Estimated reading time: 8 minutes
- The 68-year-old Bumbi Mahlangu has proven that if you want to be a producer it is never too late, and that perseverance pays off.
- Three cows. That was the number of animals Bumbi started with on the 64ha of land he managed to buy near Bronkhorstspruit.
- It took some time, but in 2015 Bumbi moved to his current farm. Khalangani Farm covers 843ha and is suitable for extensive grazing. Only 60ha of the arable land is used for crops planted in rotation.
- Bumbi has three commercial cattle herds – a mixed herd, a Nguni herd and a Bonsmara herd – which are mainly raised for market.
- Bumbi is already planning on succession by mentoring youngsters. “I need to transfer skills, to ensure that somebody will know how to take over the farm if anything happens to me.”
The 68-year-old Bumbi Mahlangu has proven that if you want to be a producer it is never too late, and that perseverance pays off. Along with this, you need another essential ingredient – passion.
Accompanying his father on his walks to check on his herd instilled a deep love for cattle in Bumbi. As a young man, he had to put farming on the back burner, instead taking up employment at Putco where he progressed through the ranks from bus driver to superintendent. In 2007 Bumbi finally followed his dream of becoming a farmer.
From humble beginnings
Three cows. That was the number of animals Bumbi started with on the 64ha of land he managed to buy near Bronkhorstspruit. “I bought the farm with the assistance of the Land Bank,” he recalled as we sat in his Hammanskraal home.
His herd grew quickly, and the small farm was soon overgrazed. More land had to be leased from surrounding landowners. “In 2008 I applied to the Gauteng Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development (GDARD) to lease a larger portion of land.”
It took some time, but in 2015 Bumbi moved to his current farm. Khalangani Farm covers 843ha and is suitable for extensive grazing. Only 60ha of the arable land is used for crops planted in rotation. During Stockfarm’s visit, the wheat crop had just been harvested and they were planting soya beans destined for use in animal feed.
A helping hand
“It’s a rent-to-own agreement, so after 30 years the farm will be mine,” Bumbi said, adding that he is not getting any younger and therefore might never see a title deed in his name for the land. As part of the government agreement, Bumbi obtained ownership of 38 cows. Unfortunately, heartwater disease claimed eight.
“I persevered and learned what I could to prevent and treat heartwater.” The Hammanskraal state veterinarian, Dr Hendrik Engelbrecht, assisted in preventing the disease from taking hold on the farm. Once Bumbi navigated the challenges, he was able to steadily grow his herd.
He partook in the Gauteng Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) Nguni Cattle Development Trust’s programme through which the GDARD, the IDC and the University of Pretoria reintroduced the Nguni breed to black farming communities in the province.
Bumbi received 30 in-calf Nguni cows and one bull on condition that he repay them within five years by either tendering a herd equivalent (in number and quality) or by paying a sum equivalent to the value of a similar herd as of the date of repayment to the trust (he repaid the loan in 2022). “This scheme helped me to improve our herd’s genetics.”
The value of record-keeping
Bumbi has three commercial cattle herds – a mixed herd, a Nguni herd and a Bonsmara herd – which are mainly raised for market.
The mixed herd comprises 85 animals: 34 cows, one bull, 26 heifers and 24 calves. There are 98 animals in the Nguni-herd: one bull, 34 cows, 26 heifers and 38 calves (19 male and 19 female). The Bonsmara herd is made up of 30 dams, one bull, seven heifers and 28 weaners (ten male, 18 female), totalling 66 animals.
Bulls are isolated from the herds at the end of February to synchronise their breeding season and ensure that no calves are born in winter when feed is at its scarcest. “Cows calf between September and August and it is crucial that they calf annually.”
If a cow skips, Bumbi’s team investigates to determine which animal – the bull or the cow, or both – is to blame. “If the cow is the problem, she needs to go.” Calves are weaned between six and seven months of age.
Bumbi joined the Agricultural Research Council’s (ARC) Kaonafatso ya Dikgomo (KyD) cattle improvement scheme in 2010. “They taught me a lot regarding record-keeping with their rigid approach. You must be able to identify the dam and sire of every calf. They also ensure that all calves and dams are weighed directly after birth. The KyD team even provide scales if a producer doesn’t have a functional one, something I really appreciate.” Bumbi’s progress was so good, that in 2023 he was a finalist in the ARC Beef Performers Kaonafatso ya Dikgomo of the Year award.
Extension officers’ role
Bumbi is fortunate to live close to the ARC’s Gauteng facilities, which enabled him to attend a two-week feeding course where he learned more about licks and feed mixes. However, other farmers aren’t as fortunate.
“It would be beneficial if the country’s extension services followed the ARC’s example. I’m thankful for the work our extension officers do, but I think they could be more effective.”
If extension officers farmed their own land (which could be state-owned), producers could gather there so these officers could teach them how to approach issues such as biosecurity. “Extension officers need to experience first-hand what producers are struggling with. Everybody would benefit, and black producers could improve their herds faster.”
Dr Engelbrecht is a good example. “He took a course in grass cultivation and then established grass against his fence to see if it would grow. It was a success, so he came to the farm and demonstrated his technique to us. This empowered us to plant more feed for our animals.”
Bumbi suggests that extension officers specialise in agricultural subsectors. “Currently, an extension officer typically covers a variety of fields including broiler production, piggeries, cattle and grain. This is not feasible. More knowledge can be imparted through specialisation.”
A love for Ngunis and Bonsmaras
The Nguni scheme assisted Bumbi in introducing a Nguni herd into his farming operation. “I’m fond of Ngunis. They are tough, drought-adaptable animals. And their rapid improvement in condition after rain, however slight, is simply astounding. Unfortunately, the market discriminates against Ngunis, with very low prices being paid for them.”
Bumbi has seen Nguni hides being sold at exorbitant prices, but not in the Hammanskraal region. “Hides are sold for R6 000 in Mbombela. If we could do that here, we could slaughter the animal for the skin and then donate the meat to the needy.”
In 2021 Bumbi bought Bonsmaras through funding from the GDARD. The Bonsmara herd is kept separately. “They are quality beef cattle and feedlots favour this breed. You do well at auctions if you sell Bonsmaras.”
According to Bumbi, ticks do not cling to these animals, so they are less susceptible to contracting heartwater. “If you take care of your animals by correct supplementation and dosing against parasites, you are guaranteed a calf a year.” The workers check animals daily, with ease of walking one of the major issues evaluated.
Farming for the future
Bumbi is already planning on succession by mentoring youngsters. “I need to transfer skills, to ensure that somebody will know how to take over the farm if anything happens to me.”
His dream is for Khalangani Farm to be more profitable, employ more people and pay better wages. “I cannot always pay people out of the farm’s income. I’ve had to pay them with my savings. It is not a lot, so people who work for me must know that they work to gain practical experience, rather than earn a big salary. The idea is that they work here temporarily and then start their own farming operation.”
Bumbi’s passion lies in the upliftment of black people. “As a Christian, I don’t discriminate against others, and everyone is welcome to work for me but I do want to see black people prosper.”
He mentors a student, Karabo Mmekwa, who will take over as farm manager if he cannot manage the land anymore. “I’m teaching her how to treat and vaccinate animals while she continues her studies. I wish more young people were interested. We especially need to uplift girls so they can become excellent farmers.”
For more information, email Bumbi Mahlangu at email@example.com.