A dry, dry summer

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It has been such a strange summer. The farm is still firmly in the grip of drought and there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight. With the growing season almost over we are getting very worried about what lies ahead for the winter. We were so hopeful that the drought had been broken when it rained in January, but that wasn’t to be. Thunderstorms have been extremely scattered and uneven and it hasn’t rained for a few weeks now. At Vastrap we’ve had a total of 60mm (about 2 inches) of rain since December, a dire situation given that this is supposed to be our wet season!! The grass turned green for a brief moment, but it’s already tinged brown again and grazed to the ground in most places. The crops that we did manage to plant are barely making it and some parts of the farm have run out of water completely. Our dams, normally full with water at this time of year are almost empty, a huge concern for our cattle as we move towards winter.

Amidst all this I have had my hands full with Livia and Myles. They are such a joy and growing by the day. The drought has dampened my enthusiasm for blogging as there has been very little to report in the garden and around the farm. It’s simply too depressing to take photos. We still go on lovely walks though and yesterday morning we set off early with the dogs down to the valley. Livia is very energetic and loves to walk rather than being pushed in her pram, but it’s quite a long way on a rocky road to I take the pram anyway. I usually carry Myles so that he can have a little sleep while we walk. The dogs love these outings and Duma, our 1 year old boerboel, is really developing into a beautiful specimen. He is huge and still has the enthusiasm of a puppy so Livia tries to steer well clear of him when she walks!

There is not much we can do about the drought except hope and pray that the rain will come soon. In the meantime, we can just be grateful for our beautiful, healthy children and the special times we are able to spend together as a family.

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Counting our Blessings

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It’s been a very strange December on the farm. We started the month with such optimism that the drought had broken, but sadly there has been almost no rain for weeks. Every day has been scorching hot, dry and often very windy covering everything in a thick layer of dust. The farm is usually a hive of activity at this time of year, but barring a mad rush to plant maize after the rain we had in November, there’s been very little going on since then. It’s hard to see an end to this as the weather forecast for the first two weeks of January predicts more of the same. It’s really heartbreaking to read about all the small towns around the Free State that are completely running out of water. What a contrast to my first summer on the farm five years ago. Then it was one of the wettest ever recorded, now it is the driest. Both conditions made it hard to farm, but at this rate I’d opt for the rain any day.

While there was little happening work-wise on the farm, we had a full house of family over the festive season. All three of Quentin’s sisters were here with their husbands and kids, including the whole Dixon family from Australia. It was a great distraction from reality. Long lazy lunches and dinners, plenty of time in the pool and competitive games of squash, boules, Uno and bridge made for lots of laughter. On Boxing day we walked to a Bushman painting site on our neighbour’s farm, which is really incredible. The images are still so clear and one can recognise the buck and other animals that are still found in our mountains.

As we crunched over the dry grass walking to the site, I could not help but think how lucky I am to have lived in this special place with the man I love for the past five years and to have our two beautiful children. It will rain eventually, and we will get through this difficult time, but in the meantime we can only count our blessings and say thank you for the special times we have spent with the people we love, our family.

Wishing everyone a very blessed and happy 2016! May the rain pour down soon.

Granny and grandpa with Livia and Myles.

Granny and grandpa with Livia and Myles.

The de Bruyn, Godley, Dixon clans.

The de Bruyn, Godley, Dixon clans.

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Farmscapes

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Life at Vastrap is very busy at the moment. Looking after Livia and Myles is a full time occupation – she will be 2 at the end of the month and he is now 11 weeks old. Time is really passing so quickly, mostly in a sleep deprived haze! I am also trying to get everything prepared for our holiday visitors. We’ll have a house full of de Bruyns for Christmas and a few other family and friends passing by on their way to the coast. The logistics of shopping and menu planning are quite a challenge living as far as we do from good shops, but a bit of organisation will hopefully mean that we can just relax and enjoy it when everyone is here. Quentin is also extremely busy on the farm. The maize crop has been planted and they are now busy with sunflower and reaping what little there is of the wheat. He never seems to have a moment’s rest, because our annual embryo flushing programme for our Boran cattle is also happening this week, something that takes weeks of preparation and planning, and a lot of stressing about whether it will be a success!

At busy times like these, the only way to spend quality time together as a family is to join Quentin on his trips around the farm. This past weekend we all went up the mountain to check whether there is water in the dam up there. Although there’s a lot of grazing on the mountain it is very under-utilised, because the veld is sour so the animals don’t like it and water is scarce. The road was extremely bumpy so I got out with Myles to take photos, while Quentin and Livia went to check on the dam, which turned out to be empty. I just love the views from up there and it was wonderful to see spots of green emerging. On the way home we had to herd some cattle that were in the road. Our little cowgirl Livia was a very eager assistant to her daddy! 2015-12-07_00062015-12-07_00092015-12-07_00052015-12-07_00032015-12-07_00102015-12-07_00042015-12-07_0011

Blessings from Above

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It’s been a nail-biting November waiting for rain. Massive dust storms have been a regular occurrence in the district and it feels like there hasn’t been a day without a howling wind. By last week the veld at Vastrap was looking very desert-like with no roughage or green shoots for the animals. Things were so bad that we started grazing animals in the road and calling in favours to get extra feed bales from the Cape. Worse than that, most of our earth dams had run dry. In his 16 years on the farm, Quentin cannot remember it ever looking worse. Don’t even mention the poor wheat crop!

I am very happy to report that things are looking considerably brighter since this weekend. There was a huge storm on Friday that brought hail and lovely drenching rain, enough to refill most of our dams, some even to overflowing! It will take a week or two for the veld to rejuvenate, but at least there is water for the animals to drink. The rain also heralds the start of the summer crop planting season, which in our district includes maize, sunflower and soya. Work kicked off early this morning with the tractors heading out first thing to get the planting started. It will be a mad rush now to get everything done by 10 December, the very latest that maize should be planted given the risk of early frost.

It was wonderful driving around the farm after the rain knowing that things will look different very soon with green shoots colouring the drab brown landscape. The cattle also looked very happy and clean. Livia just loves driving around the farm with her daddy and he took this video of her and a cute little Boran calf. She is totally fearless, a real cowgirl in the making!

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El Niño

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El Niño is well and truly with us. After the hottest October on record, a cold front rolled in on Sunday that took temperatures back down to zero for a night. Worst of all, there has been no rain in sight and virtually nothing is forecast for the next two weeks. Needless to say, the farm is looking bleak. Planting of maize and sunflower is on hold until it rains, and not just a little shower, we need proper rain to make up for last year’s dry summer and the current drought. The wheat crop is looking dire and is heading for complete failure. Livestock grazing is running out quickly and we are already well into our emergency stock of grass bales. It’s a major challenge to provide a sufficient supply of water to areas where there is still grazing. Our Boran cattle do relatively well under these conditions, but it’s certainly not an ideal start to the breeding season.

The photos below tell the whole story. The first two were taken in mid-October when it was already looking dry. The last two were taken this week in the lands that are waiting to be planted. Not a blade of grass in sight!! It’s hard to see how my farmer love can keep his spirits up in these conditions.

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Heatwave!

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We’ve had a serious heatwave over the past week and a half. Terrible wind has added to the discomfort blowing dust into the house from all corners of the farm. Yesterday was the absolute worst with gusts up to 50km/hr the whole day long!

We had a little bit of rain before Myles was born, but there’s been nothing since and everything has totally dried up. I managed to take some photos of the garden early one morning just before things got really parched and windswept. The garden has come into bloom about a month earlier than usual, probably because we had some rain in September and because the temperatures have been so hot for spring. We also had a relatively mild winter so things didn’t frost down as much as usual. I just love the riot of colour and the fragrance of honeysuckle, lavender and rose drifting through the air. A real treat when the wind isn’t blowing and it’s pleasant enough to venture outside!

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Baby Myles Thabang

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Our precious bundle of joy, Myles Thabang, was born two weeks ago today. We are completely overjoyed and thankful that he is healthy, happy and perfect in every way. His little sister, Livia Lerato, is fascinated by her brother and has shown him nothing but love and affection so far (long may that last!) She is extremely concerned whenever he cries and tries to help mommy wherever she can. It is just too precious for words!

A lot of people have asked us why we have chosen to give our children seSotho second names. The tradition started with Quentin’s first daughter Ashley who is called Naledi, meaning “star”. Livia’s second name is Lerato, which means “love”, and Thabang means “to be happy” or “to bring happiness”. They have been given these names to honour the fact that we live amongst seSotho people on the farm and we want our children to respect their culture and grow up learning the language. Quentin is fluent in seSotho, but I am not, which puts me at a serious disadvantage in our day to day living in South Africa. Quentin and his father have always been proud of the seSotho names they were given by the community, but these names have never been formally recorded anywhere. Quentin is Bereng, which means “king” and his father is Masupa, which was a name of one of the chiefs. On the farm, these names are used far more often than the names on their birth certificates so we felt it would be a mark of respect to make the seSotho names official.

I wouldn’t have survived that last two weeks without serious support and help from our wonderful family. Quentin’s parents and my mother and my sister all played a role in looking after Livia when I wasn’t able to and then looked after all of us when we came home and I couldn’t focus on anything but feeding a hungry newborn! It is truly wonderful when families come together to celebrate new life and support each other through new and daunting experiences. My mom left yesterday leaving a freezer full of delicious healthy meals for us to eat in the next while. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

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