The 25-year-old Annalea van Niekerk is a force to be reckoned with. She certainly isn’t what you would first image when you think of a stud farmer. And on tonight’s episode of the For the love of the land she shares great advice for other young and female farmers.
Van Niekerk was the only female contender in the 2020 Free State Young Farmer of the Year competition. Her inspiring story will be broadcast at 18:00 and 21:00 tonight and 10:00 tomorrow morning. Be sure to tune in on People’s Weather (PPL WX) on DStv channel 180 and Openview channel 115.
In anticipation of the show, produced by Food For Mzansi in partnership with the VKB Group, Van Niekerk chats to Gugulethu Mahlangu, a Gauteng-based farmer and participant of Food For Mzansi’s Sinelizwi citizen journalism programme.
Gugulethu Mahlangu: Annalea, you’re a women in the big bull sector and you’re making your mark. Please share some motivation for young female farmers who have been facing gender prejudice in the agriculture sector.
Annalea van Niekerk: In this day and age, we expect modernism and gender equality. However, that’s not the case because women in a male-dominant space, especially agriculture, are still complaining. I’ve learnt over the years, even though I personally struggle with it, to never take things to your head.
I get uncomfortable glances when I tell people that I am in agriculture as a female. I just want to motivate female farmers out there to never allow the prejudice to make you feel like you don’t belong there. If your heart is in agriculture then you definitely belong in this business. It’s important to talk and motivate yourself. You can do this and you will be successful.
The Sussex cattle is an English breed. What are the three main factors that made you decide that you are going to focus on farming with this particular breed?
The reason for breeding Sussex cattle was never planned. I grew up with my father farming Simbra and Brahman cattle, so when I bought my first cattle, I was never familiar with the different kinds of breeds.
There was a breeder who has a production auction and he introduced me and my family to the breed. He asked me if I want to join the Sussex Breeder’s Society of South Africa and become a breeder. I jumped onto the opportunity and started to research the breed and got excited.
The Sussex breed bull does well in cross breeding, I cross breed them with Simbra and Beef Master cows and get very good weaning weight at eight months. They are amazing even as studs and for pure commercial breeding.
Secondly, the breed has a good temperament, they are a joy to handle with the very few people I employ. Lastly, I love the dark red colour of the breed with the white-tipped tails because they all look the same.
You are currently renting properties for your enterprise. What should young farmers look out for before choosing suitable land to lease?
I think that farmers should remember to get advice, especially from a lawyer to help you set up a contract with all your needs stipulated. Even when the lessor doesn’t want a contract, you should insist on one.
Look at the quality of the soil if you are planning to plant for example maize or soybeans, make sure your soils allow that. Don’t forget water, make sure there’s enough of that too. If you want to farm with livestock like cattle or sheep, make sure that all the facilities you need are there, especially fencing! You cannot rent a farm without a fence for your livestock.
Animal breeding and genetics is highly scientific and advanced. What type of agri-technology do you utilise that makes your Sussex breeding business more productive and efficient?
Yes, animal breeding and genetics are so important, especially for a stud breeder. Commercial farmers are beginning to realise the importance of keeping their records of genetics in their farming business.
I personally use the Sussex Breeders’ Society “stud book”. I send all my data – my birth weights, weaning weights, bulls I use, mothers and fathers of the calves – to Stud Book. They give me a database and work out my breeding values. They can give you all that information.
“I want to motivate female farmers to never allow prejudice to make you feel like you don’t belong there.”
You have successfully managed to make farming cool for young female farmers. What advice can you part with for young farmers who want to start breeding cattle but have little to no resources, like land and funding?
Get someone who can mentor you. It’s so important to have someone who can take you on this journey side by side and help you if you don’t have the resources. Someone that can help you maybe with funds, someone to be your coach, help you get your first cattle, renting a farm maybe, all of that.
You need direction to do this right. Starting a farming business needs a mentor as a first start if you do not have the resources on your own.
Before we say goodbye, what is your checklist for dressing like a stunning, boss-lady, female farmer?
When people meet me for the first time and I tell them how I’m busy with cattle, they’ll always question my working clothes. They say that I look like I’m going to town or something! I love to look unique, I love my jeans, my Johnsons work clothes, my leather John Deere boots, my hat, my beautiful sunglasses, nice shirts, earrings.
I love looking good. But remember that you’re working on a farm so there needs to be balance. So, represent your farm and look good, ladies!
Be sure to tune in tonight on People’s Weather (PPL WX) on DStv channel 180 and Openview channel 115 to see Annalea van Niekerk in episode 8 of For the love of the land. The episode is broadcast at 18:00 and 21:00 tonight and 10:00 tomorrow morning. Tune in tomorrow evening at the same times for episode 9.