Teach farming skills before it’s too late!

Too few SA youngsters are interested in agriculture as a career. Puso Segoe feels this is due to farmers failing to expose their children to farming from an early age. Fortunately, his father involved him fully, he told Peter Mashala.

Teach farming skills before it’s too late!
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To farm successfully requires in-depth knowledge and hands-on experience – and there is no better time to acquire these than as a child. Ask Puso Segoe, who learnt his skills at his father’s side, and who blames many farmers today for failing to expose their children to the business from an early age. “This has resulted in the collapse of many farms taken over by the next generation,” he says.

While Puso was growing up, his father, Amon, ran the 1 500ha farm Klipplaat JQ 77 at Ramokokastad near Phokeng in North West, as well as a small butchery in Phokeng near the Royal Bafokeng Stadium. The family lived in Mafikeng, and Puso spent weekends and holidays on the farm, getting involved in its activities. Despite this introduction to farming, he chose to study graphic design. But it was a career that he was never to follow. Ten years ago, while he was looking for a job, his father died, and Puso had to decide whether to sell the business or take it over.

After brief reflection, Puso realised that farming was where his heart really lay. Most importantly, he had already acquired the basic skills, thanks to the many hours he had spent on the farm with his father. Klipplaat farm had been leased from the Bophuthatswana government since 1990. Amon ran about 400 cattle on it and had between 100ha and 150ha under rainfed crops: beans, groundnuts and maize. When Puso took over, he reduced the cattle to fewer than 120, including calves, investing the money in the butchery.

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A large herd, he felt, would entail uncomfortably high operational costs. “But I’m slowly building up the numbers again, by buying two or three cows a month,” he says. Currently the herd consists of about 90 breeding Simbra-type cows and three bulls. He also uses two Simmentaler bulls he bought from Martiens de Jager of Gulland Simmentalers in Rustenburg, and one Brahman bull. Martiens also advises him from time to time.

Puso produces between 30 and 40 weaners for the feedlot market annually, marketing them at auctions in Northam. Amon had run mostly Brahman, but had started to introduce Simmentaler bulls shortly before he died. “Feedlot market buyers want weaners that gain weight quickly,” explains Puso, “and Brahmans don’t. The Simmentaler gives high meat production, so it was a good choice. Simmentalers also do well in cross-breeding, and the crosses adapt to the climate here.  Also, feedlotters value the efficient feed conversion and rapid weight gain and the high beef yield of the carcass.”

Puso Segoe

The farm is divided into six camps of roughly 200ha each, and the veld is dominated by sweet grass. There is no specific breeding season and the bulls are run with the cows for at least 10 months a year. Puso removes the bulls between December and January to rest them. Seasonal breeding, he says, is not practical with such a small herd.

“I only separate the cows that have just calved from the herd to ensure that the bulls don’t cover them before they have reared their calves,” he explains. Puso weans the calves at eight months, putting them in a separate camp until they are ready to run with bulls at about 24 months. In addition to marketing weaned bull calves, he culls heifer weaners not fit for breeding. 

Breeding cows are also closely monitored. “When a cow does not produce enough milk, it must go,” he says. “I watch the growth of the calves until weaning. Martiens taught me not to keep unproductive cattle as they simply waste resources.
“Black farmers tend to look at the number of cattle instead of at their production. When someone has 200 females and only a 50% calving rate, he is satisfied.

But this means the other 100 are useless. With me, when a cow doesn’t give me a calf every year, she goes.” In winter, Puso provides a protein lick and a mixture of chop, Kalori 3000 and molasses as supplement. He dips the cattle every three weeks in summer, and once a month in winter.

Adding value
Puso ran the family’s small butchery for eight years after his father’s death. Two years ago, he expanded it, turning it into a wholesale outlet supplying meat to various businesses and government institutions. The business is doing well, and he’s already planning his next step: to establish a feedlot on the farm. “At the moment, I’m still buying meat from abattoirs. Now that it’s doing well, I want to start a feedlot so that I can sell my own meat. Adding value to my cattle like this means more profit for me.”

Finance – and independence
Lack of money and tenure have both proved a challenge for Puso. “I have a three-year lease, so there’s uncertainty and risk as far as the land itself goes” he explains. “And there’s no financial support from government.” In 2010, he suspended cropping due to low rainfall. Since then, he has applied for finance at Land Bank to resume planting, but this time under irrigation.

Puso employs 10 permanent workers on the farm and at his wholesale meat business. James Molefe (left) and David Thage (right) work at the outlet.

“I already have the infrastructure in place – two reservoirs, three boreholes and the piping. Only the pumps need to be replaced. The only problem is money,” he explains. Despite these difficulties, Puco has remained positive, and has always taken pride in his independence and professional approach to farming, both of which he learnt from Amon.

“My father taught me the importance of self-reliance,” he says. “Many people depend on government for many things, but I do everything myself. “My father also taught me to look after my equipment properly. I still use most of the implements that he left me.” This attitude is evident in Puso’s approach to all his activities on the farm. He makes and maintains his own farm roads, carefully burns firebreaks, and diligently repairs his fences.

“It’s all expensive and it takes time, of course,“ he explains. “But if I don’t fix these things now, the problems just get worse.”
Puso recalls some good advice given to him by his late father: never to stay away from the farm for more than two days.
“Although the butchery takes a lot of my time, I make every effort to get here. A farm should never be neglected.”

Contact Puso Segoe on 082 972 2293.