Dr. Karin and Manie Wessels, a well-known sheep farming couple from the Vrede District, said they feel humbled that Russia’s biggest turkey meat producer, the Damate group, chose them to expand their sheep production dramatically. The Wessels couple, along with agricultural economist Phillip Oosthuizen, are the leading forces behind the newly established Mamre Initiative that promotes intensive sheep farming worldwide.
“In the last year and a half, the Damate group literally traveled the world, from Australia to America, to seek advice on how to produce lambs every month of the year. In Russia, as in many other countries, lambing is currently limited to twice a year. Damate eventually decided on Mamre’s intensive sheep production system which enables them to have lambs every month of the year – just in time for a large new abattoir being built for June 2020,” says Karin.
Oosthuizen, a director of the Mamre Initiative, said Russia had gone from 60 million sheep before World War II to just two million sheep. “According to Damate, most of the rams were slaughtered at that time to make warm fur coats for soldiers on the cold borders. Since then, the nation has eaten turkey, although there is a great demand for quality lamb meat.”
He says, “Damate’s market research indicates a great need for lamb in Russia, especially amongst the Muslim population, which is the country’s second largest religious group. Damate also wants to start exporting lamb as soon as possible to countries such as Pakistan and Afghanistan. They also have an existing Emirates contract for turkey meat that can open up all sorts of opportunities for the lamb market.”
According to Karin, the Russian sheep industry practically came to a standstill due to Communism. “There are still many sheep farmers, but they stagnate. They do not have the basics in place, such as grading and numbering systems. We’re going to help them get it right, and also help with a geneticist to decide which sheep breed will be the best for an intensive sheep industry.”
Manie says the Mamre team visited Damate’s Moscow headquarters twice this year in the run-up to the deal that was signed last week. Going forward, they will be visiting Stavropol in the southwest of the country once a month to implement the intensive lambing system.
“We’re basically starting off with nothing. We are going to breathe new life into structures built in Soviet days, some of which have been empty for 30 years. However, it is still ideal for a large sheep project like ours. So, we are developing an intensive sheep farm that can become a genetic source, and we will also persuade existing farmers to try the intensive system to eventually produce for the new Damate abattoir.”
The accelerated lambing system has been developed in the heart of the Free State, and the Mamre Initiative also extensively trains farmers in South Africa.
According to Manie, sustainable cattle farming usually requires a great deal of space and involves a tremendously long cycle. “With far less land, you can farm sustainably with sheep, because the turning cycle of a sheep is much shorter, and its production is much higher. My dad always said poor people farm with sheep and rich people farm with cattle. A sheep farmer needs a short interval to make money.”
Meanwhile, Karin admits that it is often a great struggle to communicate with the Russians between Afrikaans, English and Russian. “Language is probably one of the biggest obstacles. We can’t even read what they write (because of the different language symbols being used), and the interpreters aren’t really trained in the sheep industry. Fortunately, we met a Russian geneticist who understood a little English and could explain it to the rest of the team.”
- For more information on the Mamre Initiative, visit intensivesheepfarming.com. Be sure to also reserve space via the website for the next three-day intensive sheep farming workshop held in Bloemfontein from 4 to 6 June 2019.