Dumisani Nsingo, Senior Farming Reporter
WHOEVER coined the idiom “laughing all the way to the bank” might have probably had one of Matabeleland region and the country’s best cattle rancher and stud breeder, Dr Themba Dlodlo of Nguni Brahmans in mind.
Sunday News Business caught up with the enterprising farmer at one of Bulawayo’s exclusive bars where he was leisurely having a couple of drinks, why not especially after achieving such a feat. Dr Dlodlo had just scored big, realising the biggest purse in his livestock farming career, which spans more than three decades.
The Esigodini-registered stud breeder had one of his four Brahman bulls he sent to the country’s annual premier breeding livestock auction, National Bull Sale held at the Zimbabwe Agricultural Society show grounds in Harare on Wednesday last week fetching the highest price as it was sold for $24 000.
Dr Dlodlo managed to rake a total of $50 700 from his beasts at the 50th edition of the auction, which attracted 107 pedigree bulls made up of the popular Brahman, the indigenous Tuli, the Boran, Simmental and Beefmaster. The auction had only two dairy breeds. Asked to comment on his recent feat, the stud breeder could only afford a little glee and expressed that he saw it coming.
“I think every farmer who is in the pedigree industry has at one time or the other got a prize like that. It’s the first time I am getting a prize like that after I have been in the industry for more than 30 years. Others have been getting it over the years, next time there might be someone and I might repeat it in the near future because I have learnt a great deal in this industry.
“I have never got the top prize until now but I have always in the past been getting prizes that are close to that top prize. I see that in the (news) papers they are talking about me only but there are other farmers that had bulls that were bought for $18 000 that was the one next to mine. But I think the gap was very wide, that is why there is such interest among people . . . that top prize was very high compared to what other farmers got in the past,” he said.
The stud breeder has close to 200 pedigree Brahmans. The feat by Dr Dlodlo dispels the notion and negative perception that black farmers are poorer farmers compared to white farmers.
“We say whites are the best farmers, simply because we found them farming the way they were farming, we (blacks) could not farm the same way because it is them that said blacks can’t be given farms. There was no black person who could buy a farm anyway but people were sent into the TTLs (Tribal Trust Lands) so there was no opportunity to learn farming from these whites. When we got independence, we could buy cattle and some of us who had passion for cattle actually looked for the land and found it and paid for it and we started farming and learning from those whites new farming methods,” said Dr Dlodlo.
The 75-year-old National University of Science and Technology Physics lecturer reckons that he decided to venture into livestock farming in 1983 while he was still a lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe as a way of complementing his salary.
“I decided that perhaps I should have another source of income and because I had passion for cattle I chose cattle to have an independent source of income instead of depending on my salary. I thought what if I am fired from work, what was I going to do,” said Dr Dlodlo.
He said his decision to venture into cattle farming was also largely influenced by his rural background where he spent part of his time herding the family’s cattle.
“I came to the city when I was 12 and by that time I was well acquainted with herding and rearing of cattle. My father had cattle and I remember he actually bought a car after selling part of his cattle, I think it was in 1948 and during those days a car for ‘black people’ was a big thing and it signified a good living for someone and since then I fell in love with livestock farming especially cattle because it was the economy at that particular time,” said Dr Dlodlo.
He, however, reckons that his maiden entry into cattle farming was disastrous as he lost a number of his beasts due to lack of proper production and management skills.
“When I started I made a lot of mistakes, some cattle died because of malnutrition as I overstocked but you learn as you go forward that cattle need to be fed to be productive,” he said.
He said there was a need for farmers to refrain from rearing cattle for sentimental reasons but for business and utilise the land at their disposal productively.
“Cattle should be kept as business. You can actually make a living from cattle. We need leadership from Government to ensure that communal farmers are trained to know that rearing of cattle is business not to talk of numbers. One can have 100 animals but their calving rate will be pathetic maybe due to overstocking, the animals will be thin and that way they can’t calve. Many people have land which they are not utilising so we should go out there and encourage them to be productive.
Those who don’t want to farm must sell to those who want to farm,” Dr Dlodlo said.
He also said there was a need for Government through its various agricultural departments to impart communal farmers with the requisite knowledge in livestock production and management so as to improve the country’s cattle calving rate, which is at 30 percent.
“If you manage your grazing and cattle properly out of a 100 cows you can get 80 or even 90 calves. In our (stud breeding) industry we manage to get up to 90 because of our management compared to the communal farmer who will get about between 30 to 40 percent calving rate,” said Dr Dlodlo.