Droughts are a regular occurrence in Namibia, making it critical to ensure that the veld on game farms is not overgrazed, that debushing takes place when necessary and that wildlife numbers are regulated.
According to Wildlife Vets Namibia, when there is not enough grazing for animals, game ranchers have to start with supplemental roughage.
“Start sooner rather than later, as it will take time for the wildlife to accept the feeding, and once the body condition is poor, it will be difficult to get them in good shape again. In consultation with an expert, assess the viability of making and giving boskos (game feed) to your animals.”
Wildlife Vets said that there is little information available with regards to the feeding and care of wildlife during a drought.
“Some ask whether we should intervene by feeding animals or if nature should take its course. This largely depends on the setup. With the creation of fenced-off game farms and reserves, we have disrupted natural migration routes.”
Wildlife Vets said with a fenced-off game farm or reserve, they believe it is the farmer’s duty to manage game in difficult times.
However, in vast unfenced areas, helping animals by, for example, opening artificial water sites might have unintended ecological consequences.
Moreover, overstocking should be avoided at all times, especially during droughts, when it is essential to keep the number of animals sustainable.
“Overstocking results in poor habitat health, which obviously in turn results in poor herd health. As the grass grows, the animals will eat it.”
Wildlife Vets explained that if there is an imbalance in grazing pressure and rate of grass growth, grass may not reach the stage of seed production, and the root systems of perennial grasses will deteriorate, leading to their decline and death.
“Grass cover is reduced, and bush encroachment starts predisposing the land to soil erosion. All in all, the carrying capacity of the area is dramatically reduced, which is costly and difficult to repair.”
It said many areas of Namibia suffer from tree and bush encroachment, mostly due to overgrazing and in part due to the absence of mega herbivores (elephants and black rhinos).
According to Wildlife Vets, various methods of debushing (fire, chemical, manual or mechanical) each have their advantages and disadvantages.
“Before embarking on an expensive debushing exercise, we strongly advise that you discuss the options with professionals.
“We often observe farmers doing some very radical debushing, where big areas are left without trees or bushes standing. Especially for game farms, this may have severe consequences since bush provides food for browsers.”
It said that after debushing, depending on the situation, it might be worth rehabilitating grasses either by sowing seeds or indirectly through natural reseeding after feeding animals with hay produced in Namibia.
“Since it is not easy to commercially obtain a grass seed mix suitable for Namibian conditions, we would recommend that you consider harvesting grass seeds from road reserves in your area.”
Road reserves contain the typical vegetation of your area under prime conditions and are thus also likely to include grass species that may have disappeared from the land.
Wildlife Vets said feeding hay harvested from these road reserves is likely the best and most economical way of reintroducing climax grass species to land.
“In cases where you cannot obtain hay from the road reserve, harvesting grass seeds is your next best bet.”
Because wildlife is highly diverse, specialised and difficult to manipulate, feeding game is not as easy as feeding livestock.
Extensively farmed game is usually not used to supplemental feeding and often takes weeks before getting accustomed to it.
“When it is apparent that the grazing won’t be able to sustain your game until the next rain season, buy food early and start feeding your animals at an early stage, before their body condition drops severely.”
In this way, stock losses are minimised and the grazing pressure on pasture is reduced to ensure a quicker recovery after the first rains.
It is important to feed in multiple different areas of the farm and to, per feeding site, spread the hay out over a bigger area.
Wildlife Vets noted that during a drought, it becomes progressively more difficult to buy good-quality hay. Poor-quality hay may be made more palatable to game by adding lucerne sprinkled over the bulk of grass or flavourants, such as molasses or orange flavour, which can be dissolved in water and then sprayed over the food. This increases the palatability and, thus, the likelihood that animals will eat the grass.
The organisation advised that adding molasses also adds a source of energy and will bind dust, especially in old grass.
According to Wildlife Vets, lucerne is an excellent supplemental feed as it is high in protein and minerals, but it is relatively expensive and, unless there is a sufficient stand of pasture grass on the farm, should not be fed as a sole source of supplemental food.
Another option is to use debushed material as boskos. The debushed material is harvested, milled, and then mixed with suitable supplements to increase the nutritional content and/or digestibility of the feed.
“Be aware that producing animal feed out of debushed material is a complex process, and when it is wrongly implemented, it can create health risks for your animals.”
Wildlife Vets said added that there are also suggested supplements on the market that can be added to supplemental feed.
[source – Republikein]