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Karoo sheep farm survives drought with beer and cheese

A number of Langbaken Karoo Cheese. Picture: Wouter Kriel

Peter Schoeman’s household, the Van Schalkwyks on his mom’s facet, has been farming sheep within the Williston space of the Northern Cape for the reason that Nineties. Peter and Francy, nonetheless, share an curiosity in dairy.

“We met in Greyton within the Western Cape, the place Peter was engaged on a dairy farm and I used to be dabbling in cheesemaking on the close by farm the place I labored,” Francy remembers.

They relocated to the Schoeman household farm close to Williston in 2010, and began Langbaken Karoo Cheese quickly thereafter.

“Langbaken was an in depth sheep farm, however the [cows’] cheese proved fashionable and there was sturdy demand for it, so we made it a severe subdivision of our farming enterprise,” she says.

When Farmer’s Weekly first visited Francy and Peter in 2012, the couple had solely simply began making cheese, and little did they know on the time that this small enterprise would turn into their saving grace throughout a six-year drought.

The Williston space has been scuffling with persistent drought since 2015, and the Schoemans needed to undertake a brand new method to sheep farming with a purpose to stay sustainable.

The cheese enterprise performed a vital function in retaining the farm afloat because the drought raged on, however then COVID-19 struck in 2020. “Our cheese advertising and marketing technique needed to be tailored, as the varied lockdowns and alcohol commerce restrictions affected [our sales] straight,” says Francy.

Francy (left) and Peter Schoeman on their farm close to Williston within the Karoo.

However, the Schoemans have continued investing of their cheese enterprise and have initiated plans to broaden into tourism. Peter can be perfecting the artwork of brewing craft beer to enhance their cheese providing.


Their land covers 5 500ha and has a long-term carrying capability of round 600 ewes, however they needed to cut back this to 500 ewes as a result of drought.

“We needed to reduce prices as a lot as potential. We had been very fortunate to obtain remoted showers of 150mm in 2019 and 150mm once more in 2020. It’s heartbreaking to see your neighbour in full catastrophe because the rain misses their facet of the fence,” says Francy.

Throughout a chronic drought, farmers would possibly see some new progress after a spell of rain, however with out good follow-up rain, the drought cycle is just not damaged and the veld by no means totally recovers.

“We’re not out of the woods but,” says Peter.

“Our space has acquired feed donations from the remainder of the nation, for which we’re very grateful. We use a feed mixer and hammer mill to make feed rations with no matter we obtain.

“However donations are actually much less frequent, so we’re continuously attempting to find feed bargains to maintain the sheep going. You can’t proceed feeding sheep mealies for eight years in a row. The veld is so decimated in lots of areas that there isn’t a roughage accessible, and so we have to add this into the combination as properly.”

The drought has heightened competitors for survival in the complete ecological system, and the Schoemans are experiencing this with predation as properly. Because of this, the ewes are actually lambing in a kraal within the farmyard. As soon as the lambs are sturdy sufficient, they’re outfitted with bells as predator deterrents.


The cheese enterprise is dependent upon good-quality milk. The Schoemans hold a small herd of between 12 to fifteen Jersey cows with a purpose to produce 250ℓ of milk a day.

“It’s a small-volume course of; we’re not a manufacturing facility,” says Peter. The cows are on a full-ration feed combine supplemented with inexperienced barley sprouts which might be cultivated in a greenhouse.

“One of the best cheese on this planet is created from [the milk of] pasture-fed cows, so we attempt to replicate a pasture weight-reduction plan in our feeding regime. It additionally means feeding the cows as little grain as potential. The cows’ weight-reduction plan is enormously essential because it impacts the cheese high quality straight,” says Francy.

Feeding the cows is dear, however Peter says they will afford this as they don’t seem to be promoting their milk at R5/ℓ.

One litre of milk makes one Camembert cheese wheel, promoting at between R35 and R40, so there’s plenty of value-adding in making cheese.


“We use uncooked milk and goal for comparatively small volumes of top-quality cheese. We are able to course of 500ℓ at a time, so we milk for 2 days and make cheese each second day,” says Francy. Their dedication to high quality is confirmed by the 4 Qualité Awards from the South African Dairy Championships that Langbaken has gained, the latest in 2020.

They’ve additionally gained a number of worldwide awards, together with a gold medal on the World Jersey Cheese Championships for his or her Karoo Swiss in 2014.

The cheese enterprise was doing properly and added important revenue throughout a time when their sheep farming operation was struggling. However then COVID- 19 struck in 2020. Throughout a number of lockdown ranges, authorities instated restrictions on the sale of alcohol.

“We skilled first-hand the direct relationship between wine and cheese gross sales,” says Francy.

They used to promote plenty of cheese at meals and wine festivals, however these orders vanished in a single day, she says. Earlier than the primary lockdown in 2020, they had been additionally getting ready inventory for the South African Cheese Competition, together with giant portions of soppy cheeses, akin to blue cheese and Camembert.

Whereas exhausting and matured cheeses may be saved for an extended interval, smooth cheeses have a brief shelf life. As such, the Schoemans need to handle volumes very rigorously. Resulting from COVID- 19, the cheese pageant was cancelled, and Francy says it was horrible to see all of the cheese going to waste as there was merely no various market at such quick discover.

Throughout lockdown, they dried just a few of their cows to cut back milk volumes, however they by no means stopped making cheese.

“We’ve been in a position to hold all our workers employed throughout this time,” says Francy. “Nonetheless, we needed to rethink our advertising and marketing method. Earlier than the pandemic, we used to promote cheese in bulk, usually 5kg wheels, to a handful of huge prospects, who then provided predominantly eating places and wine-tasting venues.

“However attributable to COVID-19 restrictions, eating places had been closed and there have been no wine gross sales, so these shoppers disappeared.”

They determined to succeed in out to meals golf equipment and people with the assistance of social media. As entire cheeses are too giant for particular person shoppers, they began chopping and vacuum-packing the cheese into smaller models. The place they used to have seven giant shoppers, they now have greater than 20 new shoppers, shopping for in smaller models.

Francy says one of many challenges was to get the stability proper between smooth and exhausting cheese.

“Initially, we positioned an excessive amount of give attention to exhausting cheeses, however these cheeses want time to mature, tying up money move and cupboard space. Comfortable cheese, alternatively, is bought shortly, clearing up cupboard space and producing much-needed money.”

One of many methods by which they discovered this stability is thru the manufacturing of their Williston cheese, a brand new sweet-milk cheese that Francy developed.

“The Williston is an English tomme-type cheese that we are able to promote inside 4 to 6 weeks after manufacturing,” she says.


“We love travelling, and once we do, we make an effort to go to craft breweries as there are at all times attention-grabbing native tales and personalities connected to the beers. Beer and cheese go very properly collectively,” says Francy. They began making their very own beer about three years in the past, and Peter is getting higher and higher with every batch, says Francy.

“I do about 25ℓ at a time, making three batches a day after I’m brewing. It is sufficient to cater for guests and to function a complementary product to our cheese,” says Peter.

“We’re within the means of making use of for a microbrewery licence. Langbaken Karoo Brew is the title we have now selected,” he provides.


As a result of COVID-19 journey restrictions which have made world journey tough, native tourism is experiencing a growth, and persons are supporting native merchandise. To capitalise on this demand, the Schoemans have began developing a tasting centre the place individuals can sit and eat cheese and drink their beer. They’re additionally planning so as to add visitor cottages and a tenting web site on the farm.

“We wish to provide a complete and distinctive hospitality expertise: Karoo surroundings, meat, cheese and craft beer,” says Francy.

Electronic mail Peter and Francy Schoeman at [email protected], telephone Peter on 082 550 4981, or WhatsApp Francy on 082 346 5780.

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