Tshilidze “Chilli” Matshidzula may be young, but he is making a huge success of the Little Barnet Farm just 3km outside of Alexandria.
The 27-year-old, who hails from Limpopo, has helped transform Little Barnet from a run-down farm to an award-winning operation over the past nine years.
“Farming is something very close to my heart, and I always wanted to be involved in agriculture,” says Chilli. He always thought that he would end up in poultry farming, until he experienced life on Little Barnet.
Chilli was only partway through his practical phase as a student at the Tshwane University of Technology when Walter Biggs, a prominent dairy farmer in the district, recognised his potential and recommended him as a trainee manager for Little Barnet.
The farm was undergoing restructuring and a share-milking scheme was identified as the way forward. Chilli gradually bought out some of the beneficiaries and acquired ownership in the land.
He has scooped two prestigious awards – most recently the 2016 Mangold Trophy, awarded by the Bathurst Conservation Committee to the most well conserved farm in the region.
Chilli has previously won the Most Improved Farm award from the same committee, and had also been nominated for a Young Farmer of the Year award.
“It is always an honour, and it’s an overwhelming experience,” Chilli remarks about winning the awards.
He remains humble, however, and adds that his co-workers have played a big part in the success of the farm. “It’s not a one-man experience; it’s a team effort.”
The road hasn’t always been easy, says Chilli.
“Coming into a community that had never been led by a young black farmer was challenging at times. It took a while to win people over.”
Under Chilli’s direction, the Little Barnet Farm has grown from having just a few hundred head of cattle to over 800 dairy cows. Most of them are Friesian, but recently they have added some cross-breeds too.
Seen here, Tshilidze “Chilli” Matshidzula at Little Barnet Farm. Photo: Supplied
A working day on the farm begins before dawn. Chilli is up at 3.30am for the first milking.
When it is finished, around 8am, he oversees maintenance and housekeeping tasks.
In between his busy schedule he somehow also finds time to attend meetings, contribute to idea-sharing farmer study groups and work on his BTech degree.
When asked about the highlight of his job, Chilli names the people. “The part I love most is working with everyone here.”
He offers some advice to aspiring young farmers.
“What I can say is that there are opportunities. Farming is hard, but if you stay humble and disciplined and believe you can do it, things will pan out.”