Wildfires: ‘I don’t know what my sheep will eat tonight’

Thousands of cattle and sheep were killed and at least 71 000 hectares of grazing land destroyed in veld fires this month. A desperate farmer said, “I don’t know what the surviving sheep are going to eat tonight and the next few weeks”

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In July alone, more than 71 000 hectares of grazing land was destroyed and thousands of animals killed following severe veld fires in the Free State, Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and even Gauteng.

Devastating fires: Free State Agriculture president Francois Wilken. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi
Free State Agriculture president Francois Wilken. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi

Francois Wilken, president of Free State Agriculture (FSA), said a preliminary survey among its members revealed that the southern part of this province alone lost 67 000ha of grazing land.

He feared that the final picture could be even more severe.

“Not all farmers could participate in the survey because some were still fighting flare-up fires until 15 July, and others were still treating wounded animals and disposing animal carcasses,” he said.

Many also do not currently have any cell phone or internet access after fires destroyed infrastructure like towers. The survey among 63 participating farmers did, however, reveal shocking details of the fire damage: 2 017 cattle, 1 953 sheep and 415 game animals were killed. Structural damage amounts to at least R2.7 million.

“It’s a big loss and it’s all my main stock,” said Schalk van der Merwe, a farmer from Bloemfontein, in an interview with the SABC. “My other problem is 95% of my farm is burnt. I don’t know what the [surviving] sheep are going to eat tonight and the next few weeks.”

ALSO READ: Wildfires: ‘What did we do to deserve such suffering?’

Wilken added that farmers need urgent veterinary supplies after the devastating fires.

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There is also a big need for water supplies, diesel, water pipes and fittings and fence material. Feed and feed supplements are furthermore required to get surviving animals through the winter until the veld has regrown. 

FSA operations manager Dr Jack Armour said although the fires coincided with the recent anarchy in parts of KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng, there is no evidence that the Free State fires were caused by arsonists.

FSA thanked the countless farmers and farmworkers who came from wide and far to help fight the veld fires. The association also acknowledged the support of the Mangaung Umbrella Fire Protection Association and Working on Fire crews who risked their lives in extremely strong and volatile wind conditions.

Fire damage in Eastern Cape 

Nonkqubela Pieters, MEC for rural development and agrarian reform in the Eastern Cape. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi
Nonkqubela Pieters, MEC for rural development and agrarian reform in the Eastern Cape. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi

Meanwhile, the spokesperson for the Eastern Cape department of rural development and agrarian reform, Nonkqubela Pieters, said 4 046ha of grazing land was destroyed in fires at the end of June and beginning of July.

The destruction of the grazing camps in the Mhlontlo Local Municipality has led to a feed crisis. More than 5 300 cattle are now in desperate need of feed, said Pieters. “More critically, they do not have alternative camps to feed their livestock.”

Pieters estimated that feeding for a three-month period costs R1.9 million.

ALSO READ: Fire: Farmers’ regenerative tool for livestock grazing

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