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Beefs and Beliefs

New Zietsman Book Looks Like A Great Read

South African rancher Johann Zietsman's book on creating top production from both cattle and grassland is available in printed or electronic form.


I just started reading Johann Zietsman's book. His opening paragraphs tell a lot about who he is and how he thinks.

For anyone who doesn't know Zietsman, we've carried one, two, three articles recently in Beef Producer on his unique ideas. As far as I can tell he is the first in the world to show animals can be bred to thrive under ultra-high-stock-density grazing, which is of course the most profitable method of grazing.

I'll share a bit from the opening of his new book here but two things to remember that will help you with Zietsman's language:

1. Veld in Afrikaans generally means grassland or rangeland.

2. Sour veld means the forge is in a high-rainfall area and results in high alkalinity in the animals' bodies. Sweet veld is lower-rainfall and has a more balanced energy-to-protein ratio.

Zietsman grew up in a family with a large cattle operation. He went to college and studied under the famous animal scientist Jan (pronounced Yan) Bonsma in South Africa. He was also exposed to some of the earliest postulations of Allan Savory as he experimented with controlled grazing and worked with ranchers to implement those ideas in Africa.

Zietsman writes: "The principles espoused by Bonsma on the one hand and Acocks and Savory on the other, although making sense to me, were generally deemed irreconcilable. In his heart Bonsma was a stockman and could not bear the thought of forcing cattle to graze non-selectively. Savory and Acocks were ecologists committed to rehabilitating and improving the veld. Their primary concern was using livestock as tools to improve the land. These opposing viewpoints were to retard progress. Nevertheless, I knew there must be a solution and decided to learn more by enrolling for a degree in Animal Science under ... Bonsma at the University of Pretoria, South Africa. This was the start to a journey of acquiring sufficient knowledge to bridge the gap between man, cattle and veld."

Zietsman continues: "Whilst studying under Bonsma two issues came up that played a deciding role in how my career was to develop. The first was the assertion by Bonsma that “the Lasater Beefmaster herd was the most functionally efficient in the world”. This was no ordinary compliment coming from a man who was world renowned for popularizing the concept of judging hormonal balance by looking at an animal’s morphology in addition to developing the Bonsmara breed on the basis of functional efficiency. The second issue was my turning down an invitation by Prof. Bonsma to join his staff in the Department of Animal Science. Although this could have paved the way for a potentially successful academic career my heart told me: No. I opted to get cow dung on my feet. Maybe this was the result of spending so much time during school holidays working cattle with my father."

His singular vision from this experience, Zietsman says, was that he realized Lasater's approach using nature and reproductive pressure to select the best animals under local conditions was superior. First, he says, they just weren't making any more Bonsmas with that kind of experience and brain-functional data. Second, there is too much individual subjectivity, or bias, involved in visual selection.

Zietsman also saw the tremendous financial potential in managed grazing, particularly high-stock-density grazing and he began to meld the seemingly disparate ideas into what he teaches today.

If you want to read Zietsman's book, it is now available in electronic or printed form. Order it direct from Amazon's publishing unit in color or black & white.

At $27 it is quite a bit cheaper in PDF format from publisher Paul Butler. Contact him by email at [email protected]

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