“Are you listening?” livestock farmer Matshidiso “Boer Bae” Parage (24) asks enthusiastically.
“The cattle are lowing! They are lowing!” she shouts over the phone drowning out the loud bellowing from the cattle in the kraal.
Being immersed in nature and tending to hundreds of livestock, including cattle, sheep and boer goats is something she could never get used to. “That is the beauty in being a farmer,” Parage says, out of breath as she has just jumped out of the kraal where she has completed vaccinating one of her own cattle.
Hers is a dream realized at the age of 18 when she was gifted a young bull and three cows by her father, Elias Parage. Today those cattle have expanded in numbers and comfortably graze 2500-hectares of communal land in the farming town of Warrenton, nearly 70 kilometres away from the provincial hub of Kimberley in the Northern Cape.
She proudly calls this portion of land that she has now taken over from her dad, Ipele Mosadi (proud woman). Her business is thriving through auction sales and supplying livestock to funerals in her community in the Magareng district.
“I sell my cattle at auctions and for funerals, but sometimes I donate stock to those who cannot afford to bury their families,” a proud Parage says.
When farming calls you answer
Like many youths Parage says she had been at an impasse wondering what the next step would be after she had matriculated in 2014 from the Mogomotsi High School in Warrenton.
“I grew up wanting to work in an air-conditioned office, I wanted that corporate job,” she says.
But her dreams were crushed by the staggering rate of youth unemployment in Mzansi. “It was hard to find a school to study at. I had been sick my entire matric year and did not have the marks to get into a university and there were also no jobs.”
Her father became her muse, however, and would ignite a vigorous passion for livestock farming within her.
“When I saw what great passion he had for farming and agriculture it was hard for me to deny my own passions for it. He had always been farming and from there my own love for animals grew and grew,” she says.
“I would always accompany him to the kraal but never took it seriously. When he gave me the bull and three cows, from there on they mated and my own kraal kept expanding,” Parage adds.
Her journey in the sector became even more fruitful when she was crowned the overall winner of the Female Entrepreneur Awards (FEA) hosted by the provincial department of agriculture, land reform and rural development last year.
“I won two prizes which was best subsistence farmer and the overall winner in the Northern Cape and this just motivated me to work harder.”
The male-dominated sector has not always been welcoming, though. “It is always hard when you have people who don’t see the passion that you have, I am determined to prove them wrong.”
This is a man’s world
As a woman your worth in the agricultural sector is always underestimated. As a black woman under 30 even more so, she says. “I am called a girl when I speak amongst men and treated as if I don’t know anything about this industry.”
The issue of land is also a hindrance in her potential to expand her farming endeavours.
“Right now, I farm on communal land and cannot reach my goal of becoming a commercial farmer. You are limited in terms of the amounts of cattle allowed to graze the land because we are many.”
‘Focus on yourself. Even though people refuse to see your hard work, you see it and that is all that matters.’
However, she is overcoming these stumbling blocks by remaining positive and keeping her head above water. “I try with all my might to work the piece of land that I have to the bone,” she says passionately.
From her challenges she has been inspired to look to other markets. Parage has a dream to extend her reach in the sector through poultry farming.
“I am always dreaming of ways I can expand my enterprise, very soon I will be tapping into the poultry market, I have a vision to supply local grocers and eventually big enterprises like a Spar or Pick n Pay.”
The Northern Cape’s ‘Boer Bae’
The Afrikaans word for a farmer, “boer”, has long been associated with older white men decked out in khaki shorts and knee-high socks. The perception of women in farming is equally not appealing to a younger demographic.
Parage however believes that it is high time to make farming fashionable to the younger masses. She herself does all the heavy lifting on her farm with a 26-inch Peruvian wig and stiletto style manicured nails.
She is on a mission to prove that “farming doesn’t mean you have to look a certain way to be taken seriously. People call me slay queen because I dress a certain way and always have my hair and nails done.”
She is slowly glamourizing the field.
“For a while they called me ‘Farmer Queen’ and from there on it turned into ‘Boer Bae’. I loved it so much that I started making t-shirts and started selling them. A few months ago, I registered the name.”
She adds that perception is relative and there will always be people with criticisms to dish out based off appearance.
“Focus on yourself. Even though people refuse to see your hard work, you see it and that is all that matters.”
Her advice to aspiring farmers is to celebrate the small victories.
“Celebrate each and every step that you take, celebrate yesterday, celebrate tomorrow, celebrate today, celebrate each and every target you have set for yourself. Celebrate the fact that you are growing.”