Blog Post

Meet the DWF livestock team

19 November 2015

Ralph Spence is a farmer at heart and like all members of that “breed”, he’s never happier than when he’s out and about talking to and assisting local livestock holders in the Mbashe area.

Ralph Spence is a farmer at heart and like all members of that “breed”, he’s never happier than when he’s out and about talking to and assisting local livestock holders in the Mbashe area.

Describing himself as a “small livestock man”, Ralph drives the Donald Woods Foundation’s livestock health programme along with fieldworker Richard Mboko, working closely with local subsistence and small-scale farmers to boost animal health and overall food security.

From farming stock himself, Ralph grew up in the north Eastern Cape area (Barkly East), is an isiXhosa speaker, trained at Cedara College of Agriculture and has worked for veterinary pharmaceutical firms.

Protecting homestead herds from common livestock ailments such as tick-borne diseases, internal parasites, heart water and scab in sheep is vitally important as livestock herds usually represent a rural family’s capital assets and their savings for a rainy day.

A typical day starts around dawn with early departures for villages in the field where local smallholders and homesteads are visited to determine needs and solutions to problems. The programme covers a large area including the Cwebe, Nkanya, Hobeni, Mabambeni, Mount Pleasant, Mbanyana, Nabane, Kwaaiman and Dabane areas to name a few.

In an area such as Hobeni, Ralph says heart water is particularly troublesome for sheep in coastal areas and the percentage of lambing losses can be as high as 20% in many cases. Sheep scab, a mite causing extreme itch and irritation in the skin of sheep, is another troublesome burden for livestock owners.

The DWF Livestock Programme provides veterinary medicines at zero profit rates to local farmers in remote and isolated areas where roads and veterinary services are either extremely scarce or non-existent.

While local farmers do their own dipping, says Ralph, livestock owners are also given practical training in growing their herds and how best to prevent stock losses due to internal parasites, tick-borne diseases and good grazing practices.

“It’s an important programme and helping people or making a difference in their lives is very rewarding,” says Ralph.

He paid tribute to his partner, Richard, saying “working with Richard is great as he is brilliant with elderly livestock owners plus he loves animals”.

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