Young cattle rancher milks it in Zimbabwe
Cattle ranching in Zimbabwe’s low-rainfall south-west region has historically been associated with white commercial farmers who owned large swathes of land.
The stretch of land was marked by a scattering of acacia trees and occasional game was spotted in those ranches.
The white commercial farmers became known for running thriving cattle breeding operations and supplied prime meat to markets that included far-flung places such as the European Union.
Based on the herds of cattle that ran into thousands, some of the most successful ranchers established abattoirs, creating economies of scale that ensured a few players in the sector.
When the land reform programme redistributed land to blacks more than two decades ago, such ranches became history as some beneficiaries of the land reform programme reportedly slaughtered the cattle for their own consumption and failed to continue the cattle ranching operations.
However, a new breed of cattle ranchers has emerged in recent years: young men who spotted a niche market and decided to dive in.
Nicholas Mloyi is one such young man.
In his thirties, he is running a cattle ranching farm just outside Bulawayo where his herd is approaching two hundred.
“I worked in South Africa for many years and knew that one day I would have to come back home,” he said.
From his savings, he took over his late father’s piece of land and over the past five years slowly began to build his business.
“I grew up among cattle and learnt a lot from my dad. The old folks looked at cattle as wealth, but I see it as a business. And business creates and expands wealth if done properly,” Nicholas said.
For earlier generations, the black cattle ranchers were satisfied with watching their herd grow and with no business plans in order.
The prized cattle were only slaughtered during occasions such as weddings, funerals and other rites of passage, but for Nicholas, a different approach is making cattle ranching a lucrative undertaking.
Livestock bought from communities in Matebeleland for fattening at Mbokodo feedlot in Bolawayo
“I sell to city butcheries and individuals who are engaged in their own money-spinning activities such as restaurants,” he said.
When he took over from his father, he says the land had about twenty head of cattle, but he has managed to intensify breeding.
“It has not been easy. You need to be hands-on with this kind of thing. From monitoring the female cycle to separating the breeders and non-breeders. Also, the chemicals, the feed and other overheads. It can be frustrating but the way it has grown has been encouraging,” added Nicholas who says he has five permanent workers, creating employment from a childhood passion.
Zimbabwe’s government has in recent years touted young farmers as the future of the country’s agriculture, providing land to aspiring youthful farmers.
Yet these farmers have found the going tough as they failed to access loans from financial institutions to kick-start or expand their operations.
For Nicholas however, his stint in South Africa became the springboard to continue his father’s passion.
“I guess I was lucky to have that opportunity to be able to finance this project all by myself. Not many young people would have the resources or even the land itself to embark on such a project,” he said.
What makes Nicholas’s ambitious project stand out is that more and more young farmers who benefitted from the land reform programme tend to plant the same thing: maize.
Director Mkhulunyelwa Nkomo inside a feedlot.
This is because the government has emphasised the stocking of the country’s national silos as part of ongoing efforts to boost grain reserves.
Interruptions brought by land reform also affected grain production and the country has in recent years accelerated the growing of maize.
This has however turned out to be a boon for cattle ranchers such as Mloyi as this has ensured a steady availability of stock feed.
“We are changing the old ways of our fathers who left the cattle to fend for themselves in dwindling pastures. So much has changed now with climate change where the long absence of rain has also meant the disappearance of pastures. Now we have to buy enough feed to fatten the growing herd,” Nicholas said.
This is an important part of the enterprise as butcheries buy the cattle based on weight for them to make a profit as both wholesalers and retailers.
For now, Nicholas is content with having shown South Africa’s City of Gold his back as he continues growing his herd.
“Cattle farming is not for small boys, I can tell you that. But I think I’m in it for the long haul,” he said with a knowing chuckle.