“Farming can’t be that difficult. Many people do it. I’m sure I can just learn it in a short time on the job, and I’ll soon be farming successfully.”
Many beginner farmers say this to themselves – and really believe it! Unfortunately, it simply isn’t true, as Zodwa Twala discovered.
After 12 years as a teacher in Pretoria, Zodwa decided it was time for a change – to follow her lifelong dream of farming. Because she didn’t have any experience, however, she decided to begin part-time.
So she gave up teaching in 2009 to work as a night nurse at the Louis Pasteur Hospital in Pretoria – a job that would enable her to tend to her farming enterprise during the day.
She then used her savings to buy a small farm outside Pretoria, and started a piggery with 10 pigs. Unfortunately, the pens on this farm were in poor condition and there was an inadequate water supply to run a piggery successfully.
In addition, she soon discovered that she lacked the skills necessary to breed the pigs or care for them properly.
Zodwa realised that she had a choice: to give up farming or tackle it professionally.
So she sold the land and her pigs, and used the government’s Proactive Land Acquisition Strategy programme to buy another farm, a 8,5ha property with far better infrastructure at Kromdraai, 20km north-east of Pretoria.
The new farm had well-maintained pig pens, no fewer than five boreholes and security.
Her application was approved in 2010 and she moved with her two children to their new home.
Zodwa took three months’ leave from work and applied at Dalein Piggery – one of the biggest breeding farms in Pretoria – for assistance with training. “I was treated as part of the staff and performed all the duties,” she recalls. All of this was at her own expense.
She started her training in the farrowing pens, helping with the cleaning and looking after the piglets. “We had to make sure that the piglets were suckling and receiving enough milk,” she explains.
“If not, we had to facilitate fostering. This occurs when a sow has more piglets than teats. You then have to move the other piglets to another sow with fewer piglets.”
After two weeks in the farrowing pens, Zodwa moved to the weaner section, then the grower section and finally the gilt section.
After training, she returned to her night nursing duties and launched her operation on the new farm. She began by buying five pregnant sows from Longside Farm, a stud-breeding piggery close to Pretoria.
“It’s advisable to buy pigs from a reputable source which can guarantee quality,” she emphasises.
A few months later, the Gauteng department of agriculture helped her to buy eight more gilts. She also selected five from the piglets born to the first five sows from Longside, and purchased another two pigs, bringing her total breeding stock to 20 sows and one boar.
Weaners for cashflow
Due to the high price of feed, Zodwa markets weaners to the feedlot market instead of baconers or porkers.
“I feed them grower rations for just two weeks after weaning, then sell to a private abattoir not far from the farm,” she says.
“A 50kg grower feed bag costs between R160 and R170, and feeding for longer would be ruinous for a beginner such as me.”
“It’s more profitable to produce baconers, as they fetch good prices,” she admits. “But it’s too expensive at this stage. The best way is to start by producing weaners while increasing your stock and working capital.”
Looking after her investment
Zodwa believes that the secret to a successful piggery lies in numbers. Each sow should farrow at least 12 or 13 piglets, and fewer than 10 is considered poor.
Thereafter, the goal is to wean as many piglets as possible. This means that looking after piglets is critical. She adds that pigs, like people, require good care to stay healthy and productive.
This applies particularly to farrowing and the first three days thereafter.
In fact, Zodwa regards this period as so critical that in 2011 she left nursing so that she could always be around for it.
“Sometimes, during farrowing, the birth membrane gets onto the piglets’ faces and they can’t breathe,” she explains. “I make sure I’m there to clean their faces.”
She also ensures that the piglets suckle the colostrum (the first thin milky liquid that appears before the real milk starts flowing) as soon as possible; this gives the piglets’ immune systems a boost.
To make sure the sows produce colostrum properly, Zodwa vaccinates pregnant sows against E. coli a few weeks before they farrow.
In the days after their birth, she watches the piglets carefully to ensure they receive enough milk. The weaker piglets are put on a baby formula such as NAN, and all piglets are injected with 1mℓ of iron supplement in the first three days.
To make sure the sows produce enough milk, Zodwa increases their daily feeding ration from 4kg each to between 5kg and 6kg. She pays careful attention to the feed, giving them ready-mixed sow meal from Kanhym Feeds.
“It isn’t good to feed them leftovers, such as pap or vegetables such as potatoes or cabbage, as these contain more carbohydrates than protein – and this makes them produce more fat and less meat,” explains Zodwa.
The piglets are weaned after 28 days. For the first few days after this, they are prone to eat too much and suffer from diarrhoea. To solve this problem, Zodwa reduces their feed ration and gives them plenty of water.
After giving birth, the sows are allowed 30 days to recuperate before the next breeding period. Zodwa runs three production cycles and divides her pigs into three groups accordingly.
She mainly uses AI, which she performs herself, buying semen from Longside. She says AI is not only cheaper than buying a boar, but ensures better genetics.
She does, however, keep a boar in a separate pen to help bring the sows on heat and for use occasionally on some of the sows.
Zodwa is fortunate that her farm is used by University of Pretoria veterinary science students for their practical classes. The students perform pregnancy tests on her pigs, and Zodwa has already learnt how to spot a pregnant sow, using the swelling teats as a guide.
The students are also on hand to offer advice, a service that Zodwa takes advantage of, showing a continued enthusiasm for learning and improving her operation.
Contact Zodwa Twala on 082 687 0988.