Kleinjan Gasekoma is the first black farmer in South Africa to be named Cattle Farmer of the Year. He went from communal farmer to successful commercial farmer in just 13 years.
There is no shortage of success stories when it comes to emerging South African farmers making the difficult transition from communal farmer to commercial farmer – many such stories exist among the failed government projects and land reform projects. Kleinjan Gasekoma of Reivilo is one of those success stories.
Kleinjan, from the farms Bruintjiesfontein and Klein Quaggablatt, always wanted to farm. This farm worker’s son started looking for a farm while he was working in the parcel section at Pretoria railway station way back in 2001.
In 2003, Kleinjan and 25 other people started farming on the farm Nouvlakte near Amalia, under the government’s land redistribution for agricultural development (LRAD) programme. The government purchased the farm and settled the group there to start farming. “I would have preferred to farm on my own, because such a large number of people on one piece of land doesn’t work so well.”
In 2007 he applied to the government to acquire a farm and received permission to rent Bruintjiesfontein and Klein Quaggablatt, a total of 1233 ha.
Kleinjan and his wife, Mariam, moved to the farm on 28 October 2007, taking their commercial Bonsmara-type cattle from Amalia with them. Their oldest son, Clement, now farms with them.
Kleinjan already had a good herd of cattle, but in 2006 he received a stud and a heifer from the Braunvieh Breeders’ Association as a gift. “I was very impressed with the bull and its offspring and this encouraged me to become a Braunvieh breeder,” he says.
“I became eligible for the government’s recapitalisation programme and they assigned a mentor to me. After much frustration and very little progress, it became obvious I needed to get a different mentor. I saw Cois Harman’s name on the list of available mentors and insisted that he help me,” says Kleinjan.
With further government aid and the help of Cois he bought more registered Braunvieh cattle from various breeders. He also farms with Boer Goats. Game such as eland, springbok, gemsbok, impala, red hartebeest, and other small animals are also to be found on the farm. “We decided to allow the game to breed before opening our land up for hunting in winter.”
His Braunvieh stud herd consists of about 100 cattle and the commercial herd of a further 100 animals. Kleinjan expands the herds by keeping the best heifers. After the calving season, he keeps the bulls with the various herds of females from 1 December to the end of March.
Calves are weaned in April and May to give the cows the best chances of surviving the winter. Kleinjan makes use of four stud bulls, two for the 60 commercial cows, while the primary stud bull covers his 30 Braunvieh stud cows. A stud bull with a proven record of producing smaller calves is put with the commercial heifers during the mating season.
Income comes primarily from the sale of weaners, which are sold at Vleissentraal auctions in Reivilo.
Last year one of his bull calves was included for the first time in a Phase C test at the Armoedsvlakte experimental farm near Vryburg.
“My ideal bull and cow should have attributes such as rapid growth, good musculature, adaptability and a quiet temperament,” he says.
The majority of the farm consists of natural sweetveld grazing. There are about 2 ha of arable land where he would like to establish grazing under irrigation. The farm has a good borehole.
The sweetveld provides excellent grazing throughout the year. It consists mainly of red-, bristle- and couch grass. Even during the droughts over the past couple of years, Kleinjan has had enough grazing for his animals. This is due to the fact that his land is never overgrazed and the recommended grazing capacity of 12 ha/LSU is managed sensibly. He rotates the camps during the rainy season.
Kleinjan’s biggest problem is the low and sporadic rainfall that is part and parcel of the western parts of South Africa. This is why, he says, he will never overgraze his land. There are 14 camps on the 1233 ha, with six watering points. Each watering point has a herding kraal with a covered lick tray.
At the farthest watering point and herding kraal there is also a crush and handling kraal. Near the house there are steel cattle kraals with a crush, loading bays and a scale.
In summer, he follows a weekly rotation grazing system and in winter he allows the peripheral camps to be grazed short before grazing the inner camps, specifically to limit the possibility of veld fires spreading from neighbouring properties. He then rotates the camps every three to four weeks. This ensures that he will still have three to five camps available for November or December when the summer rains begin. This makes a lot of sense in times of drought, especially as the rainy season has started much later in recent years than previously.
He buys feed in the plentiful season which he then stores for the lean times. When he sells cattle, he uses some of the money to buy feed to keep in storage. His veterinary costs are relatively low, as there is a low incidence of cattle diseases in the area, and thanks to the good veld his cattle are healthy.
His cattle are dipped every two to three weeks depending on the tick population. He uses Triatix (reg.no. G3444, Act 36 of 1947) for three months, after which it is alternated with a pour-on dip such as Ectoshield (reg.no. G2671). Thereafter Bayticol (reg.no. G0489) is applied for a period of three months, followed by the pour-on dip.
The cattle are vaccinated annually against blackleg, anthrax, botulism, lumpy skin disease, bovine viral diarrhoea, brucellosis, pasteurella and Rift Valley fever.
His lick mixture consists of 15 bags of salt, 15 bags of bone meal, 5 bags of feed grade urea, 25kg flowers of sulphur, 2kg Epsom salts and 2kg zinc sulphate. In summer the urea is omitted and only gets added when the grazing becomes poorer.
CASH FARMER TODAY
Although he received financial assistance from the government to start his farm, Kleinjan is a cash farmer today and hasn’t needed to lend money for production costs.
Cois, his mentor from Marico-Bosveld, and co-owner of Agristart (the enterprise that develops self-reliant, independent farmers) has great respect for Kleinjan.
According to Cois, Kleinjan’s optimistic attitude is his greatest asset. When Cois got involved as mentor, the farm was not well developed. The camp fences had no support poles and some anchor poles had already been pulled down, simply because Kleinjan wasn’t permitted to own the enterprise.
Cois identified all of these problems and drew up a business plan, which was presented to the government with the aim of getting finance.
WITHIN FOUR MONTHS
When Kleinjan received the money after two years, he was able to start developing his farm. He says that was when his farm started to progress quickly.
Cois seconded one of his own labourers, Gilbert Legoba, to work with Kleinjan. Gilbert, under Cois’ guidance, also trained Kleinjan’s workers in welding and metalwork, and how to work with livestock.
They planned the farm meticulously and built fences, crushes, a dam, herding kraals, watering points, covered lick trays and stock handling facilities sufficient for 350 head of cattle.
The initial mentor built a house with six rooms and a labourer’s cottage. It took Kleinjan and four workers four months of hard toil to complete the major portion of the project. Gilbert returned to Cois at the end of the five months once the cattle kraal, crush, loading bays and scale were approved by the mentor.
‘I love farming. I can be outdoors in nature all the time’
Using the government aid, Kleinjan purchased cattle, a tractor, a trailer, a cattle trailer, a Toyota pick-up truck and building material for the kraals, fences, herding kraals, watering points and lick trays. Everything on the farm was now ready and Kleinjan was able to go ahead and farm on his own with his newly acquired knowledge.
Cois monitored his progress throughout and assisted in terms of the budget and purchases for the farm.
“Cois’ advice meant a lot to me. Whenever I wasn’t sure of something I would phone him,” says Kleinjan. “I love farming. I can be outdoors in nature all the time. I get income throughout the year and I can take care of my family.”
And what does he have to say about the great honour bestowed upon him by Voermol? “I didn’t expect it, but I am very happy that they have noticed that us emerging farmers also have a valuable contribution to make to the country. We have worked very hard to become commercial farmers’.”
ENQUIRIES: Kleinjan Gasekoma, cell +2772 388 8107; Cois Harman, cell +2783 265 6210, email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Q&A WITH KLEINJAN
DO YOU KEEP RECORDS?
My son keeps a record of each calf; its birth weight and the mother’s weight, as well as information for registration with SA Stud Book
WHAT IS IMPORTANT IN YOUR BREEDING PROGRAMME?
Productivity (each cow must calf annually), milk (each cow must produce enough milk to ensure that her calf grows well), and growth (the calves must flourish and grow quickly). The weight of a calf is money in my pocket. The prestige of the sire and dam and their pedigree is used to breed productive animals.
HOW DO YOU SELECT YOUR CATTLE AND HOW DO YOU CULL?
Cows that don’t calve are sold. We have enough cattle for the farm so we don’t keep unproductive cows. At the stud we select for conformation, depth, mobility, pelvic width, a good topline and a well-fleshed loin. We cull cattle that struggle to maintain condition. Cows with high pins and a narrow pelvic structure will have problems calving. Weak pasterns are another trait that should be selected out. With the help of my mentor we select the best bull calves for the Phase C testing at Armoedsvlakte. The bull calves are selected at weaning age and again at 12 months. The best bulls are held back and marketed, the rest are sold as slaughter animals. I take part in shows and market breeding animals at national auctions.
WHY DO YOU FARM WITH BRAUNVIEH?
I like these cattle. They are good-looking, exceptionally fertile and the calves are heavy. We wean at six or seven months up to as much as 300kg. The average weight at weaning is about 260kg. Other than that, they have a quiet temperament and can be handled easily. The bulls cross well with commercial cattle. The Braunvieh-cross calves grow well and they wean significantly heavier than the Bonsmara and Brahman bull calves. I have gotten rid of the Bonsmara and Brahman bulls. I intend to use a Brahman bull with the heifers again, once the commercial herd starts becoming too pure-bred.
WHAT PLACED YOUR FARM ON A PROFITABLE ROUTE?
Sell unproductive animals, adhere strictly to the vaccination and dosing programmes and ensure that there is always clean water in the drinking troughs and a good lick under cover in the lick trays.
YOU FARM IN A DRY PART OF THE COUNTRY. HOW DO YOU MAINTAIN FLEXIBILITY ON YOUR FARM? WOULD YOU CONSIDER AN OX SYSTEM?
I have to look after my grazing and never overgraze. At some stage I intend to plant grazing under irrigation on a couple of hectares.