Shakes Shabalala: When hard work pays off

Estimated reading time: 7 minutes

  • Shakes Shabalala, ex-SANDF staff sergeant, implemented his master plan to create a family legacy with creating a agricultural co-op.
  • Shakes had very specific goals structured in a ten-year plan. At the time he was 55 years old and wanted to be able to retire at 65 by handing over the business to his children.
  • With the acquisition of the farm, Shakes was able to increase the number of people in his employ, thus also partially satisfying his objective of employing as many people from the area as he can accommodate.
  • With the income from the cattle going exclusively towards paying off the farm, the Shabalalas had to focus on optimising their other income streams. From the start, the mainstay of their operation was their goats.
  • Shakes’s long-term plan is to establish a meat processing plant so that the animals can be slaughtered at a local abattoir. This way, he can process and market the meat himself.

In July 2021 Stockfarm published an article on the farming activities of an ex South African National Defence Force staff sergeant, Shakes Shabalala. The article explained how Shakes was slowly implementing his master plan to create a legacy for his family. He chose to do this within the primary co-operative he called Ubuhle bamaSwazi, which means ‘the beauty of our clan’. 

Read the previous article here.

The members of the co-op are himself, his wife, Leah, and their three children. Leah is the treasurer and specialises in poultry (broilers and layers). Their eldest daughter, Zinhle, is the marketing officer, focussing mostly on social media. Thandeka is their second daughter and secretary of the co-op. She currently works at the auction house AAM and was previously an intern at the Genex Cooperative Development Programme.

Their son, Sphelele, is interested in vegetable production and the next project will be to procure suitable land with irrigation for him to expand his operation.

Read more about Shakes Shabalala.

A strategy for success

Shakes had very specific goals structured in a ten-year plan. At the time he was 55 years old and wanted to be able to retire at 65 by handing over the business to his children. “It is not so much that I want to stop working, because I want to work as long as I am able to. The idea of a specific cut-off point is to give structure. It gives the kids ten years to learn the ropes and develop their specific niches so they can fully take over from Leah and myself.”

At the time their first challenge was to obtain their own farm, in addition to the 300ha they were renting in the Wasbank district between Ladysmith and Dundee. Secondly, Shakes wanted to become a fully-fledged commercial producer with at least 500 breeding cows, and similar goat and sheep flocks.

“I want to create a vertically integrated business in which we can maintain control over our products for as long as possible and cut out middlemen as much as possible. We want to develop a resilient and diversified enterprise consisting of several income streams so we can utilise all our resources optimally. These income streams will be from a mix of intensive and extensive operations.”

A golden opportunity

I went to check in with Shakes recently to find out how his plans were coming along. I was rather impressed. Not long after our previous interview, Shakes was able to enter into a deal with the nearby feedlot, Sharp Sharp, to whom he had been supplying weaner calves.

In terms of this deal, he could procure 344ha of the farm Bergvliet, some 15km from Dundee. The asking price was just under R2 million. Shakes would provide 100 weaner calves per year to Sharp Sharp as payment for the farm. With the deposit he was able to put down from his SANDF severance package, he is set to make his last weaner calf payment in December this year to own the farm free and clear. 

“When I entered the deal I had 106 cows, and I acquired an additional 50 in-calf cows that were on the farm. In total I had 156 breeding cows from which I weaned 139 calves that first year. I was able to service my obligation to Sharp Sharp easily.”

With the acquisition of the farm, Shakes was able to increase the number of people in his employ, thus also partially satisfying his objective of employing as many people from the area as he can accommodate. At the moment his operation provides employment for nine people – himself, Leah and Sphelele, plus six workers. 

“Sphelele is being groomed to eventually take over my role, while Thandeka is acquiring valuable skills and knowledge on livestock marketing at AMM. I am confident that, when the time comes, they will be able to take over seamlessly.”

A diversified operation

With the income from the cattle going exclusively towards paying off the farm, the Shabalalas had to focus on optimising their other income streams. From the start, the mainstay of their operation was their goats.

“There is an unlimited demand for goats in our area, mainly from local residents, for traditional and cultural rituals. If I had a flock of 500 ewes, I still would not be able to satisfy the demand. The goats provide a steady and dependable income, and we are slowly increasing our ewe numbers. They also play an integral part in curbing the bush encroachment problem we have on Bergvliet.” 

In addition to the goats, they run a Meatmaster-type sheep flock, and Leah produces broilers and eggs at their home in Roosboom near Ladysmith.

The key to successful livestock production, says Shakes, is good genetics and nutrition. There is no point in going to all the effort of having a good breeding programme and raising superior offspring, if you fail to give them the correct feed at the correct time so they can reach their full potential.

Good feed is key

“Creep feeding especially kids and lambs is crucial for raising young animals, and they need a good grower ration post-weaning to quickly reach their target weights – these animals will either be sold or retained in the flock as replacement animals. A replacement ewe that did not get the opportunity to grow out well will simply never reach her full potential.”

The basis of the goat herd is indigenous, and Boer, Kalahari Red and Savannah rams are used for breeding. The flock is slowly changing in type towards a bigger animal with more meat, while still retaining the hardiness of the indigenous goat.

Shakes is quick to acknowledge the support he received from various entities. The Endumeni Local Municipality, for example, supported him with veterinary and mechanisation programmes, while Isibonelo Esihle Secondary Cooperative, of which he is the chairperson, provides incredible motivation. Finally, there is the knowledge and support he received from the Genex Cooperative Development Programme, especially regarding strict vaccination and deworming programmes.

“We have requested support from the Department of Agriculture to curb the bush encroachment problem on Bergvliet, as well as replacing and erecting new fences and repairing existing dams.”

Future projects

The vegetable production unit is their next focus. The first objective is to procure suitable irrigation land close to the market, and then to develop the infrastructure that will turn the vegetables into a viable income stream.

“We are used to coping without the income from the cattle. Once the farm is paid off, we will continue using that money for new projects. A major long-term project is developing Bergvliet so that it can function optimally. Fences need replacing, the bush encroachment needs controlling, and I want to apply grazing strategies that will improve the veld and grazing capacity. For this, I need to establish pastures.”

Finally, the long-term plan is to establish a meat processing plant so that the animals can be slaughtered at a local abattoir. This way, he can process and market the meat himself. “It is simple: I want to control my own value chain.” – Izak Hofmeyr, Stockfarm

For more information, contact Shakes Shabalala on 083 479 2808.

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