THE son of a South African tribal chief has moved to Mount Gambier for a year to experience Australian dairying.
Ntsikelelo Baleni considers it an adventure but hopes to use the experience and skills he gains to establish a dairy farm when he returns to his rural village of Umzimkulu in the KwaZulu Natal province in the south of the country.
There are only about 160,000 dairy cattle in South Africa, mainly in the western Cape region, but the 21-year-old is confident his village – which now has small-scale beef and sheep farming, and forestry – is well suited to dairying.
The area receives 1000 millimetres of annual rainfall, mainly in the summer months – creating great conditions for growing grass.
Unemployment is a major issue across the country so Lelo, as Ntsikelelo is known, hopes to be able to create jobs in the dairy sector and even value-add milk to make cheese.
“Hopefully some of the profits we make can go to developing and improving schools and health facilities so everyone profits,” he said.
Lelo decided to gain practical experience in dairying because he did not take up science-based subjects at school to be eligible to study agriculture in college.
He has been here for about two months, working for Charles Wallis at his Harrimar dairy at Compton.
Lelo is the third employee Charles has had from South Africa through Queensland-based organisation Visitoz.
They hold intern visas, enabling young people from countries with no reciprocal backpacking arrangement to spend up to a year working on an individual property.
“A working holiday visa is for up to two years but only six months in the one place, and on a dairy it takes time to teach people everything,” Charles said.
“The backpackers generally come with not much experience either but when Lelo arrived he could already ride a motorbike, milk cows and had done AI.
“It has been easy to get him up to speed.
“He is here to work but also here to learn and he is a good worker.”
Lelo is one of five staff on the property which has a milking herd of 650 cows, with 450 currently in production.
He is undertaking a range of roles on farm, from milking to feeding cattle.
One of the major differences he has noticed is the productivity of the cows, with Harrimar cows averaging 30 litres a day compared with South African cows that make about 10L a day.
Although working on any dairy farm is hard work, Harrimar is less arduous than the one Lelo was on in South Africa where he worked double shifts for 25 days in a row.
“Some days are busier than others but it has been great to do so many different jobs,” Lelo said.
“I had driven a tractor but never with implements on it before, and we were always doing the same thing, whereas here, because there are only a few of us, we get to try everything.”
In his time in Australia, Lelo has completed a number of short farming courses through TafeSA and is looking forward to learning more about pastures.
“Our farmers are really copying the New Zealand way of farming but there is a lot to learn here too,” he said.
“We both have grass-based systems which was one of the reasons I came to Australia rather than go to the US.”