Heuningkrans Stud: a South African legacy

In only 32 years Smithfield Merino farmer Eddie Prinsloo has increased the ewe crop on Heuningkrans Stud from 500 to about 2 000, and in February this year at its sale, Heuningkrans achieved an average price per ram of R7 300 – the highest average price ever achieved by a single Merino breeder in South Africa. Gavin Isted writes.

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Merino farmer Eddie Prinsloo took over Heuningkrans farm, based in Smithfield in the Free State, in 1975 from his father Hennie. Not only is he a director at BKB, but was also voted national farmer of the year in 2003. In 1975 Heuningkrans Stud had just over 500 Merino ewes. Realising the need to sell more rams, Eddie began to increase the number of ewes in the stud to the current figure of 2 000. This makes it one of the largest studs in SA, and each year it lambs 500 ewes in March and 1 500 in August and September. Over the past few years the stud has achieved an average lambing percentage of 120%.

Each year Eddie chooses 600 of his best ewes for artificial insemination. The remaining ewes are group mated. About two months after the ewes have been mated they are scanned to identify ewes carrying twins, which is normally about 45%. These ewes are kept separate and receive special treatment.

Feeding and weaning
Eddie does not believe in feeding licks. He only gives rock salt on the veld, and in a drought year he feeds his sheep maize and lucerne, or cubes (pellets) which he makes on the farm. Green pasture is used in August and September, but only while the ewes are lambing. All mating and weaning is done on veld. All Eddie’s farms have a mixture of good sweet grass, mainly Eragrostis and Themeda triandra. Some of his veld also consists of a mixture of grass veld and Karoo bush such as lye ganna (Salsola aphylla), Vaal Karoo (Pentzia globosa), pure Karoo (Nestlera) and fine-leaved felicia (draaibos) (Felicia filifolia). The mountain veld is spared in summer, as Eddie only uses it for grazing in winter.

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As a breeding policy Eddie concentrates on the mutton factor of his sheep while ensuring their wool does not deteriorate – he believes in wool with good length and quality. Eddie prefers plain-bodied animals with fine body pleats as this normally results in wool that is not too dry and prevents it from getting too dusty.

Eight-month shearing
For 12 years Eddie has sheared his sheep every eight months, and has found that this keeps them in better condition. It saves on costs, as he no longer has to crutch his ewes before lambing. It also improves the clean yield of his wool clip. The only negative aspect of eight-month shearing is that every three years he shears in July, often the coldest month of the year. Eddie believes that a breeding ewe must produce a minimum of 5kg of wool at 12 months, or 3,3kg of wool every eight months. The average fibre diameter of the wool in his clip for the last two years has been 20,8 microns.

Heuningkrans: record-breaking stud
On 22 February the Heuningkrans Stud broke all records with an average price per ram of R7 300 at its sale – the highest ever achieved by a single breeder. At the auction all 70 rams offered were sold, with the highest-priced animal selling for R21 000.

Heuningkrans sale rams born in February average 98kg at 18 months of age, while sale rams born in August average 80kg at 12 months. In February and August each year, the Triton Poll Merino Ram sales are held in Bloemfontein, where Heuningkrans is one of three studs selling rams. Eddie believes that quality buyers make the difference to any sale.

The February production sale on Heuningkrans attracted buyers from around the country, such as Piet van Wyk from Ventersburg, David Lord from Hofmeyr and TJ Nel from Somerset East. Eddie says it’s important to keep in close touch with all his buyers, which is why he visits each one after his sales. He also travels to Lesotho about six times a year to advise and help the Basotho people with their studs and flocks of sheep. He sends about 300 rams a year to Lesotho. Eddie believes the high prices at this year’s February sale are a result of a shortage of rams of the right type. He has installed a new centre-pivot irrigation system that will water the green pastures, and by doing this he hopes to increase his sale string from 70 to 120 rams. This will make it easier for him to maintain his customers and help them acquire more reasonably-priced rams. Eddie’s advice to young breeders is never to give up or become despondent, as it takes many years to be successful in ram breeding. Stick to the right type of sheep and eventually you will succeed. For more information contact Eddie Prinsloo on 083 279 2677.

Heuningkrans history and honours
Heuningkrans Merino Stud was started in
1927 by Eddie’s great-grandfather David
Prinsloo. When it was registered in 1939 the
stud only ran about 200 ewes. Realising the
need for good rams, David imported two rams
from Australia soon after registration.
In 1951 David’s son, Hennie Prinsloo, took over
the stud. He was successful and well known, and
chaired the Wool Board for many years. In 1987
he was voted the Free State farmer of the year.