At the time she was awarded a piggery by the Gauteng Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, Betty Nyambi knew little or nothing about pig farming. But she refused to let that stop her, and through hard work and training she has become a competent pig farmer. Today, she is aiming at her next goal: gaining quality assurance certification.
Western Cape pig farmer Leandre Mitchley was named Top Smallholder Farming Entrepreneur 2018 at the annual Female Entrepreneur Awards. Her success came after a slow start and a recent major setback, and is testimony to her resilience and discipline.
In 2011, Zodwa Thwala, a former teacher, moved from her home in Pretoria to Prejonet Farm near Hammanskraal to set up her own piggery, Prejonet Piggery Farm.
It was an enormous step financially, but Zodwa persisted, building up the business and establishing a training centre to teach basic farming skills and financial management to graduate interns.
Last year, her achievements were recognised by the Gauteng Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (GDARD), when she received its Best Female Entrepreneur Award for 2017.
Her journey to success is a lesson in perseverance, disciplined management, and the value of ongoing education.
For years, in an effort to make ends meet, Zodwa had held down two jobs: teaching by day and nursing by night. Despite this, she struggled financially, and finally decided to make a complete break by becoming a farmer.
She was not unfamiliar with livestock as she had grown up on a farm where her father had run pigs, cattle and goats. Nonetheless, there was much to learn!
In 2005, while still working as a teacher and nurse, she submitted an application for land to the GDARD. It took five years for her application to be approved, and in the meantime she carried on with her other jobs and increased her knowledge of livestock production.
She completed short courses in animal production and artificial insemination at the Tshwane University of Technology and the Agricultural Research Council respectively. She also attended a three-month course at the Dalein Piggery in Pretoria. She finally retired from teaching in 2008, and from nursing in 2012.
The 8ha farm that Zodwa moved to in 2011 already had piggery infrastructure in place. She began by cashing in her pension funds and buying five Large White sows and a boar from Kanhym Estates in Mpumalanga.
This remained her supplier for some time, but when it stopped selling gestating sows, she switched to Mockford in Polokwane.
“We breed Large Whites, Landrace and Duroc boars, and also make use of artificial insemination,” she explains. “We also buy gilts and select the best breeding sows from the pigs produced on the farm through artificial insemination.”
Zodwa has eight pig houses with 163 breeding pigs, 160 sows, three boars and more than 1 000 growers. For her business to remain profitable, she needs about 32 sows to farrow monthly.
“To achieve this, at least eight sows must be mated every week. Sows come on heat every three weeks,” she explains.
Approximately 80 piglets are born weekly.
The boar is introduced to the sow for three days for stimulation. One boar services two sows a week.
“We bring the sows to the farrowing house a week before farrowing so they can adapt to the environment,” Zodwa says.
“After mating, we return them to the dry sow house, where they’re kept in a group. They’re moved to farrowing crates a week later.”
The gestation period is three months, three weeks and three days. Each sow produces between 10 and 12 piglets per litter. Piglets are weaned after 28 days, and the sows are then left to rest in a group in the dry sow house until they come on heat again.
This is also where record-keeping is crucial, Zodwa stresses. “We record the dates and sow and boar ID numbers during mating and farrowing.”
Health and vaccination
Zodwa ensures that her farm manager, Dominick Makansi, and supervisor, Zodwa Maringi, keep up to date with developments in the industry, and that she and her team benefit from the latest research findings introduced by her students.
Zodwa achieves a 95% weaning rate, and the mortality rate of her pigs is very low due to the vaccination programme she follows.
“We don’t get a lot of diseases, apart from scours,” she says.
To protect the piglets against this, gestating sows are vaccinated with Litterguard. In addition, the vaccine Farrowsure is administered to the boars every six months, and to sows two weeks before weaning, to provide protection against a number of reproductive diseases.
“We make sure the pigs are kept comfortable and healthy. We’re very strict with biosecurity measures: no one enters the pig houses without authorisation. Each worker is assigned to work in a particular house; they don’t move from one to the other. They also always wear protective clothing,” Zodwa says.
The houses have high roofs to ensure natural air ventilation, and that they stay cooler in warmer weather. In cold weather, electric heaters are used.
Today, Zodwa uses 2ha for her pigs and the remainder for vegetable gardening, and keeps 50 Boer goats, which she uses to teach animal husbandry to her students.
According to her, the size of the farm limits her ability to expand the business. She therefore plans to buy another 100ha of land for silage production.
“In 2016, feed was expensive; a bag of sow and boar feed cost R200 for 50kg. In 2017, the price was more reasonable, at R160 for 50kg. When feed is cheaper, I buy in bulk to save. Feed constitutes 70% of my total input costs. Producing silage would save me 25%; maize constitutes 70% of feed ingredients,” she says.
Zodwa says that any land she acquires for maize production would have to be in a different area, as her current location is unsuitable for maize production.
The pigs are fed a balanced ration from Dalein. Dry sows are fed normal sow and boar feed, and farrowing pigs get lactating feed.
The average weight of the piglets is 6,5kg after weaning. Piglets are introduced to solid feed after 14 days of suckling, and receive creep feed for a week before weaning. During this week, they are introduced to weaner feed ASA1, which they receive for four weeks until they are changed to grower feed. At 60kg to 90kg they are marketed.
Zodwa’s piggery supplies 80 porkers and baconers a week to Farmers Meat Market Sundra in Springs. This translates to 3 840 animals a year. Porkers, which weigh about 60kg, are produced for the fresh meat market. Baconers, which can weigh up to 90kg, are traditionally used in the processing of bacon, sausages, hams and other meat products.
Prejonet Piggery Farm will soon be supplying Greenland abattoir in Vanderbijlpark. “We now have a truck to transport the pigs,” Zodwa says.
Most activities on the farm have to be performed by hand as little mechanisation has been implemented.
“If we got sponsors, we would mechanise feeding infrastructure and equipment as it would save time and enable us to calculate the quantity of feed, to ensure we don’t overfeed or underfeed. We’re also looking at alternative energy, such as biogas and solar, but it’s expensive to install these technologies.”
After getting her own farming operation under way, Zodwa was approached by students in South Africa and elsewhere seeking internships.
As a teacher by training and inclination, she recognised a dire need for training, and thus set about establishing the Prejonet Academy, an on-farm training centre.
The facility, which opened at the beginning of last year, offers internships to university students, and provides accommodation for seven interns on the farm a time. They are paid a stipend from the farm’s profits. Zodwa says that this is her way of giving back to the community.
In August 2017, her academy finally received AgriSETA accreditation to start offering formal training with accommodation available for prospective farmers.
The accreditation process had taken two years, and part of its requirements were that Zodwa had to compile her own study material and have her farm inspected and approved.
“I also had to appoint a registered moderator, assessor and facilitator,” she adds.
Prejonet Academy can accommodate up to 20 learners, and the training consists of a two-week and an eight-month course. These equip the students with farm and financial management skills.
The two-week course costs R6 000 and an extra R2 000 for accommodation. The eight-month course costs R35 000, including accommodation.
Zodwa says that offering these training courses also helps increase revenue for the farm.
A plea for farmers to get involved
Zodwa is keen to see more farmers offering internships to students, explaining that some agricultural students end up not graduating because they fail to find internship placement.
“We need more black farmers in the sector to help by offering internships,” she says.
The pig breed we know today as the Kolbroek bears little resemblance to the original Kolbroek, the old farm breed of hog.
The modern animal is a synthetic breed developed from a variety of breeds, in similar fashion to the Bonsmara cattle breed or the Dorper sheep breed. This is according to Wessel Pistorius, a Kolbroek breeder from Magaliesburg.
Development of the modern Kolbroek began in 1996 at the Agricultural Research Council (ARC) under the leadership of Dr Danie Visser.
He and his team started by refining the nearly forgotten old Kolbroek breed, and ultimately succeeded in producing a unique, indigenous pig breed.
The modern Kolbroek consists of, among others, Windsnyer, Sandveld Red, Tamworth and Great White genetics.
The Windsnyer is an ancient, black breed with a long snout that was popular in Zimbabwe.
The Sandveld Red hails from Malmesbury and was bred from Kolbroek and Durocs. The Tamworth is among the oldest pig breeds in the UK, and the Large White originated in Yorkshire.
Domestic pigs crossed with African Bush Pigs were also included in the mix. According to Wessel, almost all the Kolbroeks in South Africa today originate from the ARC programme.
Kolbroek breeding animals were initially hard to come by, but in 2016, Wessel, who farms on Buffelsfontein in the Maanhaarrand area, managed to acquire two sows and one boar.
“I was motivated by the breed’s adaptability, hardiness and fertility. These animals are even-tempered, excellent mothers and healthy. My animals’ health regime consists of deworming from time to time,” he says.
Wessel’s pig herd consists of 10 breeding sows and two boars. The gestation period, as with pigs generally, is three months, three weeks and three days.
To synchronise breeding, he puts the sows to the boar one month after they farrow; this means that all the litters are born at the same time, which makes for easier management. The average litter has increased from fewer than five piglets in 2016, to about eight in 2017.
The pigs are weaned at eight to 10 weeks at an average weight of 8kg.
The sows and boars are separated after weaning and kept on a growth-feed mixture comprising maize, spent grain from a local beer brewery, and soya or sunflower oilcake.
The maize is produced on Buffelsfontein.
The young pigs receive 500g of the mixture in the morning, and greens in the afternoon. During Farmer’s Weekly’s visit, the animals were feeding on surplus cucumbers obtained from a neighbouring vegetable farm.
The adult breeding sows and boars are fed only spent grain and maize to prevent them from putting on weight too quickly. A mature Kolbroek weighs about 150kg, and fares extraordinarily well on a high-fibre diet.
“If the animals become too fat, it has a negative affect on fertility and obviously on profitability,” Wessel explains.
“The Kolbroeks fatten up very rapidly. A Kolbroek of about four months can easily present a 35mm back fat layer. The ideal is 25mm. Kolbroek meat is naturally marbled, and the carcasses of young pigs are ideal for manufacturing boerewors, salami, prosciutto hams and a variety of sausages.”
Prospective Kolbroek meat producers should be aware that this is a niche product and must be marketed as such, stresses Wessels.
However, crossbreeding with other pig breeds can help improve the marketability and profitability of Kolbroek pork by lessening the fat content and enhancing growth rate.
Wessel’s Kolbroek products are popular among members of the Slow Food Movement, which emphasises traditional and regional cuisine, and encourages the farming of plants, seeds, and livestock characteristic of the local ecosystem.
He has therefore invested in a small meat-processing facility on his farm. According to him, Kolbroek pork is ideal for use in the processing of game meat too.
He also produces ham, crackling, sausages and lard, marketed through a butchery in Johannesburg.
Wessel remains concerned that the producer price for Kolbroeks is up to 50% lower than the prices of other pig breeds at livestock auctions. He ascribes this to a lack of appreciation for the breed’s worth and value.
According to Wessel, Kolbroek sows are ideal for crossbreeding with Duroc and Landrace boars. The pure Kolbroek offspring weigh between 15kg and 18kg at 100 days, while the crosses could weigh up to 33kg at the same age.
The marbling of the meat is retained with crossbreeding, and the hybrid vigour results in improved growth rates, feed conversion and carcass quality of the offspring. The breed is ideally suited to the production of free-range pork.
The Buffelsfontein Kolbroeks are kept in camps large enough for the pigs to move around freely and wallow in mud. Each camp is equipped with ample shade structures.
The demand for Kolbroek breeding genetics by far surpasses supply. Wessel sells genetics countrywide, and has clients as far as Paulpietersburg, Piketberg, Graaff-Reinet and Rouxville. He has even sent pigs to Cape Town by air in dog travel crates.
All these attributes make the Kolbroek the ideal choice for homesteads with limited space. The animals flourish on kitchen scraps, as well as on a relatively small amount of extra feed, such as grain. The breed’s feed conversion rate is also excellent.
In his book, Die Kolbroek – ’n Kaleidoskoop van Moontlikhede (The Kolbroek, a Kaleidoscope of Opportunities), Visser writes that the coat should be smooth and glistening.
Pigmentation on the ears, bottom line and mammaries is important. Claws growing far out are a potential problem, especially in sows, and should be carefully managed. The head is relatively small, with a short, broad neck.
The Kolbroek comes in a variety of colours, including black with white blotches and brown with grey blotches. The body frame is small and short compared with other pig breeds in South Africa. Distinctive characteristics are a pot belly and a concave face.
Origin of the name
Visser puts paid to the myth that the original Kolbroek breed originated from the Coalbrook ship disaster near Hangklip in 1778.
According to the myth, the offspring of pigs that escaped from the ship became known as the Kolbroeks or Coalbrooks. But there were no pigs on board.
The original Kolbroek probably originated from pig breeds imported from the East and Europe, the name deriving from the breed’s dotted pigmentation, especially around the haunches.