Livestock, mainly sheep farming, is an important source of livelihood in the Suid Bokkeveld area. Through the quarterly climate change preparedness workshops, organised by Indigo Development and Change and the Environmental Monitoring Group (EMG) in the Suid Bokkeveld, farmers identified the need to better understand how high temperatures affect livestock production and performance.
A research collaboration project, funded by START and the WWF Nedbank Green Trust, was then developed between farmers, Indigo, the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and Witswatersrand University (WITS). The project was designed to explore sustainable and resilient farming practices, which incorporate an understanding of livestock farming in a changing climate.
A key component of the research is the study of behaviour patterns of livestock under current climate, and analysis of this in the context of projected climate change for the Suid Bokkeveld. This work will enable farmers in the area to better understand how sheep deal with heat stress, and to explore possible adaptation measures for sheep in the context of a warming climate. It will also create a better understanding of the grazing and behavioural patterns of the livestock, thus enabling them to better practise sustainable grazing methods which will decrease the pressures on the natural environment thereby contributing to conservation and sustainability.
The livestock is monitored by four women farmers on four different farms around the Suid Bokkeveld area. The monitoring process involves a weather station on each of the four farms to record climate conditions experienced on each farm, regular weighing of sheep, livestock collars that indicate temperatures and GPS tracking, observation and recording of behavioural patterns by the farmers.
The first phase of the monitoring has taken place over the winter months, with the next phase, which focuses on summer conditions, due to start in February 2014. Livestock monitoring meetings and / or workshops are being held on a regular basis in the Suid Bokkeveld to discuss challenges and issues that the farmers might have with regard to processes followed, equipment used and to explore the findings and observations that are made.
Indigo Development & Change together with the CSIR and WITS University will collaborate to analyse data obtained from the monitoring. The results of the project will be used to compile a livestock handbook to be used as a guideline for the wider farming community to promote sustainable livestock farming and a more resilient ecosystem.