Sheep farming success in Goshen

When Simon Txoanyana – a retired SANDF member – decided to farm in 1999, he realised he couldn’t afford a commercial farm. Mike Burgess spoke to him about how he instead became a successful communal sheep farmer near Goshen in the former Ciskei, Eastern Cape.

Sheep farming success in Goshen
- Advertisement -

“I am very proud because I built that house from my [sheep’s] wool,’’ says 69-year-old Simon Txoanyana, pointing to his neat home in the village of Goshen at the foot of the Windvogel Mountain near Cathcart in the Eastern Cape. A stone’s throw from his home, he proudly shows off the flock he has been building since 2008, consisting of 120 Merino ewes, four rams and 30 hamels. This flock has earned him well over R100 000 from wool alone during this period.

The road to Goshen

Simon was born in the former Transkei region near Matatiele in the northern part of the Eastern Cape. Here, like many other rural boys of his generation, he watched over the family’s livestock and as a teenager ploughed the fields with oxen. In the 1960s, he opted not to follow his friends to Johannesburg, but took a job in a correctional services’ facility in Pietermaritzburg.

In 1976, he took a position with the Transkei Defence Force and was transferred to the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) in 1994. In 1996, he retired to Gonubie near East London in the Eastern Cape. Then unexpectedly in 1997, his wife, Adelaide, died and he began toying with the idea of farming.

- Advertisement -

Simon says he wasn’t keen to return to the communal area of his youth near Matatiele, mainly because of the notorious stock theft in the region, and rather wanted to find an agricultural opportunity closer to East London. By 1999, he began looking at the possibility of purchasing a commercial farm in the region, but was dismayed by the cost of farmland.

Simon Txoanyana farms Merinos in Goshen in the former Ciskei and gets advice from commercial farmers in the area as no support is forthcoming from government.

Instead, Simon opted to lease land and eventually, in 2001, he found a smallholding in Tylden near Queenstown. However, it proved too small for a significant smallstock operation. Then in 2003, a friend invited him to the former Ciskei region near Goshen, where the Moravian Church had established a mission station in the early 1850s. It was a visit that would change his life. “When I came here, I found this place [Goshen] to be very beautiful,’’ he recalls. “

“There were big camps with water.’’ By late 2003, Simon had rented a house in Goshen and purchased five goats (four ewes and a ram) and began farming on the communal land surrounding the historic Moravian Church. In 2004, he bought two plots and made Goshen his new home.

Initial difficulties
However, Simon’s first attempt at farming in Goshen turned out to be a disaster as his 15 goats proved impossible to manage effectively and he sold them in 2006/2007. Simon then changed to Merino sheep and purchased four ewes and a ram from a Cathcart commercial farmer. Unfortunately, within a month they were all killed by dogs. Nevertheless, in 2008 he decided to give it another try.

He bought 10 Merino ewes and a ram from a Queenstown commercial farmer and in 2010 he added another 10 ewes sourced from the Sterkstroom district. Today, Simon farms more than 100 Merino breeding ewes and says he has always focused on sourcing top rams from Merino studs, including Spekboomberg (Cradock), Droogfontein (Jamestown), Van Pletzen (Jamestown), and Pine Grove (Dordrecht). “I am not breeding rams, I am buying from people who breed rams,’’ he says. “I go to stud breeders because I want to improve my sheep.’’

Although he does market old ewes and some hamels to informal markets, he admits his central focus has been to build sheep numbers to boost wool production. Before building a small shearing shed near his home last year, Simon says he was forced to shear in a cleared piece of veld on one of his plots. He sources local shearers (at R4/sheep), while a number of locally trained ladies class his wool. All wool is marketed through BKB in Queenstown.

Tackling challenges
Simon says managing a flock of sheep can be expensive. Core expenses include medication (internal parasites remain a major challenge), sourcing supplementary feed such as lucerne during winter, as well as dipping animals. Despite needing training to improve the management of his flock, Simon has never received any assistance from government and relies on commercial/stud farmers in the Eastern Cape for advice.

It is very difficult to keep ewes separate from rams in communal areas.

“When I have a problem I phone these commercial farmers,’’ he says. “The extension officers must try by all means [available] to offer workshops to farmers. Nobody helped me.’’Another serious challenge is the communal context in which Simon farms and he explains that it is practically impossible to separate rams from ewes, or minimise contact between his flock and other sheep flocks. This communal farming system makes it impossible to adhere to effective commercial production principles, especially when it comes to breeding, he says. “There is no breeding season – that is the problem,’’ he explains.

“The rams just walk with the sheep that is why our sheep lamb in winter.’’ He explains that when lambs are born in winter it is difficult for ewes to support their offspring, due to a lack of food. In addition, cold snaps often claim a significant number of lambs, driving his lambing percentage right down. This is compounded by caracal killing lambs in broad daylight. He therefore keeps lambs close to his home where they receive creep feed. Lambs are reunited with ewes at the end of the day when they are kraaled for the night. Lambs are released back into the flock at the age of about eight months.

Help needed
Despite his age, Simon manages his flock on his own and says he has searched in vain for workers to assist him. “The problem is my age, because nobody is helping me,’’ he says. “I asked people, but they don’t want to work because of the grants, and alcohol is a problem – it is killing these young people.’’ Simon believes that his inability to find labourers sheds light on a broader social trend that has seen the youth becoming increasingly disinterested in agriculture. It is a situation the state needs to address, he warns.

Simon also lambastes government’s failure to offer training, as is the case in countries such as India and China.

Phone Simon Txoanyana on 072 152 8416.