Based on records going back 119 years, 2015 was the driest year ever recorded in our district. At Vastrap we recorded 386mm in 2015 compared with a long term average of 620mm. Our rainfall for the 2015/16 summer has only been 300mm. Two dry summers in a row have really taken their toll causing a succession of crop failures and a depletion of grazing. Even Quentin’s father, Bill de Bruyn, who started farming here in 1955 can’t remember farming ever being so challenging.
We’ve been hopeful that the drought would break since January, but every shower we get is just too little to really make a difference and is followed by a few more weeks of extreme heat and drought. The growing season is basically at its end and we have very little grazing left and hardly anything baled. Our last two maize crops have been a failure and the sunflowers not much better. Most concerning of all, we are starting the “dry” season with our earth dams empty or at critically low levels. Getting our animals through to October/November is going to be a serious challenge if we don’t get a big downpour before winter sets in.
Against this backdrop, we have been absolutely gobsmacked by the resilience of our cattle, particularly the Boran. They have done us proud through these very stressful conditions. We expected our fertility rates to plummet and especially did early pregnancy testing to see which animals we could sell, but the results were astounding. Our overall pregnancy rate is about 85%, which is lower than last year, but many farmers would be very happy with that in a normal year. We were also extremely surprised by the amazing quality of our most recent batch of Boran weaner calves (weaned on 29 March 2016). We would normally be happy with a wean ratio of 50% for bull calves and 45% for female calves, but our ratios were much higher than that for our first group of 2015 Boran weaners (see table). The group of bull calves from first time calving mothers achieved an average wean ratio of 60% and average weight of 234kg, which is really extraordinary in these conditions!
It’s been a real struggle staying positive with the world looking so dead and brown over the past few months and with the constant worry about where next to move the cattle so that they would not run out of food and water. What a pleasant surprise then to get results like these and to witness first hand the resilience of this beautiful cattle breed that we love so much. Our faith in the Boran is stronger than ever!