The relationship between a farmer and their livestock is almost sacred, believes 22-year-old Tsaone Gaseitshubelwe. Along with her father, Tebogonyane (53) and three brothers, she farms on the communal lands of the North West village of Ganyesa.
There she has fostered a nurturing relationship with 200 livestock, including white dorper sheep, that can almost be likened to that of mother and child.
The human-animal relation is about trust, she says, talking on the phone while scatting curious sheep away. For her, one of the many joys in being a livestock farmer comes when she takes time to actively care for animals. This results in good produce.
Her father says candidly, “She always asks me a million questions when we are out in the field. I have three boys, but she is the toughest and most resilient one with a heart for farming.”
Her love and passion for livestock farming stems from his influence. The young farmer spent the better half of her childhood on her father’s 350-hectare farm. He started farming in 1997, before she was born, when he was given land by the government. “You won’t believe it when I tell that all this land is mine,” says the proud father.
Her dad’s land meant that Gaseitshubelwe grew up a farm girl. “I basically grew up with cattle all of my life, farm living was a normal lifestyle for me and my family until I went to high school,” she says.
Growing up the only girl around so much testosterone was not an easy experience. And there are still challenges today, she says. “Growing up with mostly boys ko gae (home) was tough, but it taught me to be strong.
“Sometimes I wish I had a sister so we could gossip and talk about make-up and dressing up and all those other girly things, but I wouldn’t trade my brothers or father for anything.”
Gaseitshubelwe attended boarding school at Bethel High in Coligny where she would lose her interest in the farm life. In 2015 she matriculated and a year later enrolled for a B.Com in economics at the North West University (NWU) in Potchefstroom.
‘When you grow up doing something that you love, your passion for it is almost magnetic.’
“I only pursued a degree because it was something that you had to do,” she says.
She soon realized that the city life was not for her. “My studies did not really go well. That’s when I decide to return home, where I spent most of my time with the animals. That’s when my love started growing again.”
She says the pull of her childhood farming experience was strong. “When you grow up doing something that you love your passion for it is almost magnetic. You don’t just do this because you want money, it is a journey.”
I was feeding him an orange and he couldn't get enough 😅😂❤️ pic.twitter.com/VU2V76XCWt
— Farmgirl (@Felieboo) July 27, 2020
Her nurturing nature as a woman is the driver in her passion for farming with livestock, she believes. The most magical part about farming with sheep, especially, is fostering bonds. “They take time to trust you, but once they do it is beautiful,” she says.
Cattle farming is a continuous learning experience. The lambs on the farm are always keeping her on her toes, she quips.
“You find out something new about them almost every day and you learn a lot. You train them and seeing them take instruction and following your lead is precious.”
Dynamics of family business
Gaseitshubelwe says that working with family is a test of patience, but through finding common ground, business relations can be successful.
On the Gaseitshubelwe farm, tasks are split evenly amongst the family. “No-one just sits around idling. Each of us has responsibilities on the farm,” says the young farmer.
There can never be smooth sailing when you form partnerships, especially with family, she says. “My dad is stubborn! When we talk about our business it is often a fight. But even through his stubbornness he imparts so much wisdom.”
Gaseitshubelwe snr echoes this thought. “There are always fights. When you have the same characteristics as another person, you will always clash,” he adds to her remarks.
A woman’s place is wherever she wants to be…
Women in agriculture are often overlooked and not taken seriously, Gaseitshubelwe says. She finds it frustrating that people still cannot get used to the idea of women farming.
“Most of the time batho ba go nyatsa (people underestimate you) and question your skills as a farmer. I am happy that there are some men who have welcomed me in the industry with open arms.
“A woman in agriculture can be whoever she wants to be. One day men will realize that we as women are just as capable in agriculture. I just wonder if they will keep treating us the way they do now, or will they see us as a threat?”
Gaseitshubelwe has hopes to one day run her very own pork butchery in her village. She advises young female farmers to start, but to know that there are challenges in the industry.
“It is something that comes naturally, you can’t force yourself into this business. Farming is not for the faint of heart. It is a journey.”