Young pig farmer shares lessons learnt during her first five years

Award-winning piggery owner Khulile Mahlalela says that to maximise profits, a farmer must get the pigs market-ready as rapidly as possible, and produce a low-fat carcass with tender meat.

Young pig farmer shares lessons learnt during her first five years
After weaning, the piglets are reared for about 100 days before being slaughtered at 55kg to 65kg each.
Photo: Siyanda Sishuba
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In the short time since Khulile Mahlalela started farming in 2015, she has already won a number of awards for her piggery business.

In 2019, she won two of the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development’s (agriculture department) Female Entrepreneur Awards: the Mpumalanga Female Farmer of the Year Award and the Minister’s Special Award for a Young Farmer.

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Mahlalela grew up on a farm in Nkomazi in Mpumalanga where her late grandmother, Rebecca Mkhabela, farmed pigs. At school, Mahlalela dreamt of becoming a geologist, not a farmer.

By the time she finished school, however, she had resolved to follow in her grandmother’s footsteps and decided to do a diploma in animal production at the Mangosuthu University of Technology in KwaZulu-Natal. After completing her studies, she worked as a farmworker at a large-scale pig producer, Kanhym Estates in Middelburg, for five years.

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When the company was sold in 2015, she took the plunge and decided to start her own piggery. While looking for land, she met other farmers who were also interested in starting a pig farming business, and together they entered into a partnership and leased a 12ha farm.

With savings built up while working, Mahlalela purchased three pregnant sows. In 2016, she bought four gilts and one boar and secured funding under the Masibuyele Esibayeni Programme with which she bought another 10 sows and one boar.

Khulile Mahlalela’s business has provided both employment and learning opportunities for others. From left: Amos Mhlanga (employee), Mahlalela, and three student interns who are gaining practical experience at the piggery: Sifiso Sibeko, Nikiwe Sibiya and Gugu Mokoana.

The programme allows farmers to grow their herds using the pigs they acquire through the programme and to then return the same number of pigs after five years.

Going solo
In 2017, as her business gradually grew, she decided to break away from the partnership, and took the pigs from the programme and her share of 30 piglets to launch her operation.
Mahlalela leased a 0,5ha plot with piggery infrastructure in Mhluzi near Middelburg.

This included four pig houses, a farrowing house with 10 pens, a dry sow house and a gestation house with capacity for 15 sows. Weaners, growers and finishers are housed together in one house divided into seven pens. There is also a boar house large enough to house two adult boars.

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“I breed Large White pigs, and there are now about 160 pigs in total on the farm, including about 20 sows and two boars,” she says.

After weaning, the piglets are reared for approximately 100 days before they are marketed. Mahlalela’s customers include supermarkets and individual buyers. She employs three full-time employees, and in 2019 started hosting four student interns from the agriculture department, who she says will be of great help on the farm.

“Most of what I do on the farm I learned from my previous employer while working on a pig farm. Farming is all about passion and each job has its own challenges, but when you love what you do, you get up every morning and face those challenges,” she says.

Breeding notes
The sows are bred in four groups of five, with one group mated every month. Each sow farrows twice a year and produces between five and 14 piglets a litter.

During mating, a boar is taken to the dry sow house daily for five to seven days. After farrowing, the sows are taken back to the dry sow house.

“I rely mostly on natural mating and only use artificial insemination when a boar doesn’t want to co-operate, but that’s rare,” she says.

The sows remain in the dry sow house for 35 days before being moved to the gestation house, where they remain for about 65 days until it is time for farrowing. Pregnancy screening is done at 35 and 75 days, and those sows that fail to conceive are returned to a dry sow group for another round of breeding.

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At 60 days, pregnant sows are vaccinated with Litterguard, an inactivated bacterial vaccine for the prevention of scours induced by Escherichia coli (enterotoxigenic strain) and Clostridium perfringens type C. The vaccine also helps prevent porcine parvovirus, which can cause abortion.

The sows are kept in the farrowing house from just before farrowing until 28 days after giving birth, at which time the piglets are weaned.

To boost their immune systems, the piglets are given a dose of Ingelvac MycoFLEX when they are about 21 days old. At the same time, they are vaccinated against porcine circovirus type 2 with Ingelvac CircoFLEX.

After weaning, when they have achieved a weight of between 7,5kg and 9kg, the piglets are moved to the weaner house, where they remain for five weeks. They are then placed in the grower house for 12 weeks before being moved to the finisher house, from where they are marketed.

Mahlalela’s goal is to grow out the pigs as rapidly as possible, and produce a tender, low-fat carcass.

She says that this can be done by giving the pigs a proper feed mixture to ensure the right body condition.

Weaners, growers and finishers are fed a mix of soya bean meal and yellow maize ad lib, supplemented with Feedtek’s Macropig Grower. The feed mix is supplied at a rate of about 40kg per pen, which houses 50 weaners, in the mornings. If the feed is finished by evening, more is supplied.

Sows are fed in the morning and evening. Dry sows receive 1kg per feed, while pregnant sows receive double this quantity. Lactating sows receive 0,8kg per feed directly after farrowing, and this is increased over the next four weeks to 4kg per feed until the piglets are weaned.

Pigs are slaughtered at 55kg to 65kg at an abattoir in Bronkhorstspruit, but Mahlalela processes the carcasses and packs and markets the meat herself.

“I pack the meat in 1,4kg portions and sell this at R120 a packet to people in my local community. Most of my clients buy on credit. I’m comfortable with this arrangement because I’ve built a relationship with my clients.

“The greatest lesson I’ve learnt is that I need to plant my own feed because 60% to 70% of profit goes into purchasing feed.”

Mahlalela says she hopes to be able to access enough land in the future so that she can plant maize to produce her own feed and also expand her business by putting up more pig houses.

Phone Khulile Mahlalela on 081 599 9656.

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Siyanda Sishuba has a degree in broadcast journalism. She graduated in 2010 at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in Nelson Mandela Bay, Eastern Cape. She is passionate about the environment and agriculture. Siyanda grew up in Whittlesea and has seen how climate change and invasive species are affecting farmers in her community. She’s worked at the Weekend Post, a local newspaper in Nelson Mandela Bay, Eastern Cape. Thereafter she landed herself a job at Debt Management Consultants in East London, writing articles for company’s newsletter. She then moved to Johannesburg to work for the Department of Environmental Affairs Biosecurity Advocacy Unit