Graaff Reinet Regenerative Grazing Day
In May this year we held the first RegenAg SA Regenerative Grazing Day in Graaff Reinet. It was a remarkable success with 80+ people gathered together to hear 5 farmers tell the stories of their personal paths to being regenerative grazers. There are many routes to this destination and we need to hear from more farmers how their journey took place. As their story might resonate strongly with another farmer and ignite a change. Our host was James Brodie who has been practising regenerative grazing for the past 18 years on his farm to the north of town. Thank you James for all the work you put into making the Grazing Day a reality and for all you contribute to spreading the regenerative word.
In the veld on James's farm, cattle in the distance. Drone image by Luyanda Luthuli
Fittingly James was our first speaker. James is used to this role as he consults on regenerative grazing and the courses offered at the Herding Academy - of which you will hear more later - visit his farm to see his grazing in action and the cover and veld it produces. James has seen a remarkable change on his farm over the years with his well planned grazing having healed areas of bare ground, closed up erosion gullies and covered his veld in healthy grasses. He puts it simply, its about more leaves maximising the solar energy and water his farm receives.
David McEwan has been farming near Middleburg since the early 2000s. He has been gradually implementing regenerative grazing after taking a Holistic Management course. In more recent times David has been practicing Total Grazing as taught by Jaime Elizondo from Real Wealth Ranching. As the name suggests Total Grazing is in summary about taking off most of the biomass and then not returning for a long time. His flerd of cattle and sheep make a 400+ day journey around his farm.
The Kroon family is synonymous with regenerative grazing in the Karoo and Roland has pretty much been immersed in regenerative grazing for his whole life. Aside from being a farmer, he is an Accredited Savory Field Professional, running courses in conjunction with the Herding Academy. Roland's regenerative story has seen him bring his family farm back to life after the excesses of the Wool Boom. Applying his understanding of ecosystem function he has healed the land and its systems. Unique amongst the Karoo farmers presenting he has forsaken sheep and moved totally over to cattle.
Rowan Stretton farms on top of the Stormberg in the Molteno district. Seven years ago, and many years after doing the RCS course with Bruce Brown, Rowan decided that the middle of a terrible drought was the right time to take the plunge. He removed old fences, invested in 50mm pvc pipe and permanent, spring loaded wire fences (on advice from New Zealand gained on late night Skype calls) and implemented regenerative grazing. Rowan, an ex game ranger, has had a remarkable journey of discovery as new flora and fauna emerged on his farm. Particularly cool season grass species he had not seen before. The next piece of land he upgrades is getting 75mm pipe!
Gerrit Van Zyl farms in Dewestdorp in the central Free State. Gerrit famously starts his presentation with "Sadly I can't say I did it for the soil like these other men, I did it to beat the bank". Having earned himself a sterling reputation as a Bonsmara breeder Gerrit unhappy that his return on investment was no better than putting the money in the bank. He set out to find out how he could change that, his research led him to conclude that "profit per animal" is a measurement that works for the industry but not the farmer and farmers need to focus on "profit per ha". His 8 year journey with high density grazing is economically and environmentally illuminating.
Rowan Stretton on his knees showing "winter greens" to James Brodie, Henrico Pretorius and Gerrit van Zyl
The next morning we gathered at the Herding Academy where Johan Bouwer and his team have created a herded flock of sheep in a game reserve. The idea is to restore the degraded landscape with livestock controlled in a way that free roaming, selective grazing wildlife cannot. They also run herding courses for herdsmen to learn this ancient art from their experienced staff. Along with James Brodie the Herding Academy is visited as part of Roland Kroon's Holistic Management courses.
Roland Kroon and Johan Bouwer showing the herded flock at the Herding Academy
We learned so much and its not possible to capture all of what they told us here. My only regret was that we didn't record it. Here are some of the things they told us: They spoke of successes and failures, but overall of successes. Of water for livestock in big herds - everybody mentioned it, and it is well known as the cause of many failed regenerative grazing projects. The importance of engaging with the natural systems of your farm and livestock. The return of grass species and legumes, which in some cases had not been seen for 50 years. How they extending their growing season. Of the return of springs that had ceased to be perennial. Of strategic supplementation of rumen microbes for maintaining condition through the winter. Of grazing densities at double the district recommendation. Of improved farm economics. Of dancing a jig when the first dung beetle returned. And of the sheer joy of being part of an ecosystem that is spiralling up.
For me one of the most remarkable thing was the sheer joy these farmers had in sharing stories and plans with people on similar paths with them. They were like little boys.
On 27 September RegenAg SA is hosting another such event at Desmond Meyburgh's farm in Tweeling in the Frees State. Booking can be made here https://www.quicket.co.za/events/232787-regenerative-grazing-day-tweeling-free-state/
Above: James Brodie speaking on this farm
Below: "Whose got the dongle?" - Rowan Stretton, Gerrit van Zyl, Johan Bouwer, David McEwan, James Brodie, Roland Kroon.