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Prof Willie van Niekerk

Investment in scarce game farming holds many benefits to both the investor and South Africa’s economy. And it’s not just the ‘Biltong market’ that benefits from the healthy wildlife that result from game farming. In discussion with Prof. Willie van Niekerk about Wellness Game Feed he points out that latest published estimates show that game contributes up to 20 percent of the red meat industry in South Africa.

Prof. van Niekerk, an acknowledged and acclaimed expert in livestock production and rumination at the University of Pretoria. He is ‘a respected speaker at both National and International Conferences about animal feeding, as well as talk shows regarding game farming. With a passion for nature and still active farmer, Prof. van Niekerk has been involved in Research and academic teaching for many years. His grounding in the scientific method, enabled him to assist well-known heart surgeon, Dr Martin Bruwer, in developing a feed for game that assists in ensuring breading of wildlife that are healthy and productive.

With ongoing research that underlines the importance of correct nutrition and feeding methods, as well as the effect proper supplementary feed has on the development as well as breeding- and procreation habits of champion wildlife species and bloodlines, Prof van Niekerk highlights that game farming is considered one of the most profitable industries locally. South Africa is uniquely positioned to supply the demand for scarce game on the continent.

Apart from exceptional bloodlines, good genes and exceptional health, another aspect in scarce game breeding is that of optimal fertility in a herd, which is directly affected by what they are fed or feeding on and impacts on the investment made.

A number of research articles have been published over the last few years that compare the return on investment (ROI) of breeding with scarce game species (mainly buffalo and sable) on the one hand, and cattle breeding or beef production, on the other.

The conclusions were that cattle / beef production cannot compete with the ROI provided by breeding disease-free buffalo and sable antelope.

Successful game farming, even though capital intensive, requires more than suitable habitat and breeding stock. Consider the fact that a conservative capital outlay of approximately R10 million is required for a game farm of 1 000 ha, and a reasonable, quality breeding herd of 10 buffalo and 10 sable will cost an additional R9 million and R4 million respectively, and the investment is huge.

However, the investment in scarce game species has been shown to bear smaller inherent risk, while delivering superior returns.

The problem in South Africa is twofold when it comes to healthy wildlife, in that suitable habitat is fast diminishing and in many cases, the land does not offer game the correct amount or acceptable type of nutrition and nourishment, in order to be healthy and productive.

Whereas most antelope fare well on grasslands, unfortunately, where grazing does not offer adequate nutrition, productivity will suffer with lambing occurring infrequently and in smaller numbers, limiting the ROI of the industry as a whole.

Having grown up in Namibia on a farm and still actively involved in farming, Prof. van Niekerk knew from age 14 that he wanted to study agriculture and animal sciences and when approached by Dr Bruwer to investigate the potential of a wellness game feed, he was intrigued.

Explaining that, to ensure the maximum breeding tempo from healthy stock game production requires more intensity in its feeding programme, Pof. Van Niekerk also points out that South Africa has to refocus its teaching to also include wildlife in its animal science studies. Fact of the matter is that, to date, all the focus has been on farming with livestock and although this industry has adequate nutritionists, they are nonexistent within the wildlife sector.

In investigating game feeding, Prof. van Niekerk and Dr Bruwer were able to develop nutritional supplementary feed for wildlife, in pellet form. “We have a commitment to provide quality assurance and conduct regular, documented tests, with the results regularly updated on the company’s website.” The outcomes show a noticeable improvement in lambing regularity and numbers produced, due specifically to the improved nutrition provided by Wellness Game Feed.

Wellness Game Feed is, however, ‘so much more than the average game feed manufacturer. Instead, they can be considered pioneers in the supplementary game feed industry, with a systematic and well researched approach to the formulation of their specialized game feed range.

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Dr Martin Bruwer

As a pioneer in non-invasive heart surgery, Dr Martin Bruwer may seem like an unlikely candidate to also do pioneering work on feed for game, yet this is exactly what he has done. He grew up in the South-eastern Transvaal knowing from a young age that he wanted to be a surgeon and went on to study medicine at the University of Pretoria (Tuks).

In the last five years, Dr Bruwer has become well-known for his work in minimal invasive surgery – he was the first to perform this type of surgery in South Africa and is a highly respected and acknowledged, expert Cardiac Thoracic Surgeon.

Dr Bruwer speaks frankly when he says, “Surgery is a challenge and the work is never monotonous, with every patient being different. I admit that, earlier in my career I tried my hand at plastic surgery but could not replace my fascination with the heart, which is a magnificent organ.” His passion for surgery lies in the fact that “it shows immediate results.”

Dr Bruwer collected plants as a hobby during his years as a student – both pre and post-graduate. The plant hobby has been very rewarding and doesn’t infringe on his first love, heart surgery.

Dr Bruwer remembers his Cycad journey starting out in a very small space where he lived while studying, and the soil and size of the area were not suitable for a wide variety of plants. He became acquainted with and got to know many of the stalwarts in the Cycad industry. His inborn curiosity, scientific approach and love for Cycads, led him to assist Dr Isak Cronje to develop a root feeding and transplant assistance medium for these highly endangered plants. The cycads in his possession were taken care of with great pride and careful nurturing and grew to majestic beauty.

Dr Bruwer has, for some time, been growing Cycads on property he owns in the Lowveld, with some of the land unfortunately not really suited to this. After a failed attempt at growing tomatoes where the Cycads did not thrive he turned to lucern, which is where Wellness Game Feed started.

It was by chance that he became involved in the industry and in teaming up with Prof. Willie van Niekerk, renowned scientist in animal nutrition, a product was systematically developed to assist with the feeding of game.

The end result is Wellness Game Feed, which is lucern-based supplementary feed scientifically precise in its composition, to ensure maximum benefit for wildlife breeding.

The primary formula, Wellness Feed for Game, was scientifically developed to suit all game and especially antelope like sable. In the near future two more supplementary formulas are expected to become available; Wellness Feed for Buffalo and Wellness Feed for Rhino.

Balanced amounts of energy, protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals are included in the formula. It is free of any urea or other toxic pesticides.