody encroachment on grass production and water use. This will feed into policy on how the state will deal with woody encroachment and its impact on the catchment water balance.

Popular Article

Using satellite imagery for climate smart adaptive planning of grazing in near real time by Weideman, CI and Palmer, AR 2019

Click on this link to download thea article which was published in the Wool Farmer Article LINK

Conclusions

Please contact the Primary Researcher if you need a copy of the comprehensive report of this project on :LindeD@arc.agric.za

Evaluation of methane measuring techniques

Evaluation of different techniques to quantify methane emissions from South African livestock

Industry Sector: Cattle and Small Stock

Research focus area: Sustainable natural resource utilization

Research Institute: University of Pretoria

Researcher: Dr JL Linde du Toit

Title Initials Surname Highest Qualification
Prof WA van Niekerk PhD
Mr J van Wyngaard MSc
Mrs Z Goemans BSc(Agric)

Year of completion : 2018

Aims of the project

  • To measure methane emissions from livestock using the SF6 technique
  • To measure methane emission from livestock using the handheld laser methane detector (LMD) technique
  • To compare the results of the SF6 and the LMD techniques

Executive Summary

The need to verify greenhouse gas inventories demands the development of high throughput, economical yet accurate short-term measurement techniques, such as the laser methane detector (LMD). The aim of this project was to compare methane (CH4) emission rates as measured by the LMD to the sulphur hexafluoride tracer gas (SF6) technique from lactating dairy cows grazing pasture and to evaluate the practicality of the LMD measurement protocol under grazing conditions in the temperate coastal region of South Africa. Methane production was determined from six lactating Jersey cows on pasture using both techniques. The data generated by the LMD had a superior daily repeatability compared to the SF6 technique in the present study. A higher between-cow coefficient of variation (CV) (0.6 vs. 0.4) from the LMD compared to the SF6 technique was observed and this was ascribed to the sensitivity of the LMD to ambient conditions, animal movement while grazing and time of measurement. Methane production as measured by the SF6 technique (348 g/d) was higher (P<0.05) compared with the LMD technique (82.6 g/d).

Results from this study indicated that the LMD yielded approximately a 70% lower average daily CH4 production when compared to the SF6 techniques under the experimental conditions and daily CH4prediction models using the same animals and dry matter intakes. The lack of a third measuring technique and a standardized LMD methodology makes an accurate comparison between techniques and published data difficult. Both the SF6 and the LMD methods are viable methods to evaluate differences between mitigation options, for ranking of animals for selection purposes and to identify differences between dietary treatments. More research is needed before new techniques such as the LMD can be employed to determine absolute CH4 daily emissions which can be up scaled for inventory purposes.

Popular Article

Measuring methane from livestock

Recently, methane has been reported as the most abundant organic trace gas in the atmosphere. The radiative forcing of methane (CH4) is significantly higher than carbon dioxide (CO2) and it is estimated that CH4 has a global warming potential of 28 compared to CO2 with an atmospheric half-life of 12.4 years1. Enteric production of CH4 from ruminant livestock production systems is one of the major sources of agricultural greenhouse gas emissions globally. The relatively short atmospheric half-life of CH4 makes it the main target in livestock greenhouse gas mitigation protocols. Methane is also an important indicator of livestock productivity as it is associated with the conversion of feed into animal product i.e meat, milk or fibre.

Methane is produced in the rumen by methanogenic bacteria as a by-product of the fermentation process. Ruminal fermentation by rumen microbes result in the formation hydrogen (H2). Accumulation of excessive amounts of H2 in the rumen negatively affects the fermentation rate and growth of some microbial consortia which will reduce feed intake and production of animals. Methanogens therefore reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) to methane (CH4) and water (H20) thereby capturing available hydrogen and sustaining a favorable fermentation environment in the rumen2. Methane is exhaled or belched by the animal and accounts for the majority of emissions from ruminants. Methane also is produced in the large intestines of ruminants and is expelled in much smaller volumes compared to ruminal methane.

There are a variety of factors that affect CH4 production in ruminant animals, such as: the physical and chemical characteristics of the feed, the feeding level and schedule, the use of feed additives to promote production efficiency, and the activity and health of the animal1. Reductions in greenhouse gas emissions from livestock can be achieved through a range of CH4 mitigation strategies and more efficient livestock production systems through improved genetics and management.

Regardless of the mitigation strategy imposed, any reduction in enteric methane production must be quantified and for this to be achieved, accurate baseline emissions data are essential1. There are currently many techniques available to researchers to quantify CHemissions from livestock each with specific applications and challenges. These techniques vary from tracer and capsules for individual ruminants to whole farm systems. The development of baseline emission data can also be achieved through modeling, employing specific livestock and environmental activity data to estimate emissions. One of the main challenges of the majority of the measurement techniques is the lack of “real time” emissions from grazing ruminants under natural conditions. There is a need to develop measuring techniques and methods which can be standardized, is relatively low-cost and which can deliver reliable, feasible and repeatable assessments of emissions from grazing livestock.

The Sulphur hexafluoride (SF6) technique and spot sampling lasers are two of the techniques which shows promise to measure CHemission from grazing livestock. Researchers recently compared these two techniques in a pasture dairy production system in the Western Cape province of South Africa. It was found that the spot sampling with the laser could be useful for purposes such as selective animal breeding and comparing between different mitigation strategies, where the requirement is for relative emission data but not necessarily daily methane production. This trial highlighted the need to develop specific operational standards when employing methane quantification techniques under natural conditions in order to minimize variation and environmental interference when recording measurements.

Strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to increase farm productivity are likely to remain vague, random and possibly inefficient without the development of standardized, accurate and reliable CH4 measurement techniques1.

References

  1. Hill, J., McSweeney, C., Wight, A.G., Bishop-Hurley, G. and Kalantar-zadeh, K., 2016. Measuring methane production from ruminants. Trends in Biotechnology, Vol. 36 (1).
  2. Goopy, J., Chang, C. and Tomkins, N., 2016. A Comparison of Methodologies for Measuring Methane Emissions from Ruminants. In: Methods for Measuring Greenhouse Gas Balances and Evaluating Mitigation Options in Smallholder Agriculture. Editors: Todd S. Rosenstock, Mariana C. Rufi no Klaus Butterbach-Bahl, and Eva Wollenberg Meryl Richards. Springer International Publishing AG Switzerland.
Please contact the Primary Researcher if you need a copy of the comprehensive report of this project – Linde du Toit on linde.dutoit@up.ac.za

Methane and nitrous oxide from beef cattle manure

Direct manure methane and nitrous oxide emissions from a commercial beef feedlot in South Africa.

Industry Sector: Cattle and Small Stock

Research focus area: Sustainable natural resource utilization

Research Institute: University of Pretoria

Researcher: Dr JL Linde du Toit

Title Initials Surname Highest Qualification
Prof WA van Niekerk PhD
Miss K Lynch BSc(Agric)
Dr L Stevens PhD

Year of completion : 2017

Aims of the project

  • To identify the on-farm manure management system employed in a typical commercial beef feedlot in South Africa
  • To determine the methane emissions from manure in a commercial beef feedlot
  • To determine the nitrous oxide emissions from manure in a commercial beef feedlot

Executive Summary

Methane and nitrous oxide emission from pen surfaces in a commercial beef feedlot in South Africa

Global warming has become a worldwide concern in recent years.  The release of Greenhouse gasses (GHGs) have brought about rapidly changing climate conditions the world over, GHGs produced by various industry sectors are being investigated, researched and laws put in place to limit the production of GHGs wherever possible.  This includes the agricultural sector where extensive animal husbandry has increased the global carbon footprint and environmental pollution.

The International Panel of Climate Control (2006) has three Tiers that estimates methane (CH4) values, one of the main GHGs, from the use of default values to the use of more complicated models and experimental data to improve the accuracy of reporting.  This study investigated the contribution of manure GHGs emissions to livestock emissions focussing on intensive beef feedlot manure emissions. At present in South Africa, these values are only roughly estimated and are only available on an IPCC Tier 2 level.  Gaseous emissions from livestock waste, specifically beef cattle waste, are affected by a variety of external factors (atmospheric temperature, humidity, soil conditions, ration consumption and manure management practices) as well as internal factors, (ration digestibility, nutrient absorption and gut health).

The objective of the study was to achieve an understanding of the gaseous emissions, specifically methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O), from beef cattle feedlot pen surfaces from a commercial beef feedlot in South Africa as influenced by diet and season, using the closed chamber method of gas collection over the three prominent seasons experienced in Mpumalanga, South Africa.  The sampling of these various factors would lead to more accurate reporting, conforming to Tier 3 methodology results.

Random pen surface and emissions samples were taken from three pens per each feedlot ration fed. The results indicated significant differences in soil/manure characteristics, but little effect on ultimate CH4 and N2O emissions from the pen surface were found across treatments. Similar results were observed for the rangeland manure analysed and manure emissions from manure management practices at the feedlot.  Ambient temperature had a tendency (p<0.10) to affect CH4 and N2O emissions with higher temperatures resulting in higher emissions but. Overall soil and manure characteristics were affected by diet treatments and seasonal variation.  It must be noted that the lack of significant differences in gas emissions in the present study could have been due to sampling error. The gas emissions observed did show a trend between treatment levels and manure management practices within the feedlot, with the effluent dams and manure piles recording the highest CH4 emissions over each of the measured seasons.  The CH4 emissions varied between seasons within the feedlot, rangeland and manure management practices, but a level of significance was never observed even though manure characteristics observed significant differences.  The N2O emissions observed no set trend between areas measured on the feedlot.  The varying values, and negative values obtained may indicate sample error, or a general uptake of N by soil or microorganisms (Chantigny et al., 2007; Li et al., 2011).

In conclusion, it was found that manure characteristics are affected by season and diet characteristics which tended to have an effect on the rate of CH4 and N2O emissions from the manure, although not significantly.

Popular Article

Feedlot greenhouse gas study analyses emissions from pen surfaces and manure management

By CJL du Toit

Researchers from the University of Pretoria spend time at a commercial beef feedlot in Mpumalanga, South Africa to gain a better understanding of the greenhouse gas emissions originating from feedlots pen surfaces and manure.

Why are GHG emissions important to agriculture?

In agriculture and livestock production systems the three main greenhouse gases (GHG) include methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O) and carbon dioxide (CO2).  Greenhouse gases impact the environment through their ability to trap heat which depends on their capacity to absorb and re-emit infrared radiation and the atmospheric life time of the different gasses.  Increasing atmospheric concentrations of GHG caused by fossil fuel combustion, industrial activities, land use change and agricultural activities contributes to changes in global temperatures and rainfall patterns which could impact directly on agricultural and livestock production.

Accurate estimation of GHG from anthropogenic sources is an increasing concern given the current and potential future reporting requirements for GHG emissions.  Research measuring GHG emission fluxes from feedlot surfaces and manure management has been very limited and this was the first research project on the topic under South African conditions.

Livestock manure and GHG emissions

Livestock manure is a source of nutrients and can be used for various purposes including soil amendments to improve fertility and productivity and the generation of green energy.  The main GHG emitted by manure are CH4 and N2O. Methane is produced during anaerobic decomposition of organic matter and N2O is emitted during nitrification and de-nitrification processes. Feedlot manure GHG emissions is influenced by a variety of factors including manure management (pile, anaerobic lagoon, rangeland), manure application (fertilization of rangeland, composting, bio-fermentation), temperature, aeration, moisture and the sources of nutrients in the manure which is in part caused feed inefficiencies. Emission is also influenced by animal factors in the feedlot such as stocking density which will influence the amount of manure deposited, feed intake and digestibility, animal type and age.

What did the researchers do?

Following an extensive review of current literature on GHG emission flux quantification from pasture, cropping and livestock enterprises it was decided to adopt closed static chambers as the measurement methodology. The aim of the study was to determine the effect of feedlot ration and season on the GHG emissions from manure at different sites within in a commercial feedlot operation. Chamber bases were randomly installed at each manure management site (rangeland, pen surface, manure piles and water catchment lagoons) during each season. The seasons were classified as wet and hot (WH), dry and cold (DC) and dry and hot (DH).

Gas samples were drawn from the chambers during mid-day at four time intervals within a 40 min measuring period and analysed using a gas chromatograph to determine average CH4 and N2O fluxes.

What did the researchers learn?

The method employed resulted in large variation within results sets mainly due to difficulty in sealing the chambers bases especially in the pen surfaces which were extremely compacted. The random placement of chambers also caused variation in results as some chambers had a higher manure density and factors such as soil and manure moisture varied between different locations within each pen.  The results yielded an average pen surface manure CH4 emission factor of 449 g/head/year which was 50% lower compared to feedlot manure emission factors previously calculated of 870 g/head/year using IPCC (2006) based models.  The N2O emissions measured from pen surfaces (10.95 g/head/year) were much lower than previously calculated or reported emission factors in literature varying from 54.8 to 2555 g N2O/ head/year.  Within the whole manure management system on the feedlot CH4 emissions from the water catchment dams were the highest followed by manure piles, feedlot pen surfaces and manure deposited on rangeland.  Although no statistical differences were found between the different seasons the wet and hot season produced the highest overall CH4 emissions and the dry and cold season produced the highest N2O emission across all manure management sites.

Managing GHG emissions from manure

The mitigation of GHG emissions from manure management in livestock operations is the topic of many research projects globally. Identified mitigation strategies are already being used by producers but new techniques and fine-tuning of existing options will lead to new and improved alternatives which can be tailored to country or regions specific production systems. The mitigation of GHG emissions from livestock production systems can be complicated as a strategy that reduces one emission may increase the other. Manure emissions can be reduced through two main actions namely input (providing of organic matter e.g. feeds) and manure management.  Overfeeding of nutrients such as nitrogen (N) will result in an increase in the amount of N excreted in manure which will lead to increased N2O emissions. To reduce GHG emission from manure producers will have to use feeding regimes that will maximise feed efficiency and reduce nutrient wastage. The management of on-farm manure can also be tailored to reduce GHG emissions and the effect of production systems on the environment.  The time of manure application to soil and rangeland is important to reduce emissions. Producers should avoid spreading manure when soil is are wet as this will increase CH4 emissions and attempt to reduce the storage time of manure on the farm. The use of technologies such as covered lagoons, digesters, aeration of manure and composting has all been employed to reduce CH4 emissions from manure.

On-going research

There is a need to develop standardised research methodology protocols, for both on-farm and laboratory experiments, which will make it possible to compare mitigation strategies and research results between different studies. Researchers are also attempting to understand the interplay of CH4 and N2O as it seems that the processes that produce these GHG are related.

Please contact the Primary Researcher if you need a copy of the comprehensive report of this project – Linde du Toit on linde.dutoit@up.ac.za

Does short duration grazing work in grasslands?

Does short duration grazing improve livestock production, veld condition and climate resilience compared to other grazing systems in a mesic grassland of South Africa?

Industry Sector: Cattle and Small Stock

Research focus area: Sustainable natural resource utilization

Research Institute: Universtity of Cape Town

Researcher: Dr Heidi Hawkins

Research Team

Title Initials Surname Highest Qualification
Prof S Vetter PhD
A/Prof MD Cramer PhD
Prof V Muchenje PhD
Dr C Mapiye PhD
Mr AS Venter MSc
Ms N Mgwali BSc Hons

Year of Completion : 2018

Aims of the project

  • Overall we wish to test the alleged mechanisms by which short duration grazing (or Holistic Planned Grazing, HPG) “works” explicitly by looking at the underlying mechanisms at the fine scale and overall effects at the camp/farm scale and how these vary and interact with rainfall, temperature, time and specific camps. We wish to apply this understanding to inform efforts being undertaken by government and NGOs to generate sustainable and more commercial red meat production from communal rangelands and land redistribution farms in one of South Africa’s biodiversity ‘hot spots’.
  • At the scale of an experimental farm and experimental plots we test claims that high animal densities in HPG reduces selectivity during defoliation of key plant species leading to conservation of species composition (biodiversity), forage quantity and quality throughout the year
  • At the scale of the farm, plots and pot experiments we determine how grazing intensity (recovery periods /defoliation frequency x defoliation intensity) affects plant recovery.
  • At the scale of the farm and plot we test claims that trampling (from intense hoof action during HPG) results in increased incorporation of nutrients (litter, dung, urine) and water, resulting in increased soil organic matter, nutrients including carbon, microbial activity, soil water infiltration, and reduced compaction and erosion.
  • At the farm scale, we test claims that the increased forage quantity and quality HPG increases animal gain ha-1, meat quality and profit of marketable animals; and at the scale of the individual animal, that HPG results in improved average daily gain per animal, including sufficient nutrition for pregnancy, lactation and re-conception.
  • At the farm and animal scale, we test whether high animal densities alter animal behavior (walking, resting, grazing) and energy expenditure.
  • Also on the individual animal scale, we test whether HPG results in a reduced parasite load (specifically ticks) because of, e.g. rapid movement of animals between camps, and whether the stress of movement compromises disease resistance.

Executive Summary

It has been claimed that Holistic Management (HM) and specifically, Holistic Planned Grazing (HPG, hereafter holistic grazing), can reduce desertification and reverse climate change by using livestock as a tool. At the same time, high animal densities and stocking rates associated with holistic grazing are claimed to result in improved plant and animal production but with little evidence or suggested mechanisms for these changes. The project addressed these gaps in knowledge via a three-year trial and corral studies, fence-line contrasts of existing and long-term practitioners of holistic grazing in the grassland biome, and remote sensing over sub-Saharan Africa.

We found nuanced differences in forage utilization, plant selectivity by animals, litter production, as well as small differences in animal behaviour and more marked differences in forage quality and animal parasites between grazing approaches (continuous, season-long, four camp and holistic planned grazing) in the trial. Some of these differences depended on season, but in all cases the scale of these differences were not enough to affect overall plant or animal production. Thus, the season-long and four-camp approaches were more profitable than the holistic approach due to capital outlay ((fences ands water points for multiple camps, or herders to create virtual camps), with the break-even point for holistic grazing being two years after that for other approaches. Provisional results from a national survey of long-term working farms supported results from the three-year trial. The use of a corrals is associated with holistic grazing in communal livestock systems, and our work showed that if the starting condition of the rangeland was poor with bare ground cover above 12% then basal cover increased under corraling, i.e. at very high animal densities of more than 400 livestock units per hectare, but otherwise increased bare ground so that corraling as a tool may be useful but should be applied with caution. In a remote sensing study, we found that woody plant encroachment has increased by 8% over the last three decades over sub-Saharan Africa and that while this is largely driven by climate, fire and herbivory are important drivers so that judicious use of fire and livestock (possibly at high densities) could help reverse this trend, with implications for the global carbon balance and productivity.

Overall, if animal gain is the priority of a land owner, the additional labour and/or infrastructure associated with holistic grazing is not justified. However, holistic grazing may be useful for rangeland restoration or specific goals.

Useful applications of holistic grazing based on our data may be:

  1. Reduction of under-utilized plant standing biomass and/or creation of a litter layer;
  2. Reduction of external and internal parasite loads (from an already low infestation to slightly lower infestation in our data so the practical usefulness would have to be tested at high infestation rates);
  3. Increased forage quality in some seasons (from normal quality to slightly increased quality in our data);
  4. Possibly, to reduce woody plant encroachment (and runaway fires), especially if browsers are included.

Popular Article

Does holistic grazing improve livestock production, veld condition and climate resilience compared to other grazing systems?

by Heidi-Jayne Hawkins

Director of Research at Conservation South Africa and Honorary Research Associate at University of Cape Town; contacts hhawkins@conservation.org and heidi-jane.hawkins@uct.ac.za

Rangelands, a source of biodiversity and agricultural products, are under threat globally. It has been claimed by the Savory Institute that Holistic Management (HM) and specifically, Holistic Planned Grazing, can reduce desertification and reverse climate change by using livestock as a tool. At the same time, high animal densities and stocking rates associated with holistic grazing are claimed to result in improved plant and animal production but with little evidence or suggested mechanisms for these changes. A recent review of the literature found that holistic grazing has no impact on plant and animal production (Hawkins 2017). In general, any management approach that is adaptive can be expected to sustainably manage rangeland resources by considering both ecological processes and livelihoods. Holistic Management or the Holistic Management Framework (Savory and Butterfield, 2016) is such a framework. While the adaptive approach of HM is not contentious, the livestock management part of this framework has been the subject of debate since the 1980s. Holistic Planned Grazing (HPG; hereafter holistic grazing) describes an intensive, rotational, time-controlled approach much like short duration-, cell-, multi-paddock- and mob-grazing. In South Africa, it is commonly called high-density, short-duration stocking.

During holistic grazing, livestock are kept at high densities using fences or herders with the intention of mimicking free-moving herds of herbivores that are migrating or bunched by predators; and grazing rather than fire is generally favoured as a way of recycling soil nutrients. Our recent article (Venter et al 2017) discusses the great numbers, densities and diversity of herbivores that occurred in the past before mass extinctions and hunting associated with humans spreading over the earth, and it is indeed reasonable to think that higher densities or animals would be ecologically appropriate and that the current use of fire to manage rangelands could in part be replaced by herbivores including livestock. However, the claims made by Savory go beyond this and need testing. Considering the renewed debate and existing threats to our rangelands including grassland and savanna, we examined the evidence for claims and tested various possible mechanisms that could underly these claims ((increased production, nutrient cycling, plant utilization and reduced plant selectivity).

The project addressed these gaps in knowledge via a three-year trial and corral studies, fence-line contrasts of existing and long-term practitioners of holistic grazing in the grassland biome, and remote sensing over sub-Saharan Africa. The research was a collaboration between Conservation South Africa and academics including five researchers and five students from the University of Cape Town, Stellenbosch University and the University of Fort Hare.

The controlled study was conducted on sections of a private farm (30.351767°S, 29.043433°E near Cedarville Flats and 30.394363°S, 29.020521°E on slopes near Goedhoop), called Merino Walk within the Matatiele Local Municipality, Eastern Cape in the grassland biome. Each flats and slopes section was divided into holistic grazing, conventional four-camp rotation, and continuous season-long grazing treatments with the same overall HM management and stocking rate but different animal densities. A national survey of working holistic farms and their neighbours allowed us to broaden the scope of the work from the scale of a local trial to the national scale. Also, the survey allowed us to assess holistic farming over longer time periods than the three years farm trial, as well gain insights into real farms. The questionnaire can be found at https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/grazing_research_survey .

We found nuanced differences in forage utilization, plant selectivity by animals, litter production, as well as small differences in animal behaviour and more marked differences in forage quality and animal parasites between grazing approaches (continuous, season-long, four camp and holistic planned grazing) in the trial. Some of these differences depended on season, but in all cases the scale of these differences were not enough to affect overall plant or animal production and in winter animal production in the rotational treatments was relatively low. Provisional results from a national survey of long-term working farms supported results from the three-year trial.

The season-long and four-camp approaches were more profitable than the holistic approach due to capital outlay (fences ands water points for multiple camps, or herders to create virtual camps), with the break-even point for holistic grazing being two years after that for other approaches.

Looking closer at animal behaviour, there was no evidence that holistic grazing increases dung trampling, the number of steps taken or selectivity at the plant or patch scales. An interesting effect of holistic grazing was a reduction in tick infestation that is thought to be associated with the rapid movements of animals between the mobile camps, so that ticks do not have time to complete their life-cycles. Out of the three grazing treatments, tick counts were higher in the continuous herd compared to the holistic grazing and four-camp herd in spring and summer. In general, internal parasites were very low with faecal egg counts being highest in the hot-rainy season. Both tick and faecal egg counts were not at levels of concern for animal health regardless of treatment effects.

The use of a corrals is associated with holistic grazing in communal livestock systems, and our work showed that if the starting condition of the rangeland was poor with bare ground cover above 12% then basal cover increased under corraling, i.e. at very high animal densities of more than 400 livestock units per hectare, but otherwise increased bare ground increased, so corraling should be applied with caution.

In the remote sensing study, we found that woody plant encroachment has increased by 8% over the last three decades over sub-Saharan Africa and that while this is largely driven by climate, fire and herbivory are important drivers so that judicious use of fire and livestock (especially browsers, possibly at high densities) could help reverse this trend.

Implications

From our results in a mesic grassland:

  • Holistic grazing may be useful as a tool for specific purposes such as increasing the litter layer and reducing tick loads but does not increase production;
  • High-density grazing practices are less profitable than conventional season-long grazing or the four-camp approach;
  • Corrals at animal densities over 400 LSU ha-1 may be a useful disturbance regime for restoration of bare ground and increasing phosphorus concentrations for cropping but only on already disturbed ground;
  • Browser/grazer mix and fire may be useful tools managed to reduce woody plant (bush) encroachment (and runaway fires).

Information sources

Hawkins H-J. 2017. African Journal of Range and Forage Science 34: 65-75.

Savory A, Butterfield J. 2016. Holistic Management. A commonsense revolution to restore our environment (3rd edn). USA: Island Press. ISBN 9781610917445 (e-book).

Venter, ZS., H-J Hawkins, MD Cramer 2017.  Ecosphere 8 (10), http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/ecs2.1946

Venter ZS, Cramer MD, Hawkins H-J 2018. Nature Communications 9, 2272 http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/s41467-018-04616-8

Please contact the Primary Researcher if you need a copy of the comprehensive report of this project – Heidi on heidi-jane.hawkins@uct.ac.za

Greenhouse gas emissions from livestock

Characterization of breed-specific additive and heterosis effects on beef sensory and leather quality traits

Industry Sector: Cattle and Small Stock

Research focus area: Sustainable natural resource utilization; Livestock production with global competitiveness

Research Institute: Tshwane University of Technology, University of Pretoria

Researcher: Mr CJL du Toit

Research Team:

Title Initials Surname Highest Qualification
Prof WA van Niekerk PhD
Dr HH Meissner PhD
Dr L Otter PhD

Final report approved: 2014

Aims of the project

  • To calculate on a regional basis the enteric methane emissions from all relevant livestock sectors
  • To calculate on a regional basis the methane emissions from livestock manure
  • To calculate on a regional basis the nitrous oxide emissions from livestock manure

Executive Summary

There are increasing concerns about the impact of agriculture and livestock production on the environment. The objective of the study was to estimate methane and nitrous oxide emissions of South African livestock industries during 2010 on a provincial and national basis. The study focused on direct methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions originating from enteric fermentation and livestock manure management systems. Both methane and nitrous oxide are potent greenhouse gasses with 25 and 310 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Tier 2 methodology adapted for tropical production systems was used to calculate emissions.

The Tier 2 methodology defines animals, animal productivity, diet quality and management circumstances to support a more accurate estimate of feed intake for use in estimating methane production. Livestock, including privately owned game, emitted and estimated 1330.6 Gg of CH4 and 3.28 Gg of N20 during 2010. In South Africa, the principle species comprise of cattle, game and sheep producing collectively an estimated 95% of the total livestock emissions. Commercial beef cattle were the largest contributors of methane followed by emerging and subsistence cattle, sheep, game, dairy cattle, goats and feedlot cattle with 527 Gg, 276 Gg, 167 Gg, 131 Gg, 130.5 Gg, 40.7 Gg and 30 Gg of methane respectively. The poultry industry emitted the highest amount of N2O producing an estimated 2.61 Gg followed by dairy cattle, horses and pigs with 0.54 Gg, 0.09 Gg and 0.04 Gg of N2O respectively. The Eastern Cape, Kwa-Zulu Natal and the Free State were the provinces with the highest GHG emission profiles, incorporating all species, producing 24.3%, 15.3% and 14.9% of the total national emissions.

Please contact the Primary Researcher if you need a copy of the comprehensive report of this project – Linde du Toit on linde.dutoit@up.ac.za