Harvest time on Landmeterskop

Harvesting completed

Landmeterskop Harvesting completed

October and November might just be some of the busiest months for farmers in the Overberg, an area known as “the wheat basket of South Africa”. It is harvest time. From before sunrise to late at night one can hear and see farmers with swathers, combines and balers working the fields.

First the swathers come in to cut the stems of the wheat and form a windrow which is left to dry before combining or further harvesting.

Then the combine comes in to loose the head of the grain from the shaft. The grain is collected and the chaff/straw left on the field to be baled later. The Blue Cranes followed the combine wherever it went!

And lastly the baler is brought in.

On Landmeterskop the harvesting of our grain crops – wheat, barley and oats, was done by our neighbours, Jan and Danie van Dyk of Hartebeeskloof, a father-and-son team who still put their veteran machinery to work. The magazine, Village Life, did an article on them in their Feb/March Issue 2008:

Jan van Dyk of the farm Hartebeeskloof near Stanford in the Overberg was five or six years old when he first drove a tractor all by himself. “It’s in the blood,” says Jan. As a youngster it was Jan’s job after school to take coffee to Hendrik Rooi, their farm labourer, to wherever he was working with the tractor on the farm. His mother’s warnings to stay away from the tractor and not drive it himself, fell on deaf ears. While Hendrik was enjoying his coffee and having a smoke break, Jan would be on the tractor, driving it to his heart’s content. At home he would be questioned by his mother as to why he “smelled of tractor so much”.

“I have only been with Hendrik on the tractor while he was doing the driving,” he lied.

Today Jan, the fourth generation van Dyk farming at Hartebeeskloof, is as passionate about tractors as ever. He now collects and renovates veteran tractors and farm implements and does all the farm work with tractors dating from the 1940s to 1950s.

Jan is the proud owner of two 1942 Allis-Chalmers Model “M” tractors of which one is already fully renovated and in good running and working condition. His pride and joy is an International T-9 Bulldozer or crawler tractor which still starts promptly when its sling is turned! Then he has a Farmall Cub (the only Farmall built with an L-head engine), which was the smallest tractor in the International Harvester line, and capable of pulling one 30-centimetre bottom plough. The Farmall Cub was one of the most popular “small chore tractors” made in history as it was aimed at the needs of the small-acreage farmer. It was produced for almost 20 years, with over 200 000 of them built between 1947 and 1964. Seven or eight implements were initially designed for it: a plough, a disc, a backblade, a sickle-bar mower, belly-mower, and a one-armed front-end loader. Like the Farmall Model A, the Cub was off-set to the left with the driver and steering wheel on the right so that the driver could have a perfect view of a belly-mounted cultivator.

There are also two Case tractors made by Jerome Increase Case’s company in Wisconsin. Case built their first steam engine in 1869 which was moved around by horses. By 1876 they had developed their first steam traction engine and the first Case farm tractor appeared on the scene in 1892. Their eagle trademark is patterned after a bald eagle, “Old Abe”, a mascot in the American Civil War.

The oldest tractor on the farm is a McCormick-Deering 22-36 (the model number indicates the power output: 22 drawbar, a unit used to measure the pulling power of locomotives and tractors, and 36 horsepower, a unit of power output). These tractors were called “farmer engineered powerhouses” as the McCormick-Deering 15-30 tractor, originally built from 1921 to 1934, was a kerosene-powered steel-wheeled machine which developed 30 brake horsepower (± 22,4 kilowatts), and in 1929 the output was increased to 22 drawbar and 36 bhp (± 27 kW). This tractor, along with the famous John Deere “D”, completed the transition from horse power to horsepower.

The early McCormick-Deering tractors were painted grey with red wheels; only in 1936 did the company switch to an all-red colour scheme.

Jan’s collection of veteran tractors is completed by four Hanomag R545 Combitracs, manufactured by the Hannoversche Maschinenbau AG, a German producer of steam locomotives, tractors, trucks and military vehicles. The company, founded in 1835, made its first farm tractors in 1912; this division was sold in 1964 to Massey-Ferguson.

Jan’s son Danie helps with the renovation of these old tractors – “he does the body, while I fix the heart”. Danie could even as a boy of five distinguish between the four Hanomag tractors by just listening to the sound of their engines. Danie says he can still do that. “The only difference is that today I know why they sound different and what is wrong with each of them!”

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A country girl at heart?

Although 20-month-old Zara is growing up in a city, she seems to be a country girl at heart. It was absolutely amazing watching her fearlessly interact with the farm animals on Landmeterskop – arm around the neck with piggies, Mr and Mrs Kolbroek, also feeding and stroking them and the alpacas. They also seemed to not mind her being there, so up close and personal. Her mom and our Tsala were however nearby all the time, keeping a watchful eye.

Our nannie goats “are kidding” no more – the babies have been born!

Our Billy the Kid and his harem became the proud parents of 12 new kids – 7 males and 5 females. And since he started our Billy’s libido has stayed high, his neck is growing thicker by the day, the hair on his back stay raised and so does his tail!  He’s a devil on the run… a young gun, our Billy the Kid!

All our nannie goats have had their babies now. The last one had triplets while we were taking photos of the new generation playing. It was so awesome!

Most people remember pet goats through the eyes of Heidi the orphan who went to live with her grandfather in the Swiss Alps. But there is a lot of stuff we bet you didn’t know about goats, until now that is.

    • A female is called a doe, or nanny goat, a male is called a buck, or billy goat and a baby is called a kid
    • Goats are herd animals, so they need animals
    • Goats are browsers, they eat up, not down
    • Goats are very fussy eaters. They won’t eat unless their dish is clean and clean food is put in it, and need lots of fresh, clean water.
    • Goats need protection from dogs
    • Don’t put your hand in their mouth: their teeth are like razor blades
    • Goats love being brushed
    • Goats hate people touching their ears
    • Most goats, male and female, have beards and some have ‘tassels’ under the chin
    • In every goat herd there is a herd queen (or pack leader). They’re often the oldest and get to eat first. They groom up the new ‘heirs’ to the position. This new heir often protects the old one from the rest.
    • Goats are smelly. This is because they have a musk gland behind the polls on the back of their head.
    • When goats are pregnant you say the goats ‘are kidding’.

The gentle, graceful giants of Walker Bay

 

Visitors to the towns on the Cape Whale Coast of South Africa get to within almost touching distance of whales in Walker Bay. The nature of the rocky coastline which allows this closeness between whales and watchers, has resulted in Walker Bay gaining a firm place on the WWF’s list of top 12 whale viewing locations in the world. Whale watching in South Africa has gained such popularity that whales have now joined the ranks of lion, elephant, buffalo, rhino and leopard! Collectively they make up the ‘big six’ of African game viewing.

“The sheer elegance of these massive sea mammals, their spectacular displays of water gymnastics and gentle majesty leave even hardened cynics oddly moved,” one observer said.

Whales usually start arriving along the Cape coastline, from St Helena Bay on the west coast to Plettenberg Bay on the south coast, from the colder southern ocean in May and June and stay until about November to calve. The most common species is the Southern Right Whale (Eubalaena australis), but Humpback and Bryde’s Whales also visit. Southern Right Whales were protected from whaling back in 1935 and humpbacks in 1963, and over the past 30 years the stocks of both these species have been increasing. Until recently, it was assumed that all whales return south in summer, but research has shown that a sizable group head up the west coast to feed. To ensure that our giant visitors are not disturbed during their nuptial activities, Walker Bay has been declared a Whale Sanctuary Marine Protected Area, which means that no unauthorized boats of any kind are allowed within its boundaries during the peak months of July to November.

The Southern Right Whale is a baleen whale, one of three species classified as right whales belonging to the genus Eubalaena. (The term “right” whale originated in the whaling days of yore, when these species were regarded as the right whales to kill for their blubber.) Like other right whales, the Southern Right Whale is readily distinguished from others by the callosities on its head. Callosities are simply rough patches of skin that has become thickened as a result of repeated contact and friction on which barnacles and whale lice (cyamids) live which make these callosities appear white. Each whale has a unique pattern of these callosities on their head, and the patterns prove useful as mechanisms for individual identification, either directly or by examining photos.  The Southern Right Whale has a broad back without a dorsal fin, and a long arching mouth that begins above the eye. Its skin is very dark grey or black, occasionally with some white patches on the belly.  There are ± 10,000 southern right whales spread throughout the southern part of the Southern Hemisphere.

By a quirk of Nature, the Southern Right Whale, which weighs up to 47 tonnes, feeds on organisms the size of a mustard seed! It has to filter huge quantities of zooplankton through baleen plates in its mouth to get its meal for the day.

The maximum size of an adult female is 15 m (49 ft). The testicles of right whales are likely to be the largest of any animal, each weighing around 500 kg (1,100 lb). This suggests that sperm competition is important in the mating process. Right whales cannot cross the warm equatorial waters to connect with the other (sub)species and (inter)breed: their thick layers of insulating blubber make it impossible for them to dissipate their internal body heat in tropical waters.

Visitors to Landmeterskop are within a short driving distance to the coastal towns, Hermanus, De Kelders and Gansbaai. Boat trips offering whale watching are offered from various harbours.

Contact Dyer Island Cruises, for whale & eco tours or you can book online.

The photos of the Southern Right Whales were taken by Charles Naudé of Hermanus.

Whale watching near Dyer Island, Walker Bay:

 

Canola-time in the Overberg!

The Cape Overberg is an incredibly diverse area of South Africa with scenes of striking beauty – a natural visual smorgasbord for amateur and professional photographers: from stunning seascapes with a backdrop of breathtaking mountains, covered in beautiful fynbos, hidden valleys and waterfalls; to patchworks of rolling hills of wheat fields in various shades of green interspersed with bright yellow canola patches in late winter and spring. In summer the colours change to varying shades of gold with the ripening of the wheat, and during harvest the fields are dotted with hay bales. After the fields have been ploughed, the scenes once again change to various shades of red and brown according to the soil. Grazing sheep and cattle, Blue cranes, and various other bird species flying overhead, or feeding in the fields add to these bucolic scenes. It is also an area with a rich history, quaint villages and their quirky characters. To whet your appetite and get you out for a weekend away on a photography outing, here are some beautiful pictures of canola fields by Jan Hendrik van Straaten of Caledon.

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Blue Cranes, our national bird @ Landmeterskop

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A pair of Blue Cranes at Landmeterskop

 

The Blue Crane (Anthropoides paradiseus) belongs to the family Gruidae and is South Africa’s national bird.

The blue crane is currently listed as vunerable in the Eskom Red Data Book of South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland and the 2010 International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) Red List.  There are many threats facing the blue crane such as poisoning, illegal trade, habitat destruction, power line collisions, active persecution by landowners and many more.

Although the blue crane faces many threats, many conservation measures have been put in place to protect the species by various conservation bodies like the South African Crane Conservation Programme of the Endangered Wildlife Trust and the Overberg Crane Group. These groups have managed to form wonderful working relationships with landowners whose property the cranes live on, their staff, as well as the general public, in an effort to protect the blue crane.

DISTRIBUTION

The blue crane is a near-endemic to South Africa with a small isolated population of about 60-80 birds occurring around the Etosha Pans in Namibia and a few isolated birds in Botswana and Swaziland.  It is the most range restricted of all the cranes in the world and is abundant in limited areas of its range, but is rare in most areas of South Africa.

Within South Africa there are three main strongholds of this population.  The first is in the Overberg/Swartland regions of the Western Cape Province, the second is the central Karoo population of the southeastern region of the Northern Cape province and the western regions of the Eastern Cape province extending into the southern regions of the Free State, while the third is situated along the eastern section of the country and includes the southern parts of Mpumalanga, the northeastern Free State and parts of KwaZulu-Natal.

Historically, blue cranes occurred mainly in the grassland biome along the eastern section of the country.  The loss of the natural grasslands in the Free State, Northern Province, Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal, and the replacement of the natural vegetation with wheat and dryland pastures in the wheat producing regions of the Swartland and Overberg in the Western Cape, changed the distribution and demographics of the blue crane population.

Today the largest numbers of blue cranes can be found in the Western Cape (± 12 000 birds), with a smaller population in the Northern/Eastern Cape (± 5 000 birds) and the rest (± 5 000 birds) occurring in the remainder of its current distribution range.

HABITAT

Blue cranes are mostly independent of wetlands and this allows them to be more widespread than the other crane species within South Africa.  With regards to natural vegetation, within South Africa the species can be found in the open grasslands and the grassland/Karoo ecotone, while in Namibia it occurs in the grasslands and dwarf shrublands fringing the pans.  The species is frequently found in agricultural fields and in the Western Cape it is restricted to cereal crop fields and dryland pastures.

FEEDING HABITS

Evidence suggest that the blue crane is primarily vegetarian and eats small bulbs, seeds and roots.  They do, however, eat a variety of insects (locusts, termites, caterpillars, grasshoppers, beetles, etc.), worms, crabs, fish, frogs, reptiles, and small mammals.  The blue crane is often reported doing damage in various agricultural crops, like wheat, barley and lucern.  In most cases the birds are feeding on spilled grain.  In the Overberg, they regularly feed from feed bins set out for sheep and ostriches.  Birds feed mostly by pecking, but they do dig using their bills.

BREEDING HABITS

Blue cranes only pair with one mate (monogamous), and despite being very social animals are extremely territorial while breeding, driving any other blue cranes from the breeding territory.  They nest in summer and the laying date can be anytime between August and April. Non-breeding birds form non-breeding flocks during this period.  After the chicks have fledged, they together with the adults join the non-breeding flocks to form large over-wintering groups.

Blue cranes nest in wetlands, open grasslands, Karoo and agricultural areas, where all-round visibility is good.  The birds often return to the same area and nest in the vicinity of the previous year’s nest.  Generally the nest is a scrape in the ground with a few stones and sheep dung scraped together.  In wetlands, however, they usually nest on a pad of vegetation.

A pair of blue cranes is said to mate for life and display a wonderful courtship dance which comprises of the two individuals jumping up and down with their wings extended. The birds are mature at about three to five years of age.  They usually lay two eggs with an incubation period of 30 to 33 days and both male and female incubate the eggs. Both chicks are frequently reared with each attempt and are fed on an initial diet of insect larvae and worms. The chicks are able to fly at about three to five months. The parents are very protective of their young and will guard them aggressively.

Mortality of chicks is high during the first year and is caused by a variety of disturbances. The following breeding season, the young juveniles will join the large flocks of non-breeding birds.

MIGRATION

Blue cranes are migratory only within South Africa and only within certain regions.  Little is known about the migratory habits and published statements are often contradictory.  In the Western Cape, evidence from satellite tracking and colour ringing suggest very localised movements within this region.

MOULTING

Blue cranes are known to go through both a partial moult as well as a complete moult, when they become flightless.  On the Agulhas plains, blue cranes go through a synchronised moulting during the second half of summer.  Birds going through flightless moult form large flocks in areas where disturbance is less frequent and close to water bodies into which they can escape when threatened.  Birds going through a complete moult tend to be skittish and move away at the first sign of disturbance.  The cranes seem to use specific sites for moulting and these sites need to be identified and conserved. The time needed to re-grow flight feathers could take up to two months.

Information and photo of egg,  directly taken from: www.bluecrane.org.za

How can you get involve and help save our cranes?

The Endangered Wildlife Trust has discovered that putting markers on power lines can help, but in order to know which lines to mark, they need to know more about the cranes’ movements. This is where you come in!

This valuable GPS data can be crowd-sourced by the general public using the Tracking the Wild platform. And it’s really pretty simple; this is what you need to do:

1. Download the Android app or create a free account on trackingthewild.com

2. Upload your sighting of the blue crane and mark the GPS location on the map. If you’ve taken the photo with your smartphone or a GPS-enable camera then the location will populate automatically. If you didn’t manage to get a picture then don’t worry, the sighting is just as important!

3. Mark how many birds you saw as well as the date and time.

4. We’ll automatically submit the data to the Endangered Wildlife Trust so that they can use it for their research.

Although July has been dubbed ‘blue crane spotting month’ in the Western Cape, all sightings – new and old – are important. We can all play a part in conserving this magnificent bird for future generations to come.

Views from the look-out on Landmeterskop

From the lookout on the fynbos-covered Landmeterskop, one has a stunning view not only over our farm, but almost the whole of Papiesvlei. ‘Fynbos’ is Dutch/Afrikaans for ‘fine bush’. Fynbos is a unique and strikingly beautiful group of flora endemic to a small section of the Western Cape of South Africa. It forms part of the greater Cape Floral Kingdom (CFK), a global biodiversity asset, the smallest of the world’s six floral kingdoms and the only one to be found entirely within one country. The CFK is home to more types of indigenous plants than any similar-sized area on Earth. What makes it even more special is that approximately 70% of its 9000 plant species are found nowhere else on Earth.Stanford and Elim are two of the starting points to the Overberg Fynbos Route, and Landmeterskop is situated halfway between Stanford and Elim. From August through to October many species of fynbos are in flower, so visitors can be assured of some spectacular floral displays along the roads and on the mountains! If you stay over in August you can still grab our Midweek Winter Special.

 

 

Weaning lambs…

Six hundred lambs, all ± 3 months old, from the last lambing season, were weighed this past week to determine whether they were heavy enough to be weaned and sold. Their average weight was 30,5kg. The minimum weaning-weight is 25kg. The lambs were colour-coded and sorted into different groups according to their weight:
GREEN – under 28kg
BLACK – 29 to 32kg
BLUE – 33 to 37kg
RED – above 38kg.

The blue and red group are ready to be sold.
The green and black group will be moved onto forage and grain-based diets until they are ready to be sold.

And then we have to get ready for the next lambing season in September!

Our pets and yours…

Meet Ollie and Chloe, our dobermans; Jesse, our Scottish terrier; and Mia, our Burmese cat.

Jesse loves to zingela, which in Zulu means to roam free, sniffing here and there amongst the bushes, hunting for insects and chasing whatever takes her fancy! And she has found her way out of the security of the enclosure. As you can see in the video, being an almost accomplished fence climber, she has a ready way of escape… She is also quick to make friends with our guests and even sometimes accompanies them on their walks, drives and rides across the farm. Even into the boat or the water… Lately she has also, in the sly, mastered the trick of fetching a fresh egg from the hen’s nest and carrying it in her mouth without crushing it! Naughty, clever girl.

Ollie and Chloe, as well as Jesse, love long walks or runs alongside the bakkie. Not even deep puddles after heavy rain deter them; oh no, it’s a cause of more fun and excitement! Interaction with the farm animals is another favourite, although only allowed under supervision, because some of the animals feel threatened and might try to protect themselves or their young against what they perceive as “predators”. It took more than a year to teach Ollie and Chloe, who were raised in a city, to not chase or catch the sheep while being supervised! It must sometimes be hard though to stay within the boundaries when you see all the animals ambling past.

Mia is a real lady of the manor. She and the dogs are great friends and often snuggle together. Then again, Mia loves to snuggle and has many places to cuddle up – a blanket on the sofa, on a human’s lap, inside the tumble dryer, or with the dogs.

As you can see, we absolutely love animals and really understand that people do not want to leave their pets at home. But for their own safety’s sake and our farm animals’ protection, and for the peace of mind of our guests as well as our own, we had to make the tough decision to not allow guests to bring their pets along to the farm.