Karoo Game Farming - Chapter 4 - Sable Arrive




Peter answered the phone. The heavily accented voice said

“Okay, Pieter, we is riding now. The darting went fine and the animals is loaded and they is looking good.” This call is from Jannie van Niekerk, the man who is delivering a breeding group of sable to Peter and Lynn. The local vet has darted each animal with a cocktail of drugs – an immobiliser (which is reversed once the animal is loaded) and tranquillisers, to ease the transport process and prevent the animal injuring itself in the unfamiliar surroundings within the vehicle.

This was the big day which Peter and Lynn had been preparing for. The moment had arrived when they would finally receive their first game breeding animals. Peter went over his mental checklist to make sure that he was ready. The feed bowls of teff and lucerne hay have been put near the permanent water trough. (This is where Jannie would stop to unload the sable) Temporary water troughs have been placed in the four corners of the camp, the entire fence has been checked for holes and an old rusted piece of brick-making equipment with potential to cause injury has been removed from the camp. All the bits of old wire and tin cans have been removed, two whole bakkie loads of it. Lastly Peter has reminded his workers that all their sheep dogs should be secured. Nothing worse than a dog just through the fence for getting a sable agitated, endangering itself and the dog. Yes, everything was ready.

Fifteen minutes before Jannie was due to arrive, Peter and Lynn were waiting for him at the entrance to the farm, so that they could guide him to the offloading point. Lynn was equipped with two cameras, a go-pro to be attached above the door of the game trailer and a stills camera with telephoto lens for individual shots of the arrivals.

Peter and Lynn saw dust approaching. As the vehicle neared they saw that it was indeed Jannie, his bakkie towing a game trailer. With a wave to Jannie, Peter drove forward and led the way to the sable camp. At the offloading site, Jannie turned his vehicle round so that the doors faced away from a donga in the middle distance. The sable could still have run round the vehicle towards the donga, the risk couldn’t be eliminated completely, but he was doing what he could to keep the still semi-drugged animals safe.

He left the engine running to mask his own sounds while he readied the trailer and gave Peter some instructions. In the front compartment were two heifers, in the middle compartment one, and at the back the bull. Peter was to wait for a signal from Jannie to open the sliding door between the back and the middle compartments. The bull may have injured the cow if they both ended up in the same compartment simultaneously, so the bull needed to leave the trailer before Peter opened the inter-leading door, but if he could be quick about it, the heifer was more likely to see the bull leaving, and follow. If she didn’t, if she stayed put in her compartment, Jannie would open the side door of the front compartment to release the two heifers from there, and Peter was at the same instant to open the slider between the middle and front compartments, to show the middle compartment animal that the front two leaving through the forward door, and hopefully encourage her to use this alternate route out.

“You must sommer quickly be opening the deur” Jannie instructed Peter.


Lynn had by now attached the go-pro on the roof just above the back door, facing backwards, and she herself had taken up position 50 meters away to the side behind a tree trunk, where she could be out of view but still capture the action. Jannie switched off the engine, and in the almost eerie stillness, quietly opened the back. After blinking at the light for a moment or two, the bull cautiously stepped out. Jannie immediately signaled to Peter to open his door, which he did almost noiselessly, but nothing happened, the heifer did not appear. Did she not catch sight of the bull peacefully wandering off? After waiting for about 120 seconds for her to make her move, Jannie circled the trailer and opened the side door of the front compartment. As soon as he heard the slight rumble of the front door, Peter pulled hard on his door, the one between the front and middle compartments, but stopped it noiselessly before it reached its limit. The front two stepped out into the sunshine, one a few seconds after the other.

Jannie stood quietly, waiting for the last heifer to follow, the one in the middle compartment, but nothing happened. He waited for a long time. Finally he got a long stick off the back of his bakkie and climbed up the ladder onto the roof of the trailer. He opened the access hatch. Using the pole he prodded the sable to encourage it to leave its compartment. The animal resisted his efforts.

Without trying for long, Jannie got down off the trailer and said to Peter “Can we go drink a koppie koffie?”

As they drove out in Peter’s vehicle, Jannie explained that a stroppy sable that doesn’t want to move from the vehicle is best left to itself for a while. The more you try to force it out, the more stubborn it gets, he explained.

“Sometimes you just had to use force, but that is the very last thing that a person can try. Much better to let it walk out by itself”

Sure enough, twenty minutes later when they got back to the sable camp, they saw that the last heifer had on her own decided to leave the trailer and was with the other three animals. All four  of them were conducting a circuit of their camp, inspecting their new surroundings. Later when Lynn had edited the go-pro footage, they saw that the last heifer left by the back door soon after the people went for coffee.

“Thanks very much!” said Peter, extending his right hand to Jannie’s to express his heart-felt thanks.

“You did put a waterbak in every corner, ne?” asked Jannie.

“Yea sure, and I am going to feed them each 1 ½ kg of pellets per day, in addition to the lucerne and teff you see there”, indicating the feeding troughs. “That’s right, is it?”

“Ja, Pieter, dis reg.”


“Tell me Jannie, you said you sometimes have to force the animal out of the trailer – how do you do that?”

Silently Jannie walked over to his bakkie, and reaching behind the seat, drew out a cattle prodder.

“Met die ding” he said.

After a few more minutes of the usual sociable small talk, Jannie said

“Okay, I must ride now, Pieter. Come back this afternoon to check that this animals is all okay. Call me if there is anything,”  With that he started up and drove off.

Spell-bound, Peter just stood looking at their new animals. "I can't believe they are really here."

“Come on you, lets go home and leave these sable by themselves so that they can settle down” said Lynn. For a moment it seemed as if Peter had not heard his wife, but then he turned and getting into their vehicle, drove from the camp.

Join Peter and Lynn in the next episode to see how their game-breeding enterprise develops.




Karoo Game Farming - Chapter 3 - Finance



“Lynn, lets have a cup of tea. The next thing I want to run through with you is how we should finance our sable purchase, but I’m thirsty and I need a break.” Peter and Lynn have been working on the budget for their farming on Alwynhoek. It is clear to them that, if they are to succeed, all aspects of their farming should be well managed, not just their new game venture.

“I want to try and achieve a 110% lambing with our sheep” said Peter “Dad only once got that right.” Peter is referring to his father Ken, recently deceased, who had left them the farm.  “If we make sure the nutrition is right, there is no reason why we can’t achieve that more often.”

“He would be proud of you” said Lynn.

A few minutes later with tea in hand,  the couple began to talk about how much capital they needed for the purchase of sable. While they were living in P.E. they had been saving to buy their own house, R110 000. This money they could use. Also they could sell the sheep stud (“it’s been a drain on this farm for years” said Peter). One of Ken’s fellow merino stud men, Ted Shipton, had offered them R220 000 for the whole 100 ewe stud as it stood. But they needed more than that. For how much finance they need see here.

How could they raise the money?  The commercial banks were all treating them as novices and wanted prime plus 3%, but the Land Bank said, in view of their good relationship with his father Ken, that they would probably be able to finance Peter at prime plus 1%. (The remaining R150 000 owing on the farm was with the Land Bank).

“But will they make the finance available quickly enough?” asked Lynn. “They don’t have a good reputation, you know?”

“Well, I have had a good chat to their Vuyo Jeyi, he seems quite a bright spark. He says that the money we are looking for, in addition to what we already owe, is well within what the bank is authorised to lend to borrowers with our asset base, so there is little doubt that the loan would be granted. He assures me that if we submit our application by the end of this week, he will have an answer within 30 days, and payment in another 30.”

“Okay that’s settled then” said Lynn” We borrow from the Land Bank. Do you need me to help you to fill in their forms? I understand their applications are very detailed.”

“No, I think I can cope – better for continuity if one person does it.”

“Don’t forget though” said Lynn, thinking ahead “ In the last years your dad didn’t bother to bale the lucern, he used to graze it. If we are going to feed a herd of sable, we would do well to produce as much as we can of the hay, rather than buying it in. And your dad’s old Massey 165 is a bit finished, at least for powering a baler. We should allow something for its overhaul .”

“Can’t we do that on overdra…?“ Peter began to say, then he interrupted himself “Yes, you are right, better to make that cost part of the Land Bank loan. The commercial bank have seen fit to grant us a moderate facility, but they are nailing us on the interest rate. Better to keep the overdraft as small as possible. “

For the remainder of that working day the couple continued to work on the budget. They took a break for an early supper with their children, but after bed-time stories and tucking them in, they once again knuckled down and did not stop until they had put together a budget which they felt they could achieve.  As they were turning in Peter said

“ Tomorrow I’ll phone uncle Ted and say to him that we accept his offer for the stud. I’d better remind him that some of those ewes are quite close to lambing, and that he should come and fetch them soon.

“And then I had better make a start on that Land Bank application.” With these thoughts swirling through his head, Peter drifted off into a dreamless sleep.

Join Peter and Lynn in the next chapter as they take delivery of their sable.

Karoo Game Farming - Chapter 2 - Fencing

Jannie helps them choose a site for the sable camp.


When we were last with Peter and Lynn on their family farm, they had decided in principle to go ahead and purchase a small breeding herd of sable from Jannie van Niekerk.

Now Jannie sat with them at the oak diningroom table at Alwynhoek, poring over a large map of the farm.  (See the map.) Jannie was saying in his heavily accented English,

“No, man, Pieter, you see”, he said, using the afrikaans form of his name, “It is verry important to think ahead.  We must, how you say, kies the sa….” he looked up for help. 

“Choose,” said Lynn. 

“Dankie, ja, we must choose the sable kamp verry careful, so that you will never had to break down this fences again.”  Jannie went on to explain that it was important to consider what other game development there might be on the farm in future. The initial fencing should fit in with what the eventual layout would look like.

“What are you going to do with yourr young bulls, Pieter?  In the beginning you can sell them but maybe later you want to make a hunting camp and put them there.  Yourr veld otherside the main road would make a lekker place to take hunters to.  Dis pragtig daar bo.” 

“Ja, it is completely separate from the rest of the farm, and the views from up there are stunning.  I like that idea.   Don’t worry, Lynn,” said Peter, looking at his wife, “not in the first year or two.  Later, when we have made some of the money back.”

“Okay,” continued Jannie, “so you must put the sable breeding kamp on this side of the farm, where your house is, away from where the hunting bulls is.  Then you must think, later maybe you want buffalos, if you got a leegte with some grass and doringboom for them to hide in, that would be a good place for buffalos.” He looked up “Remember Pieter, leegtes always has ticks, so you must um…. choose”, this time remembering the word, “choose a rant or a vlak for yourr sables.”

The discussion continued in this vein and most of the different species of game were discussed, their suitability for the area, where they could later be accommodated on the farm, how passive capture systems could be set up, and so on.  They discussed where the sable camp could be constructed in such a way as not to interfere with any possible future development. 

From the three or four most promising sites, one was chosen, the near point about 500 m west of the homestead but tucked behind a hill and not visible from the road.  The same hill would serve as a windbreak during cold south-easter rains.

“Let us go and have a look” said Jannie, so they took a brisk walk to get there. After walking about for a bit, Jannie declared himself happy with the site. “But Pieter, you will had to make some roads. Dis belangrik ne, to be able to put out food, and when you want to dart ”. Jannie was referring to the management technique of darting from a vehicle. The size of the twin camps would be 30 ha each, and they would be equipped with a smaller management camp to link the two. However to save on costs only one camp would now be built. An existing water pipeline would be extended and a trough provided.

“Remember, Pieter, you must go to nature conservation and apply for a permit for captive breeding, ne.” For a game enclosure for less than 50 Large Stock Units in extent, the Dept. of Nature Conservation will not issue a regular Certificate of Adequate Enclosure (CAE) under which game animals can be kept, but rather a captive breeding permit. Alternately, for sable, a CAE for a 1.4 metre fence will do. In a quirk of officialdom, the dept. will issue a CAE for the lower fence even though sable can quite easily clear it. So, though the new game farmer will still construct a higher fence to safely contain his sable, he could pretend to run them in an 800 ha (should the farm be in a 16 h/LSU area) low fence camp, should he conveniently have such an area with an up-to-standard fence round it. Then no captive breeding permit would be necessary.

Jannie then helped them prepare a list of materials for the fencing. The fence was to be 2.4 m high, more to keep the kudu out than to keep in the sable. Also it would include 900 mm of netting to prevent sable calves from finding their way through onto the wrong side.

“When do you want to staarrt building the fence” asked Jannie, “there is a good draadwerker working for me now, en ek kan hom maar vra, he will surely tog help you too?” Lynn marvelled at the language, this mixture of english and afrikaans spoken by the people of the district. She had initially been somewhat shocked by it, but now she found it growing on her.

With profuse thanks from his hosts for his time and trouble, Jannie took his leave.

“He is an amazing man that, your Jannie, “ said Lynn. “Who else would give up so much of their time to help beginners?”

“Yes, he has been good to us. We are buying animals from him, but he has gone far beyond what was necessary to secure a sale. I am glad that we have decided to come and live in the platteland, I like the people here.”

"Me too."

Join Peter and Lynn in the next chapter as they discuss how to raise finance.

Management Pens

Small camps linking larger ones

A pen linking two or more game camps is a useful management tool. Typically such a structure would measure anything from 100 x 150 m to 300 x 500 m and be surrounded by a robust 2.4 m fence.   It should be equipped with gates in every corner and should have a water trough. (See diagram of typical layout here) This pen can be useful in the following ways:

Gates in every corner

Gates in every corner

1) The herd can be secured within the pen on the day before the vet comes, enabling rapid and easy darting from a vehicle.  This is useful if the terrain of the breeding camp is difficult or if you need to dart in a hurry because you need to deliver animals to a buyer on that day. 

2)  An animal which is being ostracised and attacked can be separated from the remainder of the herd by feeding the herd into the pen or by gently pressuring the outcast through the gate, so that a fence separates them from the others.  This is particularly helpful if the vet is not immediately available. 

3)  When the herd needs to be moved from one camp to the next, it is better to feed them into the management pen first, to make sure that all are present.  If a gate between two camps is simply left open, sometimes a single animal can get left behind. The herd moves away from the gate into the new camp so that the straggler can’t find the opening. In a management pen they can’t move off, so the way through is easier to find. If a management pen is not eqipped with gates in every corner, calves can blunder up and down the fence without finding a way out. Their soft young horns are in danger of being injured as they do this.

4)  Quite often the breeding bull can be lured into the pen on his own.  By using interleading camps linked by gates, he can be removed altogether from the breeding area.  This saves the expense and risk of darting him.