Adapt or die. These were pretty much Seretse Olibile’s choices when he arrived as a resettlement farmer on a 1 567 hectare piece of land, called Dixieland, in the Omaheke Region in November 2000.
Relating his experience as a rookie farmer at last week’s 20th National rangeland Forum, Olibile told Farmers Forum about the first three disastrous years on Dixieland, having had to come to grips with the harsh realities of inheriting a run-down farm.
“I was very optimistic and proud to become the owner of Dixieland and I moved in with about 50 head of cattle, 10 goats and 50 sheep, which I had acquired over a period of time while dreaming about my own piece of land.
“Less than four years later I had to move out lock, stock and barrel as Dixieland turned into a dustbowl without a single blade of grass. My grazing was destroyed, because of my lack of rangeland planning and management and I was back to square one. But I refused to throw in the towel and started learning from scratch about grazing techniques and rangeland management.”
Olibile says after analysing the situation he realised the rangeland on Dixieland had potential, but lacked proper management. “I took the odd as challenges and moved back with just a few animals and started to put my newly acquired knowledge into practice,” he notes.
He learned that the carrying capacity of the land was limited to 92 large livestock and took that as a new starting-point. He also discovered that the soil was capped and covered with a very hardy type of grass and that bush encroachment was soon to become his other big enemy. Apart from that, the farm had limited water-points and he had limited access to finances.
“The first thing my wife and I tackled was to change from spare camps to density grazing and then we kept increasing the animal numbers to have the desired impact. We have a 90-day resting period during the wet season (January to June) and 180 days during the dry season.
“Presently we have 195 Limousin/Nguni cross-breed cattle and 263 Damara sheep, as well as some donkeys, horses and ostriches in one herd. We have no weaner camp and only our zebras and a few oryx are kept separately,” he says.
With his new veld resting strategy, Olibile’s stocking rate shot up dramatically and it seems the more his animals graze the soil the denser it grows the next season.
“With the assistance of government we managed to place the water-points strategically and the Farmers’ Support Programme drew up a new map of the farm, which is very handy for any future planning.
“Bush encroachment is a huge problem, but we’ve started with charcoal producing on a small scale and I employ ten people at the plant. Our next aim is to start producing animal fodder with the encroachment bush and I’ve learned a lot about this process at this year’s National Rangeland Forum.”
“There’s much talk about resettlement farmers not wanting to do anything with the farmland they get, but that is not true. Usually it’s a case of resettlement farmers being uninformed about modern farming practices. They must do what I did and learn at any given opportunity. Then prosperity is waiting,” he advised.