From Fourways medical doctor to running 5 farms – Dr Obakeng Mfikwe on his unplanned success in farming

play article
Subscribers can listen to this article
Obakeng Mfikwe of KMF Farm Holdings hung up his stethoscope in 2010 to establish a successful commercial mixed-farming operation.
Obakeng Mfikwe of KMF Farm Holdings hung up his stethoscope in 2010 to establish a successful commercial mixed-farming operation.
African Farming/Media24

Today, he runs mixed-farming operations on five farms totalling 2 894ha, but just a few years ago he was practising medicine in the Joburg North suburb of Fourways.

Four of his farms are in Lichtenburg, North West, and one is in Magaliesburg, on the border between Gauteng and North West. 

The mixed operations include a 172 000-per-cycle broiler production, 350 Simbra, Simmentaler and Black Angus stud breeding cows, and 1 152ha for grain production. On the Magaliesburg farm, Obakeng plants just over 200ha maize and has recently started stocking a 20 000-capacity feedlot.

His business, KMF Farm Holdings, is hugely successful but it wasn’t always Dr Obakeng Mfikwe’s plan to end up in agriculture. 

Like many young kids who grew up in rural areas, farming was part of his childhood. “I grew up in Jericho, a village near Brits in North West. My dad was a cattle farmer,” he tells African Farming

Naturally he had to help his father with farming activities, an experience that wasn’t always fun. “Instead of having a good time with your mates playing, you’d be busy on the farm,” he exclaims.

Obakeng went on to choose a career as a medical doctor and later opened a practice in Fourways, Johannesburg, a world away from farm life. 

He also started another business supplying medical equipment to various hospitals.

It was Obakeng’s older brother, Rothman, who joined their father part time on 1 000ha in Beestekraal, near Brits, where they farmed with Simbra cattle.

Tragically, Rothman passed away in a car accident in December 2008. 

“Dad didn’t take it so well, so I had to fill my brother’s shoes and joined my dad on the farm,” recalls Obakeng. 

He bought his first four Simbra cows in 2009. 

A few months later he bought another 55 Simbra stud cows, which he registered with the breed society. “I named the stud after my dad – Lekatu was his childhood nickname,” says the doctor.

By 2011 Obakeng had grown the herd to 160 animals. 

Because of the capital investment he’d made, he began to pay more attention to the farming, and noticed he enjoyed spending time there. 

Obakeng uses nine bulls in two breeding seasons.

“I started closing the practice on weekends to be on the farm. The more time I spent there, the more fulfilled and energised I’d feel. This of course led to my decision to close the practice permanently to focus on the farm and my medical supply business that I got off the ground between 2010 and 2011.”

Read more | He cashed R9 000 pension to buy his first 4 goats. How Limpopo farmer became top Bosvelder breeder

As the herd grew, Obakeng needed more land.

In 2011 he applied for a farm he had identified in Lichtenburg in the heart of the maize triangle, 69km outside Mahikeng. The 466ha farm Rietfontein was allocated to him under a 30-year lease in December 2011.

“It was dilapidated and needed a lot of work. The last activity on the farm had been poultry production on about 16ha; the rest was grazing and arable land that had not been in production for years,” he recalls.

Obakeng arrived on Rietfontein with only his Simbra stud. “It took blood, sweat and tears to build it back into a fully functional farm.”

By the end of 2012, the farm was making a profit, producing maize on more than 150ha, with 150 000 broilers per cycle and the 160-strong Simbra stud.

Obakeng’s knowledge of cattle breeding had also grown exponentially as he studied and attended various courses, including qualifying as a junior cattle judge.

Because of the quality of cattle Obakeng breeds, he would often be asked for advice by farmers who wanted to buy bulls from him. Most of these farmers were commercial cattle farmers doing cross breeding.

“Before I sold the bulls to them, I’d try to find out what their goals were and, depending on what they wanted, I advised them to get a good Simmentaler bull to create a stable genetic platform to breed from,” he explains.

In 2019, he established a Black Angus stud on the farm as part of his plans to produce certified Angus beef.

These farmers would have a mixture of breeds, animals with different conformations, sizes, colours and so on, he says.

Using a composite breed like a Simbra bull on a Bonsmara, a Brahman or any other type of cow may not get you the result you desire.

“However, using a pure Simmentaler bull on these cows first will help create a solid genetic foundation, giving your first-cross heifers good bone structure, good udders and milk, and the same colouring. Only then you should use a Simbra bull on those heifers for superior offspring. That’s how you breed better animals,” he says.

Farmers who took his advice were so happy with the results that demand for his bulls spiked, resulting in him founding Lekatu Simmetalers in 2013.

In 2019, Obakeng introduced a Black Angus stud on the farm as part of his plans for an integrated beef value chain that could access the lucrative niche market for certified Angus beef.

“Besides its high fertility, the Black Angus is one of the best performers in the feedlot,” he says.

Very few breeds match the Angus in terms of fertility and meat quality. 

“People judge these animals based mainly on the environments one usually finds them in, like the lush areas of the Natal Midlands and the Eastern Cape or the planted pastures of the Western Cape. 

“But if you buy the right type and size, they generally do well even under harsher conditions like here with us,” explains Obakeng. 

He plans to supply commercial cattle breeders with good certified Black Angus bulls with the aim of buying back all the calves at a premium for his feedlot operation.

Read more | Lavhengwa on the life of a citrus farmer: ‘The EU is my biggest export market. I hope to reach China’

Obakeng uses nine bulls in two breeding seasons. “The bulls are in with the cows from the start of January until the end of March for the summer season, and back again from July to September for the winter season,” he explains.

He has a calving rate of between 85% to 90%, with a conception rate of about 92%. Topping his breeding objectives are fertility and carcass quality.

“I want broad and longer animals that carry more meat. Other traits I don’t compromise on are good mothering abilities and milk production.”

He maintains calves should not wean at anything less than 240kg.

“About 15% of our animals wean calves of between 270kg and 290kg,” he says. These animals are selected as core breeding animals.

“As cattle farmers, especially stud breeders, we often focus on bulls and neglect the cows, forgetting that they’re equally as important,” he points out.

“With weak dam lines, even an exceptional bull is not going to improve your herd substantially.”

Any cows that do not conceive at the end of their breeding season are culled.

Broiler production plays an important role on the farm: Besides providing a good cash flow, the litter is valuable as cattle feed and fertiliser.

Obakeng says he is no longer as concerned with adding numbers to the herd as with having superior genes.

“My cows have to produce the heaviest calves that are long and broad with sound conformation. Cows must produce enough milk and have exceptional mothering abilities.”

Obakeng participates in shows across the country. This, according to him, is for marketing purposes as well as a peer-review mechanism.

“You get to compare yourself and your animals with other breeders. It’s an opportunity to see whether you are keeping up with industry standards,” he explains.

“You want to see whether your animals are too small or too big in terms of breed average.

“You wouldn’t want to breed animals that are too big, because then fertility becomes a problem; and you wouldn’t want to breed animals that are too small, because then growth becomes a problem.”

Obakeng says if he for instance has a bull competing in a 16-24 month class, he will always compare his animal’s size with those competing against him.

“If your bull is smaller than the rest of the bulls, you’ll know growth is the problem. And if your bull is the biggest, you know fertility could be a problem. But if the bull is on par with the rest, you know you’re on the right track.”

Watch Dr Obakeng’s story here:

  • Missed our latest Careers newsletter?

Click here to read it for free. In this issue, we focus on farming, internships and scholarships you can apply for in November 2022, including the Gauteng Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (GDARD).

Subscribe to the fortnightly DRUM Careers newsletter here.

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For 14 free days, you can have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today. Thereafter you will be billed R75 per month. You can cancel anytime and if you cancel within 14 days you won't be billed. 
Subscribe to News24