Increasing profits through diversification

Modisaotsile Paul ‘Kenny’ Mochwiri had always imagined himself working in a cosy office, crunching numbers as a finance professional. However, after four months on the job, he found that he lacked enthusiasm for the work. It wasn’t until he joined his father on the farm in 2010 that he felt a sense of purpose. He shares his story with Lebogang Mashala. 

While Kenny Mochwiri admits that farm life hasn’t always been easy, he’s built a business he’s proud of and lives according to his life’s purpose thanks to his father’s support. When Kenny joined his dad in 2010, the farm was running 80 cattle and growing maize, sunflowers and sugar beans. Now the pair run a mixed enterprise in Lichtenburg with more than 250 breeding cows, 300 hectares of grain production, a piggery with 35 breeding sows and vegetable production on 2ha. 

According to Kenny, the herd can’t be expanded further because the farm has reached its carrying capacity. To ensure optimal production on remaining portions of land, he added a piggery in 2016 and later started growing vegetables.

Kenny was raised with a brother and four sisters in Siberia outside Mahikeng, in Ngaka Modiri Molema District Municipality. He dreamt of becoming an accountant like some of his sisters. “I grew up with an idea that accountant makes a lot of money and has nice comfortable offices,” he says. 

He studied financial management at Tshwane North College and took a project management course at Rosebank College. However, he dropped out of a BCom accounting programme at the University of South Africa, and lasted only four months at a Pretoria financial company before returning to the family farm.  

Kenny says farming is in his blood. “My father grew up on a farm and he and my grandfather had been farming together long before I was born. They began with cattle farming and later expanded to crop farming by purchasing tractors,” he explains. 

“As a young boy, I was involved in herding cattle and other activities that young men in the village did. My father raised me in the same way his father raised him and taught me a lot about farming while I was still young. I started driving a tractor at a young age, which equipped me with the necessary skills for what I do currently.”

Kenny says his father cultivated sunflowers, sugar beans and maize on communal land between Koster and Ventersdorp. He rented land for the cattle in Ramatlabama on the border with Botswana. When the lease expired, the cattle were moved to Delareyville and later to Koster. 

In 2010, however, Kenny’s father was granted a 30-year lease on the 1 100ha Vetpan farm in Lichtenburg through the Proactive Land Acquisition Strategy. This enabled them to streamline their operations, as the farm has more than 200ha of arable land, with the remainder grazing.

According to Kenny, the Lichtenburg area is ideal for crop production and livestock farming because it receives average rainfall of 500mm and has good-quality grass. He and his father rotate the production of maize, sugar beans and sunflower on 300ha – 200ha on the farm and the rest on communal land.

Kenny says he turned to farming because of his desire to reconnect with his father and an aversion to traditional employment. As he grew closer to his dad, he also developed an appreciation for farm life. Being surrounded by nature helped him find inner peace and inspiration for new ideas. Kenny hoped to modernise the farming operation, and to learn the ropes he turned to YouTube tutorials and hands-on training workshops, including those offered by NWK.

He discovered the business had reached its limits in terms of cattle and grain production due to a lack of available land. Moreover, the seasonal income was causing cashflow issues. To address this, Kenny introduced pig farming to the operation. He believed pigs had a shorter production cycle than cattle and grains, which would result in faster and more consistent cashflow. “Pigs have a gestation period of under four months and wean piglets in a shorter time than other animals such as cattle, sheep and goats,” he explains. 

Although pig farming was initially introduced to improve cashflow, Kenny developed a genuine love and passion for it. In 2016, he was introduced to Jack Mothapo, the South African Pork Producers’ Organisation (Sappo) business development manager in North West, and a free Sappo mentorship programme has helped him to expand his pig production from four pregnant sows to 35. Along the way, he has won awards and developed a passion for pig farming. 

From the outset, Kenny preferring to supply his pigs directly to consumers through butcheries, rather than sell them at auctions. His first client was a local butcher who took a pig a week. As his capacity grew, so did his supply, and he now sells 10 pigs a week and hopes to expand by developing the piggery into a full-scale commercial operation. 

“We currently have 35 breeding sows, but our plan is to increase the number to at least 100 in the coming years,” he says. He and his father buy breeding stock from three top breeders: PIC, Niemen Stud and DanBred. Niemen Stud specialises in the Duroc, Large White and SA Landrace breeds, while DanBred focuses on DanBred Landrace (LL), DanBred Yorkshire (YY) and DanBred Duroc (DD). Kenny and his father have built their stock from the three companies’ crossbreeding programmes. 

According to Kenny, crossbred pigs are a great choice for producing large and healthy litters. They are known for their excellent growth rates, good feed efficiency and exceptional mothering abilities. When selecting sows for breeding, Kenny emphasises the importance of temperament, milk production, functional teats and good mothering skills. He strictly culls any aggressive sows that are careless with their piglets, as they can harm their offspring. 

Once selected, the female pigs, or gilts, are paired with a boar at between six and eight months when they begin to show signs of being in heat. Kenny says to produce large litters, gilts should be in good condition and not too overweight at the time of mating. If a gilt fails to conceive, she will come back into heat 21 days later, and a final pregnancy test is conducted 31 days after mating. “We move pregnant gilts into separate pens for the duration of their pregnancy, which lasts approximately 114 days,” he says. During farrowing, Kenny checks on the pens three times a day to ensure the safety and wellbeing of the pigs. 

When piglets are seven days old, they receive their first iron injection. During weaning, they are given a RespiSure shot to boost their immune systems and prevent chronic pneumonia. “After that, we ensure they are properly fed and their pens are kept clean,” he says. 

Kenny sells porkers (four months old) weighing between 40kg and 55kg, as well as baconers (five months old) of between 60kg and 100kg, to butcheries and occasionally to individuals. 

According to Kenny, pig farmers are facing challenges beyond their control, such as frequent disease outbreaks. He says African swine fever and related diseases have affected all pig farmers, regardless of whether their animals were sick. “These outbreaks have a widespread impact because they result in closed export markets. Additionally, external factors like the war in Ukraine have also affected prices,” he says. 

Despite escalating feed prices, pork prices have remained low for several years, and Kenny says load-shedding has been a problem for piggeries. “When heaters can’t run during winter, it results in issues, and during summer, it’s difficult to control the temperature inside pens, leading to heat stress among pigs. This causes a rise in mortality rates during both seasons.”

Kenny believes smallholder farmers are not playing a significant role in the pig industry due to the high costs of starting and maintaining a pig operation. However, he believes there is a missed opportunity in the failure of smallholders to work together. As a black farmer, Kenny believes collaboration is key in the pig farming industry, which is a game of numbers. “By working together and producing a good number of pigs, we will be able to access even better markets,” he explains. Kenny aims to grow his piggery to take advantage of economies of scale. 

He has also diversified his farming operations by producing peppers and green beans on 1ha. With the success of this venture, he and his father have recently developed an additional hectare to expand their vegetable production. Initially, the vegetables were meant for their personal consumption, but after seeing the high quality of their produce, they decided to sell it. “We produce 300-400 boxes of peppers and just over 180 boxes of green beans weekly,” he says.

He is searching for more land to expand their grain and cattle operations. Kenny’s goal is to become one of the biggest producers of beef and pork in the country, which he believes is achievable through hard work, dedication and perseverance.

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