Friday, 11 July 2014

Driving Cattle

One would always read in history about the early settlers ‘trekking’ their stock from place to place.  This practise still takes place,but it is normally from one farm to another over short distances.One of these well known ‘treks’ that one reads of is that of the farmers in the Koue Bokkeveld area that would drive their sheep up or down the Katbakkies pass into the Ceres Karoo during May and September every year.  This type of trek would take at least two to three - days and of course with a lot more difficulty. Today fortunately they do this by vehicle.

Sheepdogs loaded and ready to collect cattle
Recently I accompanied one of our ‘treks’ from Duncraggen back to Rookwood with a group of cattle. The distance is a mere 28kms and some of these cattle have done this one a number of occasions.  As in most cases this type of trek will take about six hours as one has to remember the cattle and staff will be walking the full distance, not to mention the ever willing sheepdogs.

section of unmaintained road up to Modderlaagte

condition of road prior to repair

Our first mission is to get to Duncraggen as early as possible.  A few years ago this was a major task as the road to Duncraggen had been eroded due to poor maintenance.   

Once the gates are all unlocked, the staff and dogs collect the cattle that have been put into one of the camps closest to the exit of the farm in order to make collection of the herd easier.

camp no 2 at Duncraggen

Cattle being collected and driven through camp no 1

This time there are a couple of very young calves amongst this herd, which we load on the back of the bakkie as they would not be able to walk the distance.  One has to be very careful of the very protective mothers as they want to chase the staff, dogs or you to ‘protect’ their calf while it is being loaded on the bakkie.  The bakkie then drives a little ahead to ‘encourage’ the mothers to follow, which they duly do.

Once we get down to the bend of the Waqu near the Bushmen’s paintings, we allow the herd to move ahead of the bakkie and then follow on slowly behind.  The sheepdogs have now had to ‘find’ space in the front of the bakkie, as there are calves on the back and they cannot drive the cattle as the mothers would continually be trying to chase them still trying to protect their youngsters.

the bend at the Waqu river

The first available water is where the Waqu River crosses the road just after the Bushmen’s paintings and from then on it is a long slow uphill walk for cattle and staff. We stop regularly quite a way behind to allow the dogs to ‘stretch’ their legs as it can get quite cramped in the front of the bakkie with four sheepdogs.

the 'cattle 'trek' after last year's veldt fire

As we approach Modderlaagte turnoff we look back to see the signs of the first winter veldt fires that have taken place and this is a stark reminder of the devastating fire that destroyed Duncraggen  within 10 minutes and went on to burn a further 7 000 hectares last August.

signs of the first veldt fire beyond Duncraggen

Jack 'sleeping' in the bakkie
The wind is blowing like it normally does during this time of the year,however, the panoramic views from the Modderlaagte turnoff make up for this.  Sam and Oz continue to jostle for space at the foot of the passenger seat, while Jack has settled on Joy’s lap with his nose in the wind.  Scott settles behind my back with his feet crossed.  The calves have all settled down to sleep.


the panoramic view of the hills in the distance


We approach Hilton Church and are almost at the next water crossing.  This church is a national monument and is often an artist’s delight for a scene of the Eastern Cape countryside.  The original Hilton Methodist Church came about in the 1877 built by the local farmers in the community.  A manse and school building is part of this complex.  In 1903 a much larger church in an early Gothic style replaced the first church.  A stroll through the cemetery will be filled with the names of the early settlers in this area, like the Filmer family.  Rookwood is a Filmer granted farm.

the cattle reach the Hilton Church

As we turn right, the cattle have approximately eight kilometres to go. We meet one of the farm managers and he jokingly comments about the occupants inside the bakkie cab. This is where we meet other cattle and they are all keen to join in with the ‘trek group’.  Three manage to break through the fencing and join up, which holds the trek up temporarily while they are sorted.
Sam taking a 'break' from the front cab of the bakkie

We are now into the sweet veldt country with thorn trees around.  I am sure the cattle (many of whom have walked this route before) realize they are on their home stretch.  There is just one steep uphill to the top of Sugarloaf hill before they will descend towards Rookwood.  At the top of the hill we drive through the cattle to get ahead so that we can off-load the calves before their mothers get there. This of course, upsets the mothers and they break into a run after the bakkie, but we manage to get well ahead.



We drive into no 2 camp and off-load all the young calves, just in time, as the mothers come running to identify, lick and allow their calves to suckle.  

Another ‘trek’ is over and we leave the cattle to rest their weary hooves.

The sweetveldt of Rookwood

1 comment:

  1. Beautiful scenery. I'm curious why you use quotation marks around several of the verbs associated with the cows and dogs? For example, the cows might try to "protect" their calves.