As a young boy, growing up in the Uthukela District of KwaZulu Natal, Ndumiso Gule woke up to the sounds of sheep, goats, and cows. While other boys his age dreamt of being firefighters, traffic cops, artists or engineers, all he could ever think about was farming.
He was raised under the watchful eye of resilient men who believed in hard work and imparted the same belief in young Gule. These men he called “ubaba” and “umkhulu”, father and grandfather in isiZulu.
Today the 29-year-old farmer is an assistant farm manager and beef section manager at Baynesfield Estate in KZN. “The life of a farmer can be extremely tough and if you really want to be good at it there’s no time to be passive. You have to put in the work and apply maximum effort,” he says.
“I’ve always had a passion for livestock. I remember waking up early in the mornings to tend to the cattle we had on a communal land not far from where we lived. It brought me great joy to be amongst the animals.”
Birth of an agriculturalist
Years ago, when his family’s herd of 120 Brahman and Simmentaler suddenly fell ill and died, Gule’s ingrained passion for farming emerged, as did his inquisitive nature. Although the events deeply saddened young Gule, he wanted to understand why it happened and how it could have been prevented.
Unfortunately, his father, who was also a policeman, and his grandfather weren’t very knowledgeable about cattle diseases, so despite performing an autopsy, Gule’s questions were never answered. “It was only when I later went to school that I learned we lost all our cattle due to heartwater disease and gall sickness,” Gule explains.
At Zakhe Agricultural College he obtained practical exposure to the agricultural sector. Thereafter he joined Cedara Agricultural College to do his diploma in animal production. In his second and third year, Gule was awarded a bursary as a result of his outstanding academic performance.
Whilst studying at Cedara Agricultural College, Gule started to believe that fun had to be earned. “I only [had fun] if my studies were in order,” he says.
After graduating in 2011, Gule joined his beef production lecturer at the Baynesfield Training Academy, where students wishing to improve their skills in piggery management receive practical training. “I was employed as a general worker and offered the students technical training. How to mate pigs, farrowing (birthing) preparation and the weaning of piglets,” Gule says.
He also worked as a health technician at the Vethouse Hospital in Pietermaritzburg and worked over weekends at the Spurwing Cattle Co, where he assisted the farm owner implementing systems in the new feedlot. “Initially it was just a weekend job, but after the first two days, the owner offered me a permanent fulltime position,” he says.
Money over passion
In 2015 Gule was approached by MSD animal health who offered him a sales rep position. Within a month Gule knew that it wasn’t the job for him. “I must admit that I only took it because of money. What I learnt from that is that money will never bring one happiness.”
However, despite his unhappiness, Gule continued working for MSD, until he received a call four months later that changed his life. The managing director of Baynesfield Estate, Myles van der Venter invited him for an interview.
“I still remember driving on the N2 on my way to an MSD client when I got the call to say the job was mine. I stopped immediately and called the client to cancel,” Gule explains with laughter.
At Baynesfield, Gule’s responsibilities include managing the beef section and developing the breed. “Currently we are sitting on 1020 breeding and we want to grow the herd up to the farm’s carrying capacity, which is 1400.”
The farm is a diversified commercial operation of about 3600 hectares. Baynesfield Estate also farms with avocados, pigs, beef cattle, cane and, according to Gule, grows the area’s best maize and soya beans.
Just a word of caution though, when you visit Baynesfield Estate and see this young farmer talking to the animals, don’t think he has lost his marbles – he’s actually just busy studying their behaviour.
“Animal behaviour is everything. Once you understand animal behaviour then you will have a positive impact on the animal, and they will not be stressed. Nothing beats the power of observation,” Gule shares.
The young farmer has big plans for the future and says his journey has taught him that one never knows everything.
Gule says farmers should be open to learn from others. “Every time I talk to other cattle men, I learn new things. They might speak a thousand words, but in that thousand words there’s knowledge to be gained,” he says.
It is hard work, coupled with trial and error, that Gule believes brought him this far. “There are many hard times in agriculture – make peace with it. Failure is inevitable, but it is your decision to get back up again that sets you apart from the rest.”
But Gule says a great work ethic is what has brought him this far. “Even at school I made sure that I used my time wisely. I’ve always been a very systematic person and I seldom forget something. I know what I’m going to do and when I’m going to do it. Something my father also instilled in me,” Gule says.