Farmer shares success in wool production

Wool production cannot be achieved without flock security. Farmer BP Greyling has successfully targeted crime and predators in Wakkerstroom to keep his farming running smoothly.

Farmer shares success in wool production
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Agricultural Writers’ SA Farmer of the Year for 2011, BP Greyling, is an unconventional man. Andries Pienaar, 2010 Voermol Sheep Farmer of the year, remarked on a recent visit to BP’s farm, “These farmer of the year winners are all a bunch of ‘I’ll do it my way’ farmers. It’s what makes them successful but can also make them difficult.”

The 17 500ha Langfontein farm near Wakkerstroom in Mpumalanga is run with military precision. BP is clearly a decisive man, fast-thinking and pro-active. The strengths and weaknesses of the farm have been identified and strategies defined so that the operation can be run with maximum efficiency.

“The challenge is to do the best I can with what I have in my area. The secret to successful farming is to use nature to your benefit,” he says. He insists that the quality of workers is critical. “If they are good, you will be good. The boss can’t do everything. He needs people to help him and they must be trustworthy.” BP is assisted on the farm by his wife Karen. Their son Ghini (18) is keen to join the family business and BP quips that he hopes his daughters Rita (21) and Nina (18) will marry men who know how to farm.

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The finest Wool
Langfontein is grazed by Merino and Dormer sheep and Bovelder cross Beefmaster cattle. Certified ryegrass, soya beans and maize are planted. But BP is most passionate about and best known for his wool. His clip averages 18,6 micron, achieved and managed through selective breeding. Last year BP and his father Kerneels bought a Merino ram, Barrier, for a record price of R250 000. The ram has a fleece average of 14,3 micron.

The Greylings aim to bring their flock’s wool down to a 16 micron average by breeding with this ram. BP runs about 22 000 Merinos on the farm, served by about 3 000 Dormer rams for meat producing lambs. The income stream of the business has some flexibility as both wool and meat are ready for sale in various seasons.

Lambs are clipped at 11 months, then finished at an on-farm feedlot and marketed to local abattoirs. BP focuses on providing optimum nutrition for young lambs, building strength and disease resistance. “The stronger they are, the sooner they can start breeding. “I also feed pregnant ewes protein to keep conception and lambing rates up.”

This farmer believes that nutrition has a more powerful influence on breeding than genetics.He mixes his own feed for feedlotting, using maize, soya beans and ryegrass grown on the farm. “Our winters are very long, so we have to prepare for times of limited grazing. I put licks out, but to make them economically viable I add 40% salt, otherwise the sheep eat it too quickly.”

The varied topography of the farm and an altitude ranging from 1 200m to 1 800m makes it necessary to move the sheep seasonally. BP has a unique way of providing forage for his livestock; he sows ryegrass seed from the air in the maize lands after pollination. By the time the maize is harvested, the ryegrass is knee high. “I then put my animals on the pasture; there is no better forage for them than maize stover and ryegrass.”

The hunt for predators
As on most livestock farms in the district, predation is a problem at Langfontein. BP’s predator control plan, involving a pack of 45 hunting dogs, has decreased predation losses from 354 sheep every two weeks to 10 sheep every two weeks. “Our biggest problem species are bushpig and jackal. While the latter only bite the sheep, the bushpig eat the sheep entirely. Only the hooves are left after a bushpig has been at it,” says BP.

Org Raubenheimer, predation control manager on Langfontein, explains that the dogs are split into two packs. They start hunting at about 4.30am and finish at about 11am. As they hunt, they scent-mark their territory, which acts as a deterrent to predators. Blue tick hounds and foxhounds are used in the packs. Org cross-breeds to improve stamina, as the dogs have to cover about 22km a day. Puppies are trained in small groups from the age of six months.

They are reprimanded if they chase small game species, and Org says that they have not had any problems with dogs harming sheep or animals other than predators. Resident hunters at Langfontein are armed with the latest technology which includes camouflaged vehicles equipped with rifles, spotlights and acoustic calling devices.

Crime prevention
Wakkerstroom town is bordered by three townships with a population of more than half a million people. “It’s a breeding ground for crime,” says BP. “Before we implemented our security programme, not a month went by without a bakkie being stolen.”
BP originally wanted a military career, but his father was not happy with this choice. “As a youngster you don’t realise how much your father wants you on the farm,” BP admits, “Now that I am in my dad’s shoes I understand this.”

BP may have given up his dreams of being a soldier, but his experience as a Special Forces officer during his military service in the 1980s gave him insight he would not otherwise have had, especially in the area of intelligence gathering. Returning to the family farm and facing a massive crime problem, BP put his experience to use by co-ordinating better co-operation between farmers and the Wakkerstroom police.

“Most farmers in the district had done military service, which was a bonus. Farmers in the area who were part of the Wakkerstroom commandos recruited eight black farm workers and trained them as soldiers. They served as an information service and were so efficient that they ended up helping the military with crime prevention.

“Wakkerstroom felt a common threat and we focused on this when we asked the community for help. When people have a common desire to live in peace and harmony, individual differences become irrelevant,” says BP. Warrant officer Agrippa Mlambo of the SAPS in Wakkerstroom works closely with BP to prevent crime. He says that farmers are a good reaction force and are capable ot backing up the police at any time.

“We can close off an area within minutes. Farmers use their own resources so we don’t have to panic to send a vehicle to a reservist every time we need their help,” says WO Mlambo. He adds that fighting crime is seen as a common goal and that the community plays an active part in working towards a stable crime-free society. BP notes that the key to long-term success is a high conviction rate. “An arrest is not enough. Guilty verdicts and long jail sentences are the most effective way of reducing crime.”

He explains that to manage crime they need to follow up any suspicious behaviour or tip-off, make an arrest and present the evidence clearly in court. It is equally important to build a good relationship with the local magistrate. Successful prosecutions reflect well on the local police and serve to stimulate interest and eagerness to help solve crimes.

“We need experience, guts and the will to fight crime in our area. If a farmer doesn’t have the will it’s more comfortable for him to spend the night in bed rather than out in the veld waiting for skelms,” says WO Mlambo. “He thinks it’s not his job to watch his sheep and blames the police for stock theft.”

He adds that it would be virtually impossible for the police to be informed about activities on a farm 60km from the police station.WO Mlambo stresses that, thanks to the close relationship between the police and the community, they were able to arrest the key player orchestrating stock theft in Wakkerstroom. The arrest had a major ripple effect on stock theft in the surrounding areas, and on cable theft.

“Our team is very crime-conscious. They won’t drive past a land where people are picking maize without stopping and asking them who they are and why they are picking maize. “No other area in SA has the security system that Wakkerstroom has, and we have been crowned the safest town in the country,” says WO Mlambo.

Contact BP Greyling at [email protected]

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Lindi Botha is an agricultural journalist and communications specialist based in Nelspruit, South Africa. She has spent over a decade reporting on food production and has a special interest in research, new innovations and technology that aid farmers in increasing their margins, while reducing their environmental footprint. She has garnered numerous awards during her career, including The International Federation of Agricultural Journalists (IFAJ) Star Prize in 2019, the IFAJ-Alltech International Award for Leadership in Agricultural Journalism in 2020, and several South African awards for her writing.