This is the time of year when we thrill to the daring antics of the brave pilots flying the 'air tractors', ensuring that the crops grow well and remain healthy.
With the season winding down, the planting done and the lambing successfully over, we start with the next stage of the farming operations, fertilising the crops and moving the lambs and ewes across the farm to where they can make use of the nutritious grazing of the medics camps. We have also had three new Angus heifers arrive to join the Wagyu herd, and had a good start to the winter season with a great rainfall measurement of 289mm so far this year so, with the average annual rainfall of over 600mm for our area, we are halfway there! We have also said farewell to Spartacus, Napoleon and Mackay, our three buffalo bulls that have been with us for almost eight years. They have been moved to a new home in the Eastern Cape, and we look forward to raising the next generation on Elandsberg.
We are very proud to announce the arrival of Lindam, a Quagga Project foal born recently at the Elandsberg Nature Reserve from mother Nina and father Mark. The foal is a very good example of a Quagga Project animal, with reduced striping and a brown background colour. The young male and his herd are often seen in the area just below the farmhouse, as you enter the nature reserve. Look out for them on your next visit.
At the begining of May every year it's all systems go with the planting of our crops, which can potentially take up to two months. The main crop that we plant is wheat, with a lesser amount of oats, barley, canola, medics and triticale, which is a hybrid of wheat and rye, combining the yield potential and grain quality of wheat with the disease resistance and enviromental tolerance of rye.
At the moment we have finished planting the medics, which are a nitrogen fixing crop, and are currently in the process of planting wheat, which we do at roughly 60 hectares per day per tractor. We have 500 hectares to do, and once that is complete we still have 300 hectares of triticale to plant. We wish the grain farmers well as we know that this time of year they work very hard, six days a week from seven in the morning till ten at night. Good luck boys!
The months of March and April are a special time for us at the Elandsberg Nature Reserve, when we welcome new arrivals to our team. These are the rare geometric tortoise hatchlings from our Geometric Tortoise Breeding Project. In this season Jackie, our tortoise conservationist, has so far collected 27 of these cute hatchlings. When they are found they are assigned a number in a system which helps identify individuals, which in turn we name. Each season has a different theme in terms of names, and this year it is stars and constellations. We encourage guests to come and view our hatchlings and, if they have not already been named, maybe they will be lucky enough to choose a name for one. Here are a few photographs from the latest Geometric Tortoise experience. Enjoy!
We are halfway through April and midway through our lambing seaon, with hundreds of merino lambs spread all around the farmhouse. Elandsberg has done exceptionally well this year, with 900 twin lambs expected from our 500 stud ewes. This is the prefect opportunity to join our Sunday family lunch offering at the Deckhouse, with a gentle stroll afterwards to see the cute lambs and proud moms! Please make sure to book so that we can look forward to welcoming you to the farm.
It was all excitement this morning with the team ready to dart and gather DNA from three of our male buffalo, Spartacus, MacKay and Napoleon. They have been sold, and are in quarantine until they move to their new home in a few months. This is a necessary TB test to ensure that they are in good health before they are transported off the farm. After darting the bulls, there was an opportunity to give Spartacus a much needed pedicure, as he had been experiencing some difficulties with one of his front hooves. The bleed took around two hours and went off without a hitch, and the pedicure was salon standard! Here are a few close up photos of our encounter today.
With the arrival of March come the first of the flowers seen around the Elandsberg Nature Reserve, when bright bursts of pink can be spotted between the dry bushes from the vantage of the landrover. Some of the ones we have noted are the paintbrush lilies such as Haemanthus sanguineus, also known as April Fool, and if you are lucky the paintbrush lily Haemanthus pumilio, which is highly endangered. Also flowering in March is the candelabra lily Brunsvigia elandsmontana, which is critically endangered and found only in the Elandsberg Nature Reserve, after which it is named.
Recently our head chef Louise Gillet found one of these beauitiful creatures near her home. On doing some research, she found out that it is a Black-legged Burrowing Scorpion (Opistophthalmus fuscipes). These scorpions are found only in the endangered vegetation types of Renosterveld, Sand Plain Fynbos and Strandveld in the Western Cape, which makes this little creature quite a rare sighting. Well done Louise!
Here is an update on our camera traps, hopefully the first of many. Unfortunately there were no leopard sightings this time, but we did manage to get a photograph of an aardvark along with some interesting photos of Baboon,Gemsbok and Bontebok.
We know that with an abundance of rain come the Spring flowers which are always wonderful to see, but as the streams dry and the days become hotter there is another flower we look for, the Dagger-leaf Sugarbush (Protea mucronifolia). It is a Critically Endangered Redlist plant species, found only from Hermon to Saron in the Western Cape. It is one of the smaller types of Protea, with dainty creamy-white flowers marked with pink. The name mucronifolia means sharp-pointed leaves (Latin), and in Afrikaans it is called the kasteelskloofsuikerbos.
The bracts (modified leaves on the outside of the flower) are sometimes lightly tinted with pink; they are also pinkish on the edges. There are about four or five rows of these bracts. Shortly after it opens it has an attractive cup shape, but the bracts continue to open more widely into an almost horizontal position. This exposes the inner, vital parts of the flower, the anthers and pollen presenters, that are bunched in the centre. When the flowerhead dries out, the involucral bracts tend to close again, protecting the developing seeds. Several insects and birds serve as pollinators. The seedheads retain the seeds for a long time, only releasing them after a fire.
It's been a while since our last story, and there has been so much happening on the farm that we thought we would add one big story to tell you all the news. We have had a really mixed season of weather with some late rain, which held the harvest up slightly but didn't prevent it from being successful. 325 hectares of wheat still need to be harvested, with 826 hectares already done. Our yield for the wheat is roughly 3 tons a hectare, which is good considering the lack of rain we recieved leading up to the harvest. All of our canola has been harvested, with the triticale, barley and oats still to be done.
Three weeks ago the sheep shearing took place with great success, and many of our guests enjoyed witnessing the procedure. The AI (artificial insemination) of the sheep has also been successfully completed, but only a few guests with iron constitutions were able to witness this particular operation!
The Wagyu project is also doing well, with some calves expected in the new year. The embryo transplant was also very successful. During this year Wagyu has really taken off, with the official membership of the Wagyu Cattle Breeders' Society of South Africa doubling. This has meant that we have been able to sell six of our bulls for breeding, and we shall in the next few months be able to purchase 25 embryos from the States. In turn we hope to be using our own females for breeding, as well as the Bonsmara females still being used as surrrogate mothers.
The Quagga Project has also seen a lot of changes this last year after the game auction, with the animals of the core herd being brought to Elandsberg and two other peoperties. It has been decided that these will be the main breeding animals, and their offspring will be sold off in the future to other reserves. We had a few relocations to manage and the Reserve team was on hand to assist with the moving of the animals to Elandsberg.
We do hope to welcome you in the near future, to see some of our breeding projects as well as our working farm in action.
Around 400 bales have been baled these last few weeks from 14 hectares of oat hay harvested while still green and then wrapped in plastic. In an anaerobic environment the bale ferments, breaking down lignin and cellulose and improving palatability for the cattle on the farm. It provides them with good nutrient content over the dry periods of summer.
Spring is here and our avian visitors have returned to prepare for Summer. From dawn to dusk you can hear the melody of birdsong filling the air and watch the hive of activity, with mating displays folowed in due course by nest construction. Some wonderful sightings of our resident Fish Eagles collecting twigs have been recorded, and the ever-elegant Blue Cranes are gathered in flocks all around the farm. We are planning a Birding Weekend in October with Western Cape Birding, hosted by Dr A Odendal. Please send us an e-mail if you would like some more information.
Better late than never, but at last the rains have fallen and our usual display of flowers is brightening the veld. Our guides have seen some beautiful specimens around the Reserve, including the Peacock Moraeas which visitors from Japal come specially to see. Be sure to take a drive to our area to see the majestic colour display.
Well, you know Spring is here when there is a sea of yellow around you. On Elandsberg we have planted around 100 hectares of canola this year. Canola, or rapeseed as it is known in the rest of the world, was developed in the early 1970s using traditional plant breeding techniques, by which Canadian plant breeders removed the anti-nutritional components (erucic acid and glucosinolates) from rapeseed to ensure its safety for human and animal consumption. The canola plant also produces seeds with a very low level of saturated fat, seven percent or below.
Christened “Canola” from “Can” (for Canada) and “ola” (for oil low acid), canola is not, strictly speaking, rapeseed. There is an internationally regulated definition of Canola that differentiates it from rapeseed, based upon its having less than two percent erucic acid and less than 30 umoles glucosinolates. Oilseed products that do not meet this standard cannot use the trademarked term Canola.
I was lucky enough to be able to join my first animal capture. The animals in question were 5 bontebok (3 females and 2 males) and 8 of Elandsbergs Quagga. With my experience of animal capture being a verbal experience, I wasn’t sure what lay ahead of me. All that I knew of a capture was that it involved a lot of running, shouting and frayed tempers. This, on the day was not the case at all.
The proceedings started off at round about 9 in the morning with all the players gathering beforehand to discuss the plan for what was about to unfold. The different parties mentioned were Bernard and Nicola Wooding ,Tom & Frank Turner, Clive, Jane and her husband, Sonja, and myself Steve Meihuizen. We were also lucky enough to have the help of the farm labourers from Frank and Toms Farm.
Tom an experienced game capturer laid out our plan in detail. Each of the 3 land rovers lead by Bernard,Clive and Franc had handheld receiver radios which were in contact with Tom who in turn was in contact with the chopper pilot. Tom would ride ahead on his motorbike and identify were the species had finally dropped, and would communicate to the specific vehicles.
Communication was essential, as the darts administered with bontebok had a very quick reaction time and getting there to prop up the bonteboks beautiful marked heads upright. During the choppers initial flight, in order to identify the individuals suitable for the capture, it was amazing to see the bonteboks in full flight across the plains. We always forget that these stunning creatures actually can hit speeds of 70km/h for a prolonged period.
The whole process was carried out without a hitch, communication was cool calm and articulate. Before we knew it the bontebok capture was complete, and the animals were relocated. Of course saying all this, the bontebok played their part by staying in relative open areas so that hauling into the land cruisers was an easier prospect.
In the afternoon round midday we were off to capture 8 of our striking quaggas. Again the procedure was explained in full detail by Bernard and executed by us the willing volunteers. On game drives you can always see the beauty of these magnificent creatures, with their distinctive lighter hind quarters. Getting up close and very personal just puts the appreciation to another level. The majesty of their coats, the strength in their breathing and the quiet grandeur in their eyes (which we had to cover to reduce the stress levels)
Again the capture went off without a hitch and I was very proud to be part of a team that took such care and effort in making the experience swift with minimal amounts of stress towards the animals. At the end of the day preparation was the key element in making the day a complete and utter success.
The vulnerable Elandsberg Pea (Lotononis complanata) has been seen in the Reserve. This species is known from two small subpopulations, the first of which is protected in our nature reserve and is stable. The second subpopulations is likely to continue to delcline to to heavy overgrazing and spreading alien invasive plants. The Elandsberg Pea is a long-lived resprouter (generation length 30 years) that grows very low to the ground and has a beautiful purple flower which appears in June.
Also seen on the drives is the Men in a Boat (Colchicum capense) or Patrysblom in Afrikaans. The vernacular name possibly refers to the belief that the corms were scratched out by Francolins, although they have been recorded as being toxic to crows. Another possibility is that the marked bracts of some species resemeble the speckled breast of the birds. This flower appears as if it is floating on dry ground. It is a stemless perennial with lance-shaped leaves that have fine hairs along the margins. You would usually find this plant in damp clay soils in the South Western Cape and Namaqualand. Flowering times are June to August.
Here are some updated pictures from our camera traps- sadly no sightingof the Leopard, fingers crossed for the next entry.