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Sunday, March 12, 2017

We have arrived in the USA!  Our flight from Minneapolis to Sioux Falls has been delayed because of weather, but everyone has arrived back in country safely.  It was an amazing adventure.  Now comes the hard work of comparing and contrasting agriculture in the USA with South Africa, and discussing some of the challenges facing South Africa (both agricultural, wildlife, and otherwise). 

I am privileged to have traveled with 16 excellent students on this trip.  Not once was anyone late, acting disrespectful, or causing any problems.  They asked insightful questions both on the farm and in lectures and workshops they attended while on the trip.  Finally, all of our students interacted positively with each other continually on the trip and supported each other.  It was a pleasure to travel with these students, and they represented the Jackrabbits very well.  I couldn't be prouder. 

If we run into any significant travel delays or cancellations to Sioux Falls, the students will let their family members and significant others know.


Dr. Michael Gonda and Dr. Sharon Clay

Getting ready to check in at Johannesburg.

Our plane after arrival in Minneapolis.

Students in Minneapolis after reclaiming their luggage & going through customs.

           We left the hotel 7 a.m. sharp to begin our journey to Pilanesberg National Park for our final event of the trip, a safari. When we arrived at the park we jumped into a canvas covered truck. Pilanesberg is home to all five of the big five of Africa; the African leopard, African elephant, African lion, Cape Buffalo, and rhinoceros. They are referred to the big five as they are the most difficult animals to hunt in Africa. The park is 55,000 hectares (approximately 22,000 acres) and was established in 1979.

            The first wild animal spotted was a pod of hippos. They were very bashful and would only stick their nostrils out of the water. However, in real life, hippos are very aggressive and are more dangerous than the wild cats. Hippos are also scavengers and will steal kills from predators.

            Next, we saw a tower of giraffes, boy were they tall! Our guide shared with us that giraffes have the same number of vertebrae in their neck as humans.

            Out of pure luck, we came across a couple rhinoceroses hiding in the distance. Our guides stated that seven rhinos had been poached on the park within the last year, and due to poaching they are close to extinction. People poach the rhino for their horns. To prevent poaching, some parks in Africa remove the horn of the rhino. However, since this horn is their means of protection, they will not survive without it. There are two types of rhinos in Africa, the black rhino and white rhino. According to our guide, the black rhino’s calf will follow the mother, much like a black mother in South Africa carries her baby on her back. The white rhino’s calf will travel in front of the mother, much like a white woman pushing her baby in a stroller. We also saw warthogs, wildebeests, zebras, Springbok, birds, Impala, Greater Kudu, and Eland.

            The highlight of the safari was following one of the 500 elephants in the park. We first saw the male elephant far away in the bush. We then saw him later throughout the day lurking 100 feet from the truck. After a quick pit stop, we got a CB radio call that an elephant was on the road. The call went a little bit like “copy-copy bushman one, this is bushman two we got a big ol’ elephant located over here by the northwest watering hole, make sure Toto blesses the rains on the way over. Over and out.”
            But for real, we sped over to that elephant and had a once in a lifetime encounter. The male elephant had found a small watering hole and was cooling himself down. He was having quite a fun time being admired by all the tourists. He then proceeded to walk a foot from our truck and travel down the road. Many of the students, such as Gabby, had priceless faces that summed up everyone’s thoughts on the safari. A neat fact about the elephants, is their ears are shaped like the continent of Africa.

            This trip impacted many students’ lives. Whether it was growing a greater appreciation for the advancements of agriculture in the U.S. or a moral government, this trip was nothing less than ‘ongelooflike’ (amazing in Afrikaans).

‘Baie dankie’ Africa!  (Written by Kiera and Sam)

            We had lots of fun taking photos, and Dr. Gonda can attest that we probably had too much fun. Here is a collection of some of our favorites from today!

Giraffe towering above the landscape.

Elephant fanning its African continent shaped ears.

Gabby expressing her love for elephants!

Kiera and Sam taking a selfie with the wildebeest and zebra.

Dr. Sharon Clay representing the Jackrabbits.

Hungry, hungry hippos chilling like villains in the local watering hole.


Friday, March 10, 2017

This morning we got the privilege of sleeping in a little later than the previous days as we didn't have to leave until 8:15. After a wonderful breakfast at the hotel, we headed to the ARC Vegetable and Ornamental Plant Institute. There we learned about their in vitro gene bank. The crop collection in the gene bank is made up of 64% potatoes. They also told us about the medicinal plants they grow and the development of smallholder farmers. Smallholders are those farmers that have smaller operations. These farmers may need assistance or further knowledge about crops they are farming. This institute works with these types of emerging farmers to ensure they have better opportunities.

After a tour of the various facilities, we left for the Apartheid museum. On the way, we stopped for lunch at a fast food chain of South Africa, called Steers. The museum gave us a better understanding about the history of Apartheid in South Africa with a special exhibit dedicated to Nelson Mandela. Mandela was their first black president after Apartheid which ended in 1991. Unfortunately we weren't allowed to take pictures, but the experience was one we will never forget.

Overall we had another great day and are enjoying our last night in South Africa! We are not ready to leave, but we fly out late tomorrow night to start our journey home.  (Written by Addie and Annaliese)

The ARC Vegetable and Ornamental Plant Institute

Visiting the in vitro germplasm storage and culture laboratories at the ARC Vegetable and Ornamental Plant Institute (Dalen, Jessica, Addie, Jaden, Kenzie, and Katelyn)

Group photo outside the Apartheid Museum
Learning about different uses of medicinal plants (Rachel, Addie, Kenzie, ARC scientist, Annaliese, Evan, Sam, Gabby, and an ARC scientist)

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Today started out like our previous days, bright and early with an amazing breakfast at the hotel. After breakfast at 7am we loaded the bus and headed to our first stop which was a hydroponics sheep operation. This operation was producing mutton and wool. A couple of the problems that the operation has were with predators and people stealing the sheep. Everyday they would count the sheep to see how many they lost. On this operation they were growing barley to feed to the animals. The barley is grown on a 6 day cycle. This means once you place seeds into the container it would take 6 days before it was ready. There was always new barley ready to be fed to the sheep and if there was extra barley it is fed to the cattle that are on the property. At this property we had dinner before heading to the second stop. The second stop was at Spitsvuur Holsteins which is a 540 cow dairy farm. They raise their own calves and they are chosen to stay in the herd as replacements, become bulls, or be sold. They had many different pens that divided each group of cattle for specific uses. In the milking barn they are able to milk 32 cows at a time. They are also known for their embryo transfers that they do among the cattle. They have been doing large scale embryo transfers since 1986 and in June 2016 they were ranked 11th in the world for the average milk production per 305 - day lactations, percent butterfat and percent protein. On the property they have other farming divisions such as beef cattle, Merino sheep, and crops. These beef cattle are the carriers for the Spitsuur embryos. They are able to grow a lot of the crops that they need to feed the animals that they have. After this stop students and faculty were able to head back to the hotel and relax before tomorrow's visits. All in all, it was another busy day in the books!  (Written by Ashley and Jessica)

Our group photo at the sheep and hydroponics farm we visited in Free State Province.

Mutton Merino sheep with the hydroponics facility in the background.

Kenzie with a newborn lamb!

A Holstein calf at the dairy farm visited by our group.

A bull at the dairy farm we visited.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

We got to sleep in a bit this morning. We started off the day with breakfast at 7AM at Trekpad Safaris. Then we loaded the vans and hit the road for Mr. Groothof's farm on the other side of the mountains. At the farm, we observed a sorghum trial and learned about the harvest techniques used from Mr. Zandré Nel. This is considered a more technologically advanced farm in South Africa. 
After looking at the crops, we learned about the Bonsmara cattle. They are a mixture between British and Indigenous breeds. Dr. Rensburg, a veterinarian, farmer, and member of Vlakte Bonsmara Club, spoke about the history and management of the Bonsmara. Mr. Malan, a MSD Pharmaceutical representative, spoke about the vaccination program of these cattle. 

We then loaded up the vans, and headed for a communal farm. The communal farm was much different than the previous farm visit. On the communal farm, we visited with a man who owns 50-60 head of cattle. The cattle were a mixture of Brahman, Nguni, and Afrikaans. He is what they call an emerging farmer. Emerging farmers are black men and women who had much of their land taken away during apartheid. The ARC is helping these farmers grow their operations through selective breeding and improved management.  They are now working on growing their herds and land. This emerging farm we visited is considered a bigger farm. Many farms only have 1-10 head of cattle, while this one had 50-60. 

It was a great learning experience to see the different levels of farming in South Africa. On the way back from the farms, a few of the interns from ARC rode in our vans. This was a great opportunity for us to ask them questions and them ask questions of us. It was a great way to learn about each other's countries. We are all tired once again, with a few sunburns to come home with!
Several of our students looking at sorghum plots.

Students learning about Bonsmara cattle.

Addie and Jaden taking a selfie with cattle at the communal farm we visited.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

This morning we started out our day at 6:00am to begin with darting wildlife. There was a vet that was there to tranquillize the animals and bring them down safely. We started out tranquilizing a male nyala on the grounds around where we are staying, and then we safely transported him to a different area across the road. We ended up darting and transporting four additional animals (nyalas and sables) to different areas in Trekpad Safaris. The students all split up into groups to help carry the animals and get them safely into the back of the trucks. This was such a fun experience getting to locate each animal after it had been darted and then seeing them regain all muscle movements after being immobilized.

After moving the wildlife, we took a break for breakfast and then headed out to view some of the crop farms and water pumps used for irrigation.  Trekpad grows a variety of crops, including corn, soybeans, and wheat.  They pump water from a nearby stream into the fields for irrigation.  To save money, they built the water pump by themselves instead of contracting out the activity.  On the way to the stream, we also got to view footprints left by a rhino!

After a short break, the next activity we did was go to the Afrikaner farm. We headed out to the mountains to reach this farm by four by four vehicles. We began by learning about the two most recent years of bull and heifer calf crops. After looking at each group of animals, we had discussions about what they are looking for in the Afrikaner breed and what they specifically want in their herd of cattle. After lunch, we had the opportunity, if we wanted, to help preg check four cows. Many students took full advantage of that opportunity! Once everyone was done preg checking, the four cows went swimming into a dip tank to help get rid of ticks and keep the ticks away for three weeks. After we were finished with the cattle, we all went up to the very top of the mountains to look at the view. It was absolutely beautiful! We took many pictures while up there and then headed back down the mountain and back to Trekpad Safaris.

We arrived back at the game reserve to enjoy time around the fire while watching supper cook as well as enjoying 'sing song time.' We had a wonderful meal of lamb chops, impala with lamb wrapped around it, impala kabobs as well as many other great side dishes. We gave them a warm thank you and gave them gifts to show our appreciation of all they've done.

Tomorrow we leave Trekpad Sefaris and look forward to seeing a seed stock farm as well as a grain farm. (Written by Jaden and Maddy)

Jaden, Addie, Kenzie, Jessica, and Dalen with a wild animal after it had been darted by the local veterinarian.

Jessica, Kenzie, and Dalen transporting the wild animal to a pickup truck for removal to a different pasture.
Afrikaner cattle, a local breed in South Africa

Jaden with a monkey skull!

Laura, Jaden, and Alana overlooking the mountain where Trekpad raises their cattle.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Our day started with a journey to Irene. We were met by a professor from the Agricultural Research Council (ARC): Professor Michiel Scholtz. He presented about climate change and livestock production in SA. Then some masters and PhD students from the ARC presented their projects to us; these projects won awards in a research competition. We then journeyed to the ARC’s bull testing station, where the measurement of methane emissions from cattle was demonstrated. We also went and visited the dairy unit along with the meat science department. The dairy unit’s milking parlour was herringbone style instead of rotary, which I found interesting. Seeing their meat lab and comparing it to SDSU’s meat lab was also a learning experience. On our way to Trekpad we stopped at Embryo Plus. Embryo Plus is a research facility where the first IVF buffalo was successfully produced and the first calf was cloned in Africa. About 80% of their business is conducted with cattle while the other 20% is game animals, such as impala, buffalo, and wildebeest. Our final destination was Trekpad Safari. This place is gorgeous, with traditional Dutch influenced buildings including a church created by the owner’s son-in-law. You can walk out of the bathroom and run into an eland not 2 feet away! Some of us may have more occupants than expected in our rooms with our new salamander and other insect friends. We were served an amazing meal at a table fit for a king. The meal consisted of a braai (barbeque) that contained Afrikaner filet steaks, mutton curry, cheesy broccoli/cauliflower, and sweet potatoes that include orange juice and syrup. For dessert we had a cheesecake with cheery topping served with custard. It was all delicious!  (Written by Kenzie and Alana)

Our "braai" (barbeque) at Trekpad.  Afrikaner beef!  Delicious!
A bull at the ARC Testing Station.

The absolutely beautiful family church at Trekpad Safaris.

The huge number of liquid nitrogen tanks at Embryo Plus