Emmanuel Mudau, of Mathuba Genetics in Limpopo, had his first brush with genetics during his childhood when he bred and reared pigeons as a hobby. Deliberate selection for colour traits in the birds gave Emmanuel an early opportunity to experiment with genetics. Years later, in 2016, Emmanuel joined a group of three other farmers and they started a genetics project breeding what became the Bosvelder sheep. He is the former founding deputy president of the Indigenous Veld Goat Breeders Society and the current founding deputy president of the Bosvelder Sheep Breeders Society.
It is difficult to farm livestock profitably in Limpopo. The province, in South Africa’s northernmost regions, is known for its very hot summers and recurring droughts and is an area where various species of disease-vectoring ticks thrive.
“To survive these areas, one needs highly adaptable, heat tolerant, disease resistant, fertile animals,” says Emmanuel. In a search for the right animal, Emmanuel farmed breeds such as the Dorper, the Pedi and the Damara, none of which gave him the desired outcome. After some years, Emmanuel, originally from Tshiozwi village outside Makhado, found what he was looking for in the Bosvelder sheep, the Indigenous Veld Goat, and Savanna goats, all of which he now farms at stud on communal land in Rahele, Tshiozwi’s neighbouring village.
In 2011 after a few years of farming indigenous goats, Emmanuel started running Pedi and Damara sheep. “I swapped two indigenous goats for two Pedi sheep with a community member who wanted to farm goats,” he recalls. In 2012 he bought a few Damara sheep and began to breed them. But he battled with the Damaras for years as they could not adapt to the environment.
Although I had high mortalities in the Damara sheep, the Pedi sheep, on the other hand, were doing very well,” says Emmanuel. The problem with the Pedi sheep he explains is the low meat production. “My customers wanted sheep with more meat, and Pedi sheep just don’t deliver on that end.”
By this time, Emmanuel had started attending study group meetings and farmers’ days organised by established breeders. In these groups he met three other breeders, Theo Hoffman, Craig Watson and Ruddette Nel, who faced the same challenges in their sheep and were looking at ways of solving the problem.
In 2016, the four farmers started a project to experiment with three breeds which they hoped would give them better results. Emmanuel says some of the farmers had been trying to improve Pedi sheep by using Meatmaster rams but this had not been a successful exercise. The four-man team decided to breed a three-way cross using, Pedis, Dorpers and Van Rooys. Emmanuel says Pedi sheep are among the hardiest sheep in the world.
“It is hardy, disease-resistant, drought and heat tolerant and highly fertile. It has been around, and has survived, the harshest conditions of the north for many years,” says Emmanuel. They chose the Dorper for its meat production.
“No other breed can compete with the Dorper on meat production and quality,” he adds. The Van Rooy was put into the cross for good udders and high milk production. “The Van Rooy also has a big frame which means it can carry more meat,” he says.
He says they are in their seventh year of building this breed and so far, so good. They are also in the process of registering the Bosvelder officially as a local breed. “We are working with the Agricultural Research Council and the Tshwane University of Technology who are still conducting tests and research,” explains Emmanuel.
Natural selection and production
Emmanuel says the Bosvelder is a functionally efficient breed that does not need a lot of attention. “Our sheep are run on the veld and remain highly productive with minimum effort, low input costs, and reduced physical labour inputs,” he explains. “If an animal does not survive on its own in the veld, it is useless,” says Emmanuel. “I let nature do my selection.”
As they are in a heartwater area, only animals that are resistant to the disease are kept on the farm. “All the animals have been exposed to heartwater and have built up immunity; I do not vaccinate against heartwater,” he says. Emmanuel’s animals often carry ticks which has not been a problem. He treats his animals for heartwater once but culls them if they need a second treatment.
Working rams are put into smaller camps where they get a high-energy supplementary feed and trace minerals (Ovimin) to maintain energy, libido and testosterone levels. “I run them in a very small camp so that they don’t lose a lot of energy roaming around when they have to serve ewes,” he explains. Emmanuel does not have a strict breeding season and runs rams with the ewes year-round. Non-working rams run in larger camps and the same principles apply to the goat flocks.
Emmanuel says he focused on indigenous breeds because he wanted to farm with nature. He tries to avoid using drugs and chemicals on his animals. They get an annual Multivax P Plusin vaccine for dysentery, pasteurella, pulpy kidney, tetanus, blackleg/black quarter and clostridial metritis.
“We don’t vaccinate our sheep for tick-borne diseases. If you walk around the kraals, you may see that some of the animals have ticks on them and they are fine. That is what you need as a farmer, you must farm profitable, low maintenance animals,” he explains. “I don’t dose animals for internal parasites.”
Emmanuel says nutrition is the catalyst for a profitable livestock farming operation. “Good nutrition means ensures a strong immune system and high fertility. If your animals are not getting a properly balanced diet, you will have problems,” he explains.
At Mathuba Genetics animals get a homemade supplementary feed in winter when the veld is dry, and the nutritional value of the grass has deteriorated. He mixes hominy chop, macadamia residue, beans, crushed yellow maize, and sunflower, with molasses which adds energy. “Sometimes when we don’t have macadamia residue we use peanut residue,” he says. The animals are fed in the afternoon when they come back from grazing. “About 50kg is enough for 50 ewes,” he adds.
There is little supplementary feeding in summer when the veld is green, and grass and leafy browse has high nutritional value. Only pregnant and lactating ewes are fed supplement to grow healthy lambs and boost their milk production. He says he feeds out licks when he sees animal body condition dipping which happens very rarely.
Emmanuel says having good genetics in his flock is non-negotiable. He judges genetic excellence on fertility, mothering ability, conception rate, hardiness and disease resistance. Emmanuel breeds for breeders with the aim of helping to build the national herd by putting excellent quality genes on the market, particularly for black farmers.
“Without quality animals, commercial farmers producing for slaughter won’t have the quality to build their herds and supply the market,” explains Emmanuel. A profitable line for Emmanuel is the ‘starter packs’, consisting of five ewes and one ram, which he sells to emerging farmers at prices from R18 000 to R35 000 per ‘pack’.
Sheep farmers should have weaned their lambs by 100 days and with poor quality genetics this may not be possible. He warns that ewes with low milk production will not be able to wean their lambs in good time.
A good eye for selection is as important as understanding the genetic traits he says advising breeders to keep careful records. Emmanuel has a four-year-old ram, Longrich, which he and a friend bred. “I have made close to R400 000 from this ram’s offspring, selling his sons as breeding rams at prices between R15 000 and R25 000 each,” Emmanuel explains.
“If I were to sell Longrich today, with the records I have kept, he would sell for a very good price. The records tell their own story.” On a more cautionary note Emmanuel says genetic progress does not happen overnight but is a long journey of hard work in selecting the right animals and building a profile and reputation. “In this game, reputation is everything. Once people start knowing and trusting you, it is easy to sell your animals,” he says.
A LIFE WITH INDIGENOUS LIVESTOCK
Emmanuel Mudau traces his love for indigenous breeds to the weekends he spent with his dad, Daniel Mudau who took care of livestock at the Schoemansdal Museum in Makhado, previously Louis Trichardt, in Limpopo.
Before its demise post 1994, the Schoemansdal Museum showcased Voortrekker household items, farm implements, and irrigation systems; it was better known for its efforts to preserve indigenous animal breeds such as Nguni goats, Afrikaner and Nguni cattle, Pedi sheep and Kolbroek pigs. “I spent the weekends helping and playing with young sheep and goats. Even my current kraal designs are from my faint childhood memory of the museum’s animal section,” explains Emmanuel.
After matric Emmanuel worked as a security guard for about three months but left to help a family friend who worked at a furniture shop. “He employed me privately to help him because he was not literate and couldn’t read and write. I did the reading and writing for him, and he paid me about R400 a month,” recalls Emmanuel. When the shop managers noticed this and how it helped to improve the man’s performance, Emmanuel was offered a permanent job at the store. Later, he was transferred to another branch in Turfloop where he worked from 2006 to 2010.
In 2010 he resigned and cashed his pension money of about R9 000 to buy his first four goats. “I got three ewes and a ram which I kept in my backyard at home in Tshiozwi. The goats were doing well and kidding at a rapid rate,” he says. The same year, he sold 15 sheep for one of his father’s colleagues with an agreement that he would make a commission on every animal sold. “I sold the sheep within a few days, except for four pregnant ewes. After paying me my commission, he gave me the four pregnant ewes,” says Emmanuel.
At the time he wasn’t keen on sheep so after they had lambed, he swapped the sheep for eight goats to grow his goat flock. Emmanuel’s dad was very supportive of his farming venture and helped him out financially. “He gave me half his salary and every time I got this money, I would buy a goat,” he remembers. Soon his flock was too big for the backyard and in 2011 Emmanuel approached the Ravhele village chief who gave him permission to use a bigger space outside the village.
That year, Emmanuel was approached by someone who had Boer goats and no longer wanted them. “He saw what I was doing and offered to sell me all his goats. I had no money to buy them, but he insisted and arranged payment over a period,” he says. Unfortunately, all the Boer goats died. “My indigenous goats were thriving and this is when I realised that I had to stick with the indigenous breeds,” says Emmanuel.
Apart from the preservation of the indigenous Mbuzi goat as part of agricultural history, the goats also have excellent commercial value. They are highly adaptable, drought resistant with excellent maternal ability, requiring minimal inputs, says Emmanuel.
“They raise their kids on the veld and can walk long distances and survive even on poor quality veld,” he explains. Emmanuel says the breed was formally registered in South Africa a few years ago by himself, Lourens Erasmus and Joel Mamabolo. The Indigenous Veld Goat Society was registered in 2020 and now has a little more than 50 members.
“We also have Savanna goats that do very well here although they are primarily from the Northern Cape,” he says. Emmanuel keeps indigenous chickens which are very popular in the market.