How a family business got ahead

Zolile Soka and Ayrshire cattle (Supplied)

  • Dee-Y Trading, a small scale dairy farm in the Free State owned by Disebo Makatsa supplies milk to Woolworths.
  • The farm initially supplied its milk to a small business which later ran out of money, leaving the family to sell out of a bakkie just to stay afloat.
  • Today, the farm has 54 Ayrshire cows, producing about 2,000 litres of milk which is collected by Clover and then supplied to Woolworths.
  • For more stories go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.

Dee-Y Trading, a dairy farm and business owned by former educator Disebo Makatsa, supplies milk to Clover for Woolworths – but all that didn’t come easy.

Makatsa, who began her agricultural journey in 2000, started on a small plot on a commonage in Welkom. She grew fruit and vegetables, and had plans of starting a piggery, but that didn’t work out.

Disebo Makatsa with ayrshire cattle (Supplied).

Disebo Makatsa with Ayrshire cattle (Supplied).

The mother of three refused to let go of her ambition and applied for a farm in 2004, which she got in 2009, but it wasn’t quite conducive to farming as there was no water.

Makatsa made another move to get a different farm in Odendaalsrus, Free State and it was approved in 2014.

Old dairy farm (Supplied)

Old dairy farm (Supplied)

Selling amasi and raw milk in the local neighbourh

Selling amasi and raw milk in the local neighbourhood (Supplied).

“The department of agriculture came and saw how she has changes the land that was previously bare,” said Makatsa’s son Zolile Soka.  “They advised her to apply for a bigger farm and it took years for her to get the farm, and then in 2014 she got a dairy farm.”

Giving up was not an option as a lot was at stake. At the time, Makatsa had left her career as a teacher to build a legacy for her children.   

“She left the industry to pursue farming and that has worked out because all of us are involved in one way or another,” said Soka referring to himself, his sister Zolile Soka and his brother Mxolisi Soka.

Disebo Makatsa (right), Zolile Soka (middle), youn

Disebo Makatsa (right), Zolile Soka (middle), young farmer Thabang Soka, and Nozipho Soka (left) (Supplied)

Disebo Makatsa's daughter Nozipho Soka (Supplied)

Disebo Makatsa’s daughter Nozipho Soka (Supplied)

While working at the old dairy farm, the family supplied milk to a small business in Welkom, but later lost the contract.

“They [small business] had financial problems, and no longer wanted to take Holstein milk, so we had no contract at the time.

“That was when we had to take the milk from the farm and then go sell it in the local area in Thabong. We sold that way for years,” Soka said.

Although the farm operated without a contract, selling to customers in the local area kept the family and the business afloat.

Silver lining

A couple of years ago the family was approached by someone who was linked to a processing plant. “He asked us if we wouldn’t want to get Ayrshire cows and supply to Woolworths, because they had direct access to Woolworths”, said Soka.  

Getting Ayrshire cows was a struggle at the time due to lack of finances, but the department of agriculture visited the farm around 2017, and the farm got funding the following year.  

New milking parlour (Supplied)

New milking parlour (Supplied)

Disebo Makatsa (Supplied)

Disebo Makatsa (Supplied)

(Supplied)

(Supplied)

“Without that funding, we wouldn’t have been able to get to where we are as quickly as we got. They helped us with 50 Ayrshire cows and helped us build a new dairy,” said Soka.

The much-needed assistance boosted the businesses and made it easy for the milking parlour to meet Woolworths’ requirements.

dairy farming

(Supplied)

In 2019, the first milk from Dee-Y trading was collected by Clover to be processed and supplied to Woolworths.

“It was November. I remember that day because my mom and I stood there and just listened to the sound of the milk truck taking the milk. It was like something out of a movie,” Soga said.  

A family thing

Both Makatsa and her children are heavily invested in the farm. In his second year, Soka dropped his BCom degree at Varsity college and moved to Bloemfontein to study agricultural management. He used his expertise to help grow the farm.

“My mom has been the driving force for the family. Things were tough, but she really held it down. There were times when we were selling together and you could just see her resilience,” said a proud Soka.

Disebo Makata's sons Zolile Soka (left) and Mxolis

Disebo Makata’s sons Zolile Soka (left) and Mxolisi Soka (right)

Today, the farm milks 54 cows and supplies Woolworths with about 2,000 litres of milk. The plan is to milk at least 250 cows in order to go commercial in the agro-processing business.

Soka also credits allies and experts in the industry who have supported the dairy farms and continue to help with its growth.

“A lot of people have helped us. People come out of nowhere to give advice and support. We’ve gotten help from companies like Milk SA.

They help us with feed where they pay 60% on feed and we pay 40% at a certain time. There are so many people that have been part of our journey, I just can’t explain,” he said.  

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