Dipping Sheep on a South African Farm
In addition to our time in Grahamstown, we had an awesome experience outside of town. Continuing the theme of South African hospitality, our friend Cheryl generously offered to show us around her farm for a day. Unique experience, as this was the first - and likely last - time we’d witness farmers dipping sheep.
A Morning Drive through the Highlands
In each South African locale, we seemed to meet another outstanding person. Grahamstown was no different. On our first day, we met Cheryl, a wonderfully warm and hospitable resident. More precisely, she heard us first, that is, heard our American accents. In the hospitality business, Cheryl was thrilled to discover that visitors from the States were finally starting to travel again - certainly helps the Grahamstown economy.
After chatting about our respective backgrounds, Cheryl offered to show us another side of the city, one not always seen by travelers. While Grahamstown is a cool place to explore, the hill country surrounding it is absolutely beautiful (albeit quite dry due to the extended drought). With a farm in her family for generations, Cheryl insisted that we take a ride with her to see the sprawling hills and fields.
Thinking about it now, farm doesn’t do the area justice. In the US, ranch would more accurately describe this land. Armed with some breakfast sandwiches and coffee, Cheryl picked us up bright and early for the 30ish minute drive out of the city and into the surrounding hills. Named the Highlands, this Scottish-looking farm country is aptly named - rolling hills, large pastures, and winding streams (or at least stream beds).
Farm Managers and Moonshine Shots
Working full-time in the hospitality business in town, Cheryl certainly can’t manage the day-to-day operations of such a massive farm. Instead, like many ranches in the States, a full-time manager lives in a house on-site and handles all of the farm’s operations.
An enormous Afrikaner who may also be the nicest person we’ve ever met, the manager warmly welcomed us into his farmhouse - the first stop on our adventure. Over hot coffee and breakfast sandwiches, we listened to stories about life on the farm (and, in Jenna’s case, played with the adorable farm kitten!). And, we learned that - also like many US ranches - moonshine played a role in farm life. Walking outside, we had this exchange:
Chipp, seeing a makeshift still: “Very cool - mind if I take a shot?”
NOTE: While it may be hard to believe, what Chipp meant by this was “mind if I take a photograph of the still.”
Farm manager, interpreting things his own way: “You bet! I’ll pour you one right now. Actually, you need to try both of my new batches!”
Nothing like a couple shots of South African moonshine to fire up the day!
Dipping Merino Sheep and Some Incredible Collies
With a warm stomach and light head, we hopped into Cheryl’s bakkie. Ten or so minutes on dirt roads later, we arrived at the focal point of that day’s farm activities - dipping sheep.
Hundreds of Merino sheep make up the most productive - if not most intelligent - members of the farm. Covered with beautiful, soft wool, specialists shear these sheep a couple times per year, and this wool is then sold around the world. But, unbeknownst to us non-farmers, sheep can get ticks, and ticks lead to diseases.
To prevent these nasty little creatures, farmers periodically dip their sheep into an insecticide solution. But, lacking in the intelligence department, the sheep don’t willingly jump into a pool. Instead, farmers line them into a concrete chute then give them a nice little push on the sheep-butt to slide down into a pool. A short swim later, you have yourself some extremely damp - but flea-less - sheep.
So yeah, that was pretty entertaining to watch. But, the coolest part of the whole sheep dipping process only tangentially dealt with sheep. Far more impressive were the sheepdogs. These beautiful collies did amazing work herding the dozens of intransigent sheep from their dry pen into the dipping chute - incredible to see them in action.
Well, to be fair, one sheepdog did incredible work. Maggie - the mom - clearly had the maturity to work. Socks - her adorable puppy son - seemed to lack the enthusiasm for work and was far more focused on playing. Value-add in terms of sheep dipping? Nope, but he was cute!
A Game Drive and Some Ol’ Fashioned Graft
In addition to the sheep, Cheryl’s farm also functions like a private reserve, with tons of game roaming the enclosed fields - wildebeest, giraffe, zebra, warthogs, and antelope, to name a few. Wrapping up our sheep dipping adventure, we took an impromptu game drive. Silly not to see some awesome animals while we were there, right?
But, driving around the Highlands, we were struck - in a not-so-positive way - by another feature. In the distance, we saw massive windmills up in the hills. Having lived in California and driven cross-country a few times, we’ve both seen similar wind farms dotting the States.
When the wind’s blowing, these guys can generate a lot of power - unless they’re not actually connected to the power grid… Apparently, the massive wind farm outside of Grahamstown was never connected, instead serving as a good ol’ fashioned graft project. Someone made a lot of government money - without contributing a lick of power to South Africa’s struggling power infrastructure. With load shedding fresh in our minds, it was hard not to be cynical.
Graft or not, we still couldn’t have asked for a better day - another prime example of South African hospitality!