A head for figures, a heart for farming

Karel-Günther Jordaan began his working career in big business.
But this chartered management accountant chose to farm Merinos and Bovelders in the Karoo instead, and is doing so well he is Toyota Agri Eastern Cape Young Farmer of the Year for 2013. Heather Dugmore reports.

A head for figures, a heart for farming
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“As soon as I’ve completed my final exam,” Karel-Günther Jordaan told his first employer upon being asked when he could start working. Recalling the event while looking out on his rugged sourveld farm, 77km from Cradock, the 35-year-old says wryly: “I’m programmed like that and am still trying to work out if it’s a good or bad thing!”

After completing his Honours degree in BCom Management Accounting at Stellenbosch University, Karel-Günther started working as an assistant financial manager for Alexander Forbes in Pretoria. While there, he obtained his chartered management accountant qualification through the London-based Chartered Institute of Management Accounts. A stint as an auditor at Karan Beef Feedlot in Heidelberg followed. Then came the time to decide whether to work as an accountant or farmer.

Just 26 years old and with a world of corporate opportunities at his feet, he chose instead to head back to the family farm and start farming with his father Willem and older brother Zeiss. It was 2005. “Farming is in my blood. I really enjoy livestock breeding and I love to work with wool,” he explains. He farmed alongside his father and brother for six years. In 2011 tragedy struck when his father was killed in a car accident, and Karel-Günther set to work farming on his own.

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Moving forward
He had inherited the 8 000ha farm Amperbo, 85 head of cattle, and the Merino stud started by his great-grandfather in 1933, and immediately began developing the enterprise, using his savings and borrowing capital from the bank. “I drew up a detailed budget and five-year forecast, using my farm as security for the loan,” he recalls. “When I inherited the farm, 22ha was already under Permaset irrigation but still needed to be planted.

“I expanded the Permaset to 51ha and planted a combination of perennial grasses, including early flowering tall fescue, late flowering tall fescue, canary grass, cocksfoot grass, perennial rye and clovers.” He then erected 12km of jackal-proof fencing and 7km of kudu-proof fencing around the irrigated lands. These are just below his house, at an altitude of 1 630m. The highest point of the farm is 2 000m.

“It was expensive but I can now lamb 1 600 ewes on the lands and keep them there for three months until the lambs are weaned,” he explains. “The ewes then go to the veld camps while the lambs remain on the lands until they’re six months old.” Karel-Günther has 20ha under rainfed pasture and 14ha under flood irrigation. Together with the 51ha under Permaset, this makes 85ha of pasture. He admits he is “extremely lucky” to be on a tributary of the Fish River near its source.

“I could have continued with lucerne, but because of the farm’s height above sea level and the short growing period, lucerne is not as productive as I’d like it to be,” he says. “So I’ve gone for pasture grasses that are adapted to a cooler climate. Also, at this stage, I have only one tractor and I don’t want to invest in extra machinery.” After planting the pasture, Karel-Günther subdivided the Permaset lands into 1ha camps.

Young Merino rams in the mountain sourveld on Amperbo.

“This means I can rotate the ewes and lambs throughout the lands so that they don’t graze the grasses right down to the roots. I move them while the grass still has about 5cm of growth. With regular watering, re-growth is excellent. I’m also pleased with the latest conception rate of 96% and a 57% twinning rate, which includes 122 ewes pregnant with triplets.”
Karel-Günther goes to a great deal of effort throughout the process – mating, nutrition and dipping – to produce these impressive figures.

He is diligent about lambing management and places every ewe pregnant with twins in a lambing pen. They remain there for three days to bond before being moved onto the lands. He checks fences weekly and uses a pack of hunting dogs. All ewes are mated by laparoscopic insemination on 20 April each year, with the assistance of veterinarian Dr Nolte Troskie from Bloemfontein.

While on the veld, the ewes receive a farm-mixed production lick onwards from six weeks before they lamb. This contains the following ingredients:

  • 200kg maize meal
  • 250kg salt
  • 400kg cottonseed
  • 25kg Calorie 3 000
  • 75kg urea
  • 75kg P12 phosphate
  • 5kg sulphur

Karel-Günther dips or doses his sheep according to the season, the parasite load and the production stage of the animal.
“I alternate the active ingredients and look for the product that will do the best job, rather than the cheapest,” he explains.
In summer, the main parasites are wireworm in his adult sheep and wireworm, tapeworm and conical fluke in the lambs. In autumn and winter, he guards against brown stomach worm and Karoo paralysis tick; in autumn and spring the problem is liver fluke.

Lambing and marketing
Ewes lamb in September and the lambs are weaned in December. They stay on the lands until April and the ram lambs are classed in March. The selected ram lambs are put on a growth phase programme during March and April, followed by a veld phase programme from 1 May to 1 October, during which they graze on the veld and are fed chocolate maize and fishmeal. Culled ram lambs are sold for slaughter.

“About 150 lamb rams go through my performance-testing programme each season,” says Karel-Günther. “I base it on several criteria, including weaning weight, 11-month weight, fleece weight and micron value. I class them strictly at 11 months and every month thereafter until the date of our sale, when they’re 18 months old.” He markets his rams – with those of his uncle, Japie Jordaan, and his father’s cousin, Willie Jordaan – under the name Jordaan Genetics. At
the family’s annual sale at the end of January on Japie’s farm Karreebosch, Karel-Günther presented 40 rams. The best, Berlyn, sold for the highest price of R52 000. He does not sell any ewes at this stage.

Winter lick for the cattle in an outsize tyre trough that the baboons cannot tip over.

Bovelder cattle
To increase his livestock production, Karel-Günther has started building up his cattle herd to 200 animals (130 Bovelders, 70 cross-bred), using a bank loan to buy additional cattle. “The best way to make the most of the farm is to increase the number of cattle,” he says. “They are run extensively, while the number of ewes is limited by how many can lamb on the pasture. The mountainous sourveld is too cold for lambing ewes.”

The veld is dominated by red grass (Themeda triandra), suurpol (Merxmuellera disticha) and Eragrostis species.
“I supplement my sheep and cattle with loose licks and Voermol lick blocks where necessary to maintain their condition,” says Karel-Günther. The veld section is subdivided into 44 camps, ranging from 125ha to 280ha. The average annual rainfall is 450mm.

Why the bovelder?
“I chose the Bovelder after an extensive search for a breed that was doing well elsewhere in the country that had the same sort of climate and environment as mine,” explains Karel-Günther. “I needed cattle that could cope with really cold weather and snow. The best equivalent is the cold sourveld area around Harrismith, Memel, Warden and Vrede in the north-eastern Free State, and this where most Bovelder breeders are situated.

“I also consulted Bovelder specialist Dr At Viljoen and my uncle Andrew Jordaan, an excellent stockman,” recalls Karel-Günther. “He accompanied me to the annual bull sale in Warden and was impressed with the Bovelder. He thought it would cope well with the environment on my farm.” Good bulls on this auction are expensive and can go for up to R200 000. Karel-Günther bought two bulls on the same sale last year for R80 000 each.

He has put all his cows to these bulls and has started breeding his own. He is a member of the Bovelder Cattle Study Group, which is based on breeding exceptional animals on commercial principles and has strict membership criteria.
“We follow our own breed development path,” he explains. “I’m now running 12 Bovelder sires, six of which I bred on the farm. The six will be used for the first time in November at two years. If I’m satisfied, I’ll sell them next year.”

Karel-Günther has a three-month mating season from 1 November to the end of January for adult cows, and from 1 October to the end of December for heifers, of which he currently has 70 run separately from the cows. His Bovelder herd achieves a conception rate of 92%.

Feed and supplements

Cows receive a production lick four weeks before they calve, and this may continue thereafter, depending on their condition and that of the veld. The lick contains the following:

  • 450kg maize meal
  • 300kg salt
  • 200kg cottonseed oil cake
  • 50kg Calorie 3 000
  • 100kg feed-grade urea
  • 100kg P12 phosphate
  • 5kg sulphur

In summer, Karel-Günther provides a phosphate/salt lick and in winter a protein lick, starting from April. The protein lick consists of:

  • 250kg maize meal
  • 350kg salt
  • 50kg Calorie 3 000
  • 150kg feed-grade urea
  • 150kg P12 phosphate
  • 7kg sulphur

“I base these licks on recipes from KK Animal Nutrition, working on an average intake of 350g/day to 500g/ day per mature animal in winter,” he says. “I wean all calves at seven months – that’s by early April – and give the cows a chance to recover before winter. “The best young bull weaners are kept back and get Voermol Phase D growth phase lick at nine months.

They run on the veld with a lick for 100 days – similar to the one the bulls get before mating. After 100 days, I select the best young bulls and they go back to the veld, this time with a spring/ summer lick, according to the condition of the veld. If it’s really good, they get a phosphate/salt lick. If it has been a dry season, I supplement them more.” Karel-Günther employs 10 full-time staff on the farm, while two domestic workers assist his wife, Simoné, with their two children, Günther (4) and Mia (2).

As Agri Eastern Cape Young Farmer of the Year, he pockets R15 000 and automatically proceeds to the national competition. The winner will be announced later in the year and drive off in a new Toyota bakkie. Karel-Günther is pleased that his five-year forecast and loan arrangement is going according to plan. “Fortunately, I have a financial background so a large loan doesn’t frighten me. I’ve worked out my profits and margins carefully,” he smiles, tapping his trusty calculator that goes back to his Stellenbosch days.

Advice to farmers
Karel-Günther urges young farmers to understand how best to manage loans and plot their finances. “You can save a lot of money this way,” he stresses. He also advises farmers to stay abreast of the latest breeding and grazing trends as well as to seek advice from leading farmers in their area.

“Read up and find out about new farming, breeding as well as grazing trends and programmes. Never stop researching and seeking advice. Visit leading farmers in yours and other areas, and use their advice.”

Contact Karel-Günther Jordaan on 048 881 3714 or [email protected].