The future of livestock farming has many obstacles facing it. Drought is the immediate concern, but trends of rising consumer pressure for ethically reared and sourced livestock products are already impacting European markets and will trickle through to southern Africa.
Fair Game, through their research, is using human sherpherding which restores veld and is Predator friendly. With zero stock losses due to predation while fostering a healthy biodiversity inclusive of carnivores on their farm, they can deliver lamb and beef that is wildlife friendly to a discerning consumer. With this in mind, Fair Game have launched their Shepherding for Biodiversity program.
Farming and research :
For the past three years there has been a quiet revolution happening in the livestock arena on a farm in the Karoo, ‘Kromelboog’, the pilot site for the ‘Shepherding Back Biodiversity’ program of Fair Game. The core farming principles of Fair Game are to produce ethically reared, wildlife-friendly, rangeland lamb and beef while simultaneously restoring vegetation and fostering biodiversity. In short, fences have been removed, much research conducted, camera traps setup and herdsman trained in the art of shepherding.
Watch video here : Shepherding
Research while farming :
With a two year track record of zero livestock losses from predators and a definite increase in biodiversity on the farm, Fair Game CEO Dr. Bool Smuts and lead researcher Dr. Jeannine McManus felt it crucial to invite journalists and interested persons to experience the project first hand. Hosted at the Little England Manor, one of the homesteads on the Kromelboog farm, guests spent a focused, yet leisurely weekend being introduced to the ethos that led to the formulation of the pillars of the project’s foundation.
Leopard and small carnivore research :
Drawing on more than a decade of Leopard research and small predator livestock conflict studies, Fair Game has set out to demonstrate that rearing livestock in the presence of predators is not only possible, but actually more productive when the focus of farming is on correct grazing regimes and monitoring biodiversity.
Research is a vital component of the Fair Game Shepherding program which includes studies on stock health, plant regeneration, drought resistance, water penetration of soil, trophic cascades and species diversity within the daily operations of herd management.
Grazing methods :
Incorporating high density, short duration grazing (HDSDG), livestock are ‘kraaled’ at night. All kraal sites are used for one week only and their location is selected to be on sites that are heavily degraded. The high density of livestock in the kraals has the dual function of both breaking up the surface crust and of fertilizing the soil on the site.
Public Launch :
Guests arrived at Little England on the Friday evening and were treated to a sumptuous feast of lamb curry, dhal, bean curry and rotis- all prepared by a genuine Indian curry specialist, who had travelled all the way from Durban for the special occasion. A great start to any weekend!
Dr. Bool Smuts spent Saturday morning introducing the concept, drive, initiative and story of Fair Game, after which guests enjoyed a short guided walk with Dr. Jeannine McManus and field researcher Mark Dixon. After lunch the party then went on a tour of the farm and visited the kraal site to see the system and shepherds in action. The benefits of daily interaction with the livestock are multifaceted, but the tranquil demeanour of the herd and the routine health checks are two vital advantages over traditional ranching methods.
Zero predation :
While the first year of farming on Kromelboog didn’t have full time shepherding, the results of the past 24 months speak for themselves : ZERO stock losses to predation have been recorded. Impressive as this is, there are even more positive results in the project. As the drought currently grips the Karoo basin with no apparent immediate relief, the benefits of vegetation restoration through the HDSDG are blatantly obvious along the neighbouring fence lines with swathes of grass in the Kromelboog side compared to patchy Karoo bush on neighbouring properties.
Lamb al Asador:
Back at the Little England manor, with a show of Karoo farm hospitality, dinner was lamb on the spit prepared in the Patagonian Lamb al Asador method. Winding down beneath the clear skies, bright with stars and near full moon, Fair Game guests had the chance to contemplate the option now available to concerned consumers, namely that of being able to choose ethically-reared, wildlife- friendly lamb and beef where no carnivores have been killed in the process.
On the Sunday morning, the last stop before departing was a visit to the Shepherd Training Centre, where the art and crux of the project, human shepherding, will be taught. An old stable and barn complex has recently been converted into a superb training facility and can accommodate 16 herders for training.
In conjunction with the positive farming results and increased biodiversity by the use of human shepherds, the hope is that Fair Game will be the seeding of livestock farming that strives to enhance biodiversity throughout the entire Karoo and indeed throughout South Africa.