Bertie Swanepoel of the farm Zuurfontein in the Smithfield area first became fascinated by the idea of managing his operations with virtually no outside help, when family living in Australia told him about the way farmers there run their farms. The sheer volume of implements and techniques available to make life easier on a livestock farm, astounded him.

The Swanepoel family of Zuurfontein. From the left are Bertie, his wife, Anlia, Albertus, Anneli and Jakobus.

“I have always wondered how the Australians managed to farm with 20 times more livestock than us, but with virtually no outside help. I think I was fascinated by the whole process because I enjoy working with my animals and enjoy sitting on a tractor, working my fields. To me the whole point of farming is to be actively involved in every aspect of the farming enterprise.”

Nowadays, his farm is mechanised to a large extent and Bertie only uses casual labour when specific jobs, such as shearing or immunisations, need to be completed. During these times, he says, it is very convenient to have a few extra hands on deck.

Managing roads and fires

A recent farmers’ day hosted at Zuurfontein focused on labour saving equipment and practices. During the event, Bertie demonstrated several pieces of equipment he uses on the farm. One of the most vital tools, he says, is a grader that can be hydraulically adjusted so that it is able to grade roads at a variety of angles. Apart from being able to keep his roads in shipshape condition, it also plays an important role in his fire prevention strategy.

The grader makes the whole farm accessible by vehicle.

“I grade many kilometres with this piece of equipment and, because it is so versatile, I can go through ditches and over hills.”

The second piece of equipment he demonstrated was a very robust firefighting setup, consisting of a sprayer connected to a huge water tank atop a trailer.

Firefighting becomes a breeze with this inventive sprayer.

“Should a fire break out, the excellent condition of my roads will enable me to quickly move towards it, and I will be able to easily douse the flames using this powerful pump.”

Making stock handling easier

Non-return gates in the crush prevent the front sheep from squashing those at the back.

When it comes to livestock handling, Bertie uses a very nifty innovation in the crush in the form of non-return gates. These little gates prevent the front sheep from pushing backwards and alleviates the enormous pressure placed on the sheep at the back of the crush. It also does away with the need to run up and down next to the crush to get the sheep to move.

“Our dipping equipment saves us a lot of time and money. Sheep entering the dipping area are weighed automatically and, based on the weight, the correct amount of dip is squirted onto the sheep from below, wetting the chest, belly and between the hind legs. There is no human input, meaning the available manpower can be used for other activities, such as drenching or immunisation.”

The so-called rotator, he explains, is a piece of equipment worth its weight in gold. “On days when ewes must be scanned, for example, we cannot afford to waste time. With this machine, the ewe is clenched by the frame and tilted upside down so that the belly area is exposed. While the scanning is done, the next ewe is moved into place.

The automatic dip weighs each sheep then applies the correct amount of dip.

“When the ewe is done, the machine rotates her back onto her feet and the next ewe is tilted upside down for scanning. The first ewe then moves along the crush and through a three-way sorting gate for open, singles and twins.”

The lamb handling equipment is equally handy. For routine processing tasks, such as docking tails, castration and deworming, each lamb is put on its back onto a rack that prevents it from standing upright. The lamb is then moved along and, once everything is done, slides down and lands on its feet.

Keeping it in the family

Bertie says with his sheep handling facilities and the help of his family, he can complete any task without having to bring in extra labour. An extra resource he does employ, however, are sheepdogs.

The rotator in action. As one ewe is hoisted up, the other one is put back on her feet.

“I have to mention the role that our sheepdogs play. Accompanied by their sheepdogs, my two sons can go in opposite directions and each bring home a large flock of sheep. This is a task which, without the dogs, would have required substantial manpower.” – Izak Hofmeyr, Stockfarm

For enquiries, contact Bertie Swanepoel on 083 256 9718.