A small but enthusiastic group of members of Aberdeen’s Garden and Social Club enjoyed a wonderful relaxing trip to visit Dickie and Colleen Ogilvie on their farm Doorndraai.
The farm is situated about 50km from Aberdeen, the last 28km of which is a well-maintained gravel road.
The Ogilvies welcomed the group warmly, and there was much informal chat and socialising in the garden over tea, coffee and snacks.
Dickie then gave a brief history of the farm, which was bought by Colleen’s father in 1965. The area was experiencing a dreadful drought at the time, very similar to the current situation. The veld had been overgrazed by the previous owners, but with a great deal of hard work, it was restored and Colleen’s brother Alex took over the farm when her parents moved to Four Winds, just outside Aberdeen. He was very keen on game farming, and was responsible for the introduction of fallow deer to the area. Sadly, in 1986 he was diagnosed with cancer, and passed away in May the following year.
After much soul-searching and consideration, Dickie and Colleen gave up their teaching careers in Port Elizabeth and came to the Karoo at the end of 1987 to run the farm. Although Dickie is from a farming family, his family’s farm was very different to Doorndraai, and he relied heavily on his father-in-law for help and advice for the first few years.
After 32 years of farming, he is now very well respected in the area, holding leadership positions in the farming community, and he has built up his breeding stock to produce top quality mohair and wool. During his time at Grootfontein Agricultural College he became a Springbok Kop, a qualification only awarded to those who prove to be expert wool sorters. Every year the farm’s wool and mohair achieve top prices at the international auction in Port Elizabeth.
The boundaries of the farm stretch over a large area, roughly 37km long and 12km wide, covering about 14 000 hectares. Two additional farms have been added on to the original Doorndraai to make one large unit.
Dickie then talked eloquently about the devastating effects of the current drought, now in its fourth year. With only 40% of the usual rainfall in this time, the farmers in the area have been very hard hit, and all available funds have been used to feed the depleted stock. Like most others, the Doorndraai stock has been reduced to a nucleus of sheep and goats as a breeding herd. This particular area seems to be in “dry belt”: thunderstorms are seen, but circle the area and seem to follow the same route, which is not over the farms in part of the region.
Many extremely generous donations of feed have been received by farmers in the area, some free and some at a reduced price, but transport for this is extremely expensive. As the drought bites harder, more and more farmers are affected, with some being virtually on the breadline. The Garden Club members present were obviously aware of the drought, but few had realised just quite how critical the situation is.
Colleen the provided a delicious lunch of lasagne and salad, which was an unexpected treat. She then took the guests to see the dam, in the hope of spotting some fallow deer. Only one was seen, in the distance, but after a seemingly precarious trip along the top of the dam wall, the goats grazing nearby all rushed to the bakkie, expecting to be fed. There was much clicking of cameras!
This proved to be a most enjoyable and enlightening visit, with everyone leaving a little more aware of some of the problems facing the farming community.