Elvis Maremani grew up herding goats in the rural village of Mashamba, near Makhado. Seeking an escape from poverty and rural village life, he followed a career path into the corporate world. However, a chance visit to a renowned goat and sheep breeder inspired his journey back to his farming roots. He now farms Indigenous Veld Goats, Savanna goats and Bosvelder sheep on communal land in his home village. Peter Mashala paid him a visit.
Having grown-up herding goats, Elvis Maremani was convinced that corporate work was his path out of poverty and rural village life. Born in Mashamba Village, near Makhado in
Limpopo, his family shared the common struggle of making ends meet. So after matric, Elvis began gathering diplomas and degrees in mechanical engineering, and landed a full-time job as a mechanical engineer at a state-owned enterprise in Nelspruit.
However, in 2019, Elvis rediscovered his lifelong passion for goat farming when he accompanied his younger brother on a casual visit to one of Limpopo’s most renowned Indigenous Veld Goat (IVG) breeders.
The farmer was Emmanuel Modau, who farms Bosvelder sheep, Indigenous Veld Goats and Savanna goats on communal land in Ha-Ravhele, about 40km north of Makhado.
“I was inspired by Emmanuel’s farm and the adorable animals. I knew I wanted this path when I saw his setup. It reconnected me with my childhood dream,” he recalls.
During the 1990s, Elvis’ family owned a handful of goats, which he enjoyed herding. “I had a deep love for goats and developed a special bond with all my goats. This was when my passion for goat farming was born. At the time, our goats were a mixture of indigenous and other breeds. We knew nothing about the importance of genetics and breeding.”
After the visit, Elvis’s dream of getting involved in the sheep and goat value chain started to take shape. He purchased 15 Indigenous Veld Goat ewes and one ram from Emmanuel to start his breeding operation.
“When I visited Emmanuel, I discovered the exceptional traits and advantages of farming with Indigenous Veld Goats in areas such as ours. They can adapt to even harsh conditions,” says Elvis. The Vhembe District is one of the hottest areas in the country, and the goats’ thick, pigmented skin protects them from the sun.
After sharing his vision with his family, Elvis’s mom Magala Mashamba gave him a 1.5ha plot. Magala already owned land in Mashamba after acquiring an occupation permit from the local chief. This land was acquired for subsistence farming; and while his mom had previously grown dryland maize and beans there, it was no longer cultivated.
Elvis then began negotiating with neighbouring landowners for the use of their plots and expanded to just under 5ha. This was sufficient to run a small farm. Elvis went on to acquire an additional 10ha, bringing the farm to 14.8ha. Since Elvis is still employed full-time 400km away, he has a trusted team in place to oversee daily farming activities.
“Grazing and breeding are easier to manage now that we have drilled a borehole and divided the plot into small camps,” he explains. They continue to use communal grazing areas, which helps them reserve the camps for dry seasons.
“Our animals are with herders who can control their movement once they are out grazing in communal areas,” he says. The advantage of working with indigenous goats is their ability to adapt quickly to a changing environment, Elvis says.
“It wasn’t difficult for them to adapt to the changes in conditions, and I didn’t do much to help them.”
His flock grew quickly due to the goats’ high fertility rates, with most goats dropping twins during the first kidding period and successfully weaning most of their kids. “I was very impressed since I expected a high mortality rate. However, kid mortality was less than 5%,” he says.
As a novice farmer, Elvis was amazed at how little he had to do to achieve positive results. It is almost inevitable that you will make costly mistakes when you begin farming. “I experienced very few issues because of the indigenous goats’ ability to survive harsh conditions and Emmanuel’s advice,” he says.
Indigenous goats are naturally bred to be functionally efficient. “Managing them doesn’t require a lot of hands-on care, such as frequent vaccinations and doses. They are more like game that survive without intervention. Of course, one must supplement when necessary. Thanks to the help of Emmanuel, I was able to make up my own feeding formula, which is working perfectly.”
Elvis’s supplementary feed formula consists of macadamia cake, yellow maize, hominy chop, crushed lucerne, production meal and molasses. This is fed to the animals in winter and a little in summer. “In the dry winter months, the supplementation programme becomes more robust,” he says.
As part of their preparation for the breeding season, rams and ewes receive lamb and ewe pellets. He has two breeding seasons as he finds it easier to work with kids and lambs that are born around the same time. “This programme runs more smoothly than having lambs dropping now and then,” he explains.
In addition to pellets, working rams are put into smaller camps where they get trace minerals (Ovimin) to maintain energy, libido and testosterone levels. “We put them in smaller camps to ensure they don’t move distances and preserve their energy to service the ewes,” he explains.
As Elvis’ experience grew, he added Savanna goats and Bosvelder sheep, also purchased from Emmanuel as starter packs. He was initially sceptical about the Savanna goats, but they have adapted very well and form part of his future plans for the farming operation.
He intends to use his farming experience to grow his operation and get involved in the sheep and goat value chain.
“My goal is to breed quality sheep and goats and to participate actively in the market. I see this happening very soon with these breeds.”
While the indigenous goats do not receive many vaccinations, some vaccines are administered to other animals. They are immunised against dysentery, Pasteurella, pulpy kidney, tetanus, blackleg, black disease and clostridial metritis with Multivax P Plus. Vaccinations are done annually, and all goats and sheep are vaccinated before the first summer rainfall. Elvis does not vaccinate against tick-borne diseases and does not heavily dip sheep and goats to increase their resistance. “It is advantageous to have a low- maintenance but profitable herd,” he says.
The Bosvelder sheep, which is a three-way cross between Pedis, Dorpers and Van Rooys, are just as effective as Indigenous Veld Goats. After hearing from Emmanuel what the breed was intended to accomplish, he was impressed.
“It’s almost like creating a super indigenous breed from other indigenous breeds,” he explains. According to him, there is no sheep on earth that is as hardy as the Pedi sheep, adding that it is disease-resistant, drought-tolerant and highly fertile.
“The Van Rooy has exceptional milk production and healthy udders. It has a big frame which means it can carry more meat.”
Elvis performs natural selection and production under the guidance of Emmanuel. Just like the Indigenous Veld Goat, the Bosvelder is a functionally-efficient breed that doesn’t need much attention. With hardly any effort, low input costs and minimal physical labour, he runs sheep on the veld with high productivity results. Despite being in an area affected by heartwater disease, he seldom loses animals to the disease.
“All the animals have been exposed to heartwater and have developed immunity to it. I do not vaccinate them against it. Many animals who fall ill to this disease still survive after being treated.”
Elvis is not only interested in increasing numbers of goats and sheep, but also in improving the genetic quality. The IIVG industry is growing significantly; and the few goats he took to the first production auction held by the Limpopo IVG Club earlier this year fetched reasonable prices. “Quality animals are key to being profitable,” he adds.
“One of my most important goals is to become a supplier of goat meat and to open my own butchery,” he says. However, scaling up production will require more land, which is scarce.
“Land plays an important role in farming. The size of land we have is not ideal for the type of farming operations we are involved in.” Elvis is also challenged by the high cost of infrastructure and production inputs. “It would be helpful to get some assistance from the government just to ease the burden.”
|ELVIS’S LEARNING JOURNEY|
1990: Elementary school at Mashamba Presidential School
2002: Matriculated at Raluombe Secondary School in Limpopo
2006: Graduated from Tshwane University of Technology with Diploma in Mechanical Engineering
2010: Graduated from University of South Africa with a BTech Degree
2014: Honours in Mechanical Engineering from University of Pretoria
2022: Enrolled in a Master of Business Administration at Milpark Business School