A mixed bag works well for Mandla and Johnson Mandlendoda, whose agricultural interests and activities – although separate – are tethered by family and business bonds. Their successful ventures embrace markets ranging from fresh produce to feedlots, and from tourism to mohair. The brothers ‘talk farming’ to Peter Mashala.
Lizo ‘Mandla’ and Johnson Mandlendoda are the formidable team behind two successful Eastern Cape farming operations, in Middelburg and Queenstown. Johnson manages 2 000 Dohne merino and merino sheep, 1 200 angora goats, 800 cattle and various species of game on Geluk Farm (7 000ha) in Middelburg.
Mandla runs a 44ha farm near Queenstown, where he oversees the Dicla Training Facility and runs the vegetable production, a packhouse that supplies vegetables to various retailers, a bed and breakfast, and a farmer’s warehouse that sells farm supplies.
A FAMILY AFFAIR
Mandla and Johnson were raised in a farming family in Sterkspruit outside Queenstown, where their father and grandfather farmed. Mandla says although their forebears were not commercial farmers, he grew up inspired by their love of the land – hence his decision to follow in their footsteps.
“What inspired me most is that they managed this at a time when it was not easy for black people to farm,” he says. His involvement in agriculture came later in his life, after he had spent several years in the South African National Defence Force in Pretoria.
While still serving in the force, Mandla studied agriculture part-time through Unisa. After completing the course, he did his practical training with Dicla Training & Farming near Krugersdorp, Johannesburg. “I would go
there when I was off duty and work on the farm, including making deliveries at the Joburg Market,” explains Mandla. Mandla registered his company as a franchise under the Dicla banner in 2008 and in 2010 he left his army job to start up his new business back home in the Eastern Cape.
“We bought 10ha and started by clearing the bush so that we could build a training centre and farm to grow and supply fresh produce to retailers and food companies in and around Queenstown,” he explains.
He later bought another 22ha, followed by the purchase of a further 12ha to complete what now is a 44ha vegetable farm with a packhouse and a distribution centre, besides the training facility. Here Mandla grows spinach and tomatoes in tunnels, while other crops including cabbages are grown in the field. The Dicla branch in Queenstown also has a vegetable market where vegetables and fruit are sold to the public.
The centre offers various Seta courses, including animal and plant production, mechanical training and tractor operator courses. In addition, agricultural students have the opportunity to complete inservice training and gain practical experience at the centre.
In 2013 Mandla acquired the 7 000ha Geluk Farm in Middelburg (Eastern Cape) on a 30-year lease through the Land Redistribution for Agricultural Development (LRAD) programme. He asked Johnson, who was working as a correctional services officer at the time, to join the business and manage the operation. Geluk Farm runs about 2 400 merino and Dohne merino sheep, and 1 200 angora goats. They shear between 2 000 to 2 400 sheep a year, and 1 200 goats twice a year.
GETTING INTO ANGORA GOATS
A random conversation about a box of eggs led to Johnson and Mandla running a flock of 1 200 angora goats on Geluk Farm today. This, says Johnson, is “a type of goat that is not part of the history of black farmers”. He had overheard Beauty Mokgwamme, a training officer with the department of agriculture at Grootfontein Agricultural College, and her husband discussing egg prices in a supermarket.
At the time, Johnson had layers on the farm, and he marketed the eggs through the supermarket. He advised the Mokgwammes to buy his eggs. Impressed by the quality and packaging of the product, Beauty decided she would visit Geluk Farm as it was part of her job to work with emerging farmers.
She was blown away by the operation and by Johnson’s dedication and humility, and the respect with which he was treated by his employees and by the community. So when Beauty left the college in 2018 to take over her new position as manager of the empowerment trust at Mohair South Africa, Johnson was the first person she identified as an emerging black farmer with the infrastructure for angora goats. She knew Geluk Farming had the right package.
“The farm was well run; it had the right managers and solid infrastructure. This was exactly what we were looking for,” says Beauty. After getting the necessary approval from the empowerment trust, the first 400 wethers (castrated males) were added to Geluk Farm’s livestock numbers in 2019. At the time there were 300 cattle and 1 200 wool sheep on the property. Livestock numbers have now increased with the addition of 1 200 goats.
“We started with wethers as a way of learning about the goats, to understand them and see what their strengths and weaknesses are,” says Johnson. To date, Geluk Farm is the first farm in the Mohair Trust’s empowerment programme that met the trust’s strict RMS (Responsible Mohair Standard) requirements in 2020. Johnson buys the goats with the help of a no-interest loan from the Mohair Trust.
The money that is repaid is used to help the next farmer. The loan is repaid by paying 25% of the annual clip sold by brokers to the trust. Johnson says they have consistently produced quality mohair. He attributes this to good management, animal health and their nutrition programme. Being part of the empowerment trust is valuable to Johnson, he says, because these are people he trusts and he knows they have the interests of his operation and of his flock at heart.
SHEARING AND FEEDING
The Angora Management Programme has proved very useful with advice on animal health, shearing, nutrition and management. Following the programme helps Johnson ensure that he gets the best prices for the mohair. The primary purpose of angora goats is the production of mohair, which means that no shearing season may be missed. “We shear twice, in February/March and then again in September/October.
Nutrition and animal health influences mohair yields,” he explains. The goats are plunge-dipped every two weeks, as this is the most effective way of dipping goats. The animals browse off trees and shrubs and are only supplemented in winter with crushed yellow maize, feed lime and corn candy.
“We also feed phosphate and protein blocks at relevant times and stay away from any feed containing urea.” According to Johnson, urea delays mating, reduces milk production and, if mixed with water, may even kill the animals. Angora goats have become his passion – his goals are to become a leading angora farmer and to introduce the breed to other black farmers.
SHEEP AND WOOL PRODUCTION
Geluk Farm has a flock of 1 800 breeding ewes. “To ensure quality wool, one must follow a strict dosing and vaccination programme, and good nutrition guidelines. You must know the best times to inoculate, dose and dip,” explains Johnson. In big flocks it is extremely important to keep medication and supplement costs low.
“That’s why we use a homemade supplementary feed mixture of crushed yellow maize, lucerne and molasses. We add molasses to the maize to reduce the acids,” he says. In summer, when grazing is sufficient, the sheep have access to phosphate licks to make up for any deficiency in the veld and in the homemade mix. “In winter we provide protein licks and salt blocks,” adds Johnson.
Ewes that have recently lambed graze irrigated lucerne, which helps with milk production to ensure optimal growth in the lambs. Lambs are tagged four days after birth and their tails are docked two weeks later. “You have to do this early before they develop strong cartilage. Once the cartilage is strong, docking could be too stressful,” Johnson advises.
When the lambs are two months old, they are dosed with Lintex for internal parasites. The lambs are weaned at four months, when they should weigh 25kg to 30kg. “To ensure we get to target weights by weaning, we put our lambs onto grower sheep pellets from three months before we sell them as wethers.” Weaners kept as replacement ewes follow the same health and feeding programme as
the rest of the flock.
“We vaccinate against bluetongue in September, before the first rains in October. One should be proactive with disease prevention rather than reactive,” he says. They administer Pulpyvax every three months for pulpy kidney disease, because the sheep graze lucerne with a high protein content.
This vaccine helps prevent kidney collapse. “We dose every quarter to deal with worms, switching between Prodose Orange, Valbantel and Valbazen to avoid parasitic resistance,” Johnson explains. “We also give Multimin every quarter.”
CATTLE AND GAME
There are 500 Bonsmara cows in the breeding herd and 18 bulls. Johnson says they do not breed seasonally but run the bulls with the cows throughout the year. “Cows are in groups of 100 and I rotate the bulls using a ratio of about one bull to 30 cows. So I put four bulls in for every 100 cows and rest the bulls every two months.” He believes good record-keeping is the key to this method. “You must know when to rotate the bulls and should do pregnancy tests every four months,” he adds.
He grazes the cattle in 44 large camps. Depending on grass availability and rainfall, the animals are rotated monthly or every two months. In summer, they graze in distant camps, moving towards the closer camps as winter approaches.
Johnson says apart from the Bonsmara stud herd, he also has a commercial Bonsmara, Tuli and Drakensberger herd that he uses to produce crossbred weaners for the feedlot market.
He sells the weaners to Karan Beef. Founded in 1846, Geluk Farm has a long history. Johnson says they are very grateful to the previous owners who took such good care of the land and made it possible for him to farm there. He says the property forms a big part of the tourism industry in Middelburg and is popular with hunters from all over the country.
“We offer various types of hunting packages, and the historic farmhouse has been converted into a guesthouse where hunters and visitors stay over.” Game on the farm includes springbok, kudu, blesbok, zebra, waterbuck, black springbok and reedbuck. He also wants to introduce giraffe and start offering game drives for educational purposes, especially for children who have never seen wild animals.
Johnson hosts agricultural students from various agricultural training institutions such
as Grootfontein, the University of Fort Hare and the Cape Peninsula University of Technology who come to complete their practical experience and in-service training at Geluk Farm through Dicla.