After qualifying as an occupational therapist at the University of Pretoria and practicing in Johannesburg for six years, 29-year-old Sarah Green moved back to the family farm, Harmony, near Ladysmith in KwaZulu-Natal earlier this year.
With the aim of becoming a full-time farmer alongside her father, Alan, and mother, Carol, her plan was to first spend six months on a Brangus farm in Argentina, but COVID-19 put a stop to that idea. She only managed to spend six weeks in Argentina before catching the last plane home ahead of lockdown.
“I always wanted to become a farmer, but my parents suggested that I gain professional experience before coming back to the farm,” says Sarah. “In retrospect I am very glad that I did because I gained a lot of experience in the corporate world.”
Taking on a leadership role
The Green family’s farming enterprise consists of the Harmony Brangus Stud of more than 1 000 cows, a crop section, a Jersey dairy herd, and a feedlot. Sarah is in the process of taking over a section of the beef cattle herd. She enjoys working alongside her parents, who both hold agricultural degrees and are seasoned farmers.
“Each of our herdsmen looks after three or four herds. They are knowledgeable and dedicated stockmen and I have huge respect for their role on the farm. They are the first point of contact when it comes to the cattle herds, and I depend on their feedback. I am responsible for the day-to-day management of these herds and as manager, I depend on them to inform me of the state of the animals, as well as to assist with the implementation of the Venter-Drewes veld management system, which I feel is a sustainable method of conservation,” explains Sarah.
Her grandfather, Raymond Green, was the first person to breed Brangus cattle in South Africa. “While he focused on the black Brangus, my dad began breeding red Brangus in 1981, on his return from university. Today we run 80% red Brangus and 20% black Brangus on Harmony. My dad’s retirement project is to start a grey Brangus herd.”
Driven to change lives
Sarah is in her element in her new role on the farm. While growing up she spent her school holidays going around the farm with her parents. She was also part of the KwaZulu-Natal Youth Show team. In order to earn pocket money during her university years, Sarah was required to work 30 days a year.
“I love working alongside my family. I love working with the animals and being outdoors. But most of all, I love the idea that I am actually contributing to society in the sense of job creation, skills development and upliftment.”
The genetics of stud breeding
The love for genetics, she believes, runs in the family. The part that she enjoys most is selecting the right bulls for the various groups of females. She recently bought two exceptional bulls at the National Brangus Sale in partnership with fellow Brangus breeder, Dr Elsie Campher.
“At this point we have identified specific traits on which we need to focus in the Harmony herd to attain our ideal Brangus. My dad has always liked the Indicus type of Brangus, especially on thornveld.
“Although I understand the value of the Indicus influence, especially with our hot summers and high tick challenge, I also see the benefit of the Angus influence for their width, meat quality and bone structure. One of the benefits of running a large herd is that we can accommodate various traits so that we can cater to a more varied buyer’s market.”
Sarah’s dream is to breed functional and adaptable Brangus animals. Harmony Brangus animals should be able to adapt anywhere in Southern Africa. “My short-term goal is to improve the quality of our animals through performance testing.
“I also want to introduce new management systems derived from the corporate world, such as ‘feedback Fridays’ and Monday morning strategy meetings, which are two systems I feel strongly about.” In this regard, both her parents are openminded and supportive. This is where experience and new ideas converge in order to obtain an optimum solution.
Knowledge is the key to success
Being a young female farmer coming back to the district, Sarah is amazed at the support offered by fellow farmers.
“Apart from my parents, I am fortunate to have several uncles and cousins who are also farmers. They are always eager to answer any questions I may have. The Brangus Cattle Breeders’ Society, particularly breed director John Rafferty, the president of the society Pieter Swart, as well as Elsie Campher, John Baxter and many others have been extremely supportive.”
At the time of the interview, Sarah was attending the virtual Livestock Registering Federation (LRF) Stockman School. If anything, it brought home exactly how much she still needs to learn. However, it also filled her with excitement about the prospect of having this incredible journey in front of her.
“I realised very quickly that knowing the theory behind something does not always equip you for the practical application. I try to read as much as possible and attend as many farmers’ days as I can. I also enjoy learning while working alongside our local veterinarian, Dr Jubie Muller.”
It goes without saying that a farmer needs to be multitalented. “You must be knowledgeable about animal nutrition, genetics, herd health, human resources, business practices, public relations, as well as marketing. In addition, you must be a technical wizard when it comes to everything from a borehole pump to a tractor engine.”
Time away from the farm
“There is always something to do on the farm. The cows do not know when it’s Christmas and they always seem to forget my birthday! To ensure a work-life balance and prevent burnout, I make time to exercise, meet up with locals to play sport, visit my friends, and cook.
“I enjoy hosting my friends from the city on the farm as they always bring a new perspective to farming. To clear my mind, I hike in the Drakensberg or explore new places. Having a picnic is a Sunday lunch tradition in our family as this allows us to appreciate the farm and our time together.” – Izak Hofmeyr, Stockfarm
For more information, contact Sarah Green on 072 461 8616.