Farm Life and the Dawn Chorus

From Luderitz we headed north. We found a camp site on a farm which had its own private ablutions and the rate looked pretty good in the guide. Did they have availability? Yes. How much? 29 Namibian dollars each. How much? 29 dollars. The least we’d paid so far was about 110 dollars each, or about £7. OK, great, we’ll take it. We handed over 58 dollars. She looked at it. “It’s 184 dollars”. “I thought you said 29 dollars each?…”. “Yes, 29 each, 184 for two….”.  Errr..??? Then it twigged. “92 dollars each?” “Yes, 92 dollars.” Ahh. She realised her mistake. “No wonder you looked so confused”. OK, still cheap, and had us less worried about the quality of the facilities. 

DSC04298 cropped (Medium)

Our camp site was called Barn Owl

It was a nice farm and we decided to stay for a few nights and sort out the car a bit, clean off some of the dust and salt from the outside (it needed it after 6 weeks) and generally chill after a few busy days. We also had a chance to find out a bit about the farm from the farmer’s wife. It was a Swakara sheep farm with a few Jersey cows. Swakaras are one of the few breeds in Namibia that have fleeces. Most others don’t –  they have hair, which doesn’t need shearing, is much easier in the heat and make them look like goats. The Swakaras need shearing twice a year. Their fleeces are very course wool and are currently worthless. Apparently they used to be sold to make blankets for South African prisons, but that market has dried up as the SA government now get cheap imports from China. The main value in Swakara is in the pelts from the lambs, not something we’d heard of before. They are highly valued in the fashion industry as the short wavy fleece is quite different from the adult wool; it is soft and silky with beautiful patterns in the hair. This farm is one of the oldest Swakara farms in the country and apparently has a very good reputation for high quality breeding animals. Most of their animals are therefore sold to other farmers to add to their flocks. Unlike most livestock, the quality of an animal is told when it is 24 hours old, when you can see the quality of the pelt. They are all individually judged out of ten on colour, pattern, silkiness, etc.. The best are kept for the breeding flock. The worst are raised for about 12 months and sold for mutton. The in-betweenies, too good for meat but not good enough for breeding, are used for their pelts. They are slaughtered at 72 hours old, with the pelts removed, cleaned and dried for the fashion market. Swakara products are highly sought-after and have a correspondingly high price tag. A full length coat will set you back about £15,000 should you want one. It was fascinating, unexpected and a little uncomfortable to hear the lambs go so young.

DSC04301 (Medium)

Swakara sheep

We had a really interesting and eye-opening couple of hours talking with her about the farm. They have 48km of boundary fence which they maintain against predators. The main problems for them seem to be Jackals, Caracal and Cheetah, which get in under the fence. Leopard will apparently come over it but they tend to take one or two animals to eat and then leave, so, at least on this farm, they are tolerated. Not so the Caracal and Cheetah. We were told (and have heard from more than one source) that when they get in they go on a killing spree, like Red Foxes do in the UK (our poor chickens… Sad smile). On one occasion the farm had a mother Cheetah with two juveniles get in to one large paddock. They started off by killing about 40 breeding ewes. It took them 3 months to catch them all (the paddocks are huge areas of veld) and in that time they’d taken over 100 animals. The captured Cheetahs all went  to the Cheetah Conservation Foundation, who relocated at least the juveniles. I think many farmers would have shot or poisoned them.

Although we couldn’t help out much on the farm, she invited us to join some of the workers to feed the sheep in the morning. So we jumped on the back of an old Series 3 Land Rover pick-up, hung onto the side bars and spent an hour driving from field to field feeding the sheep. Brilliant fun. The sheep are a fat-tailed breed which means they have a think flabby tail and large overhang of fat across their bottoms as well as in front of their chests, which they use as fat reserves for the lean times.

DSC04302 (Medium)

DSC04303 (Medium)

They look really odd – their bums really do look big in that.

We enjoyed our stay at the farm and it gave Angela a chance to enjoy the dawn chorus. I use the words enjoy, dawn and chorus very loosely as in fact none of them are remotely accurate. The Guinea Fowl hardly shut up all night but really kicked off at about 3am, their continual screeching chak-chak-chak sounding like an avian machine gun. They were joined by a number of peacocks who loudly honked, trumpeted and wailed in a form of torturous unison. Finally, the cockerels chipped in, welcoming the arrival of the sun even thought it would not be up for at least another hour. Ear plugs were absolutely useless. Eventually, when the wild birds started singing the racket became a continuous white noise and Angela got a small kip. Gareth apparently slept through all of this. “The birds were pretty quiet last night”. “You are joking?!”. “I slept really well – a 7 out of 10 sleep”. You can go off some people. Still Christmas is coming.  Guinea fowl, cockerel and peacock. I wonder if our Dutch oven is big enough for a three bird roast?….

2 thoughts on “Farm Life and the Dawn Chorus

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s