If you want to farm successfully, you’ll need loads of patience and commitment. This is what production scientist Nkosinathi Bareki preaches to the many up-and-coming farmers he mentors in North West.
Recently, the respected civil servant won the National Beef Recording and Improvement Scheme (NBRIS) award from the Agricultural Research Council. He works for the North West department of agriculture and land reform and tries to share his expertise with as many farmers as possible.
The NBRIS award acknowledges South Africa’s most outstanding achievers in breeding genetically superior animals using performance recording as a tool. Bareki was also nominated for the National Mentor of the Year as well as the Afrikaner stud herd which he co-manages with Khomotso Kgaswane.
Tiisetso Manako: It is a huge achievement to have been honoured in such a special way. What does your typical work week look like?
Nkosinathi Bareki: A typical out-of-office, week long mentoring [trip] involves a schedule of farm visits in different locations, [including] communal areas. The activities at the farms mainly start with a general appraisal of the herds for any anomalies and establishing causes and possible solutions or intentions.
The reason for this approach is [to get] into the farmer’s shoes and getting a sense of what might be a challenge to them at that moment. Once that is established, it is easier to get the farmer’s full attention for the actual purpose and performance-reading activity of the day.
An in-office type of a day would generally be spent on the phone engaging with different farmers on how their operations are going, often seeking clarity on data at hand. For instance, in a case of birth weights, the farmer might have mistakenly recorded two calvings to one cow on different weeks, so a telephone conversation helps to get clarity on that.
The NBRIS awards recognise farmers who breed “genetically superior animals using performance recording as a tool”. Help us understand what performance recording is and how it helps cattle farmers.
Performance recording entails identifying traits of economic importance, measuring these traits and recording them for every animal in the farm. There are many other traits of importance, and performance recording is therefore the quantifying, collection and recording of these traits in order to gain knowledge of how these traits differ among animals of a similar group.
The main purpose of performance recording is to gather enough information for performance testing. The outcome of such testing helps livestock farmers in identifying differences among animals in their herds. In short, performance recording is a key to animal improvement.
In terms of tools, trends and technology, what are the most exciting developments on your radar that could help farmers become more productive and sustainable?
There is a current trend in animal breeding where farmers who own top sires (male parents of an animal) in the industry avails semen from these sires for purchase by anyone who may so wish. This means that given suitable resources, any farmer can access the best available genetics in the land.
As an example, there has been a sale of mating rights with a top sire in the goat industry, where a highly sought-after sire was made accessible to willing farmers at a certain amount per mating. Generally, the current advances in the estimation of breeding values are an exciting development.
What are the most common mistakes you find amongst the up-and-coming cattle farmers you work with?
The all-time classic mistake that I come across is that of uncontrolled in-breeding where farmers allow a bull to mate its relatives, including its daughters. Similarly, farmers often want to keep a male weaner calf that they like the most with the intention of making use of it as a herd sire once matured.
I always discourage such [practices] in the strongest terms, especially given that often reliable information exists for such information. This means that the farmer has no idea what progeny (offspring) to expect, basically turning their farming operation into a big gamble.
Farming can be expensive, labour intensive and fraught with challenges. How would you encourage newbie farmers?
All I can tell the farmers out there is that they must farm with nature and not against it. They should always keep record of every activity and occurrence on their farm.
Animal breeding requires patience and persistent consistency in applying the right production methods with uncompromised integrity. Work as if the whole world depends on what you do. Another important aspect will be that they should do today’s work today, and start tomorrow’s duties today, where possible.
Sign up for Mzansi Today: Your daily take on the news and happenings from the agriculture value chain.