Local cattle from Ngamiland are salted to a high degree of resistance to disease, but even they have succumbed to killers such as rinderpest and foot-and-mouth disease. It is, therefore, not a good place for imported cattle with no resistance. It takes very hardy pioneers to take up the challenge of running a dairy herd on the edge of the Okavango Delta, and requires constant vigilance as well as a well-stocked medicine cabinet.
The line between cattle and game had been kept by the presence of Tsetse fly in the game areas, and the deadly Nagana disease associated with these biting flies, which were tolerated by game but not by cattle. However, the Botswana Government embarked on a campaign to eradicate the Tsetse fly, which could move that line and reduce the game areas.
Botswana is criss-crossed by a series of stock control fences, some of which have had extremely disastrous and tragic consequences for the movement of vast herds of game on the annual migrations where hundreds of thousands have perished when cut off from their grazing and water sources. One fence that may be said to have saved the Delta from invasion by the stock farmers as the Tsetse fly menace reduced was the so-called Buffalo Fence. It stretches many hundreds of kilometres, keeping cattle from mixing with buffalo who are thought to be carriers of foot-and-mouth disease, while being immune themselves.
Ex-hunter Simon Paul, and his partner, Joyce Wilmot started a dairy in the Matlapaneng ward of Maun, before moving to a bigger property on the east bank of the Thalamakane River near its confluence with the Boteti River. With the thought in mind of trucking Sheila’s dairy herd up from our farm near Warmbaths, South Africa, I had to pick their brains about the difficulties of dairy farming. Their input was most discouraging. Later, when Sheila came to visit, she agreed that it would be insane to attempt dairy farming there.
Simon and Joyce invited me to supper and showed me around. They had about forty-five Jerseys in milk, fed on maize silage which they produced themselves, the maize grown under pivot irrigation, and a 17% protein dairy meal. They milked about 700 litres a day with a 4-point bucket system and cooled in a bulk tank. The power was a 10kva Lister generating plant.
What thoroughly nice people!
Although double fenced, and despite begging and pleading, their herd was not judged to be eligible for exclusion when all the cattle of Ngamiland, some three hundred thousand of them, were driven into trenches in 1996, shot and buried. The reason was an outbreak of Contagious Bovine Pleuropneumonia (CBPP) in 1995. Only when the province was declared free of the disease, were cattle reintroduced in 1998. Many millions were spent on the eradication and more on compensation.
But there can be no compensation for broken hearts. Simon and Joyce never rebuilt their herd.