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Harvesting mistletoe is one of the most cost-effective drought survival techniques available to stock farmers, writes seasoned Karoo farmer Roelof Bezuidenhout.
Karoo farms with lots of sweet thorn trees (Acacia karroo) are much more drought-resistant than those that don’t have this plant. The reason is that these trees, besides giving shelter, also supply feed all year round – either in the form of leaves, flowers or pods, depending on the season.
They also host the parasitic mistletoe, commonly known as voëlent, which is totally underrated and under-utilised as an emergency drought feed.
The mistletoe grows in clusters that become almost as heavy as lucerne bales and are equally nourishing. Plucked out of the branches by means of long hooks, they make a nutritious and palatable green feed that soon gets the rumens of sheep and goats working well.
Unfortunately, details about the true nutritional value of mistletoe are not available yet. Researchers from the University of KwaZuluNatal’s School of Biological and Conservation Sciences have however established that mistletoes have higher nitrogen concentrations than their legume host trees.
They found that mistletoe need less water than their hosts, and by maintaining this lower water need they passively accumulate a higher nutrient concentration than their hosts. The study also found that without birds feeding on the fruit, and so spreading its seed, germination would not be possible for mistletoes.