In the small, rural town called Soekmekaar in Limpopo, farmer Michael Makwela is slowly breaking new ground as one of only a few communal farmers to practice artificial insemination with his cattle.
The 35-year-old comes from a lineage of communal farmers. However, when he got into the game, Makwela was bent on doing things differently from his forebears.
“I wanted to breed different cows from the ones I knew growing up. It was important for me because I wanted a new challenge, something that would give me an edge compared to other farmers,” Makwela states.
When the opportunity came knocking, he grabbed hold of it and established Triple M Brangus and Charolais on leased communal land. The agricultural enterprise, 400 hectares in size, is situated in the small, rural town of Soekmekaar.
They breed Brangus and Charolais cattle. As the owner, Makwela says he is on a mission to build a profitable herd and introduce different cattle herds to communal farmers.
Grow up, find a job, and farm
The young pioneer was born and raised in Ga-Mamabolo Segopje, Polokwane. There, his grandfather, Gideon Lediga, farmed with cattle, sheep, goats and maize. Makwela has fond memories of his childhood there.
“When I was growing up, I looked after my grandfather’s cattle and developed a love for cattle. As a primary school learner my goal was to grow up, find a job – any job – and buy my own cattle,” Makwela laughs.
Unfortunately, his childhood dreams did not unfold according to plan.
After matriculating in 2007, Makwela found himself studying towards a qualification in sound engineering at Birnam Business College. After furthering his studies at the South African Roadies Association, Makwela performed technical and production work for live events.
It was during a cattle show in Vryburg, where he was the sound engineer, that Makwela was introduced to herds of cattle he had never heard of before. “It was my first time seeing different cattle. I was so inspired; I was like a kid in a candy store,” he recalls.
Grab the bull by its horns
Then, in 2012 he left his sound engineering hustle to take a job as a Hansard recorder, transcribing parliamentary debates into written records at the Gauteng provincial legislature. The plan was to earn more money to help fund his agricultural aspirations.
While working for the Gauteng provincial legislature, Makwela began conducting his research into cattle. “I wanted to breed better than what my grandfather was doing. I was also inspired by the idea of introducing new breeds of cattle to my community at the communal farmlands,” he states.
Makwela bought his first Brangus cattle in January 2013. Then, a few years later, added Charolais cows to the mix.
“During my research, I heard about artificial insemination (AI) and embryo transfer. I decided this was the best option to take my project forward,” he says. As a result, Makwela went and studied AI and ended up obtaining his artificial insemination certificate from the Agricultural Research Council.
“YouTube has also been a good teacher. Today my retired dad (Joseph Makwela), who takes care of the cattle, has also taken an interest in learning about artificial insemination. I’m very blessed that he is still around because he is really doing an exceptional job,” Makwele states.
What’s more important?
During the early stages of insemination, Makwela says they lost several semen straws without getting the cows pregnant. However, he has since been able to purchase a tank which stores the semen.
“With AI you are able to use different bulls in your herd and your herd is then more advanced. The performance of the bull is much better, which is the most important thing of all,” he says.
To date, Makwela has imported close to 30 different types of bull’s semen from USA and Canada which includes Argentinian and French bloodlines. By using these bulls, Makwela hopes to change certain characteristics in his herd.
“You can do it if you’re determined, passionate and dedicated to changing your calves’ uniformity and performance rather than using one bull for a long period of time.”
Be ready to break barriers
In November 2019, Makwela imported Wagyu semen to crossbreed. He planned to inseminate his commercial heifers and cows in order to produce various grades of Wagyu beef. Unfortunately, his plans were blocked by the lockdown restrictions.
“Working in Gauteng I’ve not been able to spend much time on the farm. I must be at the farm to do the actual insemination and monitor the cattle,” he explains.
“My biggest challenge is staying far from the farm because AI needs constant observation on the cows to know when they are in heat so insemination can take place.”
Another challenge Makwela faces is the lack of a nitrogen stations in Soekmekaar. As a result, he is forced to keep the tank of semen with him and travel with it to Limpopo every time he does an insemination.
Stock theft is also a major problem. In 2020, Makwela says stock thieves stole two of his inseminated cows and two bulls. However, amidst his challenges, Makwela looks forward to growing his herd and making serious money at livestock auctions.
“My advice to other farmers is to never limit themselves, be courageous, do your research and be ready to break any barriers. There are no limits, just be dedicated and have determination.”