He’s only 19, but already a successful livestock farmer

19-year-old Thabo Dithakgwe is one of South Africa’s youngest farmers.

19-year-old Thabo Dithakgwe says it is business as usual on his livestock farm in the North West.

Farming is in me, it runs in my blood and my veins. I am a farmer by birth,” confidently declares Thabo Dithakgwe (19), one of South Africa’s youngest farmers.

He became a farmer at the age of 13 when his father gifted him a pregnant heifer cow. When the heifer gave birth, he nurtured the bull calf. “From 2014 I raised it up and by 2017 March I sold it to another farmer at a reasonable price,” he says.

In 2015, at the age of fourteen he received his identification livestock certificate from the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, enabling Dithakgwe to become a commercial farmer.

This young farmer owns 790 hectares of land in Pomfret, North West, a desert town on the edge of the Kalahari Desert. Indeed, agriculture has been part of his life since birth. “It’s a generational legacy,” he tells me.

“Being raised by a family of farmers, farming is in our genes. My father is a farmer; his parents and great parents were also farmers.”

Dithakgwe’s blast into farming

Initially, his family had been keeping their cattle in a communal farm where local livestock graze. But when he received the 790-hectare piece of land through the tribal land claim under the Barolong boo Maiketso, his life changed for ever.

“When our land claim was successful it was such a great feeling, because in the year of 2014 we lost over 59 cattle of my aunt, my father and my uncle. So when we received it, it was a source of hope,” he tells me. Though he got the farm during unforgivingly severe warm weather conditions, since he started he’s been at the top of his farming game.

Thabo Dithakgwe

“I’ve achieved a lot of accomplishments in the farming industry… After moving to a stable farm, I achieved 98 percent calving rate,” he tells me excitedly. This means that all of his cattle multiplied except one cow which had womb complications.

If you like, you can call it black magic or black excellence. But it is what it is. “I am the youngest successful farmer in South Africa,” he says. He’s learning and enhancing his knowledge on farming since “there’re developing and latest technologies, this requires you to be up to standard.”

He says his family has played a stellar role in his growth as a farmer. “My family is one of the most supportive families in the world. I would not be where I am without them; they believe in my dreams and they support me.”

This young farmer journeys along his agricultural path with incredible zeal, energy and excitement. He recites one of his favourite quotes: “Success is not the key to happiness. But happiness is the key to success. If you love what you do and have passion for it, you will be successful.”

Surely, he must be deeply in love with his farming journey. And the world knows it.

‘My livestock is like my bank balance”

Dithakgwe owns cattle and goats. He also has sheep, which are primarily for “home consumption. Just to have meat in the fridge.”

When asked the number of his livestock, he’s reluctant to disclose it. “I don’t give numbers of my livestock, it is like asking my bank balance. In my tradition I am not allowed to give you such information,” he tells me. “The reason I don’t give numbers is also for my safety, since there’s high rate of livestock theft and I don’t want to be targeted.” Let’s just says the goats are 50 plus and the cattle over 70, he says.

Dithakgwe specialises in growing livestock and selling it to other farmers. “On the goats I make sure I achieve three kidding seasons in two years. Every eight months I have kids from the goats,” he says. This means in a two-year period his goats multiply at least three times.

“Actually, animals are like babies. You have to treat them like your own babies. You need to vaccinate them – they also get flu,” he explains how he takes care of his livestock. “For the goats’ kids you need to dose them for milk-take because they get worms from their mothers’ milk.”

“Do what you love and you will never have to work a day in your life… I am a farmer till I die.” – Thabo Dithakgwe

He says he keeps the young goats for about ten months and afterwards he sells them to other farmers in bulk of 20, 25, 30 or 50. He only sells in bulk.

The remaining ones, especially the billy goats, he castrates the “least impressive ones, especially if it does not show the characteristics of a pure ram.” This ensures that he is left with the best ones, which he then puts “on trial,” he explains.

“I train them like soldiers. I normally put them through the toughest conditions in the camp… They have to travel to get food and in summer conditions when it’s hot they have to survive those conditions.” He explains that the worst performing goats are sold for slaughtering. From the best performers only a selected few are sold to other farmers needing to improve their livestock’s genetics.

Striving for his peak

His disciplined tending of his flock is part of his ambitious striving to be the best. He feels the support of his ancestors – the long bloodline of Dithakgwe farmers – supporting him against challenges and headwinds.

“I want to be one of the youngest black stud breeders in South Africa. In fact, there are very few black stud breeders in South Africa. I want to break the records, I want to produce bulls that are worth about 1.5 million each,” he says. “Your selection criteria must be very good.”

With love, the right mindset and the support of his family, this lofty goal looks quite attainable to Dithakgwe. “Do what you love and you will never have to work a day in your life… I am a farmer till I die,” he says.

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