Coping with covid-19: cattle farmers share top tips

'Pandemic-induced struggles are a testament to the resilience of cattle farmers,' says Beefmaster's Roelie van Reenen

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As Mzansi continues to battle with the realities of the covid-19 lockdown, some of the nation’s cattle farmers share the lessons they learnt on how to cope with uncertainty. Their tips and coping strategies can help you too.


The beef industry suffered major disruptions to its supply chain as a result of the covid-19 pandemic. Despite this, cattle farmers showed remarkable resilience. “South African cattle farmers are no strangers to uncertainty. Many dealt with pressures prior to the pandemic, resulting in fewer routes-to-market for their products.

Roelie van Reenen, supply chain executive at the Beefmaster Group. Photo: Supplied
Roelie van Reenen, supply chain executive at the Beefmaster Group. Photo: Supplied

“From outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) and a devastatingly long drought, to swings in the price and demand of beef,” explains Roelie van Reenen, supply chain executive at the Beefmaster Group.

He adds that in many cases cattle farmers successfully weathered these storms, which bode them well for when the pandemic hit. “These struggles are a testament to the resilience of cattle farmers.”

Lesson 1: Keep calm and carry on  

Salomè Scholtz, a cattle farmer from North West. Photo: Supplied
Salomè Scholtz, a cattle farmer from North West. Photo: Supplied

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Salomè Scholtz, a cattle farmer from North West and Beefmaster’s January 2019 Cattle Farmer of the Month, says carrying on and remaining positive is key.

“In any situation I always say ‘do what you can with what you have’. There is always a light at the end of the tunnel if you are willing to work to get near the end.”

She says that during the lockdown, she tried to surround herself with positivity without ignoring that things are different, or difficult.

“After a while I stopped looking at the covid-19 statistics as often as I used to in the beginning. Instead, I decided to do what we could on our farm to stay safe and healthy. There is still uncertainty about what lies ahead, but you can’t focus on that too much, you need to be productive,” says Scholtz.

ALSO READ: ‘I always knew I was going to be a farmer’

Lesson 2: You don’t have to know what comes next  

Letlhogonolo Phetlhane, a North West cattle farmer. Photo: Supplied
Letlhogonolo Phetlhane, a North West cattle farmer. Photo: Supplied

Letlhogonolo Phetlhane, another North West cattle farmer and Beefmaster’s July 2020 Cattle Farmer of the Month, believes that consistency and perseverance, no matter the circumstance, is key.

“It was important to remain consistent and persevere during lockdown. I decided to work the land and continue with livestock production even though I wasn’t sure when my next transaction would be or where it would come from,” says Phetlhane.

Despite the uncertainty imposed by the lockdown, Phetlhane says he was motivated by the privilege to feed the country. “As the world came to a standstill, we (farmers) held ourselves accountable to continue with our duty to contribute to food security and food production, despite the difficulties brought on by the covid-19 regulations and policies.”

Lesson 3: Don’t take your eye off the goal

Scholtz’s main priority was to keep her staff on the farm safe, yet she also had to continue with the work that had to be done in order to feed the nation.

“I had to decide where we would spend the lockdown – on the farm or in town. I realised that there is no such thing as lockdown on a farm. You must do your duty as a farmer. Thankfully, the farm employees decided to stay on the farm with their families and continue to work,” explains Scholtz.

Lesson 4: Hedge against tough times 

Van Reenen says although the easing of restrictions is welcome news for cattle farmers who have shown that they are resilient, South Africa is not yet out of the woods.

“In the future there will be pressure on farmers who are not able to lower their costs through improved productivity. We need to support our farmers to run their operations more profitably and productively.”

He adds in tough times, cattle farmers need to ensure they are prepared and able to hedge against the uncertainty. “By working with a reputable beef producer, cattle farmers can overcome short-term challenges and can access diverse markets. This will help unlock additional income for cattle farmers, increase export volumes and stimulate the South African economy.”

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