An unusual friendship between a kasi boy and a rural veterinarian is restoring hope in the rural village of eNdelane in the Eastern Cape.
Wandile Khave’s dream is clear if you look at his WhatsApp profile. “It all starts with a dream”, it states, followed by a smiley-face emoji of a farmer with a big straw hat and a seedling. Strange for a kasi guy who grew up in Soweto? Not really. Wandile’s heart was always with his grandfater in eNdelane village in the Eastern Cape, a few kilometres south of Idutywa. Cutting wood next to the Shixini River and herding sheep back to the kraal during the holidays made Wandile realise he just wanted to be a farmer.
It was a last-minute rush to catch the bus to Middelburg in the Karoo, where Wandile would formally kick off his career in farming. His mate Lwazi had agreed to look after his two pitbull terriers, while his mother, Xoliswa, would remain behind in Emdeni, Soweto.
Wandile had tried many hustles in the city, but contantly felt that deep longing to become a farmer and join Grandpa Griffith, herding those 100 wool sheep, 15 Ngunitype cows and 30 hardy indigenous goats. Or helping his grandmother plant the plot next to the homestead with maize and vegetables while keeping an eye on the chickens.
At Grootfontein College of Agriculture, Wandile knew he was in the right place, despite finding the studying quite tough. It was a few years since he’d been at school, after all! The subject he struggled with most was animal health.
When he had to write a supplementary exam, he turned to his veterinarian lecturer, Dr Johan van Rooyen, for help. And so it came to be that Wandile accompanied Johan on his veterinary rounds during the December holidays. In terms of herd health, the penny started to drop. When Wandile returned to eNdelane for Christmas, he found himself taking pictures with his smartphone and sending them to his new veterinarian friend.
Wandile started to realise how tough life really is for village livestock farmers. The only thing more tough, perhaps, would be the life of the sheep trying to survive on communal grazing. Wandile shared these challenges with his teacher as they started together on a journey of discovery about village stock farming.
The first lesson was that it is almost impossible to control infectious diseases among sheep that graze communally. Take sheep scab, a highly infectious disease caused by a small itch-causing mite that burrows into the skin of the animals. Affected sheep quickly lose condition and wool. The loss of wool income especially can be devastating for communities in the lalis, or rural areas.
So Johan suggested Ivermectin. Wandile injected the village sheep with this medication eight times over a year, and the amount of wool they were able to get from the animals almost doubled that year! Today Wandile never takes the taxi back to Idutywa without a bottle of Ivermectin in his backpack.
“Village farmers have a saying: ‘We are always short of cash when we need to treat our animals, but when we have cash, we have other priorities,’” he explains.
“Yes, vaccinating your sheep, goats and cattle against infectious diseases costs money, but it’s a lot cheaper than all those calves, lambs or wool you will never get because you didn’t vaccinate.” Next Wandile and Johan developed an innovative plan to make sure every lamb was vaccinated.
Not so easy in village flocks, where lambs can come at any time. So every month when Wandile returns to eNdelane, he takes along plastic ear tags for any new lambs that were born since his last visit. The tags bear the proud mark #eVF. Every new lamb also gets a pulpy-kidney injection and is then marked with a large red dot of paint on the back. All lambs that already have a red dot later get a second pulpy-kidney shot – and a second red dot. Any newly pregnant ewes get pasteurella/clostridium injections, as well as a red dot. And all the sheep get a shot of Ivermectin against scab.
Wandile also regularly collects dung samples in plastic bags regularly so that Johan can examine them for parasites and coccidiosis. These samples show how immune the village flocks are and whether they need to be dosed with vitamin A and trace elements to boost their immunity.
Moreover, it became apparent that most of the ewes conceive in January on the green grass, with the majority of lambs being born in June. Plans were made to boost production and more lambs survived. However, when the devastating drought hit, Wandile realised just how vulnerable communal farmers actually are. And that is what he intends to change.
So he makes the tough trip back to eNdelane Village every month. First there’s the 105km hike from Grootfontein to Cradock. There he waits for the Quantum taxi to Komani to fill with passengers. The same happens at Komani and at Butterworth. Finally he arrives in Idutywa and is dropped off at the Fort Malan Clinic sign. The last few kilometres he walks. And by the time the sun rises on the Saturday morning, Wandile would have been working with the sheep for an hour or two already.
Next month we’ll catch up with Wandile as he continues to bring hope to the village. He’s since graduated and works at Johan’s veterinary practice as a herd-health manager. The monthly visits to Idutywa will carry on!
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