The Nel Family
Father: Jannie Nel Wife: Tilla Nel
Son : Wagner Nel Wife: Riana Nel
Son : Bertus Nel Wife: Inalene Nel
The Nel family have been farming for six generations on their family farm Agterplaas 20km West of Calvinia. Wagner Nel being a very close long-time friend of Hardus van Heerden the founder of Herdsmen we just had to support their business and supply their lamb to our clients.
Jannie Nel and his wife Tilla Nel took over the family farm in 1978. He would be the fifth generation to take over the farm. Through many hardships and draughts, they still farm today but now joined by their two sons Wagner and Bertus Nel who each play a significant role in the day to day running of their family business.
We spent some time with Jannie Nel and Wagner Nel to learn a bit more about their family history and farming practices.
1. Tell us about your family history farming on Agterplaas?
“Our family has been farming here since the late 1800’s, I am not to sure of the exact date it all started but my father Jannie Nel is the fifth generation of Nel’s to farm Agterplaas. So, as you can see this farm has been in our family for quite some time and as you can imagine there is allot of family history here.”
2. Tell us a bit about the farm and farming practices?
“Our farming basically comprises of laming seasons each year. These lambing seasons usually start in the early winter months around May and June when the VELD(Vegetation and grazing) is lush and green. The lambs then grow up feeding on the abundant winter grazing which is an array of different herb bushes and soft succulent plants that cover the ground like a carpet. Usually if the grazing is good and we have had enough rain our lambs are ready for market at five months. Because we farm with Merino sheep, we must sheer them. Their wool then goes to market as well. Sheering usually takes place every 8 months. I runs the day to day farming activities where my son Wagner focuses more on the marketing. My other son Bertus, who is the local vet in Calvinia, manages the general care and health of our sheep. Having Bertus very much involved in the farming is great for us. His approach is more scientific which helps with a more certain breeding plan. We use AI (Artificial Insemination) as well as regularly scan our sheep to check for the early stages of pregnancy, whether Ewe is carrying twins and the well being of each lamb. This then helps us to plan. Ewe’s that have twins will always need more in terms of grazing and supplementation.”
3. What makes this area so special?
“What we love so much about our farm is that it lies in the heart of the Hantam district. The vegetation consists of succulent Karoo bushes that gives our meat its unique taste. The winter rain fall helps to give the vegetation a boost making way for different colourful flowers and soft succulents grown cover that also contributes to the flavour of our meat. We couldn’t ask for better in terms of farming with free-range sheep.”
4. Why do you only farm with Merino sheep and not any other breeds?
“Merino sheep have two uses when farming with them. They produce high quality wool and good meat. Their wool has a high market value. We also prefer Merino sheep and consider them to be a very charismatic breed that seem to have a culture of their own. Merino’s are also very adaptable and can produce high quality meat even in harsh arid environments. Us farmers enjoy discussing this diverse breed around a fire.”
5. What would you say are your biggest challenges farming here?
“Unfortunately, most of the natural elements are out of our control for examples draughts and climate as well meat prices that drop regularly and predators that kill our livestock.”
6. What does the vegetation in the Hantam area consist of?
“The most common plants and bushes that are indigenous to this area are the SKAAPBOS shrub also known as the AFRICAN DAISY, the GANNABOS which in Latin is known as SALSOLA APHYLLA, the BIETOBOS shrub known as CHRYSANTHEMOIDES MONILIFERA and KLAPPIESBRAK which in Latin is called TETRAGONIA ECHINATA AITON. The Klappiesbrak is a succulent plant which is rich in moister. These plants are what our sheep feed on mostly, after good seasonal rain each plant goes into bloom which in turn increases the natural grazing’s nutritional value. Our sheep also do well on planted grazing like Lucerne, Oats and Wheat which we plant in the winter months as additional feed for a more varied diet.
7. What bring you happiness or joy from farming here?
“For us I have to say it’s the way man and animal live in harmony with nature. It’s the magical way the earth and plants flourish after good rains and how something so simple can transform the lives of both the farmer and his animal.”
We at Herdsmen are so happy to have the Nel family as part of our supply chain. They are a loving a very close nit family with a passion for farming and a passion for their precious land. The care that goes into their sheep as well as maintaining the natural balance of nature is outstanding and admirable. We look forward to a close and positive future working together with them and bringing you their superior fair.