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ARTICLES >> Livestock Articles

Wilcannia Bestprac Tour of South Africa

Posted by Bestprac on Feb 02 2012

By Sally Ware, Livestock Officer (Sheep and Wool), I & I NSW, Hay

After 12 months of planning, talking and reviewing, four members of the Wilcannia Bestprac group boarded various planes and headed west. That is thousands of kilometres west – destination South Africa. The trip had been decided upon at a Wilcannia Bestprac meeting at Garry and Tracy Hannigan’s property, Churinga Station, in October in 2009 and it became the group’s key objective for 2010 – to visit a country with a similar environment to the pastoral areas of NSW, and see firsthand some of the alternative farming systems used there.

The tour group on farm in the Karoo region.  L-R:  Julie and Justin McClure, farm owner Norman Kroon, Sally Ware, Colleen Southwell, Garry and Tracy Hannigan, local host and well known dorper classer Rodney Raynor and Jason

The tour group on farm in the Karoo region. L-R: Julie and Justin McClure, farm owner Norman Kroon, Sally Ware, Colleen Southwell, Garry and Tracy Hannigan, local host and well known dorper classer Rodney Raynor and Jason

 

 

 

After deciding to undertake the trip, the next priority for the group was to work with McMichael & Associates consultant, Jason Southwell. Jason had benchmarked with the group in the past and had also previously travelled to South Africa. Jason planned and organised the itinerary. The final “over the line” group consisted of Garry and Tracy Hannigan, Julie and Justin McClure, Jason Southwell and his wife Colleen and myself, Sally Ware, Livestock Officer (Sheep and Wool) with I and I NSW based in Hay.

Arriving in Jo’Burg in early November, after an overnight stop, the group immediately flew to the Kalahari desert farm town of Upington in the far north of South Africa. This is the area where breeds such as the dorper thrive and to us, it looked just like Australian pastoral country, with a 200 mm average rainfall albeit a seasonal summer rain. The rains had yet to come and on day five, we were followed back into town by a rolling dust storm, just like home during the drought!

We were hosted around the Upington district by Deon Heyns, a Manager from a local stock agency company known at KLK. Deon is in charge of the company’s feedlots and abattoirs, including the Upington feedlot and abattoir. Deon was invaluable as not only could he take us straight to the farms and venues we were visiting but like all agents, he knew the district and the locals intimately and under his guidance we started to feel like locals! We did have to overcome the language barrier as the native west Germanic language Africaans is spoken as a first language in northern South Africa but by day 3, we had Deon speaking nearly fluent Aussie and Deon was able to help interpret the information exchange between us and the farmers.

We visited three farms in the Upington area and two in the Karoo region. The similarities between far western NSW and these farms were obvious, from the arid environment to the size and isolation of the properties to some of the on-farm practices. The farms range from 20000 to 36,000 hectares (ha) in size with an approximate stocking rate of one dorper ewe to 6 ha. Lambing percentages ranged from 130 to 150%. Lambs are weaned from three months with the wethers sold over the hooks once they reach 40 kg liveweight. The average over the hooks meat price for lambs at the time of visit (November 2010) was $6.30/kg with a 20 kg carcase returning approx $126/lamb. Ewes are joined in October and again six weeks after lambing and ewe lambs are classed at 10 months prior to joining. One landholder was also feeding his ewes a high energy corn based supplement in troughs beside the waters from the last trimester of pregnancy right through to weaning. The stock water was supplied in troughs from bores pumped by windmills with the water drawn from a depth of 90 to 120 metres. Two of the three properties were also studs with both selling rams through on-farm auctions and involved in selling dorper genetics to many countries including Australia. Only one stud visited offered limited objective measurement in their ram sale catalogue.

A mob of lambing dorper ewes camped on the water at a farm out of Upington; note the man made shade shelter. The water in the troughs was bore water pumped by windmills from a depth between 90 to 120 m.

 

 

 

One of the more common farming practices noted whilst visiting South African farms was the rotational grazing systems used. Not only in the Northern Cape area but also in the other area visited, the arid but more mountainous Karoo region. Methods varied from the more strategic holistic resource management method to a casual movement of stock every three months. Even the larger farms had divided their paddocks into 400 to 500 ha “camps” and stock were moved from one camp to the next ensuring that stock did not stay for long periods continually grazing a paddock. High labour units on the farms meant that fences were able to be built and maintained as well as other time consuming activities such as windmills checked and stock water troughs cleaned.

Predation of lambs by black-backed jackals was a major issue with lamb losses as high as 20% on some farms. Some farmers were using wire netting boundary fences which were buried into the ground and/or electrifying boundary fences using solar panels and two offset wires. Boundary fences had to be continually checked and maintained and jackals inside the fences shot. Other farmers were placing bells around the necks of lead sheep in lambing mobs as the sound of the bell scares the timid jackal. Farmers in some areas were moving out of sheep into cattle because of the continual lamb losses sustained from this predator.

Another way of stopping the jackals taking lambs – placing bells on one lead sheep in the mob.  These mixed age white dorper ewes were lambing in small, irrigated paddocks close to a house to reduce the risk of lamb loss by jackals.

Another way of stopping the jackals taking lambs – placing bells on one lead sheep in the mob. These mixed age white dorper ewes were lambing in small, irrigated paddocks close to a house to reduce the risk of lamb loss by jackals.

 

 

 

In summary, the trip certainly provided the travelling group with an insight into dorper production and rangeland management in the northern part of South Africa. Only 24% of the national sheep population are dorpers and of that number, 21% are dorpers and only 3% white dorpers. In the main, the dorpers are only run in the drier, northern areas with merinos and dohnes, as a dual purpose breed, are considered more profitable in the higher rainfall areas. The national sheep population is declining in South Africa due to a number of outside the farm gate factors. The first issue is predation which is making farms, particularly those running a single purpose animal such as a dorper unsustainable (no lambs, no income). Another problem is the theft of stock from farms due to the continuing high increase of the country’s population and a third major issue is the increase in number and size of game parks which are buying out family farms and contributing to the predation problem. 
 

Last changed: Feb 06 2012

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