Tank, one of Theo Hoffman’s Bosvelder rams. The Bosvelder’s resistance to heartwater makes it a popular breed in South Africa’s Bushveld regions. (Photographs supplied)

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Built from Africa’s history, for a future in the Bushveld. This is how Theo Hoffman describes the Bosvelder breed. For a long time heartwater dealt a blow to successful sheep farming in the northern parts of South Africa’s Bushveld. However, this sheep breed is ideal for producers who wish to farm sheep in these areas.

Lees dit in Afrikaans.

Theo, the chairperson of the Bosvelder Study Group, says he always wanted to farm sheep, but his father, Hoffie, a seasoned cattle producer, did not really want the animals on their farm. Today, the Bosvelders are an integral part of their farming operation at Mooiplaas near Middelburg in Mpumalanga.

Hoffie cultivated some 16 000ha in the former Rhodesia, farmed 2 800 beef cattle and milked 600 cows until he was forced to leave. After that, they farmed tobacco as part of the Loskop irrigation scheme and in 2011, bought Mooiplaas. Here they produce maize and soya beans, while Hoffie farms cattle and Theo sheep.

Bapedi origins

In 2009, sheep producers began developing this sheep breed, which ideally consists of 50% Bapedi, 25% White Dorper and 25% Van Rooy sheep. The aim was to produce an animal that could adapt to the demanding conditions of the Bushveld, and especially offer resistance to heartwater and parasites. In 2012, the Bapedi Study Group was rebranded the Bosvelder Study Group.

The breed caught Theo’s attention. When he first started farming with sheep, he bought 170 ewes from a well-known and popular sheep breed. However, most of them succumbed to heartwater, leaving Theo with only 18 sheep. He borrowed a Bapedi ram to use on the remaining flock and the offspring gave new direction to his business. From then on, he only purchased Bapedi ewes.

Development of the breed

Bapedi sheep have existed from the earliest times and, along with the indigenous tribes that farmed them, trekked through Africa to the south of the continent, eventually ending up in the South African Bushveld. Through the ages, natural selection ensured that only the hardiest sheep that were able to adapt to the changing conditions of the continent survived and multiplied.

Bosvelder ewes have excellent maternal traits and know how to raise their lambs well. (Photographs supplied)

But while this makes Bapedi sheep very appealing, their carcasses do not meet the requirements of today’s competitive market. To produce better slaughter animals, White Dorper rams were used on Bapedi ewes, which constituted a remarkable improvement. The offspring yielded better growth and developed into a much-improved slaughter lamb.

Later, Van Rooy sheep were added to the breeding programme to supplement the meat quality, longevity and maternal traits of the sheep. The Van Rooy is also known for its ability to be drought tolerant and to thrive under extensive conditions.

The sheep are highly fertile, have good maternal traits and a strong flock instinct, and are hardy and adapted to the conditions in the Bushveld areas. This breed offers sheep producers the opportunity to farm profitably in these regions.

Theo says they have already progressed to F4 Bosvelders. Most breeders use Bosvelder rams to continue breeding, and Van Rooy and White Dorper rams are used very selectively for corrective breeding.

However, the Bapedi sheep’s resistance to heartwater is by far the biggest advantage of the Bosvelder and he warns breeders to not reduce the Bapedi component of the sheep, just to be able to breed heavier carcasses. A few sheep that die from heartwater, or a heavy parasite infestation, will immediately negate the advantage of heavier carcasses.

Marketing of Bosvelder sheep

Bosvelder sheep are medium-framed animals with mature ewes that weigh 45kg on average, and rams between 80 and 90kg. There are two main markets, namely the slaughter market on which lambs are marketed at five to six months of age at a weight of between 40 and 45kg, and lambs that are delivered to feedlots. The latter are marketed at approximately 100 days of age at a weight of between 25 and 30kg.

Theo says that store-lamb production is a popular option because lambs are taken off the veld after 100 days, which means the producer can keep more ewes. The average price for store lambs is R45/kg live weight. Feed is relatively expensive at the moment, making it difficult to profitably fatten the lambs for slaughter.

The demand for live sheep is also good and a large part of the lamb harvest is sold directly from farms every year. These sheep are exceedingly popular as they can be farmed both extensively and intensively, and produce lambs that can be marketed from the veld.

He farms his sheep extensively on heartwater veld, and they receive a winter and summer lick. No preventive treatment is given against heartwater. Those that contract the disease are treated and culled to ensure that the flock’s resistance does not diminish.

There are two shepherds that care for the 1 200 strong flock. Ewes that have lambed are placed in a temporary camp in the mornings until the lambs are strong enough to accompany their mothers to the veld. The camps are close to the grazing area of the large flock and Anatolian shepherd dogs ensure that predators are kept at bay.

The area has a large number of jackal and caracal, and Theo recently ran into a leopard which the dogs eventually chased away. A security guard ensures that cattle thieves don’t gain access to the sheep at night.

The Bosvelder Study Group

He says the popularity of the Bosvelders has increased a great deal in recent times. The Bosvelder Study Group has around 30 members farming close to 7 000 sheep. The members are distributed far and wide and farm as far as Somerset East, Piketberg, Plettenberg Bay and Potchefstroom.

The study group presents an annual auction, with their tenth auction taking place on 5 February 2022 in Bela-Bela where approximately 200 selected ewes and 25 selected rams will be on offer. Only members of the study group may auction animals.

Theo Hoffman’s Bosvelders graze extensive pastures, while Anatolian shepherd dogs guard against predators. (Photographs supplied)

In addition, regular farmers’ days are held, during which experts talk about sheep farming and the Bosvelder in particular, and where animals are showcased and discussed.

There is a high demand for low maintenance sheep, which is evident from the prices paid at the last auction held by the study group. His impression is also that game farmers who have moved their game to open farms and have breeding camps available are very interested in the sheep.

Despite the challenges of Covid-19, some 60 buyers turned up at the last auction in Bela-Bela and ten more buyers participated virtually. The 14 members of the study group who partook in the auction presented excellent animals.

A total of 19 Bosvelder rams were sold at an average price of R9 875, with R19 000 clocking the highest price paid for a ram. Ewes were sold at an average price of R5 324. The most expensive ewe and lamb were sold for R12 500, and the highest price paid for a pregnant ewe was R10 000. The record price for a ram was R65 000 and for a pregnant ewe, R25 000.

The sheep are also very popular with emerging farmers who are already familiar with the excellent traits of the Bapedi sheep and now have access to sheep that offer the same benefits, but with better carcasses. Theo says he is excited about the future, as he believes this sheep is ideal for the future of sheep farming in the heartwater areas of the Bushveld.

For more information, contact Theo Hoffman on 084 313 7356 or theohoffman@yahoo.com.

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