WINDHOEK – Ageing could not hold him back, nor predators and livestock thieves or the inhospitable terrain of farm Cimarron between Mariental and Kalkrand.
But consecutive droughts since 2013 last week forced one of the pioneer breeders of Van Rooy sheep to sell his prized herd of some 400 animals lock, stock and barrel. With emotions running high, 76-year-old Louis Burger and wife, Elsebé, parted with the last of their lifelong beloved Van Rooys at the last auction of the highly respected Le Belle Stud at the Namboer pens in Windhoek. But his wife absented herself from the auction. “She is just too emotional,” says Burger. Surrounded by prominent small stock breeders, he sentimentally traces his growing-up on his father’s farm near Khorixas and developing a fondness for livestock.
“My father farmed with cattle and goats and it was only much later that I would come in contact with sheep,” he notes. Little did he know about a girl called Elsebe who at that time was also growing up on a farm in the Uhlenhorst area.
“The irony of our relationship is that we studied together at the University of Stellenbosh at the same time and never met. It was only after we completed our studies that we landed up in Windhoek as teachers and we met during one of the schools’ sporting events. It did not take us long to fall in love and we eventually got married in 1966 and moved to Mariental,” relates Burger.
Burger says that while they were teaching they both yearned to farm and after some time they started buying small stock on a very small scale and kept the animals on Elsebe’s father’s farm near Uhlenhorst. They had to move to Otjiwarongo and back to Windhoek after that to teach, but when his wife’s dad, Stoffel Jurgens, got sick in 1980, they bought his karakul stud. They remained teachers and weekend farmers until 1995 when an opportunity came knocking for them to buy a portion of the farm !Narib between Mariental and Kalkrand.
“We were visiting my son Riaan (now CEO of Namdeb) who was in New Mexico at the time, working from a little town called Cimarron. While there, my bank manager informed me that our application for a loan to buy the farm was successful and we rejoiced by naming our little piece of heaven Cimarron,” he recalls.
They got serious about farming and bought Damara sheep and Boer Goats from renowned breeder Francois Theron. “I soon realised that I wanted sheep with a bit more meat and started reading about Van Rooy in 2001. Soon thereafter, we bought our first Van Rooy rams and ewes at the Windhoek Show and never looked back. We named our stud ‘Le Belle’ (French for The Girls) and got pretty involved in attending Van Rooy courses, and also started participating in shows.”
Between 2007 and 2017, Burger served on the management committee of the Van Rooy Stud Breeders Association and was also president for nine years.
“I could not achieve any of this without the support of my wife who also became very knowledgeable about Van Rooy, and did all courses and was always very active in judging and showing. She also did all the administrative work at the Van Rooy Breeders Association’s office regarding judging of the sheep,” he notes. Tears welling up in his eyes, Burger says there is a time to come and a time to go. “God has been good to me and my wife and at 76, we are still healthy and active but no God can give you the tools to combat successive droughts. We had no option; we had to sell Le Belle.”
Sons, Riaan and Wikus (managing director of Komatsu Namibia) will now look after the farm with the senior couple retiring to an old age resort in Windhoek. Both sons are keen pilots owning Cessna airplanes, which will make things easier for them as there is already a landing strip on farm Cimarron. The Burger couple also sold their Boer Goat stud and Hereford and Brahman cattle herd and by the time they left the farm, there was not a single animal left.
“Just memories, just memories,” Burger says as he wipes away another teardrop.