It is a sure thing that South Africa’s imposed lockdown early last year destabilised most farming enterprises across the country. But it also gave some farming enthusiasts a shot at their dreams. Ramokone Kwakwa, a 21-year-old poultry farmer from Spook Park, a village on the outskirt of Seshego township in Limpopo, is one of those people.
As a first-year student at the Tshwane University of Technology (TUT) Polokwane campus pursuing a diploma in public affairs administration of state, Kwakwa’s classes moved online early in 2020 as one of the measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus that causes Covid-19.
With no reason to visit the campus, she thought it wise to part ways with her comfy, off-campus room and headed back home permanently.
If you ask Kwakwa, she will tell you that she fell down a YouTube rabbit hole that ended up with her watching many videos on poultry farming. This soon sparked the idea to try her hand at chicken farming herself.
“I went to everyone I could think of to ask for donations,” she says. “Sadly, they couldn’t help. I rearranged my spending and finally came up with the required start-up capital. I used the money that was meant for rent to start the business.”
Worth noting is that Kwakwa currently breeds 600 broilers in a backyard coop under her company name, The New Dawn Poultry Farm. She performs various duties such as fixing the leaking roof of the coop and installed electrical cables all by herself.
“Covid-19 is a blessing to me since I can manage both my studies and the business,” she admits.
Reducing electricity costs
Since venturing into broiler breeding last October, electricity costs as well as the unreliable Eskom power supply have been unsettling Kwakwa. With the winter season now fully upon us and chicks needing to be warmed, these problems became acute.
Nevertheless, she managed to turn this challenge into an opportunity. She found a way to keep her chickens warm in an economical way while also making extra money by buying camel thorn braai wood in bulk and then reselling it to other farmers. She also used the wood to heat the chicken coop, avoiding the use of electrical heaters.
“Now I worry less and I get to save on the electricity costs. Whenever load shedding occurs, it is business as usual for me,” Kwakwa declares, as she lights up the wood in a gallon drum at the centre of the coop, preparing a traditional heater (mbaula) for her chicks.
Like most broiler breeders, Kwakwa fights to keep the mortality rate among her broilers as low as possible. She shares that she administers LaSota vaccine against Newcastle disease after seven days and Gumboro mixture after 14 days to help immunise the chickens against viral infections.
While Seshego township is a crime-infested area, Kwakwa’s business suffers more from unethical business practices than a direct onslaught of crime.
“We often find that the supplier gave us rejects or chicks that are not in a good condition. This time around I found 17 rejects, and they should have not been sold to us. I wish we had somewhere we could complain against this poor service,” Kwakwa says, sounding defeated.
Another challenge she faces is a lack of transportation. She mostly prefers selling slaughtered chickens as opposed to live ones, since they are easier to deliver using public transport.
These challenges, however, do not dim the ambitions that Kwakwa has for her business. “Broilers are easy to maintain so I am only breeding them to raise cash so that I can venture into something else,” exclaims Kwakwa. She has her eye set on expanding into vegetable and crop production.
Ramokone Kwakwa’s tips to upcoming farmers:
- Before starting, first get all the necessary information to avoid expensive mistakes.
- Do not take shortcuts, follow proper feeding programmes.
- As hard as it is to start from scratch, do not allow people to trick you into partnering with them and later watch them enjoy the fruits of your labour.
- Do not fear taking risks.