In February we announced a giveaway of a copy of On The Farm, a book of photos of heritage breed farm animals by professional photographer Aliza Eliazarov. We challenged people to write our regenerative farming slogan Graze Against The Machine in creative ways. The winner would receive the book. which includes a photo of our Pineywoods Cattle cow, Peaches.
We received many entries, but one in particular caught the attention of our hearts. The entry was from a farmer in Limpopo Province, South Africa, Ashell Maenetja. Ashell combined photos of him doing what he loves most, cattle farming, with his daily reality spelling out Graze Against The Machine with pills.
"Used some of my medication mostly supplements, match sticks to create #GrazeAgainstTheMachine Ozark Akerz Regenerative Farm. Livestock #Cattle and medicine sums up my Life currently :-) :-)" Ashell wrote when he posted his entry.
Ashell's most recent, and complicated, health issues were finally diagnosed as liver cirrhosis with splenomegaly after many visits to doctors and specialists. He shared with us a long list of medications he is taking. "Symptoms they are treating include portal hypertension, esophageal varices and (?) ulcerative colitis." adds Ashell.
His health challenges have always been central to his life. He shared a memory of his recently deceased mother:
"I recall chatting with Mom couple of years back (I was allergic to red meat and lactose intolerant then). She said to me I wonder what kind of a farmer you'll grow up to be, I mean you don't eat [meat] and you're lactose intolerant I swear nobody would be allowed to slaughter any of your animal for you Love them way too much?!" Ashell adds "Fast forward [to now] with complicated Health issues, whenever health permits I still go herd cattle?. Nothing about Ashell makes sense right now except his passion for cattle???. Every year December 31st at 23h58 Mom and I would stand outside and watch crackers light up the sky as we bid farewell to one year and Gracing another ?I still do it alone, some memories are just priceless, lost a mother gained an Angel ?." Ashell refers to one of the cows he cares for his Guardian Angel.
As Ashell puts it, he has dedicated his soul to cattle farming, and he is profoundly grateful for what he receives in return for this care. He says his evening inspection of his herd is like "therapy for the wounded Soul".
Ashell finds a lot of therapy in the herd for which he cares. We can relate. If we've had a particularily bad day, the Pineywoods Cattle can sense it. Even the ones that may not be friendliest will seek us out and just stand close to us.
The other thing we have in common with Ashell is that we raise, as he puts it "cattle that are well adapted to our environment." While Pineywoods Cattle are well suited to the environment of North Carolina and the southeastern United States, Ashell's herd of Brahman-Nguni cross are well adapted to Southern Africa. When Ashell shared a photo of Nguni cattle, we were surprised to see how similar they looked to Pineywoods. The hardy Nguni also share some of the traits that we love about Pineywoods, including hardiness, reproductive ease. parasite resistance, longevity and excellent foraging ability. Combined with the docility, hardiness and heat tolerance of Brahman, Ashell is bringing together some excellent traits for his herd.
Ashell's family has a history of farming. "My parents farmed goats, however following heavy rains back in the year 2000 they lost them all and never returned to goats. They farmed semi intensively with geese and turkeys and kept indigenous chickens. They began cattle farming on a communal/subsistence scale before I was born." Ashell's parents also planted maize (corn) and groundnuts and had a small plot of banana trees.
But enough of us sharing Ashell's story, he tells it so much better than we can!
Some days Mom would push the cattle to the mountain for us especially during school examinations and upon returning home from school, we'd change school uniform and literally jog to the mountain racing against time to round up the cattle before sunset and walk them home.
Ashell Maenetja Shares His Story
I am village boy, born and raised in the rural areas of Tzaneen, Limpopo Province. My parents were communal/subsistence Farmers of Cattle, turkeys and geese. They were very passionate about farming and our produce alone took care of our needs and bills for years. Unlike most kids in our villages, I grew up herding cattle and I was passionate about soccer too. I had dreams of playing professional football ?
During weekends, school holidays I would spend my time herding cattle and/or playing soccer. During festive season when other kids looked forward to unwrapping Christmas gifts etc I would be looking forward to being a Sheppard. I recall one Christmas day, my nephew Merrick and I followed Dad to the grazing veld and he didn't notice us! We stood on one side hiding yet controlling the movement of the cattle, curious he was he came over. To his surprise, we were there on Christmas day! He smiled and shook his head, gave us money to go home and be like other kids, basically he bribed us??
I attended an Agricultural school; Mandela Barloworld Agricultural High School at Duiwelskloof, Limpopo Province. The school was named after our late President Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, established through Mandela's initiation during his presidency as a Gift to the late Queen Modjadji The Fifth.
My love for farming increased at high school when exposed to crop farming and agricultural teachers! I had two Agriculture subjects: Agricultural sciences and Agricultural management practices. We raised chickens and planted crops as part of our curriculum. Throughout my high school years, I never stopped looking after our cattle!
July 2007, My Dad passed away following illness! My Mom was never the same and it was the saddest time of my life. Mom would hardly sleep crying and she'd wake up swollen on her face due to overthinking. Things started falling apart, she could barely afford to look after us, that's when Mom decided to keep cattle and let go of farming turkeys and geese! We kept few for household needs. There were times when we didn't have a Sheppard, we'd wake up early in the morning and take cattle to grazing on the mountain. Some days Mom would push the cattle to the mountain for us especially during school examinations and upon returning home from school, we'd change school uniform and literally jog to the mountain racing against time to round up the cattle before sunset and walk them home.
It was hard but we embrace our journey and life's circumstances. I'm really sad that she passed on before I could fulfill my promises to her.
March 2010, My eldest sister Brenda passed away. She suffered from stroke since August 2009. She was working in Gauteng province as pediatric nurse. Her death took it's toll on her and I'd wake up middle of the night to find Mom sitting and crying! That Mike still haunts me to this day and Mom was the strongest person I've ever met. I am grateful to have called her Mom she was my hero.
I graduated high school and I was accepted to study BSc Hons in Agriculture (Animal science) at Stellenbosch University, western Cape! More than 2000 kilometers away from home. I didn't have money for registration, I need R16000 and my Mom sold two animals (heifer and Young Bull). One old man approached mom, offered to herd our cattle provided Mom would sell him two animals, of course she paid him monthly. My university journey began then, talk about blessings.
We will share more about Ashell in a future post. He is currently looking for a job in agriculture, so if you can help or you'd like to connect with this remarkable young man, you can find him on LinkedIn.
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