Solly Mafuya started farming part-time in 1991 but spent most of his career in the corporate world. When he retired in 2008, he turned to farming full time, pinning his hope on the versatile Dohne Merino sheep breed. He spoke to Peter Mashala about his long-standing passion for the industry.
For Solly Mafuya, former executive marketing manager at Old Mutual, farming dual-purpose Dohne Merino sheep on communal land in Butterworth has been a passion passed down from generation to generation.
He began farming cattle and sheep in 1991 while working for Old Mutual in Butterworth. His traditional and cultural background had a big influence on his decision to farm with livestock.
“We used to say that a man without livestock was not a true man,” recalls Solly. He attributes his passion and motivation to his grandfather, who loved farming just as much as he does. “We do struggle with access to land but sheep farming in this area is both profitable and fulfilling,” he says.
The Dohne Merino’s ability to generate income from both wool and meat, along with their hardiness and adaptability, make them a good fit for Solly. Burial societies provide a large slaughter market for his hamels (wethers) and old-ewe culls; and last year he produced about 1 300kg of wool from 350 sheep of different ages.
Solly continued farming remotely after he was promoted and transferred to Pretoria. At this time, he was focusing mainly on cattle. He rented land from commercial farmers in the Komga area and by 2007 had built a herd of 130 breeding cows. However, he encountered challenges along the way. “As the herd grew, I began to have problems with the landlords.”
Rental conditions changed constantly and Solly moved the cattle from farm to farm. The exercise was costly and time-consuming, since Solly was still based in Pretoria, and he grew tired of it. Despite his best efforts, he failed to obtain government property in the communal areas, even though land was available, he says.
“Despite the many applications I submitted, nothing has come of it.” Solly sold most of his cattle – keeping only about 30 back home on communal land – and began focusing on sheep from that point on.
BREED OF CHOICE
His choice of sheep is the dual-purpose Dohne Merino, which is a strong and hardy animal. He chose the breed as it is well adapted to his environment, which means fewer inputs and better returns. “You don’t want to keep animals that need
your attention all the time and that rely on medicine to survive,” he emphasises.
The Dohne Merino produces lambs with fast growth rates, reaching around 25-35kg live weight within 100 days of birth. Solly has only one breeding season, starting in November, and he runs the rams with the ewes only during mating season.
Lambing starts in April. He prefers a single lambing season due to the lack of land and infrastructure. “This allows you to work with your lambs more easily and wean them almost at the same time,” he explains.
During the five months of pregnancy, pregnant ewes receive 2ml of Coglavax vaccine for Clostridium diseases. Approxi- mately six weeks after birth, lambs receive their first dose of Maxicare, and are then injected for pulpy kidney disease. A booster vaccine is administered four weeks later.
Older sheep are vaccinated for blue tongue three months before breeding starts. Whenever he shears sheep, he plunge dips them and repeats the process after 21 days. After that, Solly uses pour-on every quarter. Solly has just over 350 breeding ewes, with over 450 animals running on the veld at any time.
“Because of the lack of resources, I cannot afford to give extra feed or supplements to this number of sheep. Therefore, I farm extensively. I don’t feed the sheep much extra food, because I want them to live off grass,” he explains.
Nonetheless, Solly provides the sheep with winter and summer licks at the appropriate times. In addition, he provides extra food and supplements to pregnant and lactating ewes.
“I give them lamb cubes or a homemade lamb and ewe mix of crushed yellow maize and crushed lucerne mixed with Master 20,” Solly explains. He produces maize on about 15ha and usually keeps 80 to 100 bags from the harvest. This lasts about a year.
Since the sheep graze on communal land, they are watched by a shepherd every day to avoid mixing with sheep from other farmers. Occasionally, the sheep graze on the communal unfenced areas, even though he owns 15ha fenced land.
“I have about 21ha that I use for maize production and as pasture for sheep. I use 6ha behind the homestead for planting maize and grazing for the rams.” Over the past season, Solly produced 550 bags of maize at 40kg each (22t) from these dry patches of land. It is sold at a shop in the small town of Idutywa.
INVESTING IN GENETICS
Solly buys rams from stud breeders in his immediate area but sometimes travels as far as Stutterheim. When buying rams, he recommends paying attention to wool quality, scrotal circumference, morbidity, sound legs and hooves, and growth potential.
“Investing in high-quality breeding material is essential to produce superior quality animals. Failure to do so guarantees poor returns,” says Solly. Dohne Merinos are known to produce wool of superior quality, with mature animals producing between 3.5kg and 5kg of wool per year.
The medium-to-large body frame of this breed makes it suitable for meat production with a higher yield on a carcass, he says. “An average mature Dohne Merino ewe weighs between 50kg and 65kg, while a mature ram weighs between 80kg and 100kg.”
Solly’s wool production from 350 animals of different ages after the last shearing was 1300kg, earning him just over R90 000. The wool is sold through OVK in Idutywa. However, he says farmers struggle to get reasonable prices for their wool. “As farmers, especially small communal farmers, we are always price takers.”
In addition to low prices, Solly says the lack of government support is holding back black communal farmers in the Eastern Cape. According to him, there is a large amount of fallow land owned by the government that is not available to black farmers.
“I have applied for a farm since 2007 and never received a reply, not even a regret letter,” Solly says.
Farmers suffer because widespread corruption within the department of agriculture and a lack of foresight prevent them from implementing sound policies to support farmers, he says.
“Here in the Eastern Cape, most government farms are owned by close friends and relatives of politicians. Almost every Eastern Cape politician has a farm, including their relatives,” Solly says.