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The stealth arrival of summer is worrisome for farmers as unplanned fires ravage the vegetation. Escalating summer temperatures inevitably trigger these veld fires.
In this article we elaborate on the importance of being prepared for veld fires.
Impact of veld fires on livestock and farm management
Veld fires have been a serious concern for many countries. However, given that the causes are natural and unplanned, it poses a challenge for a farmer on how to handle a veld fire.
Losses incurred encompass both fauna and flora: loss of livestock, especially the young, old and sick is often high, when uncontrolled fire erupts. The sudden panic that animals experience when fire bursts, results in loss of both domesticate and wild animals. Moreover, insects, ants and micro-organisms beneath the soil surface are all in danger.
Canopy cover from trees is lost, resulting in loss of habitat and resting areas for cattle, sheep and goats when grazing.
Loss of grazing land, that is predominantly the source of feed for most farm animals. In the case of a veld fire, farmers have to find an alternative source of grazing or let alone use hay from storage barns.
Moreover, loss of structures and appliances made up of wood that are often burnt beyond recognition, and require reconstruction.
Therefore, as a farmer it is advisable to be prepared always to lower the risk of wildfires and to face them if an emergency occurs.
How to prepare for the risk of wildfires and manage to get on with it
Many countries have introduced insurance on losses in agriculture, which caters for veld fires and/or theft of domesticated animals. However, such fate and risk may never occur to a farmer. Hence, subsequent reluctance of some farmers to sign up for such policies.
The main instruments a farmer can put in place are about farm management and livestock management best practices.
The accumulation of moribund (organic matter) on a farm promulgates fire when temperatures rise, making the risk in such areas rise exponentially, so it is important to clear paddocks as much as possible and make sure there is no flammable material on the ground.
Fences often demarcate farms, therefore, it is often recommended that at-least 1.5 meters is cleared from the fence, to create a low risk area that prevents the propagation of fire. This serves as a car track and suppresses fire from escaping to nearby farms or to the other paddocks.
On farms where rotational grazing is practiced, handling of animals would be less of a challenge, as livestock can be directed towards an undisturbed paddock, also identified as low-risk and recovery assets, when there is a veld fire.
Handling of animals after a veld fire is critical, due to high stress levels. Hence, the provision of feed and water is part and parcel of ideal husbandry practices. Some farmers would isolate neonates from old animals temporarily until help is rendered to the injured nursing dames.
Clearing of an area around water holes can be helpful as animals could linger near water when a veld fire occurs. Despite the increased heat from the surroundings, such an area could be helpful. Easy to reach and vegetation clear water holes provide a critical response to fire since there is availability of water that can be used to wet the ground around them or, with an irrigation system, a large part of the surrounding land.
Secure storage facilities with feed that can sustain the entire herd are often advised to farmers. Different feed rations can be placed strategically on storerooms, so as to minimize losses. Especially, on a commercial set up where animals entirely depend on the farmer for feed and water.
In conclusion, veld fires can be devastating to a farmer. Therefore, layout pre-set measures to help ease the process when veld fires occur on a farm.