The Long Walk to Farming Success

From communal to commercial farmer, then National Cattle Farmer of the Year – all in just 12 years. This is the path walked by Gasekoma Braunvieh Stud owner Kleinjan Gasekoma of Reivilo in North West, who attributes his achievements to hard work, willpower and good mentorship. He shares his remarkable story.

Self-taught and award-winning Braunvieh stud breeder Kleinjan Gasekoma of the farms Bruintjiesfontein and Klein Quaggablatt near Reivilo, North West, says the defining moment of his farming career came when he attended a farmers’ day in Vryburg. On that day, lady luck smiled on Kleinjan and he won two Braunvieh cows and a bull in a raffle competition. Ten years later, in 2015, Kleinjan was named Voermol National Cattle Breeder of the Year.

He is the first and remains the only black farmer to be awarded this prestigious title. Born in 1947 in Matlapaneng village outside Taung in North West, Kleinjan was raised by his aunt, who informally adopted him when he was eight. “My aunt and her husband worked on a farm in Banfontein near Schweizer-Reneke, so I grew up working as a shepherd and later moved to the dairy when I was a teenager,” Kleinjan remembers. And so his farming aspirations started. “I knew then that I wanted to farm with cattle but at that time, as a black man, my chances of owning a farm were very slim,” he recalls. Instead, when he turned 20, he left the farm and got a job at company contracted to the railways in 1967. He later moved to Pretoria and was posted to the railway mail room. He stayed at the hostels in Saulsville near Atteridgeville, west of Pretoria.

While in Pretoria, Kleinjan decided to go to school, an opportunity he didn’t get while growing up. He found an adult school in Pretoria West and attended evening classes. “I started reading different materials. This helped open my eyes to a lot of possibilities, including realising my childhood dream of becoming a farmer,” he says.

At the dawn of democracy, Kleinjan read about land reform and how aspiring black farmers were given the chance to farm through this process. Back then, the government encouraged the formation of farming cooperatives. Therefore Kleinjan and 24 other people – mostly friends and family back home in Taung – formed a cooperative that was allocated the farm 909 Louvlakte near Amalia in 2003. When they moved to the 633ha property, Kleinjan didn’t have animals. “I had a second-hand BMW car, which I sold to buy three pregnant cows in 2004,” he recalls.

Kleinjan says he chose the Braunvieh breed, because the cows are know for producing a lot of milk that allows their calves to grow quickly, and wean at above-average weights.
Braunvieh are known for their fertility and bulls cross well with commercial animals. Kleinjan uses his own bulls in his commercial herd, and so sees these results first hand

CHANGING NEEDS

That fateful farmers’ day took place in 2005. He had been reluctant to participate in the raffle and certainly did not expect to win. “God works in mysterious ways,” recalls Kleinjan, who is a man of faith and a member of the Zion Christian Church. He admits he had not even heard of the Braunvieh cattle breed at that point. His herd was predominantly Bonsmara-type cows, yet for some reason he decided to keep his prize. Before long he was impressed by how the animals performed on the farm and decided to explore the breed further.

“I still remember how those bull calves outperformed my and others’ Bonsmaratype calves at auctions,” explains Kleinjan. “I noticed the cows had above-average milk production, good udders and teats that ensured calves grow up fast with aboveaverage weaned weights. The cattle have a calm temperament and perform exceedingly well in a feedlot. That’s how and why I decided to move into stud breeding with this magnificent breed,” he smiles.

The herd soon grew bigger and Kleinjan’s breeding needs were changing. Sharing the farm with others was becoming impractical. He applied for and was allocated the 518ha farm Klein Quaggablatt through the Proactive Land Acquisition Strategy (PLAS) in October 2008. Later that year he received nine Bonsmara cows through a government subsidy. And in 2009 Kleinjan was fortunate to qualify for the Recapitalisation and Development Programme, which saw him acquiring an additional 718ha. He was allocated the farm Bruintjiesfontein, a state-owned game farm next to Klein Quaggablatt that had been under caretakership. “The caretakers were being moved to another farm,” he recalls.

Kleinjan believes calves that grow well should be weaned at six to seven months at a weight of 260kg to 300kg. That’s were the Brainvieh’s milk production helps a lot.

THE GOOD AND THE BAD

But the state’s support proved to be lacking in some key respects.

“The mentor allocated to me and his service providers messed up big time and did shady work,” Kleinjan laments. “From the R3 million grant allocated to me, they only built two small farmhouses and erected a wobbly fence that didn’t survive one rainy season. Not even a single cow was bought.”

He spent two years battling with the department over the misused funds. When it couldn’t be resolved by the provincial department, he and other farmers who’d suffered the same fate took the matter directly to Gugile Nkwinti, Minister of Rural Development and Land Reform. “I insisted on a new mentor and requested a list of mentors available on the provincial department’s database. That is where I saw the name Cois Harman. Cois, himself a Braunvieh stud farmer from the Marico Bushveld, is the coowner of Agristart, a farmer-development company with an exceptional track record in North West. “I met Cois once at the farmers’ day in 2005 when I won the raffle, but I had been hearing if his impressive work with black farmers ever since,” Kleinjan says.

Upon his appointment as Kleinjan’s mentor, Cois was instrumental in resolving Kleinjan’s problems in 2013. Cois says Kleinjan made a big impression on him. “I saw someone who had every intention to succeed as a commercial farmer,” he recalls.

When the state released new recapitalisation funds, the two men drew up a detailed plan of action. “I involved him and made him part of the whole process,” Cois says.

“I wanted him to take full ownership of the project.” He insists mentorship is about equipping someone with the right skills by ensuring they take as much responsibility as possible in their business; not making decisions for them. New fences, a dam, sheltered feeding stations, a loading ramp and functioning water troughs, as well as upgraded kraals and animal-handling equipment for 350 cattle were first on the list. Cois seconded one of his own employees, Gilbert Legoba, to assist in training Kleinjan’s workers in welding and carpentry. Gilbert helped build the cattle kraals, crushes and loading ramp, as well as install a good quality scale. Kleinjan was also able to buy 63 cows, a tractor, a trailer, a Toyota bakkie and other implements. Cois remained in Kleinjan’s corner and continues to offer support whenever it is needed. “Because of Cois’ help, the farm is sustainable and can pay all its expenses. We don’t have to borrow money,” Kleinjan points out proudly.

Kleinjan (left) is on the lookout for another farm in order to grow his enterprise so the next generation of Gasekomas can inherit a sustainable business. With him are his son and farm manager, Clement Gasekoma (right), and daughter, Lerato (centre).

TOP-CLASS INFRASTRUCTURE

“The infrastructure we developed was topclass, and I think this is what impressed the judges of the Voermol award,” says Kleinjan. The farm’s 14 camps are neat and have functional infrastructure and handling facilities. There is always enough grass at all times. “We maintain and keep our infrastructure in good shape,” he adds.

Kleinjan uses a rotational grazing system for the 200-strong herd of 150 stud and 50 commercial cows. Kleinjan says his official carrying capacity is 12ha per large stock unit (LSU) but, thanks to his veld management strategy, he manages a little more as there is always surplus grazing. “I increase my carrying capacity by planting blue buffalo grass every year in all the camps. During the rainy season, I buy seed and plant by hand. Some of the seed is mixed with the licks so the cattle help me plant it in areas I can’t reach.”

Cattle have short grazing intervals, and are rotated weekly during the rainy season. The weaners are separated from their mothers to run alone in four camps, he says. “Because they’re still small, they don’t consume a lot. We do this to prevent them from continuing to suckle on their mothers, as it affects the cows’ condition before we put in the bulls.”

In winter the animals are allowed longer grazing periods. Kleinjan provides licks, mainly consisting of salt, bonemeal and zinc sulphate. He also used moderate amounts of urea to prevent over grazing. He says many farmers make a mistake of using too much urea, which increases the cattle’s appetites and causes them to eat too much, resulting in overgrazing. “Overgrazing is every farmer’s worst nightmare. Once that happens, it will take at least two years to recover. Where will you graze your cattle for those two years?”

Kleinjan does notcompromise when it comes to the health of his animals and follows a strict vaccination programme. “Depending on the tick load, we dip every two to three weeks using different chemicals to to prevent the ticks from building up a resistance to the medicines we use. We vaccinate annually against blackleg (sponssiekte in Afrikaans) , anthrax, lumpy skin, bovine viral diarrhoea, brucellosis, pasteurella and Rift Valley fever,” he explains. He believes his herd management is another aspect that impressed the judges, and Prof Hennie Snyman from the University of the Free State in particular.

Keeping goats and sheep in addition to his cattle helps Kleinjan with cash flow. He plans to grow this side of his business and run a complete commercial mixed-farming operation soon.

ONLY THE BEST

Kleinjan says only the best performers are kept on his two farms. “I don’t have too many resources. Therefore I cull nonperformers immediately,” he emphasises. Productivity is at the top of his breeding priorities, meaning each cow should calve annually. The cows need to have enough milk to raise their calves well and fast.

“Well-growing calves must wean at six to seven months at a weight of between 260kg and 300kg. This is what makes you money,” he winks with a smile. Besides being beautiful animals, the Braunvieh are extremely fertile and the bulls cross well with commercial cattle, in his view. He runs his commercial herd with stud bulls that are giving him extremely good results, he says. “This can be proven with the animals’ performance at auctions. I sold five weaners recently at about R43 000.”

When selecting stud animals, he believes certain features are simply non-negotiable. “The cows must be well built and have depth and wide hind quarters, as well as straight and strong backs and loins. They should have strong hooves and be able to walk comfortably,” Kleinjan maintains. “Anything less, such as cattle that cannot maintain condition or those with narrow hind quarters and upright heels must go – they are likely to give problems when calving.”

Kleinjan often participates in shows, and markets his breeding animals at national auctions. He is looking for more land where he can increase his operation to at least 500 breeding cows. “The operation is growing bigger and I’d like to get another farm to build it up for the next Gasekoma generation,” he says.

Besides the cattle, there are game such as eland, gemsbok, blesbok, rooihartebees, tshepe (springbok) impala on his farms – an aspect he plans to commercialise in future. He also has about 130 breeding Boer goats and 80 sheep. “This helps with cash flow in the business,” he explains. “But I would like to grow the small stock operation to have a complete commercial mixed-farming operation.”

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