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Highgate’s reputation as an Ostrich Show Farm often overshadows the myriad of other activities so essential to running an agricultural, live stock, and show farm.

Between a laundry list of things to do on a daily basis to keep the lucerne growing and the and the ostriches kicking, we have managed to sit down with Johan and Viljee Keller, the brothers behind Highgate, for a look behind the scenes.

Snow Ostrich

Q: What is an average day like on the farm?

A: “When you work on a farm, your day starts early and ends late. There is always something that needs attention, but we have streamlined our operations to a point where we can almost see into the future and make the necessary preparations.”

Q: Why farm with lucerne and ostriches?

A: “We farm with Lucerne and ostriches as the Lucerne is a top poultry feed animal feed, due to its high crude protein content and the ostriches love the dry weather. This way we have both the normal dry climate and wet spells covered. 

Lucerne is by far the most rewarding legume crop to plant in South Africa, due to the quality one can harvest, especially when properly irrigated.

Due to the devastating drought of the last 5 years, our Lucerne and hay production numbers are quite low. Normally, we would have at least 5 cuttings of lucerne hay for the dairy farmers and as feed for our ostriches.

The luscerne hay is left to cure for 3 months before the seed is finally harvested and ready for market. We offer two varieties of seed, the ‘South African Standard’, and ‘SA select’, which are both drought-resistant plants with high production turnover.”

Q: What about water to sustain the farm and animals?

A: “At the present time, the drought has been going strong for 5 years and we therefore rely mostly on ostrich farming. We were used to expecting rain – even floods – every 10 years,but we are now 15 years in since the last heavy and much needed rain.

We have 3 reservoir dams, consisting of the Stompdrift dam outside De Rust, the Kamanassie dam east of Oudtshoorn, and the Raubenheimer dam flowing in from north of the swartberg mountains close to the Cango caves.” 

Snow Ostrich

Q: What does the future hold for farming at HIghgate?

A: “We are looking forward to the overdue rain. Lusern prices for seed and hay are competitive and the Ostrich farming helps a great deal to keep the cash flow going while the drought rages on.

Naturally, the pressure for profitability and ongoing sustainability is a concern, but our animals are in paradise and love the dry environment, but we have managed quite well and we are hopeful about the future.”

Q: When will Highgate be open to the public again?

A: “It’s amazing to see the marked change in behaviour of our show ostriches now that human interaction has been limited due to the global lockdown.

Ostriches are not known to show emotion, but the change is unmistakable. This tells us that even our animals can’t wait to get back to normal.

To ensure the safety of all, we will reopen closer to level 1 lockdown when international restrictions are lifted. We foresee running at full speed by around middle December this year.

Until then, our guests are welcome to keep up on social media.”

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