THE genetic make-up of communal farmers' wool sheep flocks is being improved – one ram at a time.
Thanks to a genetic improvement project that was recently renewed between the National Woolgrowers' Association of South Africa (NWGA) and the Rural Development and Land Reform Department, 3000 quality-bred rams are annually distributed throughout farms in all five district municipalities in the Eastern Cape to contribute to the genetic upgrade of communal flocks.
NWGA public relations officer Bonita Francis said the project improved the reproduction, growth and quality of the wool of communal farmers' sheep. It also included administration, planning and evaluation meetings between the communal farmers and commercial breeders, veterinary specialists and researchers.
The project is funded by the Rural Development Department and facilitated and managed by the NWGA. The rams are distributed on the basis of one ram per 40 ewes and the quality-bred rams are swopped with the homebred rams on a one-on-one basis.
NWGA wool production and marketing manager Willem Goosen said rams had been distributed annually for about 10 years and the quality of specifically the ewe lambs and two- tooth ewes had increased significantly ever since.
"We start off with 8000 ram lambs, and only the top 3000 rams are distributed to about 230 communal farmers. The rest are sent to the abattoir. A very strict selection process is followed, to be left with top- quality rams. This year will be the third year that we have flock competitions across the province," Goosen said.
The 11 flock competitions are initiated to test the progeny of the quality rams through regional and inter-regional flock competitions.
Feedback so far on the project is that the quality of wool is improving season by season and it is hoped that communal farmers' wool sold in the commercial market will continue to grow.
In the past 10 years, since introduction of the genetic improvement project, the total income of communal farmers from wool sales has improved from just over R1-million in the 1997/98 season to R113-million in the 2011/12 season.