Top emerg­ing farmer’s busi­ness suc­cess boosts his beef op­er­a­tion

Farmer's Weekly (South Africa) - - Contents -

Napoleon Hol­born of Komga is the 2018 Agri­cul­tural Re­search Coun­cil’s Emerg­ing Beef Farmer for the East­ern Cape. Mike Burgess vis­ited him to learn about his beef op­er­a­tion and how he has built it, and his other busi­ness in­ter­ests, on the solid foun­da­tion laid by his fa­ther.

Napoleon Hol­born’s beef op­er­a­tion on the 750ha farm, Mel­low, forms part of his broader busi­ness in­ter­ests in the East­ern Cape. These in­clude a tav­ern, a spaza shop, two bot­tle stores (cur­rently leased out) and a small civil en­gi­neer­ing com­pany. Prof­its from these have en­abled him to sub­sidise the farm in times of in­creas­ingly se­ri­ous drought.

It would be wrong, how­ever, to think of Hol­born’s beef op­er­a­tion as merely an­other of his en­ter­prises; this is where his real pas­sion lies.

And his re­cently awarded ti­tle of 2018 Agri­cul­tural Re­search Coun­cil Emerg­ing Beef Farmer for the East­ern Cape is tes­ti­mony to this.

a teenage busi­ness­man

Hol­born farms what he con­sid­ers the best-suited beef an­i­mal for the mixed veld of the area: the com­pos­ite Sim­bra. In do­ing so, he is build­ing upon the foun­da­tion es­tab­lished by his fa­ther, Owen. By 1994, Owen had es­tab­lished a herd of be­tween 30 and 40 Brah­man-type cat­tle on the Kei Mouth com­mon­age about 60km from Komga. He had also opened two bot­tle stores and a spaza shop in Kei Mouth.

By the time he was 12, Hol­born was help­ing with the daily run­ning of the busi­nesses. He re­calls spend­ing many hours of­fload­ing stock from de­liv­ery

trucks and look­ing for the fam­ily’s cat­tle be­fore school.

“Ev­ery morn­ing I had to go and look for cat­tle in town be­cause guys would open the fences on the com­mon­age,” he re­calls. “We were up at 5.30am and had to be home by 7am be­cause school started at 7.45am.”

In 2003, Owen bought a 600ha farm be­tween Kei Mouth and Komga, and this was fol­lowed in 2005 by a 342ha farm along the N2 be­tween East Lon­don and But­ter­worth. These were sold in 2009 and 2016 re­spec­tively.

The farms freed the Hol­borns from the graz­ing re­stric­tions of the com­mon­age, and they could now in­crease cat­tle num­bers. They did so by pur­chas­ing ge­net­ics from a num­ber of lo­cal farm­ers, in­clud­ing well-known Brah­man breeder Miles Dicke.

a land re­form farm

Owen then ap­plied for a land re­form farm and was awarded Mel­low in 2010 as part of the Land Redis­tri­bu­tion for Agri­cul­tural De­vel­op­ment pro­gramme.

At this stage, Hol­born, who had ma­tric­u­lated in 2008, had not only com­pleted a num­ber of IT cour­ses, but launched sev­eral busi­nesses, in­clud­ing a small civil en­gi­neer­ing com­pany and a tav­ern in the Kei Mouth town­ship.

In 2012, tragedy struck when Owen died sud­denly, and Hol­born was left to run the fam­ily busi­nesses alone.

Two years later, for­tu­itously, he was awarded a R1 mil­lion grant for Mel­low through the state’s Re­cap­i­tal­i­sa­tion and De­vel­op­ment Pro­gramme. He used this to re­fur­bish the home and out­build­ings, clear bush, re­pair the live­stock han­dling fa­cil­i­ties, re­place old fences, and sink a bore­hole.

Sim­bra: ideally suited

“If you want to start farm­ing you have to know what an­i­mal will suit your spe­cific area,” says Hol­born. “If you don’t know, ask the guys around you and take it from there.’’ He is con­vinced that the Sim­bratype is the most pro­duc­tive beef an­i­mal for the vir­u­lent red­wa­ter, heart­wa­ter and gall­sick­ness veld of Mel­low.

“A Brah­man is a very hardy an­i­mal,’’ he says. “On the other hand, a Sim­men­taler has all the beef I need.’’

Although Hol­born still has a va­ri­ety of Brah­man crosses on the farm, he uses only Sim­men­taler

and Sim­bra bulls to­day. To speed up the ge­netic tran­si­tion to a Sim­bra-type, he is con­sid­er­ing the use of ar­ti­fi­cial in­sem­i­na­tion.

Cows are put to bulls from Novem­ber to Jan­uary in sin­gle-sire herds of 25 cows. “I don’t want any mis­takes,” says Hol­born.

His 120 breed­ing fe­males achieve a calv­ing rate of more than 80% and calves are weaned at eight months. Weaner weights av­er­age be­tween 250kg and 320kg.

About 15 Sim­bra-type re­place­ment heifers are re­tained each year.

“The heifers un­dergo se­vere se­lec­tion,’’ ex­plains Hol­born. “I don’t want to keep any that, at the end of the day, won’t give me what I’m look­ing for.’’

chicken lit­ter sup­ple­men­ta­tion

The cat­tle re­ceive a pro­tein block in win­ter and a phos­phate/salt lick in sum­mer. In re­cent years they have also re­ceived a chicken lit­ter/salt/mo­lasses ra­tion. The same ra­tion is used to pre­pare cows be­fore go­ing to the bull.

“The chicken lit­ter is ex­cel­lent. It keeps my cat­tle go­ing,” says Hol­born.

It is sourced from Wade Bai­ley, who is con­tracted to clear broiler sheds in the Stut­ter­heim/East Lon­don ar­eas. Hol­born is also pre­par­ing 3ha for the es­tab­lish­ment of rye­grass to sup­port cows with calves.

an­i­mal health

The cat­tle are dipped with a pour-on dip twice a month in sum­mer and once a month in win­ter to man­age tick loads. They also re­ceive an in­jectable so­lu­tion once ev­ery three months. A stan­dard in­oc­u­la­tion and dos­ing pro­gramme is strictly ad­hered to.

Although the theft of 32 cat­tle in 2015 re­flects the sig­nif­i­cant threat that crime poses to his cat­tle, Hol­born says the most wor­ry­ing chal­lenge has been the re­lent­less drought.

It un­der­scores the im­por­tance of an al­ter­na­tive in­come to cush­ion Mel­low’s feed costs.

“You can’t fo­cus on just one thing,” says Hol­born. “You can’t put ev­ery­thing on the farm’s shoul­ders. So when it’s dry, I take funds from else­where to buy feed.’’ Although his main fo­cus is on pro­duc­ing wean­ers for the feed­lot mar­ket, Hol­born has di­ver­si­fied by spec­u­lat­ing with oxen. He buys oxen at be­tween three and four years from com­mu­nal ar­eas be­tween Kei Mouth and Komga, fat­tens them for three months on a chicken lit­ter-based ra­tion, and sells them. This side­line adds to Mel­low’s cash flow.

“When you start a busi­ness you have to sac­ri­fice so the busi­ness can grow it­self,’’ says Hol­born. “I want to con­sol­i­date here first, es­tab­lish a Sim­bra stud, and then ex­pand, hope­fully within the next 10 years.’’

• Phone Napoleon Hol­born on 073 122 9938.

‘ The heifers un­dergo STRI CT se­lect ion;


PHO­TOS: Mike Burgess

BE­LOW: ‘When I’m here I have peace of mind,’ says Napoleon Hol­born of work­ing with his cat­tle.

TOP: Brah­man cross­bred cows on Mel­low near Komga in the East­ern Cape. Hol­born’s cur­rent fo­cus is to breed Sim­bra-type cat­tle.ABOVE: Calves sired by Sim­men­taler and Sim­bra bulls.

TOP:To speed up the ge­netic tran­si­tion to a Sim­bra-type an­i­mal, Hol­born is con­sid­er­ing the use of ar­ti­fi­cial in­sem­i­na­tion.

ABOVE:‘A Brah­man is a very hardy an­i­mal,’ says Hol­born.

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