An impromptu cow safari
There are few things more picturesque than a statuesque Nguni cow standing atop a hillside somewhere between Heidelberg, Swellendam and Barrydale, with the Langeberg mountains in the background. At least, that was my conclusion soon after my arrival at Valley’s End, a 685ha Nguni cattle farm in the Western Cape, where I was greeted by such a sight.
I was delighted to hear that the farmer, Pieter de Jager, was happy for me to join him the next morning while he inspected his Nguni and Bonsmara cattle. The latter came with him when he moved here from Ermelo two years ago; the Nguni he bought with the property. He also farms Dohne sheep and Amberlink layers (fresh eggs for breakfast – yum).
There are few things more picturesque than an Nguni cow standing atop a hillside somewhere between Heidelberg, Swellendam and Barrydale, with the Langeberg mountains in the background.
Although it’s one of the activities Valley’s End offers, Pieter was a little bemused by my obvious enthusiasm for his livestock, as were my partner and friends, who instead opted for an early-morning walk in the neighbouring Grootvadersbosch Nature Reserve, which is run by CapeNature and protects one of the largest indigenous forests in the Western Cape.
I had no regrets, though, as Pieter and I bumped along the rough tracks to the first field, where a group of Nguni were waiting to have their mineral lick replenished. We disturbed two Cape grysbok that bounded off through the long grass.
Pieter has acquired a solid air about him from years of farming dairy cattle, maize, potatoes, soybeans, dry beans, peas and corn in Mpumalanga, where the risks were higher and the work, harder. Now, with just his cattle to focus on, his days are simpler and he tells me how much he enjoys doing exactly what we’re doing now – tending the herd. He inspects and counts his cattle every second day; or every day when they are calving. And he seems to know each and every one of them.
A Zulu breed, the Nguni is a celebrated class of cattle, known for its hardiness and beautiful speckled hide. According to Pieter, you can’t tell what the calf will look like based on its mother – he’s seen white cows have red calves and black cows have white calves. The cattle are managed with minimal interference, feeding on the grasses and plants that naturally occur in this part of the Western Cape. They move to new pastures every second week.
They’re clever animals too, Pieter assures me, sharing stories about how a cow ‘called’ him when her calf was in trouble, and how another one, number 0416, is a loner, always at the back of the herd. She doesn’t seem to mind her solitude as she looks out over the Langeberg mountains and I suspect that she’s his favourite, in so far as farmers are allowed to have favourites. Perhaps, like Pieter, she finds something new to admire about the mountains every day?
Visitors to the farm and the nearby nature reserve can stay in one of several well-appointed self-catering cottages, which can sleep a total of 11 people, all with views of the mountains and valley in which the farm is set.