What to do when you’re a farmer’s daughter, in love with animals and wanting to spend your life working with them – yet you cannot stand the thought of working with the sick and suffering?
Mari Bronkhorst thought the answer to that dilemma was to study chemical biology. She enrolled in this programme at Stellenbosch University but it was only during her first year of study that she discovered what turned out to be her true calling.
“I got my love of animals from my dad, [although] I didn’t have the heart to work with sick animals. So, veterinary science was not an option for me. I ended up choosing chemical biology as a major because I didn’t know animal sciences existed,” she says.
She discovered this new field of study because she and her fellow chemical biology students shared classes with the animal sciences students in their first year.
Bronkhorst transferred to the animal sciences programme immediately and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in animal sciences in 2015.
Journey into animal nutrition
Bronkhorst is currently based in KwaZulu-Natal, where she works as a technical manager at animal nutrition company Voermol. She says that her role includes a very broad list of activities, which she says is “lots of fun”.
“So, ‘technical manager’ has a lot of different meanings in different companies, but in animal nutrition circles, it generally means you formulate things and you put a lot of research and development into new products. You also support your clients and your sales personnel with technical information, you stay up to date with all the latest research. It’s quite a lot of fun because you get the best of both worlds.”
For Bronkhorst, her love of animals and her love of the agricultural sector is what keeps her motivated and inspired.
“I love being part of that developing process of keeping your animals happy and healthy, and always improving on animal production and improving on our systems. It’s such an important part of our life and of our culture in South Africa. Agriculture is almost a culture in itself in South Africa, and it’s so much fun to be part of that.”
Thriving in the positivity
Bronkhorst says that the agricultural sub-culture is one of passion and of loving what you are doing. That is why she always stays motivated.
“If you look at the farmers who really want to farm, and the people in agriculture like animal nutritionists, and [people involved in] genetics and breeding, they really want to be here. And they are here for that improvement, and that [development].
“It’s just that passion. And it’s ever-changing. Everyone has a different idea; you can always learn something from someone. I think it’s that dynamic culture that keeps me in agriculture.”
For a role as broad as hers, Bronkhorst admits that it can get very busy. While she plans her time a week in advance, those plans rarely work out.
“On a day-to-day basis, no day looks the same. That weekly plan gets turned on its head so quickly. So, you kind of go with what comes next. You hit the ground running and you just grab [tasks] and do what’s next!” she laughs.
“I have been working [as a technical manager] for four years, and I have not been bored a day.”
Advice for aspiring technical managers or animal scientists
“If you go into animal nutrition, do your research. There’s such a big market for animal nutrition in South Africa and globally. South Africa does not produce a lot of its own feed additives, so you will get a lot of global exposure. There are a lot of opportunities, and people want you to get into this industry. So just go for it!”