Bertie Swanepoel of the farm Zuurfontein in the Smithfield area first became fascinated by the idea of managing his operations with virtually no outside help, when family living in Australia told him about the way farmers there run their farms. The sheer volume of implements and techniques available to make life easier on a livestock farm, astounded him.
“I have always wondered how the Australians managed to farm with 20 times more livestock than us, but with virtually no outside help. I think I was fascinated by the whole process because I enjoy working with my animals and enjoy sitting on a tractor, working my fields. To me the whole point of farming is to be actively involved in every aspect of the farming enterprise.”
Nowadays, his farm is mechanised to a large extent and Bertie only uses casual labour when specific jobs, such as shearing or immunisations, need to be completed. During these times, he says, it is very convenient to have a few extra hands on deck.
Making stock handling easier
When it comes to livestock handling, Bertie uses a very nifty innovation in the crush in the form of non-return gates. These little gates prevent the front sheep from pushing backwards and alleviates the enormous pressure placed on the sheep at the back of the crush. It also does away with the need to run up and down next to the crush to get the sheep to move.
“Our dipping equipment saves us a lot of time and money. Sheep entering the dipping area are weighed automatically and, based on the weight, the correct amount of dip is squirted onto the sheep from below, wetting the chest, belly and between the hind legs. There is no human input, meaning the available manpower can be used for other activities, such as drenching or immunisation.”
The so-called rotator, he explains, is a piece of equipment worth its weight in gold. “On days when ewes must be scanned, for example, we cannot afford to waste time. With this machine, the ewe is clenched by the frame and tilted upside down so that the belly area is exposed. While the scanning is done, the next ewe is moved into place.
“When the ewe is done, the machine rotates her back onto her feet and the next ewe is tilted upside down for scanning. The first ewe then moves along the crush and through a three-way sorting gate for open, singles and twins.”
The lamb handling equipment is equally handy. For routine processing tasks, such as docking tails, castration and deworming, each lamb is put on its back onto a rack that prevents it from standing upright. The lamb is then moved along and, once everything is done, slides down and lands on its feet.
Keeping it in the family
Bertie says with his sheep handling facilities and the help of his family, he can complete any task without having to bring in extra labour. An extra resource he does employ, however, are sheepdogs.
“I have to mention the role that our sheepdogs play. Accompanied by their sheepdogs, my two sons can go in opposite directions and each bring home a large flock of sheep. This is a task which, without the dogs, would have required substantial manpower.”