All too often people think that land bought with a government grant is doomed to commercial failure. This Namibian farmer, however, planned his farm meticulously to maximise its potential and has built up a large enterprise consisting of two studs, commercial livestock and a game farm.
It was careful planning, lots of willpower and a passion for farming that took Charles /Urib (42) from being an emerging, part-time farmer to a commercial success to be reckoned with.
On his farm, Bergvallei near Kamanjab in Namibia, Charles runs a Simbra and Boer goat stud and farms commercially with Simbras, Boer goats, and Damara and Van Rooy sheep. He has also recently started offering trophy hunting and has built guestrooms to accommodate the guests, as well as a restaurant.
In South Africa and Namibia, so many people in similar positions don’t manage to make a success of their farms but Charles, clearly an inquisitive person, doesn’t hesitate to ask advice.
“I constantly gather information on how to farm more effectively. I read a lot, attend farmers’ days and courses, and consult experts to acquire essential knowledge. My fellow farmers are always prepared to give advice and Willie Grobler from Voermol – my feed company – also helps a lot,” says Charles, who has also passed the Junior And Senior Simbra, and Junior Simmertaler judging courses.
He is just as willing to share his knowledge with other farmers and occasionally holds farmers’ days on his farm at which other farmers receive training or gain knowledge.
“I want to assist organised agriculture at a high level with agricultural development and service. Last year I was a member of the The Simbra Cattle Breeders’ Society board and also currently serve on the board of Meatco, the country’s leading abattoir.”
Charles took his first tentative steps in farming in 2000 when he acquired a few goats to keep on communal ground alongside the Ugab river near Khorixas.
Five years later he started leasing the farm he now owns. It lies in the area which traditionally belongs to the Damara tribe. “With the rental agreement, I was given an option to buy the farm from a sequestered estate, which I did in 2010 when I received a grant from the government as part of the affirmative action program,” he says.
The farm was quite run-down and had no camps. There was only one watering point on the entire 8200ha which had resulted in soil compaction and overgrazing in certain areas. Fortunately, Charles’ electrical business had already shown some success so he had some funds that he could use to develop the farm.
He had to erect boundary fences for 22 camps of approximately 270ha each and sink boreholes that he equipped with solar-powered pumps.
“It was a major quest for water. Of the 10 boreholes that I sank, only three had enough water for the animals. All the rest were dry. That is why I had to lay 10km of pipes to deliver water to all the camps,” he says. He also built four earth dams to capture rainwater in the rainy season (end of January to the beginning of April).
‘Of the 10 boreholes that I sank, only three had enough water for the animals.’
On the mountainous parts of the farm (about 2000ha) he saw the opportunity for game farming and trophy hunting. To this end, he has erected a thatched house, camps and barns.
UTILISING ALL THE VELD
The cattle were divided into four groups: bulls, heifers from weaning to 18 months, commercial cows, and stud cows. They graze separately in camps and remain a maximum of 30 days in a camp before being rotated.
“I allow the camps to be grazed by both large and small livestock as each has its own grazing habits and can systematically improve the land.” There is mostly annual sour grass and bushman grass on the farm and blue buffalo grass is now becoming well established.
“Cattle prefer certain grasses, sheep others, and goats browse on shrub leaves. In the rainy season the cattle and sheep utilize the sour grass and later the perennial grass, while the Boer goats browse mostly on the shrubs and mopane leaves.”
As in other districts, Charles has issues with bush encroachment which he combats using axes and chemical herbicides. He has already cleared 600ha of land where he now cuts and bales veld grasses.
ENOUGH LIVESTOCK TO MAKE A LIVING
Although the carrying capacity of the veld is estimated at 18ha per large livestock unit (LSU), he maintains 20ha/LSU for greater sustainability. The small livestock carrying capacity is calculated according to the ratio of 8 small livestock units (SSU) to each 1 LSU.
The farm has grown so much that he now has about 650 cattle and 380 assorted small livestock. It is indeed a testimonial to his drive that he was able to successfully make the leap from emerging farmer to commercial farmer. He set out to prove that not all farmers who get government money to buy land sit back and allow everything go to rack and ruin.
“I now have sufficient livestock to make a decent living. I also have my electrical business and I employ 80 people. I try to spend as much time as possible on the farm. I travel the 960km to the farm every other weekend and then spend a week there. In the meantime, my foreman manages the farm along with my workers,” says Charles. He travels around about 4000km a month to be on the farm.
STUD AND COMMERCIAL LIVESTOCK
He also built up his Simbra and Boer goat studs which are farmed under the name Hatagob. This enterprise was named in memory of his two-year-old son who drowned at their home in Windhoek in 2008.
Three years ago, Charles started showing Simbras and in 2012 showed the champion bull calf and in 2013 the senior champion female animal at the Windhoek show. His Boer goat stud has produced various champions at the Grootfontein show.
Charles also farms commercially with his cattle, goats and sheep. About 60% of all the cows are used commercially for weaners and ox production. He manages all the livestock (both cattle and small livestock) in terms of the Herdmaster program’s index for inter-calving periods, weight and number of calves or lambs.
Every year he selects his 50 best heifers. At two years of age they are put with the bulls for intense selection. The most important breeding season is the summer program (1 February to 30 April for cows), while the winter breeding season from 1 July to 30 August is for young heifers.
He sells the heifers that haven’t conceived after six months. The offspring are judged visually at six months to later serve as replacement heifers. Animals with conformation problems and those that are below average based on the breed indexes are rejected at weaning and sold at auction, while the best weaners are kept for the ox production system.
All the stud animals are only selected at 18 to 24 months and those that don’t make the grade are slaughtered with the oxen at the Meatco abattoir.
Pregnant cows calve near the house to limit the threat of cheetah, leopards, hyena and jackal. They are returned to the veld after two months when the calves are big enough. The small livestock is watched during the day and kept in camps at night.
ENQUIRIES: Charles /Urib, email: firstname.lastname@example.org