Don’t wait until you’re ready because chances are, you’ll never do it. Just ask Cole Oncke, a Grade 8 learner from the Western Cape, who has already started farming with chickens in his family’s little backyard.
The 14-year-old, who attends De Kuilen High School in Kuils River, is an avid Food For Mzansi reader. And if there is one thing he’s already learnt, it is that being a successful farmer does not necessarily require vast tracts of land and resources.
He started his farming venture last year during the first Covid-19 lockdown. He did not have much to do when the schools were abruptly closed and he decided to channel his energy into creating an “urban farm” in his parents’ backyard.
Oncke had loved animals from a very young age, so the decision to farm with plants and chickens at his home was an easy one for him. “My uncle [had] bought me a rabbit for my [third] birthday, and I took the rabbit with me everywhere. That’s where everything started.”
The rabbit, named Blackie, is still alive and enjoys the fruit of Oncke’s labour.
We sat down to chat to Oncke about his journey into farming and what his future plans are.
Why did you decide to start keeping chickens?
When I was about three or four years old, I was very interested in gardening. I loved farm animals, and I was always interested in chickens. And then, when lockdown came and there was nothing to do at home, I bought myself two chickens. Currently, I have 17 chickens.
So, you’re not only a chicken farmer? What type of vegetables do you garden with? And do you sell those, or do you use them in your household?
I garden with lettuce, kale, spinach, tomato and beans. But I don’t really grow it for the household, except for the tomatoes and the beans. I grow mostly for my chickens because they need greens and those kinds of things. All the leaves of the tomatoes and beans go to the chickens and I also give the chickens the lettuce, kale and spinach. I don’t sell any of the vegetables, but I do sell my chickens’ free-range eggs, which is in big demand.
Do you see yourself continuing to farm in future?
Yes, I do see myself doing this in the long term. Currently, I’m doing research on saffron because there are few farmers in South Africa who are currently farming with it. That is one of my main future goals, to become a saffron farmer. I also want to become a broiler farmer, which means I sell meat chickens. But that would also just be a side-line. I [actually] really want to become a neurosurgeon!
What parts of gardening do you like the most? What is your favourite aspect of it?
The part of gardening I like the most is the day I plant that seed. I can see the whole process of how it grows into a big, beautiful plant and the product that it produces. And I also love the lovely smell of fresh soil. I work in the garden every day and I take the chickens’ dirty water and throw it over the plants, so it acts as a fertiliser. I make sure that the plants are healthy and there’s a lot of hard work that goes into it, but at the end of the day, that hard work pays off.
Do you have any tips or advice for other learners who want to start gardening but maybe don’t know where to start?
My advice to other learners is that they must have a passion for it, whether it’s animals or gardening. If they want to start, they must first go do research on what they would like to do, the current environment that they are they in, how the soil is looking, and so on.
Secondly, they must be responsible for their garden or animals, and they mustn’t leave it for their parents to do. And lastly, they must be able to balance their school work with their gardening or hobby.
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