Cold journey to Tankwa grazing for Roggeveld sheep

Sheep farmers in the Roggeveld undertake an annual journey with their livestock to the warmer grazing veld of the Tankwa Karoo during winter. In their case, it’s not extreme heat but the bitter cold that takes a toll on the flocks.

OC Vermeulen, one of the farmers who trekked with his sheep this year, farms on Agterplaas in the Roggeveld between Sutherland and Calvinia. His son, Willie, farms part-time with him.

The Vermeulens have been on this farm for generations. If his grandson, Willem (almost two years old), “loves the farm” he will be the ninth generation on the land.

OC annually moves his sheep to another family farm, Vermeulenskraal in the Tankwa Karoo, where the livestock can graze in a warmer area, reducing the risk of lambs freezing to death.

According to him, it gets up to 8°C warmer there than at Agterplaas.

The sheep will spend about three to four months on the winter grazing. They will also be shorn there this year.

Big effort

In the past, the journey to the grazing was done on foot, but now the sheep are transported by truck to Ouberg, which is 800 metres higher than the grazing veld. They then walk the 15 km to Vermeulenskraal. However, the lambs are transported all the way to the grazing.

“Moving with lambs is incredibly difficult. In a regular large truck, if you can move quickly, it doesn’t even take three hours, then you’re down there. If the lambs are small, it goes slowly.”

Unfortunately, this year, as with every trek, some lambs froze to death due to a rain shower followed by snow.

The Roggeveld and Tankwa Karoo are in a winter rainfall area, which means feed for the sheep is now at its most abundant, making it the best time for the ewes to lamb.

The trek takes two days and involves five people – three farm workers drive behind, one walks in front, while OC drives the truck and helps where he can. It can become a difficult task because not all the sheep can be loaded onto the truck at once, and the cold on top of the mountain is harsh on them.

OC talks via WhatsApp with, African Farming’s sister publication, and in the background you can hear the lambs – which are being transported to the grazing and arrive before the ewes – bleating for their mothers. “One of the dilemmas of such a trek is getting the lambs safely back to their mothers,” he says.

Catching lambs along the way is part of the process. The newborns are still too weak to walk there on their own and must be loaded with their mothers.

Last year, the trek was still done entirely on foot. They even had to overnight on another farm along the way. “The biggest problem is to keep your animals safe and get them all there. Unfortunately, that doesn’t always happen.

“It’s also long hours and far to walk. Walking down Ouberg is exhausting. Age also takes its toll if you’re almost a veteran … but the spirit is still there.”

Wealth in his animals

According to OC, the veld looks good. Last year they had one of their best rainfall years, and so far this year 129 mm have fallen on top of the mountain. “I had the privilege of starting to farm during the drought. It was very difficult. Your animals are hungry and you don’t know what to feed them. Now they get natural grazing with the high rainfall, but it comes with cold.”

OC primarily farms with Dohne Merino sheep but started a Suffolk stud last year and will have the first stud rams available this year. They bought some of the best animals in the country for this and are very proud of it.

“A Suffolk is a very good cross-lamb that provides meat faster, and there is no kemp (coarse hair) that spreads into your wool.”

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