The Story of the Mann Family as Reported by The "Rand Daily Mail" 1954
1st May 1954
The "Rand Daily Mail" goes in search of smallholders. The Rand Daily Mail seeks a family of smallholders, for smallholders are in the news. In the last few years patliament has "discovered" them, and the Minister of Agriculture, Mr. S P le Roux, has recently promised an inquiry to see how their lives may be improved.
It has been estimated that there are 29,000 smallholdings in the Union, varying in size from 1 to 15 morgan and housing about 100,000 people. From among the many smallholdings within reasonable distance from Johannesburg the "Rand Daily Mail" hopes to find a representative family, whose experience and daily adventures it will relate for the benefit of readers, especially those who may be toying with the idea of trying life out of town.
The smallholding family that the "Rand Daily Mail" has in mind will inlcude children of school age, and at least one member who goes to town every day. By living with the family and writing about it, the "Rand Daily Mail" hopes to answer questions like these
Is It Worth a Try?
What does life and smallholding cost compared to living in town? Is it worth trying? or are there too many drawbacks? How do the smallholding families find schools, churches, roads, transport, light, water? How does the bread-winner get to town and back? How does the housekeeper get the gorceries? Is it worthwhile trying to grow one's own vegetables - to produce some of the food which the town family buys? How do town and country budgets compare? How does the family set about building a house? What is the cost, and what are the difficulties, or advantages compared to building a house in town?
The smallholding family which the "Rand Daily Mail" proposes to "adopt " for about a month may be living on 5 acres or on 20. It will probably keep a cow - is it worth keeping one? - and try to supplement the income earned in town by keeping poultry or bees or growing fruit trees - do they pay? Not the well-to-do family, but the one of average means - which like the country life despite the drawbacks - can best give all the answers.
5th May 1954
The Problems of the Small Holder
Mr. and Mrs. James G Mann, and their family of four, have six acres of land in Walkerville, between Johannesburg and Vereeniging. They keep turkeys, fowls, rabbits and a cow. They have 600 fruit trees but they had no crop from them this season because hail stripped the trees. The Manns have been chosen by the “Rand Daily Mail” as typical smallholders of the Transvaal. The story of their struggle to make a smallholding pay is to be told in a series of illustrated articles, the first of which will appear in the “Mail” tomorrow. The Mann family’s problems, their triumphs and their failures, are those of all South Africa’s 100,000 smallholders.
9th May 1954
Meet the Mann family - typical smallholders. The time - before seven o'clock. Where - Walkerville, almost exactly half-way between Johannesburg and Vereeniging on the main road.
For the next month the "Rand Daily Mail" will drescribe and illustrate the life of the Manns, who have been selected from among the smallholders around Johannesburg as one of the most typical smallholder families. On approximately 6 acres the Manns have 600 fruit trees, a cow and poultry which pay for themselves by providing milk and butter and eggs for the family, leaving a surplus for sale at a small profit; turkeys and table birds for sale occasionally; a heifer and Jersey calf; and for most of the year all the vegetables they need for themselves and sometimes a surplus for sale.
"Does it pay?" Mr. Mann was asked. "Well" he said, "we are quite solvent, and we are quite happy though we would like to do much more if we had the capital. We are a fairly large family living on a small enough income. As I said when you told me that the "Rand Daily Mail" was looking for a family of smallholders to write about, we can't tell you how to make a fortune on a smallholding, but perhaps we can tell people who are interested how not to lose money"
Mr. Mann moved off to join the bus – he works in Johannesburg – accompanied by is elder daughter Sylvia, who this year left school and now also works in town. A few minutes later his younger daughter, Roma, joined a bus going in the opposite direction – to the General Smuts Girls high School in Vereeniging.
The boys played while they waited for the school bus (their school is at Hartzenbergfontein, about four miles towards Johannesburg) and Mrs. Mann went to see if the cow had been milked and fed, the poultry property fed and watered, before she tackled the rest of her morning’s household duties.
A representative of the “Rand Daily Mail” will join them for a few days to get a townsman’s impressions of life on a smallholding. His first article on the Mann’s will appear on Monday.
10th May 1954
A Family of Six on a Six-Acre Smallholding
It was another of those misty morning; everything very still as if waiting for the sun to warm up the chilly Sunday morning. From the Mann’s gate, cold and wet to the touch, it was easy to look the sun straight in the eye. Mr. James Man came striding along the drive armed with fork. He’d been intending to turn over a compost heap, for this is the compost-making time of the year, but he invited us to take a look around his six acres, “if you don’t mind the wet grass and a few blackjacks where we haven’t yet cleaned up among the trees.” But before taking a look at the smallholding, let’s meet the Mann’s, whose life on their six acres the “Rand Daily Mail” will describe in the next few weeks.
Just as the sun dispelled the mist, the two younger Mann's faces shining and hair nicely brushed, went off to Sunday school in a neighbours car. Sunday school is five or six miles away at De Deur further towards Vereeniging. Jimmy, 11 next month, and Frankie, nine next August, were born on this smallholding, for the Mann's came here 14 years ago, and they are quite evidently at home on it.
Until the beginning of the second term a few weeks ago the boys were attending day school at De Deur years ago. Mrs. Mann recalls, the Mann's were invited to find four other families and make six so that the school bus could come and fetch them – and now they have been transferred to the school at Hartzenbergfontein, four miles away which takes both English and Afrikaans speaking children. The Mann's, incidentally, are a bilingual family. Their home language is English, but Mr. and Mrs. Mann both have Afrikaners among the forebears. Just before the boys were whisked away, Roma Mann and a neighbour’s son had started off for Sunday school on bicycles.
Roma, now 14, went to a convent in Johannesburg with her sister Sylvia until last year. Since Sylvia completed her commercial course and started to work as a typist in town, Roma has been going to school in Vereeniging, also taking a commercial course – shorthand, typing and so on. Sylvia was helping her mother in the kitchen when we had done out tour and came in for morning tea. She was icing cakes now that the morning’s rush was over. Sylvia will be 17 in August. “She was just over two when we came here to Walkerville”, Mrs. Mann told me over tea, “to almost a bare piece of veld. Those big pine trees were so high then – they’d been planted less than two years. Roma was two and a half months old”.
I looked past the pine trees to the windmill, which had just begun turning in a light breeze.
“Yes”, said Mrs. Mann, “we bored for water when Jimmy was a year old”
“And before that?”
“We fetched water from the sluit that runs across the corner of the plot up at the main road there, where the trees are so thick”.
“Did you walk round that way?”
“It was lovely clear water then, but oh, my, it was a job fetching water for ourselves and the stock – drums of water on barrows – especially when we had no labour”.
Mrs. Mann is small, slightly build; and let us complete the introductions, she was born in Uitenhage, did her J.C. in Paarl, then a commercial course and while she waited for a suitable typist’s job in Pretoria, was nursing when she met Mr. Mann. Not a farmer’s daughter, not you would say the kind of woman cut out for life on a smallholding. But she has reared a family of four on this smallholding – and supervised and done a lot of work on it while the rest of the family has been away at work or school for most of the day. And Mr. Mann is not a farmer’s son, though sometimes the family teases him about the ambition he always had when he was a small boy – to own a very large farm one day. In fact, he was a police recruit of abut 21 – still in the depot at Pretoria – when he and his wife to be first met. That was in 1932. On the wall of a rondavel which was once a bedroom and is now a store room hangs a photograph of J.G. Mann as a member of the Aliwal North rugby fifteen in 1931 – he played No. 8 – and between that photograph and one of the 1928 Springbok side is J. Mann among the Aliwal North cricketers. He was with the police for eight years, in Pretoria and Johannesburg, and is now store man with an engineering firm. From the rondavel after tea Mr. Mann and I watched the cars whizzing over the tarmac, up hill and away to a day’s golf.
“No”, said Jimmy Mann, “a smallholder hasn’t much time for golf. As a matter of fact, what I really must complete this weekend is that flock house – it was our kitchen for a time – because this week we are getting the first of our day-old chicks. Of course, there’s really not much to do outside at this time of the year – just cleaning up.” But he looked, I thought with something of the longing of the gardener, through the trees, yellowing apricot trees, beautiful in the warm sun. “Nice season, now . . . or even in a few weeks’ time when the young chickens are in the run, and the trees have to be sprayed and pruned . . . plenty of work then”.
It is evening and lamps are lit, no electricity here and I leave the Mann's sitting round the radio listening to the Sunday evening service while I send this little piece to an office which already, pardon my cliché, seems delightfully far away. I am staying hereabouts for a few days. Tomorrow, today to you, I must get down some hard work on the farm. Ahem.
11th May 1954
Morning Fun on the Farm
In far longer time than it takes to write this I was up and dressed and asking for my second cup of coffee (writes a correspondent of the “Rand Daily Mail” who is studying the smallholders’ life at Walkerville). I had intended to get up earlier and take a look round the countryside, but having slept badly in the middle night, I awoke late. The middle night was disturbed, not by noise, but by noises which I could not describe; and once or twice by the furious barking of dogs, which made me think, half asleep, that there must be fowl thieves about, we had been talking about fowl thieves the evening before.
I did take one peep. A reddish young moon was dropping down behind a kopje and there were no thieves visible and it was chilly. I hopped back into bed and in next to no time the cow and heifer and calf were lowing for their breakfast and the sun was up and Shaka, one of the dogs, was making a fuss of the two young Mann boys; and if there were any chickens missing nobody had noticed it.
The Mann's seemed to have been fully awake for a long time. Especially Mrs. Mann. She has to see five people on their way, dressed and fed, and she starts the day at 5.40 a.m.
You would think that five people getting out of a small house in the morning would cause something of a commotion, but the Mann's are not fussy people. By the time I had seen the native man milk and feed the cow, Mr. Mann, Sylvia and Roma were walking leisurely up to the bus stop.
I had meant to feed the animals myself, but although there are not many of them at the moment I got the rations muddled up. For cows and chickens the meal and mealies are measured out in tins. However, while the native was putting out the cow and the heifer to graze on a neighbours place, for the Mann's limited grazing is thin today, I assured Mrs. Mann that, in conformity with my resolution to see something of the life of a smallholding at first hand, I would attend to the Rhode Island Reds personally.
I must say it was a pleasure to serve them. Fetching water and cleaning the drinking vessels is a bit of a bind. (Note for Mr. Mann: Why not water laid on?) But the welcome these girls give one amply makes up for any little ache in the arms. I had never noticed before that poultry can make such pleasant noises. If this is all that there is to poultry keeping, why all the fuss about it?
True, there are only 50 layers at the moment. (Layers by the way, have one quaint habit – although they have half a dozen or more laying places to choose from, they all crowd together round two). Perhaps it would be more noticeably like work when there are 500 to 1,000 to look after. But on the whole I was satisfied with my first little job.
I made only two major blunders on my first day on the smallholding. (I) Apparently II should have let the chickens have as much laying meal as they wanted and not a much mealies, for too much mealies makes them fat and they won’t lay. (II) I let the calf loose and she did some damage to the young trees.
It was when the photographer arrived in the latish afternoon to take a beautiful picture of quite rural life. I was absolutely convinced that this calf – they call her Buttercup – was my slave. Had she not licked the meal off my hands, and exhibited the utmost affection for me? And suddenly she was transformed into a wild little beastie, of remarkable stamina, strength and stubbornness, defying the efforts of two grown-ups and three children to lead her back to the nice photographer. At six months! Luckily, when the native man brought in the cow and heifer, she stopped her nonsense as suddenly as she started it, and trotted up to them like a frightened lamb.
12th May 1954
Fruit Promised to be a “Bonus” – Until the Hail Came
It is time to tell you something of what the Mann's do, have done and hope to do on their six-acre smallholding eighteen miles from Johannesburg (and the same distance from Vereeniging). Their main activities are raising poultry and growing fruit. Let us look today at the orchard:
Their 600 fruit trees occupy more than three and a half acres at 12 feet apart, and they are mostly peach of four or five different varieties.
The experts, I believe, prefer you to plant peach trees at least 20 feet apart, but the fact remains that the Mann's trees, some now planted for six years, are doing all right, have given fruit and made money. The trees were a year old when they came from the nursery. You expect them to begin bearing, but not fully, when they are three or four years planted.
Even after three years, the Mann's sold about £80 worth of fruit, and after four years the fruit helped to pay for a second hand car. The Mann's sold £200 worth that year and were hoping to expand their sales of fruit and other produce – hence the car.
But the next year they had just sold £25 worth of peaches, Early Dawn, a popular variety, when the hail came; and they sold no more fruit that year. The fruit growers in Walkerville with whom I have chatted all tell the same sad tale. That was “Tornado Year” on the Witwatersrand.
Last year a sever frost killed more than half the fruit blossom. Hail finished off what fruit there was left. The Mann's sold exactly nothing. Their fruit growing neighbours had the same experience. One of them, who cultivates with a tractor, hastily planted potatoes. It is too early yet to say how this will pan out.
On their fruit growing so far the Mann's have been out of pocket, as a summary of their budget shows. They estimate that about half the time of a regular native employee was sent on the trees, a conservative estimate, and there was some additional labour, aft first on “skoffling” and then, as this was not getting results, on light ploughing, which is being done at the moment. Then there was manure before they began keeping a cow or two and making their own compost, of which they still have not enough.
Making no allowance for their own time (no part-time smallholder ever does) in pruning and spraying, packing fruit and selling it, or the cost of packing cases and carriers, or of petrol when they delivered the fruit, their orchard budget reads:
600 Trees at 2s. each .. ...
Regular labour (part wages) ..
Weeding and ploughing .. ..
Manure .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ..
Spraying .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ..
Total .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ... .. ..
So on capital outlay and running costs they are so far approximately £57.10s behind.
The Mann's are not grumbling. In fact, they seem mildly surprised that they have so far done not too badly. They look on their orchard as a “bonus” which is paid some years and some not. You cannot depend on it, but, while there is life in the trees, there is hope.
13th May 1954
Some Hard Facts about Keeping Poultry: The Mann's Start Again From Scratch
If they wanted to try to make as much on poultry keeping as they earn in town, the Mann's would have to buy at least four times as many day-old chicks as they have ordered for this winter, perhaps more. Poultry keeping is one of the few business like propositions which can be attempted on a smallholding the size of theirs – six acres on which you obviously cannot grow enough to make a living unless you raise a super luxury crop. And when I asked Mrs. Sue Mann today what had really brought them 18 miles out of town along the Vereeniging road, to tame a bare piece of veld, she promptly said, “Because Jimmy”, her husband, “was so keen on poultry”.
The answer is one that so many smallholders give, when town’s people ask them why they do not go in for this or that and make their fortune. It is a brief “no capital”. And the wise ones know that, given the capital, they would not necessarily make a fortune.
The Mann’s came out to Walkerville 14 years ago with a few hundred fowls, three small incubators, two or three brooders – and plenty of enthusiasm.
After a promising start they had setbacks. For several years they had to abandon all dreams of being poultry farmers on even a moderate scale, and settle down to rearing a family and keeping only enough poultry to supply their own needs and leave a small surplus. Last year they started to build up their flocks again, on the firm principle that the poultry must pay its way as they went along.
At the moment, the Mann's tell you the earlier history of their poultry keeping. Let us look today at their modest plans for the coming crop. These may be extended, but that will only happen this year if they have a large slice of luck.
At the moment, the Mann's, having sold the rest of last year’s breed – turkeys and chickens as table birds and for breeding – have just 50 layers. Rhode Island Red hens, and a small breeding stock. Today or tomorrow Mr. Mann will nip down to the railway station at the lunch hour and collect a box of a hundred day old chicks.
At probably the same time several other smallholders in different parts of the country will be on similar errands, for this is the time of the year when poultry keepers start to stock up for the spring and summer, and for next year’s eggs.
Mr. Mann will get three lots of day old cockerels I the next three months, 300 at a cost of ten guineas, and in August he will get 200 mixed chicks, cost £14. Mixed chicks are “unsexed”, they are a mixture of cockerels and hens. About half will be table birds and the rest next year’s layers. If you want chicks guaranteed to turn out pullets you pay more. By the time the mixed chicks arrive in August the Mann's will have begun selling their first cockerels as dressed table poultry. Usually the cockerels are slaughtered after about three months, when they should weigh three pounds, and last season’s price was 3s. to 3s. 6d. a pound.
The Mann’s begin selling when their cockerels are just over two months, for they “turn over the stock” as rapidly as possible, even if it means getting less for a lighter bird. They want to make sure of paying the feed bill. The Mann's have accommodation at the moment for 500 poultry; most of them arranged in a cluster of ten small houses a relic of the breeding days. There is one larger house to hold 100, and there are rondavels which can be used for packing eggs, raising chicks or storing food.
Two larger hen houses, awaiting completion, could take another 200. And on paper the Mann's have plans for new houses which will accommodate two or three thousand. Then the place will really begin to look like a poultry farm. “At the moment”, says Mrs. Mann, “we are just playing at poultry farming. I mean, we take it seriously, and it pays, but it is on such a small scale! Still if I have my way we’ll go slowly. Five hundred will be enough this year on our capital. Of course, we’ll have a few turkeys. I have five dozen eggs to come from a neighbour to whom we sold turkeys this last season for breeding.”
She paused to look through the window at the poultry run, from which an unusually loud cackling had come. Reassured, she turned back. “Yes, it’s all small and my husband is itching to go faster. But we have both learned our lesson – patience. We have seen people start with the fine plans and pack up after a month or two. For us, you can really say it’s starting from scratch.
14 May 1954
A Reservoir Would Solve Many Problems for the Mann's
From the highest point of your smallholding you look round your six acres (or 12 or 20) and make a mental note of the things which simply must be done. Then you think of the things you would like to do. When you close to a thousand pounds, unless you are better off financially than most smallholders, you give yourself a shake and decide that you had better go and fix that confounded fence.
That happens to most smallholders one a month to some once a week, and to a few nearly every day of their lives. Today, a lovely sunny day, I stood on the highest point of the Mann’s smallholding and, putting myself in the position of Mr. and Mrs. Mann, thought of some improvements that should or could be made to their six acres.
The highest point, or approximately the highest, is marked by a stout iron pole, standing straight out of the ground five or six feet and standing firm. It marks the spot where Mr. Mann would like to build a circular reservoir. To the east of the pole (the sketch make this perfectly clear) is the windmill and the usual 1,000 gallon tank, which is not on an iron tank stand but on the roof of a small brick tool house, the roof having been suitably reinforced.
This supplies the house with water, and from a tap on the tank the Mann's can use a hose on their strawberries, planted between a few fruit trees, and on a vegetable patch which h supplies them and their chickens with green vitamins most of the year. One can see that the few fruit trees near the tank stand are doing better than most of the other trees in the main orchard. They get more water at the time of the year when they most need water – the dry spell before and sometimes after the trees blossom. The main orchard can only be watered by carrying buckets or barrels of water on a wheelbarrow – a laborious, time and money wasting substitute for irrigation by furrows from a reservoir and a poor substitute for the trees.
Hence the plan to build a reservoir, without which no smallholding can really flourish. (Nice for the young Mann's to dive into in summer, too). From this spot, granted a good full reservoir, the Mans could probably irrigate all their trees. From the top water in a full reservoir they could probably irrigate a nice little patch – not so small, really, on a six acre smallholding – running from the reservoir up to the main road, and one or two patches behind the old fowl houses in which they are now stabling their cows. As it is, the 1,000-gallon tank often flows over from the outlet hole at the top – and then one of the young Mann's dashes over and turns off the windmill. If a pipe could be run from the outlet hole to a reservoir, the Mann's could be sure of having enough water for the house and the overflow would go to the reservoir, always granted enough wind.
Or would it? The tank looks a little low to me to give sufficient pressure up to the reservoir. Raising it would be quite a job. And I see from the advertisements that even a 6-ft. tank stand costs about £35. But, of course, the water would come from almost the top of the tank, raising it almost six feet higher than the pipe ruining to the Mann's kitchen.
What about the cost of the piping from the tank to the reservoir? I pace out the distance, roughly 160 feet. If inch and a half piping is good enough that would be, according to the advertisements, about £19 or say £20 for piping. And what would the reservoir cost? A neighbour of the Mann's told me yesterday that he had built a brick reservoir, reinforced with steel wire according to Government recommendations, for £150. But that was 30 feet in diameter and 51/2 feet high.
I see Mr. Mann had made excavations for a 20 foot diameter reservoir. At the same height – in the same style – that would be £100.
And the valve? Oh, say a fiver. And irrigation piping? Unless the Mann's use quite a good length of irrigation piping they are going to lose a considerable quantity of a rather limited supply of water – say ten or eleven thousand gallons when the reservoir is full. At this estimate, it’s all going to be rather expensive.
I can see that this even one small job is going to be a matter for the experts – and a bank manager. I abandon all ideas of overhead irrigation. It would be lovely and much better than surface irrigation, but quite beyond the average smallholder. Likewise I abandon, for the moment, the idea of the Mann's laying on water from their 1,000-gallon tank to their fowl runs. As for building large new fowl houses – that when one runs up to the £1,000 mark . . .
Which reminds me that those day old chicks will be arriving tomorrow?
15th May 1954
There’s a Lot in Knowing How to Bring Up Chickens
An awful lot of people must be going in for poultry this season”, remarks Mrs. Sue Mann. For there are two “crosses” among the hundred day-old Rhode Island reds which have just arrived from the poultry breeder at Potchefstroom, who writes t say he is sorry but he just has not got enough pure breds to fulfill all his orders this week, though he breeds thousands of Rhode Island Reds. One large incubator may produce 17,000 of them.
The day olds arrived at the Johannesburg station yesterday in a large cardboard box reinforced and ventilated, and subdivided in to four cardboard nests. Mr. Mann brought them home in the evening. He judged it wise to leave the chickens in their box for the night – in the kitchen. Apparently these day old chicks can go safely without water or food for as long as 48 hours, though ducklings need to drink sooner.
The box was opened this morning about 20 hours after it was dispatched, in a large fowl house which once served the Mann's as a temporary kitchen and this season will be the brooder house.
Though even the young Mann's have seen hundreds of day old chicks in their time, the family were all present and correct for the opening ceremony at 6.30 as the sun came over the koppie. And, just as in any town where a family is seeing chicks for the first time, there cries of “Sweet”! “Aren’t they lovely”! and even “Shame”! – perhaps because they will one day be eaten – as the chicks were lifted out and put on the floor.
Actually there were a hundred and three (or four; Frankie and Jimmy Mann were not quite certain) for the generous breeder puts in a few over the hundred for luck.
Two were weaklings and were taken away. Two were unmistakably lighter in colour than the Rhode Island Reds and will probably be adopted by the young Mann's – if they get half a chance – as pets. A place had been prepared on the floor where the sun would strike through the window or the greater part of the day. River sand and clean straw had been put down, surrounded by a course of bricks.
Grain had been scattered in the sand, and under the window was a canopy of tin under which stood an ordinary oil hurricane lamp – the simplest kind of brooder there is for a hundred or 150 chicks. There was a tray of meal on the floor and an asbestos drinking vessel, and between them another oil lamp.
While the young Mann's were coaxing the chicks to drink or peck at the crushed mealies, or guiding the chilly one under the canopy, Mr. and Mrs. Mann told me some of the essentials for bringing up chickens. First, they must come from a reliable poultry breeder whose plant has recently been Government tested and certified free from fowl typhoid infection and a distressing disease known as B.W.D. This B.W.D. can play the dickens with a flock of poultry. The Mann's recall that in their earlier days they bought several hundred chicks from a breeder who had a good reputation but whose stock, it turned out later, had become neglected.
At that time they also were breeding and these were to supplement the orders of neighbours. They dished out some hundreds of chicks and kept some hundreds themselves, and in two days their own were “dropping like flies”. They had to dash round and tell their neighbours the alarming news, advise them to destroy the chicks, and disinfect their places immediately (apparently even fowls which recover from B.W.D. can continue to be carriers); and then, having destroyed their own, had to set to work breeding free chickens for their neighbours.
In all, a considerable loss of money and time, for it is important to begin raising the chickens just at the right time of the year. Secondly, the chicks must be kept warm and out of draughts, but not too warm. There are temperature guides, but the Mann's say that the best indication whether the chickens are feeling just right is the way they behave. If they huddle together and overcrowding is bad they are cold. If they are to hot they lie apart.
Apparently they may eat as much as they please, but more important than food is water. By the time I had learned this – the mere rudiments of the rearing of poultry – the chicks were already learning to drink and were pecking quite happily. I shall follow their progress with interest – and I bet so will the young Mann's.
17th May 1954
Weekend Jobs; and the Mann's Make Tentative Plans
There is one certain thing about a smallholding – be it never so small, it keeps the smallholder busy. These days are short, so although it is the “dead” season there are plenty of small jobs to be done on the Mann's six acres at Walkerville during the weekend.
One small job which Mr. James Mann had to do on Saturday afternoon was mend the fence in the cow camp. It is “absolutely nothing” to make a new fence, with new wire, poles, or on standards and droppers and good tools. Or so I am told. But mending an old fence with whatever comes handy can be recommended only an exercise for experienced sappers with the patience of Job, and tough hands. I write from some little experience.
However, the fence is mended. Other little jobs were whitewashing a fowl house and tarring the perches – just to use up the material which the native help had left over when he knocked off for Saturday afternoon – and in his spare time Mr. Mann finished off a fly screen window and mad a fly screen door, the frame being pieces of packing case and cut-offs of hardwood.
Mr. Mann admits that he is no carpenter – though the complete smallholder is carpenter, builder, painter, lumber, mechanic and all-round wizard – but he and I agreed that the door was a neat piece of work – neater than the first window frame he made. “Would be nice to have a workshop of one’s own” we also agreed. At the moment he is using one of the rondavels, which, suitably renovated, wall probably be required as an egg packing room one of these days.
For the arrival of the first of the season’s day-old chicks (the important occasion which I reported on Saturday) has revived the poultry keeping enthusiasm of both Mr. Mann and his wife Sue. They want more layers.
The day-olds (more cross-breds in them than we had first thought, but that doest not matter as they are intended as table poultry) are doing fine. Two more weaklings have died, but that is not an excessive loss and the others looked healthy enough this morning as they darted about in the bright sunshine that streamed through the open window. (Apparently there were only 102, leaving 98 now). Their rations are now supplement by milk, which is a great disease prevented. “But the milk must be quite clean”, Mrs. Mann admonishes.
The Mann's have been talking it over, and they have agreed that they will get more day olds this season than they had planned. They will get day old pullets towards the end of winter. Mr. Mann knows a breeder who might be able to let them have an excellent strain of layer (originating room imported eggs before the import ban was imposed) and he discusses the merits of this breed with as much enthusiasm as he discusses Rugby football. Mrs. Mann has agreed to look after them while he is working in town.
The whole Mann household is full of quiet enthusiasm this weekend as they make plans for the future. The girls have ideas about gardening, What’s more, they have been working – preparing flower beds. The boys have the look of young men with a secret ambition. I remind them that the strawberries can do with a bit cleaning. Groans.
Cleaning the Orchard - this is cleaning up time. At the weekend the ploughmen come – all three of them with their six donkeys – by arrangement with them and their employer. They are cleaning up between the fruit trees, six rows a weekend at five shillings a row. One man hold the plough, one leads the donkeys and third eggs them on. It is a performance that would drive an efficiency expert to tears.
“What you need”, said a neighbour who dropped in on Saturday evening, “is one good horse”.
“What we all need” said a second neighbour, “is a handy little machine. Look how quickly Mr. so and so gets through his orchard by machine”.
“What we all really need”, said a third, “is capital”.
I was told, though, that my estimate of the cost of building a reservoir is much too high and I am going to get another set of figures.
That reminds Mr. Mann. He has been looking into the possibilities and cost of plastic pippin, and the cost of roofing materials. :Thinking of expanding Jimmy”? they tease him. Mr. Mann smiles enigmatically.
“Somebody was mentioning the little matter of capital” he remarks.
But I can see that the Mann's are turning over plans.
Meanwhile things are getting done. I can see that also, even after a week. The donkeys may be slow, but the orchard is looking all the better for Saturday’s ploughing.
18th May 1954
The Mann's Enjoy an Important Benefit – Transport
The Mann's and their neighbours enjoy one important benefit which hundreds of smallholders do not – they have good public transport to work and back home. Almost at the very gate of their smallholding, halfway between Johannesburg and Vereeniging, Mr. James Mann can catch one of two large railway buses round seven in the morning; his daughter Sylvia, one of two buses half an hour later and both can be sure of getting to Johannesburg in comfort, in plenty of time to stroll along to store or office.
In the evening they have the choice of several railway buses between 4.40 p.m. and 5.35 p.m. and get home in plenty of time for dinner. They cannot go to a theatre in town and catch a bus home in the evening – there is none. And, although there are buses between 12.40 and 1.40 on Saturday, there is no other Saturday bus back home except the 5.15. But during the working week – they have regular hours – they are more comfortably off than many works in the city. It was not so when the Mann's first came to Walkerville 14 years ago. For their first three or four years there was not bus at all. Then a Mr. van Straten started running his own bus from Walkerville – just in time for Mr. Mann, whose baby Austin was cracking up.
The bus took Mr. Mann, among about two dozen other workers, to Booysens, from where they got a tram to town. Then Mr. van Straten went back to Walkerville to take Sylvia, just starting school, and five or six young friends to De Deur.
In the evening Mr. van Straten went back to Booysens to pick up the homecoming workers, who still speak of him with affection. He would look round and say: “Must wait for so and so – he’s probably delayed having a drink or a hair cut”. Another saying of his which his old customers remember was: “Would you like to pay now or at the end of the week?”
Mr. van Straten’s bus used to make a detour about four miles on the Johannesburg side of Walkerville. It skirted Hartzenbergfontein (where the Mann boys now go to school by school bus) and went round the dirt road through Elandsfontein 34 back to the tarred road, picking up some of the many smallholders in the district.
In winter Mr. van Straten’s passengers could always be picked out from among the people passing through Booysens by the red dust on their collars. In summer they sometimes had to get out and push the bus through the mud on the Elandsfontein road, and the perfect passengers were the ones who knew something about fixing a bus. Mr. van Straten was succeeded by other private bus proprietors – Mr. Mann thinks he went faming when he sold his bus – and there are private buses to supplement the railway service on the Vereeniging main road.
But today there is no bus except the school bus on the Elandsfontein route, and some of the smallholders have to get to the main road – a matter of three, four or five miles – as best they can in all weathers. Some have to walk. So in some ways they are worse off than they were ten years ago. They say that the private buses cut their route out because the road, a provincial road, got too bad.
For miles along the Vereeniging road there are smallholders who walk one or more miles to the bus stop each morning, the luck ones have their own cars and the same home in the evening. The one who work irregular hours must have a car, which the bad roads shake to pieces, and in a short time or their lives become a misery. In the short time that I have been driving out to see the Mann's I have given lifts to a tram driver, a policeman, a miner and one of two others, more or less stranded. The car was broken down; the friend with whom they share a car to town and back has failed to turn up. Those are among the stories I hear.
Their “peaceful” life in the country has become a worry. Getting oneself to town and back each day, it seems to me, is too much of a strain on the nerves and the pockets of all but the fairly y well to do. Even the Mann's transport bill is high enough, just on £5 a month each for Sylvia and Mr. Mann, and £2 for Roma Mann, who goes to school in Vereeniging by railway bus.
Apparently the modern bus drivers have the same kindly attitude to their passengers as Mr. van Straten had to his. When the “lady who walks a mile and a half” is seen hastening over the horizon on the last lap, the bus driver will linger that vital minute. When the road is dark or wet he will put the homecoming business girl down at her gate.
In the matter of transport, almost the most important thing in the workaday life of the citygoer, these are the lucky smallholders. The intending smallholder will be well advised not to get too far off a good bus route, if he can find one, unless he has plenty of money to burn in petrol and more important, to spend on car repairs.
19th May 1954
How the Mann's Came to Walkerville
FOR SALE: Plot of 5.79 acres, with running stream, on main road halfway between Johannesburg and Vereeniging; £275 - £20 deposit, and £2 10s. a month. What particularly took James Mann’s fancy when he read the advertisement 16 years ago was the “running stream”.
The Mann’s were two years married, had one baby and a baby Austin. They lived at Regent’s Park, Johannesburg; had given up a very nice house to go there, because there was enough back garden in Regent’s Park to go in for poultry. The poultry did well. Then some of the neighbours complained. The inspector came, said there was nothing to complain about – he was something of a poultry fancier himself – and became one of their customers. But the back garden in Regent’s Park was getting too small for these would-be poultry farmers. They began looking round for a little place in the country, not too far away, for James Mann had to come to town every day, and sometimes at night – he was a young policeman.
Land was then much cheaper along the Vereeniging road than it is today. The Mann's had the choice of half a dozen or more adjoining plots, and chose the one with the running stream. For a year or so the Mann's went out occasionally the 18 miles to “the land”, picnicked, though there was no shade, planted a tree or two, cleared a small piece of veld for a garden. Then one day they decided that they would wait no longer for all the things that money should provide on the plot but go and live there before the summer was out. The baby Austin began to be overloaded with pieces of timber, sacks of cement. “How we ever got there sometimes I don’t know”, Mrs. Sue Mann says today. And she recalls the Saturday when the car got them as far as the gate, then sank with a broken differential.
Hundreds of city bred people have begun to be smallholders exactly s the Mann's did. Many are today doing just as they did. If they are young, they probably have not much money; perhaps like the Mann's, only a few pounds capital and their salary or wages. Having acquired the land, the usual thing to do is bore for water, fence the land if the water is fortunately there, and there is enough money to go on with and perhaps plough it and plant a few mealies; at any rate, plant a few trees. The Mann's built before they bored for water, there was the stream, though it is usually dry today. One of Mrs. Mann's brothers was a builder, and that was a great help when thy put up their cottage of four rooms, which they paid for mostly out of the new laid eggs they sold in Regent’s Park.
“I had visions then of the day when we would build another house”, says Mrs. Mann – “up there where you get such a nice view. And I thought the cottage would still be useful as a store room or incubator place . . . but the day has not come yet. We’ve had to be content with an extra room which was once a stoep, and a bathroom. And I plan . . . “. Mrs. Mann sketched out more extensions, then said: “But, of course, it would be nicer to build a new house altogether. Still, this cottage is comfortable. And we’re happy, which is the main thing”.
The day arrived 14 years ago when the Mann's packed up in Regent’s Park; the little convoy moving along the Vereeniging road to Walkerville included their poultry and portable poultry houses. They now had two children, one over two years, and one just over two months. At Walkerville there was no bus service, no electric lights, no telephone, no post office, no church, no doctor and still not much shade, for the trees were about a foot high. Their nearest neighbour was so far away that they could almost say “No neighbours”. The nearest store was several miles away. Today they have a bus service, but although power lines run along their back road they still have not got electricity. I saw men putting up telephone poles in their neighbourhood today and they have neighbours now.
Mr. Mann recalls the sweat of trying to clear a patch of veld for a garden. But he also recalls, with natural pride, that the season after they arrived in Walkerville he grew a lovely lot of tomatoes, which he took to town in his baby Austin and sold for £30. Their windmill is still working. They have never gone short of water. They are glad they came. They feel they have a future. But, before I speak of the future, let me tell something more of the past 14 years.
20th May 1954
The Mann's Have Had Hard Times and Fun, Too
Letters to the “Rand Daily Mail” have suggested that I am making the smallholder’s life “sound rather hard”. Well, it can be hard when you start without much capital. In their early days the Mann’s had some hard times on their smallholding at Walkerville, but they had fun, too. They are still there, and they still have fun – and occasionally difficult times. Plenty of people with money have failed to make a go at farming and even a smallholding. But to state the obvious, that money alone cannot grow trees or make hens lay eggs, need not blind one to the equally obvious fact that it does help. And there are many things that you must buy on a smallholding out of capital which you pay for as you go in town.
Mrs. Sue Mann put the whole proposition very simply today, when we were discussing the cost of improvements, and came to water. “First you must have a borehole. Then, as you cannot afford an engine, because it takes such an expensive pump head, you must have a windmill. Then a tank on a tank stand high enough to get the water where you want it to go. Hen pipes . . . one thing calls for another, and it all calls for money”. And a young policeman cannot easily pay for even that one item out of his pay. So the Mann's were not doing too badly when they managed to bore for water after they had been at Walkerville about four years, and young Jimmy Mann, now nearly eleven, was a year old. Up to that time they had been carrying water from the stream, as neighbours did after them. Mr. Erasmus did the job. He was one of the few plot holders round here – grew beautiful strawberries. But he’s gone now, like so many of the early smallholders”.
Luckily they got water – some unfortunate people have owned several acres for several months or years before they discover that there is none, or that they would have to go too deeply for it. They got water at about 80 feet. That, and the piping and gear down the borehole cost them just over £100. Then there was the small windmill £60 for a thousand gallon tank and stand and piping to the house – in all the job cost more than a couple of hundred. There was water in the kitchen tap, instead of at the spring a hundred yards away, but still no hot water, and the bathroom would have to wait. Mrs. Mann bathed her three children aged four, three and one – in a tin bath, like many a young mother before her and since.
Bathing, feeding and dressing three small children and making their clothes did not leave Mrs. Mann much time for poultry rearing, but they still kept poultry, though the houses they had brought with them from town were getting in bad shape, allowed for no expansion, and would obviously soon have to be replaced. She and James Mann talked it over and came to the conclusion that there would be no question of James becoming a poultry farmer for years, even after the war. His role would be that of city goer, and most of the job of looking after the poultry would fall on his wife.
Still, they went quietly ahead. They had their setbacks. A strange animal broke into the fowl runs and killed off much of the stock. They built the fences stronger – the animal disappeared. They rebuilt their flock. Then poultry thieves cleaned out most of their best breeding poultry. They raised a small loan on the property, which they are still paying off at so much a month, began tearing down the old houses and building a new poultry plant – laid out in smallish houses for breeding – and began again.
Then Frankie, the youngest Mann, arrived.
When Mr. Mann came home to Walkerville from the nursing home in Johannesburg one dry August night, he found that the poultry had not been fed or watered. Labour was always bad, and quite unreliable when not under supervision. When Mrs. Mann came home from hospital labour had got no better. To build up a flock of poultry – sometime fetching and carrying water and food herself – and look after a baby and three small children was more than she could manage. It had been hard enough in the lonely first years – “sometimes so lonely I cried” and now it was somehow harder still.
The Mann's talked it over again. They would go on building up the poultry plant as best they could – they now also had to make some more improvements to their own house – and they would keep a few poultry for themselves, any small surplus for sale: but large scale poultry was “out” for some years to come. They planted fruit trees that August / September. And only last year – years after they began building up their flocks of poultry on a larger scale.
I have made the years seem short, and in some ways they have seemed short to the Mann's, for there has been so much to do. But have the Mann’s not been a long time getting down to the job which brought them out to Walkerville?
All things considered, I do not think so. They have been fighting the cost of living, keeping their children at school, a private school when they deemed it necessary, and generally making ends meet as parents of small means have all been doing since the war.
Things are easier now. Walkerville, too, has been growing. There are neighbours. But while they were struggling they saw plenty of people come, full of enthusiasm, and some with plenty of money – and go, disheartened and disillusioned. They had expected a smallholding to grow and pay for itself too soon. The Mann's – among their immediate neighbours, anyway, are now the oldest inhabitants, though they are not too old to go on building. And if you ask, “Is it worth it?” Mrs. Mann points to her children. “They would not live anywhere else”.
21st May 1954
There are smallholders who say that it is cheaper to buy your milk in town than to keep a couple of cows, but for most months of the year the Mann's find that keeping a cow saves them approximately £4 a month on milk and £3 10s. on butter – and the sale of surplus skim milk, though not much pays for the cow’s meal.
Yesterday evening the youngest Mann, Frankie, gave me the history of their cow keeping at Walkerville. He did so, quite unwittingly, when I suggested that Frankie, who will be nine next August, could hardly remember their first cow. “Yes I do”, Frankie asserted, “we had Lucky, the Jersey with the calf that died. And after Lucky we had the Friesland – daddy called her Aandbloem. She was a kicker and hardly anybody could milk her. Now we’ve got Brownie and Buttercup the heifer calf, and the heifer is Daisy, she’ll be getting a calf soon”.
Lucky and Aandbloem were well bred cows, and when they were both in milk the Mann's sold quite a lot of milk to their neighbours. The cows were sold at one of those times, which occur in most families, when ready cash was needed quickly.
For quite a long time the Mann's themselves were milk buyers and Mrs. Mann says, “Never again if I can help it”. Brownie, bought as a very young calf, is about fifty-fifty Jersey and Friesland. She was called Brownie before she turned out to be black – so Frankie explains. She is not exactly the kind of cow you would put on the Rand Show, though I am told that the Apple Orchards Show (in which the people of Walkerville and De Deur take part) has a class for just such breeds – a nice idea.
As a cow that has paid her way handsomely Brownie takes some beating. No gallon of whole milk a day for here for her first five or six weeks and no skim milk for weeks thereafter – the kind of rations that Buttercup the calf has since enjoyed – and no milk substitute followed by calf meal, either.
On such rations any calf can be expected to thrive, given reasonable luck, but it comes rather expensive. I estimate (on the advice of another smallholder out the Mann's way) that on milk substitute and meal a calf would cost £8 to feed in its first six months, well worth it for a good pedigree calf.
Feeding it on the smallholding’s own milk for the first four months or so would be much less costly. But either way the smallholder has a long time to wait for milk if he is waiting for the calf to grow up and become a cow – something over three years for a Jersey and nearly a year more for a Friesland.
A calf you can buy for two of three pounds, but the cowless smallholder usually buys a cow in calf, not a very fancy one for £30 to £35. That way he gets milk in perhaps a few months and saves money on fancy rations. But Brownie had no fancy rations. Yellow mealies for her – I understand that many a useful cow has been reared on a mealie pap – and sweet grass, in a wonderful season for sweet grass, which she ate by the bucketful. But she thrived on everything she was given, whereas the Mann’s first calf, the well bred Jersey, died – Mrs. Mann thinks because, in their inexperience they fed her too much calf meal.
Brownie has had several calves, Daisy, is one of them is now 21 or 22 months, and Mr. Mann is going to make inquiries about the possibilities of artificial insemination. Few smallholders can afford to keep a bull – the Mann's sold a bull calf the week before they bought Buttercup the Jersey – and consequently the services of a bull are not always easy to come by when required.
When Daisy is giving milk, the Mann's, once without milk for the years during which Daisy’s mother was growing up, will have much more milk than they need, even making allowance for the skim milk they feed to the poultry, for most of the year. And with reasonable luck – for they will keep Daisy – they will never be without milk and cream and butter, even during those months when a cow is expected to calve and “dries off”.
Of course, their own six acres cannot be expected to graze two cows and a calf, especially now that the orchard, which once gave such nice sweet grass when the trees were small, has grown up.
And they can grow so little winter feed that it is hardly worth mentioning, at any rate to a dairy farmer. That is the position of many smallholders, though some keep an extra plot for their couple of cows, some hire grazing, and some live on a group of smallholdings on which a commonage has been specially set aside for them. Otherwise the cows are grazed as the Mann's cow and heifer graze at the moment – mostly on vacant plots.
Mrs. Mann has begun feeding her cow two bags of meal a month, costing just over £3 and that will be the winter ration. (The calf, like the heifer, went off meal at six months). At the moment she gets only two gallons of milk a day, giving her enough cream for butter on the family’s bread but not quite enough for cake making and such luxuries, she uses margarine for that. In summer her meal bill was less than half the £3 a month, and she received four gallons of milk a day, not as much as the dairyman along the road would naturally expect, but far more than the Mann's ever need.
On that basis, even if the sale of surplus skim milk did not pay the meal bill (an average of say £24 a year) she is saving £78 or £80 a year on milk and butter – and, more important, with her eggs she has the basic foods in abundance for most months of the year. Cheese the Mann's might also have, but for some reason which I cannot understand they do not like home made cheese.
Even paying £35 for your first cow, it seems that it pays to keep one.
22nd May 1954
Nearly every smallholder, like nearly every householder in town, has at some time or other toyed with the idea of selling. The Mann’s, once in their 14 years at Walkerville, had the idea. Things were zooming along the Vereeniging road. They had a good offer for their property. Perhaps if they sold they could start all over again – on another smallholding, of course – with a nice bit of capital behind them. But when it came to the point they decided they would rather stay.
There was one practical reason for not selling. Only the really clever person, who is not particularly interested in making a home, can be certain of selling one piece of suitable property on a rising market and buying another suitable piece on a falling market. And what would they do in between?
Sit cooped up in town waiting for the very plot they wanted at the price they could pay? They might wait a long time. And then when they began estimating what this and that would cost at the current prices, they were surprised to find how much it might cost, how much they had already invested.
But that was not what decided them against selling. The deciding factor was that they liked being where they were too much to leave.
Roma Mann proved that very conclusively. Now that I know the Mann's better I sometimes tease Roma with being the glamour girl of the smallholding. When Roma heard what was being considered she burst into tears, and the three other young Mann's were not far behind. Poor James Mann pointed out that the idea was originally his. Nobody could think who first thought of it, now it seemed preposterous.
So the Mann's stayed (though they have “seen them come and seen them go”) And that, I think, is as good an answer as any to the very interesting letter which the “Rand Daily Mail” publishes today from a smallholder who lives near the Mann's.
This letter suggests that so far I may have given towns people the idea that smallholder’s life is “all trial and tribulation”. I hope not, for the intention of this series is to report how one finds the life of one smallholder family, and let the reader draw his own conclusions: and the Mann's are one of the happiest families I know.
Later I hope to meet and talk with some of the Mann's neighbours. (I hope they will not set the dogs on me). I have so far only been introduced to a few of them. Meanwhile let me recapitulate some of the benefits which the Mann's and their neighbours enjoy and, in parenthesis, refer to conditions on smallholdings elsewhere.
The Mann's can produce much of their basic food at little or no cost, though the capital outlay comes heavy on the family of modest means without much capital. They have excellent transport to work in town and to school. (Some smallholders have not. I was not surprised to learn this week that a meeting had been called of the people in adjacent neighbourhood’s off the main road to press for a railway bus service).
They have a tarred road at their gate (but some smallholders have to drive over several miles of extremely rough roads to reach the tarmacadam, and that makes motoring expensive, especially when there is no bus). They have water (while some smallholdings have gone dry or nearly dry) and good schools which some townspeople and some smallholders have not got.
The Government has promised an inquiry into the disabilities of the smallholder’s life. Meanwhile the would be smallholder should be put on his guard against some of the disabilities which he may be able to avoid. In advance, the agricultural experts have shaken their heads at the idea that a smallholding can be made to “pay”. I am not arguing that question now, but let me quote from another smallholder’s letter. The writer, Mrs. Gwen Rosenbroek, who lives on ten morgan, at Honeydew.
“Through all our trials and tribulations . . . nothing has dimmed our affection of our little farm . . . We would certainly like to find out if it pays to live as we do, but should it be proved that city life is really far cheaper it would make no difference because this is the only life for us”.
Mr. James Mann (quoted in my first article) said: “We are quite solvent and quite happy”.
Reader’s Points of View
Cheaper to Live in the Country - Smallholder’s Life is not All Trial
Sir, - as a smallholder living not far from Mr. Mann, I have read your articles with great interest. Mr. Mann’s trials and tribulations are our own, too, more or less, but there are two points that you have so far missed about smallholders. Perhaps you are coming to them; but in the process many city dwellers will have “had” the life of a smallholder, because it seems all trial and tribulation.
The two points? The first is that we like living in fresh air and, after a few years out in the open, hate the thought of a flat in town or a house on a quarter of an acre. The second fact is that it is cheaper to live and to build in the country. Our pride and desire to make our land pay for itself makes us, spend money on its improvement; but, except for transport, everything we have is cheaper than in town; food is fresh, and our children have plenty of space to play in.
My season railway bus ticket costs £4 14s. 9d. a month (it is £1 less on the private bus service), and is not bad for 36 miles a day. We get to Commissioner Street 35 minutes after leaving Walkerville. How long do you in Bramley, Highlands North or Greenside take to get to the office? So, distance is no real trouble, and if we want a night out in town we can always fix up about a car or two. Like townsmen, most of us have cars.
We have our own water, and plenty of it; but electricity is our one bad shortage. Some of us have lighting sets, but we have to be mechanics to keep them in trim. Most of us use oil lamps, which are cheap and really not too bad when you get used to them; but electricity from mains we do need.
We can buy a four acre holding on the main road for £500 to £750. What does a quarter of an acre cost in Orange Grove? We can build a 2,000 square feet house with cavity wall, slasto stone and Oregon floors, indoor sanitation and all you can get in town, for £3,000. What would that cost in Cyrildene? Rates? £2 a year! It is true we get no services from the public authority worth mentioning, but we don’t need any – except electricity. There are burglars in town. We have dogs, our neighbours have dogs, and they are often the only burglar protection we have. Sometimes we forget to lock doors at night. Do you, in Norwood?
City dwellers should imagine us doing the same work in an office as they, but living in the fresh air without worrying about overlooking the next door neighbour, and with a sporting chance of making our land pay £20 to £100 a month as well. Then they will have a picture of a smallholder.
24th May 1954
“And do you keep bees?” “Mother wants to keep some – just for ourselves”. “Good for the orchard. I can give you plenty of tips about bee-keeping too”. Sixteen year old Sylvia Mann had called on 71 year old Mrs. Campbell Bleasby to thank her for the gift of a two gallon churn, and Mrs. Bleasby was giving her some good advice on running a smallholding.
For smallholdings are Mrs. Bleasby’s chief interest in life – a busy life even now, when she lives in one small room in the centre of Johannesburg, a room crammed with books and magazines, for Mrs. Bleasby is head of the Victoria League committee which sends books to the troops in Malaya and Korea, Kenya and elsewhere, and she does much of the packing in her room.
The churn, and the dairy thermometer which accompanied it, had been in Mrs. Bleasby’s room since she gave up her few acres and cottage at Rivonia a few years ago. “I’d kept them for sentimental reasons”, she told Sylvia Mann. “Then it struck me that you might be able to make good use of them out at Walkerville on your smallholding.”
As she went on telling Sylvia Mann about her life at Rivonia, she absent-mindedly went on turning the handle of the empty churn. “I built myself a thatched cottage out there – four rooms and a large verandah so that the wounded soldiers could come out from Baragwanath”. “Started building when my husband joined up – well, he wanted to serve again, and he joined the ranks, so we hadn’t much money”.
“That’s a painting of the cottage on that wall. (It looked very nice). Well, actually I didn’t do the building work myself, for I was crippled even then. (Mrs. Bleasby has a plate in one hip). Otherwise I would have done it, for I know how. But I planned it, and I directed operations from my chair. I had a Native builder, and that one cottage cost me £300”. “It would have cost half of that, only everything started going up in price. Stock bricks went up from thirty shillings to £4 a thousand. (Today about £7 10s. per 1,500 delivered). Thatching grass went up from 7s. 6d. to 25s. a bale. Even nails went up – from five pence to a shilling a pound (which is about today’s price). Of course, we used mostly second hand material”.
Water was pumped to the house from a stream at the foot of her four acres and she could lead it all over her ground. “Along the water course I planted things like dahlias – for compost. Mrs. Bleasby gave Miss Mann a three minute lecture on compost which would have benefited any beginning smallholder. “And along the stream, in which we made little cement dams, I planted flowers like daffodils and irises, a shillings worth at a time”. Her cows were grazing on an adjoining farm, and she kept 100 hens. “There was always plenty to eat at the weekend, and I can tell you that we had plenty of visitors – soldiers who slept on the verandah, or boys who wanted to study and camp. The one rule was that those who could should do a small job of work for me”.
Mrs. Bleasby’s story of those years at Rivonia was punctuated by questions to Sylvia Mann. “Do you make plenty of compost? Do you grow herbs? Oh, everybody should grow herbs, even if it’s only in a window box in a nine-by-twelve flatlet. Here I’ve got something typed for you on herbs. My husband and I once planned to get out a little book on all the things people should try to do in a garden or on a smallholding. But he died a year after he came back . . .” And Mrs. Bleasby, who quite evidently does not believe in molly coddling oneself, went on to describe some of her experiments at Rivonia. Stone mulching was one. “We grew beautiful strawberries”.
Mrs. Bleasby thinks that South Africans do not produce enough food. “Where are the few back yard fowls that you would find round cottages all over Britain? Breakfast fowls, they are called, because they are fed largely on the scraps from the table. And why don’t we grow more vegetables?” At the lift she said to Miss Mann, “Yes, my dear, the land makes you work jolly hard, but it will give back – if you love it”.
25th May 1954
This is for those town housewives who have asked for some details of the Mann's “budget” on their smallholding at Walkerville. In some respects it is remarkably low, partly because they are doing without some of the amenities which today are considered essential to town life, and partly because they save on the food bill – without stinting - because they produce some of the basic food themselves.
In the Mann family there are the parents, two boys of eight and eleven (Frankie and Jimmy) going to the junior provincial school, a 14 year old daughter (Roma) attending the high school, and a daughter (Sylvia) not yet seventeen who has just started to work in town.
Building Society payment.. .. ..
Bus fare (father) .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ..
Bus fare (Sylvia) .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ..
Bus fare (Roma) .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ..
Gardener (milk boy, etc) ..
Maid .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ..
Property rates, tax, etc. .. .. .. .. ..
Radio licence and batteries .. .. ..
Fuel .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ..
Total so far
The radio is the Mann's one luxury and it costs them £9 a year in batteries, for they have no electricity. Consequently they have no electric light bill. They have no water bill, for they get water from a borehole, and for some years they have paid nothing for repairs to the windmill or other equipment. Their vegetables come straight out of the garden in summer; their fruit mostly off the trees (in season) and today they have a butcher and grocer within easy distance who delivers food once or twice a week.
In the budget so far I have not included their car; (licence, insurance, petrol, and repairs) which must be included in a final budget. I have not included house repairs and insurance, dentist and doctor, pocket money and incidentals. (As for clothes, Mr. James Mann remarks that one can certainly always wear out an old suit in the country, but Sylvia Mann, having just grown up from a school to business girl finds the transformation expensive). I give the rest of the items, allowing £3 a month four winter months for vegetables and fruit, but nothing for milk, butter, eggs.
So far .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ..
Meat .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .
Groceries (including bread) .. .. ..
Fresh provisions (fish, cheese, etc)
Vegetables and fruit (average) .. ..
Total budget so far
On the bare necessities the Mann's are doing fine. I estimate that their budget so far would be £14 12s.
26 May 1954
The Mann's heifer Daisy, it is hoped, will the mother of a Jersey calf nine months from now, which means among other things that next autumn, when they most need milk, the Mann's should be getting twice as much as they get today from their one cow, Brownie. Meanwhile I have been learning something of artificial insemination. Before the frost was quite off the lowest ground this morning – and the last three mornings the ground has been “white as meal” – the inseminator had arrived from Eikenhof (also known as Jackson’s Drift) bringing his box of equipment and his ice packed flask of tubes. Each tube, it is hoped, represents the progeny of a pedigree Jersey of Friesland.
Mr. James Mann had got in touch with him yesterday, and the only information required was Daisy’s breed (mixed), when she first showed symptoms of wishing to mate, and the kind of “blood” required. The whole business was soon over, with remarkably little fuss, though the inseminator, Mr. S.I. Minnaar, told me that not every animal is as easily handled as Daisy.
Daisy, apparently, was in a good healthy condition – not too fat is one requirement – and in these circumstances, and when the cow is free from infection, the Artificial Insemination co-operative expects 98 per cent success. The co-operative, which is Government aided – Mr. Minnaar for example, is in the service of the Veterinary Sub Division of the Department of Agriculture 0 has its headquarters at Kempton Park, and its bull farm seven miles from there. There it keeps four Jersey and 13 Friesland bulls, and they are guarded day and night – they are perpetually in quarantine as a precaution against infection.
It may mean nothing to the townsman if I give some of the Frieslands’ pedigrees (including the Doornhoek bulls whose father was imported from Holland) but when I say that among the Jerseys are representatives of the Blair Atholl line, every Rand Show goer will know that this is a high pedigree bull farm. The “G.S.” on the Mann's certificate (or Daisy’s certificate_ represents a bull from the University of Pretoria.
It is obvious that this means much to the dairy farmer and smallholder anxious to keep good cow but, in the past, finding it expensive if not impossible. This service cost £2 – dairy farmers can have it for less by buying a few low priced shares in he co operative, which, starting in a small experimental way four years ago, is growing.
The co-operative now has 20 sub stations, each with a radius of 15 miles in the Transvaal and Free State (there is a separate organisation in the Cape) and it send supplies to Natal. Presently, when it can pack the supplies on dry ice so that they may be kept longer, the service will spread.
Meanwhile Mr. Minnaar is busy and his job is not as simple as I may have made it appear. Among other things he must be dead tired to maintain each day that his equipment and supplies are in good order. His sterilized equipment, and his supplies, clearly marked with the breed and the particular bull concerned, are renewed every few days. Mr. Minnaar, after serving five years in the Veterinary Division, did a special course at Onderstepoort before taking on this job.
May is one of his busy months. Up to Monday evening he had attended 131 cows in his area – which suggests that the milk supply round Eikenhof should be higher next winter. He was off from the Mann's to visit for or five other smallholdings or farms today, leaving everyone on this six acre smallholding living in hope.
Postscript: Though they numbered more weaklings than the Mann's had expected, the first of the season’s chick are now thriving.
27th May 1954
As prospective smallholders we are grateful for your idea of a series of articles about a smallholder family. We were prepared to find the articles interesting and helpful but, in fact, they seem disappointing.” So begins an interesting letter from Mrs. W.M. Roux, of Melville, Johannesburg. “We want more precision about everything rather than chat about golf and Sunday school”.
Well I did mention that Mr. James Mann has no time or inclination for golf, though there is a course a few miles away, which might conceivably interest some golfers. And I did mention Sunday school, for that might interest some prospective smallholders, though they would be sorry to learn that there are not many churches within easy distance of many smallholders to the south of Johannesburg. And I shall describe the your Mann's school, for schooling is some smallholders most important problem. But let us first hastily look at some of Mrs. Roux’s questions.
“Who actually kills and dresses poultry for sale as table birds?” At the Mann's, a Native labourer (or in busy times, two, sometimes three) slaughters and plucks. Mrs. Mann does the rest. “Does this work take a long time? How are the birds marketed and how transported to the market”? I’d better write an article on this subject, after all.
“Where can one market a few dozen eggs a week”? Usually your friends in town are only too glad to get them. So Mr. James Mann has found. But the whole question of marketing will be dealt with next week.
“Who gets up early to milk the cow?” As previously stated, the Native labourer. (Not your correspondent).
“Who built the cow shed and of what materials?” Some of the out houses were built with the help of Native labour – of four inch brick plastered – and some by a friend, helped by the Mann's; but building, too, must be the subject of a separate article.
Meanwhile, as the Roux’s have “made our fence and are beginning to build,” they may be interested in the letter which we publish today, from Mr. Peter Norton, who has shown that some journalists at least can put their hand to more than a pen or typewriter.
“Does Mrs. Mann make the butter in a hand churn? Where is butter making done? How much is made at one time?” Yes, in a hand churn in the kitchen – about a pound and a half at a time, because that is the amount she can make in her small churn. (See photograph). Later when she is getting more milk, she will use her larger churn. (Some Spartan people still use only a suitable jar, shaken by a strong arm).
Mrs. Mann collects the cream, lets it ripen for a coupe of days or so in summer, longer in winter, mixes it and gets it to the right churning temperature (something above 50 degrees Fahr. And never more than 60, half fills the churn, turns the handle for as long as it takes (usually a few minutes), pours off the buttermilk, washes the butter, “paddles” and salts it – it’s as simple as that, especially when you read the detailed pamphlets which the makers of churns put out, or one of the pamphlets which the Department of Agriculture is bound to have issued on the subject.
Which reminds me that the Government has printed books, booklets or pamphlets on nearly every question Mrs. Roux has asked? Ask the Editor of Publications, Private Bag 144, Pretoria for a list of them.
Good luck to the Roux family! But while I thrive on criticism (and I am getting it), I hope nobody writes protesting that he does not want to know about butter making, but how to take precautions against poultry thieves.
28th May 1954
Before going to town I drive to Walkerville to see how the smallholders spend their holiday. On the way I come across a tall young man on the other side of a fence building fowl houses from a mixture of cinders and lime tamped into an iron frame. “Experiment”, he tells me.
“Mind if I come one day and talk to you about it”? “Not at all”. American accent. Walkerville has a lively air – windmills turning in the sun, hens delicately clawing the grass, cows and calves looking thoroughly contented. And everybody I meets greets me with a happy, Lovely Day!”
The only one I meet is Jimmy Mann, emerging from a fowl house with his Native helper. “Gorgeous day, isn’t it?” Meant to go over my pens this morning. But the missus suggested this was just the day to put out the young chicks – and, my goodness, it is mild for May. You’d hardly believe there was front again this morning . . . so we’ve been giving this house a good scrub. Careful of the tar on the door. It dries slowly this time of the year”.
The chicks have spent their first fourteen days in a warm brooder house. Now they are going into a funny fowl house to harden off, and soon they will be outside in their own run on days when the weather is calm and fine. While the disinfected floor was drying the Native went off to cut grass to lay on it, and Mr. Mann took me to see the chicks – and the new piping for the reservoir, and the new piping to lay water from the take to the fowl runs which by the beginning of summer will be full. Then, as so often happens in the country, it was tea time.
Sylvia Mann was just finishing a bowl of violets. Roma Mann, examining a new paraffin pressure lamp, was begged not to try to clean it or she’d break the mantle. (Met a grown up woman in Johannesburg the other evening who hand never ever heard of a gas mantle). The Smiths had popped in for a minute, Ken Smith and his wife who have a smallholding nearby – poultry and fruit trees chiefly – and a small son and one going to the high school in Vereeniging. Ken wanted to say that brooder - :takes 450 birds, nice job” – was available to the Mann's. But before he said that we all said “Lovely Day”.
Everybody had so many plans for the rest of the day and seemed so happy that I said: “I don’t see why the Government should hold an inquiry into smallholders. They seem to be doing well enough”. Said Ken Smith: “One thing they don’t want is the awful smog and smell that assail you when you get to town in the morning. The ‘funny smell’ as the children said when we took them on their first visit”.
Mr. Mann had nothing to say, for he had noticed the Native coming back with the gross, and was off to the fowl runs; and while Mr. Smith and I discussed roads and telephones for smallholders who need them, Mrs. Mann and Mrs. Smith discussed keeping down the family budget. Then Mrs. Mann said: “Well, I don’t know about loans for smallholders or that kind of thing. The only thing I can think that smallholders really need just round here is electricity”. “You’ve got your new pressure lamp” I said. “Now look here”, said Mr. Smith, “we don’t need power just to light up the house, as some big shot put it the other day. The old lamp is good enough for that. But I could drive a lathe on electricity; and I could drive a neat little water pump far more efficiently than I could on paraffin – and more cheaply. And there are a dozen other ways I could use electricity in the future . . . But I must be off. Got a small plastering job to do. Do you know anything about plastering? Pity. I’ve never tried it before”.
The Smiths had to admire the young chicks before they went. And another neighbour sent his son to say that he was doing a small building job and had run out of bricks – “Always happens on a holiday” – and could he buy or borrow a few? He could borrow a few. And Mrs. Sue Mann reminded Mr. Mann that he intended to build a fence round that one unfenced fowl house.
I strolled round and met another neighbour who as building a house. At least, he had, nearly completed the foundations, with the help of his two sons. The one attending the university had drawn the plans. The brick layers will arrive in day or two. “We’re in a hurry, and we haven’t the time to lay the bricks ourselves:
And I visited another family who had built their own house under tiles, their own brick reservoir according to Government specifications. They were filling it from the pump house they built themselves, by an engine they had installed themselves. Everything worked.
And I met a smallholder who told me firmly, “I’m giving up smallholding”.
“You prefer town life after all?”
“Oh, no. I’m going farming”.
29th May 1954
Through the mist yesterday morning, from north and south, east and west, they converged on Johannesburg – and the practiced eye could tell that they were smallholders bringing produce to town for the week end. Some had loaded up the back of a car or small truck with poultry and eggs and perhaps a few jars of honey or pickles or jam – “Last of the strawberry” – or with rather high class cabbages, broccoli, cauliflower. Some, like James Mann at the moment, carried their eggs or poultry in a box under one arm.
The are supplying he “private customer” – probably friends in town, or factory or office associates – or shops and hotels on contract, or a depot. The smallholder prefers this way of marketing unless he has such large quantities of produce that he must go to market. This morning, on main rods outside town, stalls will be given an extra shine to attract the passing weekend motorist. There is one at the moment just along the main road from the Mann's smallholding at Walkerville.
In the fruit season the Mann's put up their stall almost at their own front gate, and take turns at serving there during the weekends – unless, as sometimes has happened, a farmed on his way to the Free State stops and says: “I like those Early Dawns, or if you can clear the fruit now” and all hands set to work. The main roads can be busy and colourful in summer and early autumn, when fruit and flowers, green mealies and pumpkins and delicacies like strawberries, are sold. The smallholders lucky enough to have a stand at their own gate are joined by others who come along the side roads, park their loaded cars nearby, and set up business. At this time of year the roads are comparatively deserted, and there is not so much produce being carried to town each Friday. Take for instance, poultry.
Most of the smallholders are replenishing their runs. About half the present young stock, or more, will be table poultry in the summer months approaching Christmas, and then the chief poultry business for the following six months will be eggs – the prices are good from January to June, when the hens lay less. Some of the old layers are slaughtered now if they are not moulting, but it is more profitable to keep the layers as long as they lay, especially when you have taken the trouble and spent the money on rearing them.
James Mann says that he can make 15s. a year profit on a layer, which is higher than the Government poultry books say can be expected. In a large flock it is worthwhile at 10s. 6d. In a small flock, very carefully tended, it may reach 17s. 6d. Your table birds must be slaughtered at just the right time – just when they have made the right weight – otherwise all your profit goes on feeding them; and you must have the right conditions to bring them to the right weight within a certain number of weeks, depending on what you are rearing cockers, turkeys, geese, ducks. They all do best in cool weather, but slaughter day round the smallholding can be quite warm work.
I have watched different smallholders at work – not yesterday, but some time ago when table birds were plentiful. The Mann's did a dozen or so cockerels in the afternoon, so that they could be kept overnight in a cool room; nearby was another smallholder who was slaughtering two dozen a day; and a third who was slaughtering 60 or 70 birds twice a week, some weeks more.
It would be pointless to describe the operation here; for it is best learned at the poultry school or from working with a friend who knows it thoroughly – or it can be studied from one of the Government publications – but at al three places it took longer than I had expected. It worked out only at about a dozen and a half a day when two fairly skilled Natives did the slaughtering and plucking and the “missus” did the dressing –which is quite a business of cleaning the inside, finishing off the outside, making sure that the flesh has not been torn in plucking; tucking in the legs and neck; wrapping the bird in grease proof paper, weighing and packing it. At the third place – it was more a farm than smallholding – the baas was slaughtering with one assistant; using a poultry scalpel swiftly, skillfully, and, he hoped, painlessly – “I still don’t quite like this operation”, he told me.
Then the birds went to a large back stoep, where five men and five women were plucking under the supervision of two white women, who also did the dressing with one assistant. It seemed one long whirl from early morning until some time in the afternoon, when the poultry was packed into a station wagon and the baas drove to town to deliver before the delicatessen closed for the night. He left the women folk to supervise the feeding and watering of stock, including about 1,500 young Leghorns, which are now producing about 50 dozen eggs a day. (And even packing these eggs must be quite a job). The slaughtering and plucking and dressing paid for the pullets feed, at 3s. a pound, and it was worth while, but it was not “money for jam”.
1st June 1954
School is Pleasant for Smallholders Children
This morning, along with about 170 other boys and girls, young Jimmy and Frankie Mann will go back to school after five days leave. A 64-seater bus will pick them up almost at the gate of their smallholding on the Vereeniging road at Walkerville, round about eight o’clock – in summer they parade half an hour earlier – and take them four miles to the Hartzenbergfontein School for juniors, one of the few parallel-medium schools in the Transvaal. In the afternoon it will drop them off home again.
There are men who once walked their four miles to school, thought nothing of it, and are still alive to tell us that the modern child is being pampered. Others rode their ponies in the country, and very picturesque, too. But perhaps it is a little much to expect a six year old – and the ages at the Hartzenbergfontein school range from 6 to 12 or 13 (fifth standard), after which the children may go to a high school in Vereeniging or Johannesburg.
Before the Province provided the 64-seater (through a contractor) at the beginning of this year, the younger children were ferried to and from school by thoughtful neighbours. The bus is only one innovation in the last eighteen months.
The school became parallel-medium at the beginning of last year – two classes in English and five in Afrikaans – and before then, when it was Afrikaans-medium some of the parents of English speaking children in the three mile radius which the school now serves were at something of a disadvantage. From what I could see and hear in a short visit, the parallel-medium system works well. At other schools it has turned out some of the best South Africans. The children are taught largely in their mother tongue, but in the playground – which at Hartzenbergfontein is green grass and trees – they are bilingual. One of the idiosyncrasies of this school is that the language for rugby football is Afrikaans and that for cricket, English.
The school was developed so rapidly in the last year or two – it has more than doubled its roll – that this time last year some of the classes were being taken in a large marquee. But £8,000 spent on new classrooms and other improvements has changed all that. No child is ever crowded today in the light and airy classrooms. “A change since my young days,” says the principal, Mr. G.J.M. Scheepers. “Then school in the country could often be described as a dark room and the cane. Take a look at our grades room. Its 900 square feet. A pleasant room, with a piano, which can easily be turned from classroom to recreation room.
At lunch time on a cold blustery day some of the younger children were holding an impromptu concert practice there, without the aid of any of the six teachers. The hardier ones were outside, playing scratch games of basketball and baseball, or tossing a medicine ball, in acres and acres of pleasant open countryside. The thoughtful ones approached Mr. Scheepers about the school savings club. The ever hungry had just visited the tuck shop.
Mr. Scheepers has been at Hartzenbergfontein not two years, after 14 years in Johannesburg, and he likes the change. He hopes to see playing fields round the school one day, and already plans are afoot for tennis courts, which will be lighted at night so that parents may also get some fun and games at the school. Already they use it as a meeting place in the evening.
Apart from the fact that this helps to build community interest, they deserve it, for the £400 for tennis courts and educational films was raised at a school fete, and in the last month I have heard the young Mann's speak to Mrs. Sue Mann about a cake sale or some other little function to raise money. In many ways the children are better off at places like Hartzenbergfontein than children going to school in town.
Some of the roads may be muddy in summer and dusty in winter, but there is a bus doing its 21 miles of double route twice a day, fetching and carrying children from farms and smallholdings – the furthest is five miles away – quickly and in comfort. Whereas many a child in town travels an hour a day through crowded streets to less pleasant surroundings than Hartzenbergfontein. Meanwhile, he tells me, several parents who had land out this way, but continued to live in town have recently decided that one of the great problems of many smallholders has been solved for them. There is a good school for their children, and they are moving out.
2nd June 1954
James Mann, Poultry Breeder, Makes a Good Beginning
“Well, Jimmy, you’re starting breeding again, and you’re off to a good start. Good luck – and, remember, you’ve got some good stock here.” Mr. Jack Ham waved goodbye as we headed the car out of Boksburg for James Mann's smallholding at Walkerville. In the back of the car was a pen of Ruff Rocks – six hens and a handsome cock with pedigree rings on its legs.
There was a Black Australorp cock similarly decorated. The whole lot was worth as much, perhaps, as all the Rhode Island hens in the Mann runs. James Mann had been shopping, with all the enthusiasm of a poultry breeder making almost a new start. The enthusiasm of a poultry breeders must be seen among their pens or their friend’s pens to be appreciated.
Tailing along round the acres of pens, looking at the different breeds, and listening to the talk of the experts as they compared the merits of Buff Rocks, light and White Sussex, Leghorns, White and Black Australops, Rhode Islands, Barred Plymouths and New Hampshire’s and others, I became slightly giddy.
I heard expressions that I had never heard before; learned that a “keel” does not refer only to a ship or boat, but is an important factor in a hen’s laying capacity. I came away slightly tone deaf from all the clucking which accompanies this discourse, but understood better why Mr. Mann was more concerned with refilling his breeding pens that with rearing his day old chicks.
These men have the same kind of enthusiasm as stallion and cattle and dog breeders, but there is a practical consideration to back it up. As Mr. Ham, or was it that other expert, Mr. Harry Coetzee? - remarked when some fancy breed was discussed: “We’re not in the game just for the fun of it. It’s a handsome bird, admittedly, but it’s a loafer” – meaning that it doesn’t willingly lay eggs – “though it lays very nicely on a dining room table”. (Poultry breeder’s joke).
James Mann was on his own ground, for he is a White Leghorn judge of the Poultry Association – and he has confessed that it was a tough written and oral examination he had to pass before he qualified. He handled cocks and hens like an expert, and when it came to choosing his own pen (which he was invited to do) he was a sever judge indeed.
The rings on the cock’s legs mean money, and the good poultry breeder makes more money out of breeding eggs than he does from the ones we eat, but breeding is not child’s play. I realised that, too, as I went from the pens to the incubator and brooder rooms.
Eggs for breeding come from selected birds, and selecting them is a delicate job based on experience. Marked and recorded, they go into the incubator, which is kept at just the right temperature and humidity, and are turned three times a day for eighteen days. Then the eggs are tested, the infertile ones discarded, and most of the fertile ones placed in the hatching trays, from which it is hoped to produce chicks in another three or four days. But the few “ROP” eggs are hatched out in special wire baskets.
“ROP” means record of production, which means a production of not fewer than 200 eggs by a hen under supervision at an egg laying test of 48 weeks.
A cockerel from this strain is blood tested b the Government inspector, is examined for physical defects, and if it passes these and other tests, ends up with a copper band on one leg and an Aluminium band on the other.
It has also been wing banded by the breeder, and is a registered pedigree bird. It may be worth five guineas (200-egg strain) for poultry breeding purposes, in which the dam is all important – or more, at the rate of a guinea for every 10 eggs over the mother’s 200 in a test. The eggs from a mating may be worth two guineas a dozen.
James Mann's Buff Rock (short for Plymouth Rock) cockerel comes from a 252 egg stain. The Black Australop is similarly well pedigreed. He is looking for some more Australorp hens to make a pen, and pedigreed a cockerel for his Rhode Islands (his own cockerels, from the same flock, have already been sold) and soon there will be eggs for his new incubators.
He “Rock” hens are al laying already. Hence the smile on his face as he goes about the very day tasks on a smallholding. His incubators are nothing like as large as those we saw at Boksburg. But, as Mr. Ham remarked, he has made a good beginning.
3rd June 1954
What Every Smallholder Should Know
Before me I have a “List of Available Bulletins” issued by the Department of Agriculture. Every smallholder should have that list, go through it carefully and mark the pamphlets and booklets which he can obtain for a few shillings. They give the answers to many questions which, now that this series is drawing near its end, are being asked by smallholders and would be smallholders.
Questions: Mr. James Mann tells me that he, as well as the “Rand Daily Mail” has questions fired at him every day, many of them on the telephone. As he has a job to do in town, he would like the questions addressed through the paper, and he will be glad to answer all those he can. And the “Rand Daily Mail” when this series has ended, will return periodically to the subject of smallholdings and smallholders problems. The questions we are asked range from technical questions about building to comparatively simple questions like these:
What precautions do the Mann’s take against poultry thieves?
Mr. Mann replies, with a rather fatalistic smile, that there is no perfect answer to determine fowl thieves. (The Mann's have had two raids in their time, one very costly to them). All one can do is make the jobs as difficult as possible. There are houses, recommended by the Poultry Association with stout iron bars in the front and an iron gate which can be locked from the inside. Poultry breeders I have questioned favour these houses, of corrugated asbestos roof resting on a steel frame which carries corrugated iron sides.
They are strong and neat and have the advantage that they are easily erected on a concrete slab and easily dismantled, thus helping to make one’s capital assets more movable, but they do come fairly expensive for the man who prefers to make do with what material he can lay his hands on – nearly £100 for one (20 ft. x 14 ft.) which would house 200 birds on the semi-intensive system. These range houses must give the best poultry thieves quite a battle; but, as their best precaution against thieves, the Mann's are looking for a couple of large dogs.
How does Mrs. Sue Mann separate cream? She merely skims it off the milk. A separator would hardly be an economic proposition with one cow, but would pay when the Mann's have two cows in milk next year. They would then get all the cream out, and the skim milk could be fed to the poultry.
Has Mrs. Mann a paraffin refrigerator? Does it cost much to run? Or does she rely on a cool room? The Mann's have not refrigerator, though there are some excellent paraffin refrigerators on the market (and some not so good) and they cost somewhat more than an electric one. The running cost o a 9-cubic foot refrigerator is about 10 s. per month on domestic paraffin, bought in a 44 gallon drum, which the oil company delivers.
In winter, the Mann's can get along well enough using only a screened pantry for milk, eggs, butter and meat. In summer one of their rondavels, suitably fly-screened, is brought into use, and a rondavel with plenty of cross ventilation under good eaves is not a bad cool room.
But here we come back to those little “tickey” pamphlets, which may be obtained from The Editor of Publications, Department of Agriculture, Private Bag 144, Pretoria. I see that there is one on “Cooling Chambers”. There is another, which James Mann is getting, for it has the answer to the last of his immediate building problems – a circular reservoir. He would like to get this built in time to water his fruit trees in the dry early spring.
He is going to try plastic piping to lead the water from the overflow pipe of his thousand gallon tank to the highest point of land, but he must get cracking soon if he is to get his brick “dam” built in time. “Specification on the Building of Circular Reservoirs” (reinforced with wire) should give him all the details he needs – including the approximate cost, which he can figure out from the specifications.
4th June 1954
The Market Master Speaks Frankly – From Experience
The Market Master of Johannesburg, Mr. R.F. Thurgood, can talk to smallholders both as head of the largest produce market in the Union and as a man who farmed outside Johannesburg for ten years and sold his produce to the city.
Mr. James Mann and I went to see him at Newtown Market when the morning’s market rush was over, the market gardeners had gone home, the wholesale tables were deserted except those which wee being piled up with vegetables for the next day, and the retail stall holders could take an afternoon nap.
Although still buys, Mr. Thurgood answered all our questions frankly and fully. He is quite obviously in sympathy with smallholders, says that the small man plays a big part in supplying Newtown, and that he would like to see the smallholders supplying more. But . . . From his experience he says that the smallholder who can get a good contract with a hotel, hospital or boarding house is better off than the one who sends his stuff to market.
That applies specially to the specialist in such things as poultry, strawberries, flowers and the rarer or more perishable kinds of vegetables. It was so in the days when he marketed privately himself. It is explained so today when the market, although as large as many a “Smallholding which supplied it – 16 acres, including the adjoining grain and forage sections and the railway siding – is too small.
There is insufficient railway space, and sometimes not enough trains, so there may be delays in getting the produce from the farms to the wholesale auctioneers’ tables. There is sometimes congestion to the tables, hence more delay. So that the delicate pens, packed fresh on the farm, may be held over and reach the buyer only when they have passed from first grade to second.
It is the same market which was more than adequate when it was opened in 1913. Until modern Johannesburg gets a larger market (and, I think, until the distribution system is nationalised and rationalised) there are bound to be disappointed growers around Johannesburg, and disappointed buyers for that matter.
Still, there are smallholders who either must or would prefer to sell through the municipal market. Recently a smallholder deputation saw the market master and the municipality to ask for more room for them. At the moment, sympathetic as the municipality maybe, there is not the room.
The market is divided into two sections – wholesale, which is sub-divided into a dozen smaller sections, for the separate sale of fruit, tomatoes, potatoes, poultry and so on; and retail, which is divided into about 100 stalls and shops and 262 table spaces at which smallholders and farmers may sell their produce direct to the public out of hand. It is out-of-hand sales for which the smallholders want more room.
At the moment the 262 spaces are let at 3s. a day on the principle of first come first served. They are occupied mostly by Portuguese, Italian and Chinese market gardeners, who come along with their trucks of produce at five in the morning and go home about ten to work in the garden until it is time to load up again. As far as I can see, they never sleep. Until Johannesburg has a larger market that position is likely to remain.
“So Johannesburg should obviously have a larger market”, said James Mann, although personally he admitted that he was not interested in out-of-hand marketing. For one thing, he works in town and could not go to market himself. For another, if he were a full time smallholder, he said, he would prefer to be on his smallholding at Walkerville between five and ten in the morning, the most important time. For a third, he frankly said that he would not care to compete with the Portuguese market gardener.
He was, however, interested in marketing dressed poultry at Newtown. The dressed poultry is sold once a week by public auction through agents. Mr. Thurgood quoted us last Saturday morning’s prices, which I thought compared favourably with what some smallholders I know are getting the shops they supply – about 3s. a pound. From this deduction agents fees – there are no out-of-hand dress poultry sales – which I do not think excessive at about 1s. on a 15s. bird.
But good prices are not necessarily maintained right through the year, although poultry, as far as I could see, is less chancy to market than floor.
James Mann also asked about the prospects of marketing rabbits – to eat. Mr. Thurgood said that several farmers and smallholders had asked about this, but there were remarkably few inquiries from buyers. Rabbit eating is not a South African habit, although elsewhere there is a beg demand for rabbits and some (Ostend, I think is one) are esteemed as a delicacy.
“You would market them – assuming the market was there – in the same way as poultry”, Mr. Thurgood said. “You would keep a proper dressing room, wrap them in grease-proof paper and pack them in suitable containers. “Like poultry sold on the market, they would be inspected – the agent sees to that and the inspection is done quickly but thoroughly – for we would not want to have wild hares being sold as rabbits”. From poultry we went to fruit – and fruit prices – and to the general question of how to make a smallholding pay. I must leave all that to another article.
5 June 1954
Good Soil and Water if You Want Good Prices
This morning on his way to the bus stop at Walkerville, James Mann will walk slowly, taking not on the way things are shaping on his smallholding; more important make a note of the jobs to be done. Those cockerel chicks are coming along nicely. Three weeks old now – putting out their tail feathers. One of them is getting a rather rough handling though. Mrs. Sue Mann, seeing her husband to the gate, says “I’d better put that one in a box by itself, or the others will peck its tail to pieces:. “Better”, says Mr. Mann. “My, but those Buff Rocks do look nice! Isn’t that cock a handsome fellow. The Rhode Islands look good, too.
And those compost heaps are all right. Pity they didn’t get down to the job sooner, but you can’t do everything at once. They need al the compost they can get for the fruit trees. James Mann remembers a conversation which he had at Newtown Market on Thursday.
“It seems all too obvious that you can’t grow vegetables and flowers and fruit for the market on run down soil”, said the Johannesburg Market Master, Mr. R.F. Thurgood. “Yet there are people that try”. “Perhaps their soil was unsuitable right from the beginning, and they should have gone in for poultry or pigs instead of, say, fruit which is a hazardous enough occupation, even growing it in good conditions.
All kinds of fruit is subject to price fluctuations, apparently. Paw paws a month ago where fetching 12s. a box at Newtown, then the price fell to between 2s. and 8s., the average being 4s. 6d. James Mann is more interested in peaches, and he nodded from experience when Mr. Thurgood said: “Well, you probably know yourself that that kind of fruit had a short season – three to four months. The early peaches Early Dawn and Duke of York on the market in October to fetch good prices – some times to 12s. a tray.
“By November, however, the season is in full swing. Everybody it seems to be bringing fruit to market at the same time. In December the Cape fruit comes up – more competition. By the time you get to the late fruit like Elberta, the price has gone down from, say, 5s. for a tray of 24 to 28 first class peaches to 3s. 6d.
“You take what you can get, agreed Mr. Mann, “and even though the prices are still pretty high to the customer in the shop, nobody wants to pay the grower, and nobody needs to. I’m lucky, for I can sell fruit on the main Vereeniging road, but in a good season I have to sell to the shops and the market, to. “I try to gauge the prices, pick the best market I can – and taking the good with the bad we don’t do too badly in a luck season; though I would not like to rely on fruit from my small orchard to make a fortune. But what about packing for the market?”
“Well”, said Mr. Thurgood, “if you have been growing and marketing fruit for a few years I take it you know about packing. What many growers inexplicably do not seem to learn is grading”. He passed.
“You mean,” said James Mann, “that it’s a waste of money to pack second-grade fruit in a tray costing nearly a tickey, and in wood wool costing about six pence, when you should really put them in paper carriers and hope for the best? Do you get that kind of fruit”?
“I’m afraid we sometimes do”.
“What happens to it”?
“It doesn’t fetch the price the sender expected – or it isn’t sold at all. It becomes compost”
“Which brings us back to the hard fact that you can’t expect to grow the right kind of vegetables, flowers and fruit unless you have suitable soil and enough water – and fruit needs water, too”?
Walking up to the bus stop this morning, I can imagine Mr. Mann saying to Mrs. Mann : “Well, Sue, we’re making as much compost as we can for the fruit trees and our few vegetables, and the soil still seems to be moist enough underneath – but I wish we were building ht reservoir this weekend”.
“It’ll come,” say Mrs. Mann.
“Anyway”, says Mrs. Mann, “I see you have made a start pruning already – nice job, too. If we can’t build a dam this weekend, perhaps that will leave me more time to get among those trees with the secateurs and the saw”. He likes pruning.
6th June 1954
Mann's Unshaken after a Month of Publicity
Another Sunday morning, and the sun has chased all the fronts off the ground when I call on the Mann's on their smallholding as Walkerville, Not to say goodbye though this is the final article of a dally series which has been running for four weeks. For one thin, I have got to know and like this happy family, too well to say a formal goodbye. And they, in turn are friendly folk who can make friends even with an inquisitive newspaperman. For another, there is still too much to look at and talk about to leave time for formalities.
We discuss the small jobs on a smallholding just as we did on the first Sunday I called. James Mann and his daughter Sylvia show me how the incubators work – the younger Mann's have been cleaning them up; and cleaning the spare brooder, for another batch of day old chicks is expected tomorrow or the next day.
Mr. Mann remarks that he must ceiling the brooder house if they are going to incubate there; that will make it warmer. Sylvia says, “Yes”, and you should put a board up to display all your prizes”.
James Mann, who admits that he is well knows as a “dry old stick”, relaxes and tells us of the first time he won a prize at a poultry show – at the age of 15 in the Cape. His Indian game birds won both first and second prizes, and he had to climb up and look through the window to see them because he hadn’t the rice of admission and didn’t like to ask for free entry.
His prize money was 25 s. and he needed 30 s. to buy the birds he had had his eye on for several weeks, but the owner said, “Take them for 22s. 6d. and that will leave your half-a-crown to go and have a wild orgy on”.
There is a new Indian game bird to see in the fowl rungs when we go on our tour of inspection. “Feel the weight of it”, says James Mann . . .
And I notice that Mr. Mann and his wife Sue have begun pruning – I feel that I have interrupted them, but nobody exhibits signs of restlessness. As always in the past month, everybody is prepared to answer questions and explain; only, as we walk around, someone notices something that might as well be attended to on the spot. It is done quietly and without fuss.
A monthly of almost daily publicity has left the Mann's quite unshaken. They are still smallholders – Mrs. Mann full time, in between looking after the house. Jimmy and Frankie and Roma in their spare time after school; Sylvia and Mr. Mann when they leave the city on a Saturday afternoon. James Mann's motto is that for him the smallholding is only for after hours, but occasionally he murmurs, “Ah, with a little more time, and a little more money”. He does not notice the progress which I see, after only one month. “But wait till you see it in a couple of years’ time,” says Mrs. Mann, “Then there will be something to write about”.
As it happens I find that there is far more to write about than I have been able to pack into a month. Above all, there is something that is often sadly missing in a city today – a sense of continuity, this alone makes their smallholding worthwhile.
We will be looking in on the Mann's from time to time. Tot siens and Goodbye!