When Cilliers Louw was a little boy his father would take him out of school on days when the veterinarians came to visit surrounding farming communities in the Boland.
Cilliers Louw Snr, a national agricultural advisor, farmer and educator from Wellington in the Western Cape, wanted to give is son the opportunity to learn the ropes that would prepare him to become a vet a vet one day.
“My dad was my role model and everything I am today is because of his influence,” says the 39-year-old Cilliers Jnr, who followed his dad’s inspiration to indeed become a vet.
Louw grew up on an intensive pig, cattle and sheep farm that his father started farming on in 1983. This background and his dad’s mentorship would do a lot to prepare him for his later life and his career.
When the South African Pork Producers Organisation (Sappo) approached him to assist 400 small-scale pig farmers across South Africa, he decided the time had come to give back.
“In 2018 the South African Pork Producers (Sappo) asked me to join their team of eight people who help small-scale and upcoming pig farmers. We basically advise them on better husbandry, better health of the pigs and also give them the basics of pig production,” he says.
Louw also works with the Western Cape department of agriculture (WCDoA) to provide essential help for their grant systems to small-scale farmers.
“Any farmer who wants to apply for a grant we assist with the documentation. We assist them with doing the right sourcing of who builds the pig farm, how to do an environmental impact assessment, what farm is more suitable for a pig farm, who to contact for pharmaceutical products and who to contact for equipment for pig housing.”
He describes the role as that of a middleman that advises farmers on how to go about improving their infrastructure and farming enterprises.
Louw explains that Sappo and the WCDoA work together. “We are in a public private partnership. That is why I work for Sappo and the WCDoA on a contract basis. So, I am basically liaising between government Sappo and the small-scale farmers.”
“We’ve got 70 farmers on a mentorship programme across SA. We have a number of mentorships per province from Sappo’s side that we have to visit on a monthly basis. We help them with record-keeping and bookkeeping and we have contracts with them as well.”
Before he got involved with projects that upskill small-scale pig farmers in the country, he studied veterinary science at Onderstepoort Veterinary Institute at the University of Pretoria in 2001.
He graduated in 2005 and received a bachelor’s degree in veterinary science with honours. He worked for various veterinary practices before starting his own practice in 2011. His Durbanville home practice is called Farmlands Veterinary practice.
His responsibilities in private practice include attending to clients on a weekly to monthly basis where he assists them with herd health and planning. His private clients include cattle and sheep feedlots and intensive pig units.
Vet goes virtual
His veterinary practice went virtual during the covid-19 lockdown. This was an idea he had put on the back burner because he was hesitant about whether Mzansi’s farmers would welcome it.
“Five years ago I went to Spain and I saw veterinary practices doing virtual consultations with the help of a GoPro or an iPhone. They walk with it through the farm and you can look at it virtually though a video or live streaming. The vet basically sits in the office and looks on the TV and actually comes into direct contact with the animals.”
He says virtual consultations actually improve biosecurity in the pig pens. “I initially thought we will never be able to do that in South Africa, as the farmers won’t like it so I parked it on the side years ago,” he says.
But then covid-19 hit and many farmers he deals with are above 60, so many were scared to accept in-person consultations.
“Because of that I started actually doing the virtual veterinary consultations on farms via WhatsApp or livestream. Farmers will show me a video we will ‘walk’ through it. I will talk to them live about what the problem is so I can write down a script and also give the farmer the necessary advice.”