David’s best-adapted cows are Tuli crosses, bred on the farm from his herd of 190 cows and eight Tuli bulls. When he leases cattle (he is currently leasing 40 cows) he ensures that the animals arrive in September or October. “They usually gain weight fairly quickly, while those arriving in March or April lose weight quickly as they find it difficult to adapt in winter,” he explains. “The climate and vegetation necessitates long-term planning and a flexible management style.
“This season is a good example,” he explains as we drive through the veld in early January. “Given the excellent rains last year – 985mm, when our average is 400mm – I thought the veld would flush beautifully in spring. It didn’t happen because we had low temperatures into December, with frost in the middle of the month.
“As a result, the veld only started flushing in January and some of the cows I leased in last year were still adapting and took strain because the veld wasn’t ready. They only started to pick up weight well into the summer. They will have adapted by next year, but if I was speculating and wanted to sell them this March or April, I would be in trouble.”
In the medium term, David hopes to achieve his aim of increasing his herd to 250 cows or more. He approaches veld and herd management in a holistic manner with high density, quick rotation grazing, using hoof action and dunging to stimulate the veld. Quaggasvlei was not regarded as a sound farming investment when the Stern family bought it in 1992 for R105/ ha.
Mountain wire grass or suurpol (Merxmuellera disticha), rhinoceros bush or renosterbos (Elytropappus rhinocerotis) and mountain resin bush or harpuisbos (Euryops spp.) had colonised large areas of the farm due to overgrazing practices. David’s father Dougie, who practices holistic management on his farm between Nieu-Bethesda and Graaff-Reinet, saw the farm’s potential, under a system of holistic management.