Cold, rain kill at least 4 000 sheep in East Cape

The Herald (South Africa) - - FRONT PAGE - Ri­aan Marais maraisr@ti­soblack­

EAST­ERN Cape sheep farm­ers are still count­ing their losses after cold and rain swept across the north of the prov­ince, killing thou­sands of sheep.

Farm­ers in and around Barkly East – still reel­ing after run­away fires dev­as­tated the re­gion last month – have been hit by tem­per­a­tures well be­low freez­ing, cou­pled with rain and snow, caus­ing mas­sive dam­age to herds where wool pro­duc­ers sheared their sheep ear­lier this month.

Early es­ti­mates are that a min­i­mum of 4 000 sheep have died across the prov­ince since the week­end, when tem­per­a­tures dropped be­low -10°C and 100mm of rain fell in places, and some farm­ers lost up to a quar­ter, or even half, of their en­tire flocks.

But de­spite the losses, the farm­ing com­mu­nity banded to­gether, with farm­ers who were lucky enough to suf­fer no or min­i­mal losses do­nat­ing live­stock to those who lost the most.

A fur­ther sil­ver lin­ing many are look­ing for­ward to is the re­lief from the drought the wet weather will bring.

Na­tional Wool Grow­ers As­so­ci­a­tion East­ern Cape vice-chair­man Tink Stry­dom said some farm­ers would have suf­fered dou­ble losses as many of the sheep killed had been preg­nant ewes or ewes which had re­cently given birth.

“Not only does the farmer lose that ewe, but he also loses its off­spring.

“Farm­ers who lost less might be able to ab­sorb those losses, but some farm­ers might never re­cover from this.”

Stry­dom said Oc­to­ber was tra­di­tion­ally the in­dus­try’s shear­ing sea­son and most of the losses had been suf­fered on farms where shear­ing had started ear­lier in the month, and sheep had been left with­out their woolly coats to pro­tect them from the ex­treme cold.

“I can’t even imag­ine what the dam­age would have been if this had hap­pened a week or two from now, when most farm­ers had sheared their en­tire herds. The losses would have been dis­as­trous.”

He said the Barkly East re­gion, and stretch­ing into the Free State, had seen up­wards of 2 000 sheep die in one night last week­end, with the num­ber climb­ing early in the week.

Farm­ers from as far west as Graaff-Reinet also re­ported losses of at least 300 sheep in that re­gion.

“We can count the losses now, but I think the ac­tual im­pact will only be­come clear over the next few months.

“We head into this chal­leng­ing pe­riod al­ready on the back foot, as we have four

very tough years be­hind us. Some farm­ers are al­ready stretched to the limit, and losses like this could se­ri­ously af­fect their cash flow and pos­si­bil­ity of se­cur­ing loans in the com­ing months.”

Barkly East Farm­ers’ As­so­ci­a­tion chair­man Gideon Greyven­stein said their re­gion was fac­ing one dis­as­ter after the other.

In ad­di­tion to the drought, they are still gath­er­ing in­for­ma­tion from their mem­bers to de­ter­mine the dam­age last month’s fires caused to build­ings, graz­ing and fenc­ing.

More than 45 000ha of farm­land was de­stroyed by run­away fires, with the cold and wet weather wreak­ing fur­ther havoc.

“Our sheep can han­dle cold, rain and wind, but not all at the same time. Many died from pneu­mo­nia or re­lated ill­nesses.

“They were sheared and caught out in the rain, then the tem­per­a­tures dropped well be­low zero very quickly.”

How­ever, he said the rain and snow had brought much-needed mois­ture to the re­gion, leav­ing a par­tially pos­i­tive out­look for com­ing months de­spite their losses.

“The rain should help our graz­ing to re­cover after the fires.

“At the very least we should have enough food to as­sist our farm­ers in re­cov­er­ing from this lat­est catas­tro­phe.”

In the mean­time, farm­ers who were lucky enough not to suf­fer such dev­as­tat­ing losses have come to­gether to do­nate live­stock to farm­ers who suf­fered the most.

Barkly East farmer Jan­nie Pre­to­rius said all the farm­ers in their re­gion were part of a What­sApp chat group, and once news of the dev­as­ta­tion started spread­ing, help and do­na­tions had started pour­ing in.

“When pic­tures of some farm­ers’ losses started cir­cu­lat­ing many of us be­gan do­ing the sums and saw we could do­nate some of our stock,” Pre­to­rius said.

Some farm­ers pledged be­tween five and 15 sheep, promis­ing to do­nate them at the end of the month once shear­ing was com­plete.

“Within one day we had 300 sheep in the pool, and we [now] have up­wards of 600 sheep pledged to be distributed among the worst-af­fected farm­ers in our re­gion.”

Pre­to­rius said help had come from all over the coun­try when the fires hit them, so they saw this as an op­por­tu­nity to pay it for­ward.

“We were so grate­ful for the as­sis­tance we re­ceived, so now it is our op­por­tu­nity to give back. And who knows, in a month or two we may need help again. Then we hope peo­ple re­mem­ber the kind ges­tures we are show­ing.”

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