Last update: April 11, 2012 03:29:19 PM E-mail Print

 

Sheep farming in the North-western Cape Province

F. J. Labuscagne

 

THE northwestern part of the Cape Province is hot and arid, with an average annual rainfall of six to eight inches. In some years the rainfall is only two or three inches, while occasionally it may be as high as ten or twelve inches, when the year in which the fall occurs is regarded as being exceptionally good.

Trees and bushes are scarce; hence there is little or no shade for sheep during the hottest part of the day. Obviously, therefore, the planting of trees near windmills on the veld would go a long way towards improving the farms.

In spite of an irregular rainfall and a low carrying capacity 2 to 4 morgen per sheep, the veld is of exceptional quality and suitable for any kind of small stock. It is essentially Karoo veld, consisting of Karoo bushes, gannas, etc., together with a few grass types of which Bushman grass is the chief. Practically all the plants found in those parts are eaten by stock. These plants spring up after a rain, and soon furnish abundant grazing for sheep. All of them, with the exception of the grasses, are very drought-resistant, and retain their nutritive properties even during the severest droughts, although they may at such times lack succulence. The latter deficiency could, however, be made up by planting spineless cactus and by providing drinking-places in camps.

Except in a few instances, irrigation is not practicable, as the water supply is in most cases dependent on windmills. Subterranean water is, on the whole, plentiful, and not very deep down.

 

Merino Sheep Farming

A few years ago, farming with woolled and non-woolled sheep, such as Africanders, Persians, Namaquas and crosses of these breeds, was carried on more or less on an equal footing, but during the last year or two, Merino sheep farming has advanced by leaps and bounds. i.e. to the number of over a million, while other breeds have diminished by nearly 200,000. In view of the success achieved with Merinos, many improvements have been made on the farms. Of these, jackal proofing deserves special mention, as in addition to simplifying sheep farming it also has numerous other advantages. For example, it enables sheep to live under natural conditions to graze, rest and drink at will; there is no driving of them hither and thither, causing denudation of the veld and fouling the wool with dust; the sheep are better able to retain their condition, and better lamb crops are obtained, while more satisfactory veld management is made possible. In the camps good, clean drinking water is supplied in suitable concrete or zinc troughs that are capable of being cleaned regularly. In this way the danger of worm infection is largely eliminated, while the trouble of driving sheep to water is obviated. This system of management is strongly recommended.

Further, the sheep should be regularly supplied with licks, to supplement the constituents in which the pasture may be deficient.

It has been proved that improved methods and efficient veld management have contributed considerably to successful farming. Overstocking is art evil which has diminished to a certain extent, but it is still far too common a practice. Occasionally, farmers plume themselves on the fact that their farms are stocked at the rate of 1 sheep to the morgen while the actual carrying capacity of the farm may be only 1 sheep to 3 or even 4 morgen. In good years this rate of stocking may be possible, but usually, with the advent of the first drought, such a farmer will be on trek looking for pasture for his stock. Therefore, during good years farmers should avoid overstocking, so as to enable their pasture to develop and seed. The farmer who does not overstock in normal years stands a much better chance of keeping his stock on his farm without having to trek about, thus avoiding expense and loss. But this farmer might be tempted to rent some of his veld to another farmer who has trekked with his stock, and this is where he cuts his own throat, so to speak. In other words; when a drought sets in, even though it may not be as severe as the one that prevailed in. 1926-1927, he is also forced Ito trek with his sheep.

 

Improvement of Flocks

So far as the quality of our sheep is concerned, there is still considerable room for improvement, as a large proportion of our flocks consist of animals which are by no means a paying proposition. In times like the present, with wool prices at a low ebb, the production of wool per sheep has necessarily to be high to make this branch of farming a lucrative one. When wool prices were high, it even paid to keep sheep that produced little wool but since the inferior animal eats just as much as does the good one, why not get rid of the former?

Class your flock regularly every year, sell or slaughter those that show hereditary faults and, in order to build up your flock, use only good rams among the sheep that are retained.

Farmers in the northwest should keep only sheep of good constitution, as this is an essential requirement since the camps in those parts are large and sheep have to travel long distances to water, etc.

Give the characters of wool, such as quality, density, yolk and length, your close attention. Quality and yolk are essential, while density is of greater importance than extra length, as it gives no extra weight but protects the other characters against weather conditions, and even renders possible the breeding of a fairly fine class of wool. Wool that is too fine or too strong cannot be recommended for those parts, as the former becomes flaccid and wasteful, and the latter straight and dry as a result of climatic and other conditions.

Many farmers still make the mistake of not devoting sufficient attention to the quality of the rams they use. They either persist in the purchase of rams from itinerant sellers, or they select lambs from their neighbour’s ordinary sheep or even from their own flocks.

 

 

Educating the Sheep Farmer

But it is encouraging to know that adverse practices are gradually being eliminated. For example, farmers have during recent years given ample proof of determination to increase their knowledge of newer and better farming methods by visiting the Schools of Agriculture, attending agricultural shows and availing themselves increasingly of the services and advice of the sheep and wool officers of the Department of Agriculture, as shown by the following figures for 1930-31 :-

 

District

Number of sheep classing demonstrations

Number of persons who attended them

Number of wool classing courses

Number of persons who attended them

Victoria West

Prieska

Carnarvon

Fraserburg

Hopetown

Marydale

Beaufort West

Loxton

Vosburg

Strydenburg

Kenhardt

Williston

16

14

13

7

3

1

3

1

-

3

1

7

95

104

52

41

16

10

14

6

-

10

5

11

9

6

3

2

3

3

-

2

3

-

1

-

102

59

40

37

37

36

-

44

24

-

13

-

Total

69

364

32

392

 

 

Published

Farming in South Africa 7