In this week’s episode of Special Assignment, we bring you the stories of drought stricken farmers in the North West Province who have had to resort to desperate measures to secure the livelihood of their starving animals. This includes resorting to desperate measures such as feeding their remaining livestock the controversial protein-rich chicken manure.

Chicken manure is banned as a feed in some countries because it consists of bone meal that was fed to the chickens. Sometimes this bone meal, from parts of cows not usually eaten by humans, is contaminated with mad cow disease. When cows eat the contaminated chicken manure, there is a high risk of them being infected with mad cow disease. Dr. Mulumba from ARC-Onderstepoort Veterinary Institute says that once chicken manure is properly processed, it is safe to be fed to animals but within specific guidelines.

Jan Van Biljon, a stud farmer in the Vryburg region, one of the worst drought affected regions of the North West, has had to bring in more than 70 tons of chicken manure at huge cost, from the Free State, to feed his malnourished cattle.

Many farmers have had to sell their malnourished animals for slaughter at cattle auctions at prices far below the market value. Many emerging cattle farmers like Patrick Motladile will sell off most of their stock in the hope that they will be able to repurchase breeding stock once the drought is over.

In some parts of the North West where rain has fallen, maize farmers like Frikkie Lemmer are hopeful that his crop, 30 percent of which was burnt by the scorching sun, will still recover. The rain has led to farmers replanting – so late in the season – in an attempt to recoup their losses.

Boeta du Toit of Agri/North West says the rain is sporadic and inadequate to ensure a good yield this year. The government has allocated more than 200 million rand for drought relief to assist farmers, but for some farmers it’s too little too late as they’ve already declared insolvency.

Watch Desperate Farmers produced by Frank Ferro on Special Assignment – airing Sundays on SABC 3 at 20h30, repeated Wednesday at 23h30.