From crochet to lamb chops

With its naturally occurring wild rye grass, early scouts identified the area as good livestock country, particularly suited to sheep farming. Enter the noble Merino sheep breed, originally imported from Spain, which has long been the backbone of Karoo agriculture, producing wool and all manner of crafty by-products, from crocheted bedspreads to those snug sheepskin slippers … and of course the truly, utterly, famously delectable, toothsome Karoo mutton and lamb.

Sutherland’s agricultural forefathers date back to the 17th Century when courageous farmers set off from the safety of the Cape of Good Hope, pressing northwards along the West Coast before veering into the interior in search of pastures for their flocks. The first sheep station was set up in the Bokkeveld, near today’s Niewoudtville. Later came the stations at Voor and Agter Hantam outside Calvinia until they reached the high, cold Roggeveld Plateau. It was then that the tradition of migrating sheep to ‘legtplaatse or ‘oorlêplase’ from the cold Roggeveld to the warmer Tanqua-Karoo during winter began. Today it is still practiced and some farmers undertake the annual migration in the old-fashioned way, literally walking their flocks to winter grazing. The custom is a charming remnant of a slower way of life, redolent with historic and cultural significance to the people of this district.

The Roggeveld District was big on horses in the 1700’s. In fact, farmers were so proud of their local breed they resisted cross-breeding with Arabic and English horses.

Goats have always been suitable for farming in this district and most farmers today still keep them.

There was a time when the district experienced great wealth due to the ostrich feather trade, but today ostrich farming is not part of Sutherland’s agricultural scene. For that you have to go to the Klein Karoo (Little Karoo).

A fledgling olive industry started recently near Calvinia, but at the end of the day sheep ranching is really what it’s all about in Sutherland.