Running a successful ~ and profitable ~ smallholding, or even a small commercial farm, is not easy and, frankly, more than a little luck is required for your efforts to be successful.
This was recently driven home to me by a retiree named Oom Koos, whose experience as a small farmer is neither unusual nor, sadly, joyful.
Upon reaching the statutory retirement age the fit, sprightly and young-at-heart Oom Koos expressed a desire to head into the country as a farmer.
So he took his retirement package and, pooling resources with his son, bought a small commercial farm near Brits.
There, after a period of some considerable expenditure establishing themselves, they set about planting some vegetable crops.
In due course they had a large field of glistening white pumpkins, each of which would have won a prize for its grandness and perfection at a Harvest festival competition. And alongside the pumpkins they had an equally impressive field of cabbage, the heads all uniformly large, round and blemish free.
So they sat down and did some sums. “Let’s see…” they calculated, “we’ll make R600 000 profit on the pumpkins. And another R600 000 profit on the cabbage. That’s a profit of R1,2 million which we’ll split between us.
“But,” they added, “let’s leave them in the field for just another week, to make sure the pumpkins are at the peak of ripeness and the cabbages are as big as they can possibly grow…”
Now remember that hailstorm that passed over Gauteng a few years ago? The one where the hailstones the size of cricket balls were crashing through peoples’ roofs and landing in their lounges?
That hailstorm passed over Brits, too. Specifically over Oom Koos’ farm. Of the pumpkin field, he said, there was no evidence thereafter that there was ever a pumpkin growing there. And of the cabbages, well, they too were simply compost.
So Oom Koos and his son, understandably disheartened, decided that vegetable farming wasn’t for them, so they switched to breeding livestock, boergoats in particular, for which they perceived a good market at the time.
Off they went and bought some fine ewes. And they sourced a stud-quality billy goat, a fine fellow, for which they paid R20 000. All was well, and the breeding programme was going according to plan. Until one day the billy goat managed to climb under, through, or over a supposedly goat-proof fence into the patch of lucerne growing along side. Where he proceeded to gorge himself, which caused him to bloat. Whereupon, sadly, he died.
Disappointed, understandably, at their loss, but undeterred, Oom Koos and his son went off and sourced another stud quality billy goat, another fine fellow, for which they paid R18 000. All went well again, and the breeding programme was once again on track. Until one day the billy goat managed to climb under, through, or over the now-strengthened supposedly goat-proof fence into the lucerne patch growing alongside. Where he, too, proceeded to gorge himself, which caused him to bloat and he, too, died.
Becoming, understandably, a little disheartened, not to mention considerably out-of-pocket, Oom Koos and his son nevertheless displayed admirable fortitude and determination as they went off and sourced themselves a third fine billy goat, this time paying only R16 000. And even though he was cheaper than the first two, he was nonetheless a fine looking animal, with great conformation, and in magnificent condition, and they looked forward to the breeding programme continuing apace.
“But he turned out to be a moffie,” cried Oom Koos. While the ewes showed some signs of desperation in their attempts to garner some male attention as they reached they heights of estrus, Oom Koos’ fancy R16 000 stud goat merely wandered off to munch the leaves of the nearest bush.
At which point Oom Koos and his son decided to pack in their farming adventure.
They sold up everything and moved back to town. The son now fixes trucks and Oom Koos is the groundsman at a school.
And in his spare time he breeds chickens, showing, I suppose, that you can take the farmer off his farm, but you will never take farming away from the farmer.