2017 Vastrap Auction: Farewell Mollshoop

2017 Vastrap Auction: Farewell Mollshoop

Thank you to everyone who supported the 2017 Vastrap Auction on Friday, 18 August. In many ways it was an emotional day for us as we bid farewell to the last remaining Mollshoop Boran cows that were the founding matriarchs of the Vastrap herd. Our Boran journey started with these cows and we have them to thank for the consistent quality and character of the Vastrap herd today. We bid farewell to the Mollshoop Jackies, Roses, Odettes, Hopes, Savannas et al and happily start afresh with their Vastrap (VST) offspring still carrying their names. We couldn’t have asked for a better outcome as the results on the day surpassed our expectations!

This was our 5th auction and without a doubt the most smoothly run, thanks to the great service we received from the whole team at OVK/CMW led by Johan Scholtz and Paul van Biljon. From the marketing, the setting up, the auction logistics through to the loading and administration, we continuously felt a sense of comfort that everything was being run efficiently and professionally. We would like to extend a huge thank you to all the OVK/CMW staff. We can wholeheartedly recommend OVK/CMW service to anyone thinking of holding a livestock auction. Thank you also to Johan van der Nest for bringing his A-game and lifting the auction with his usual unique style!

The organisation of an auction takes a huge physical and emotional toll, but it is all worth it when you see what an effort people make to get here. We were happy to see many repeat customers, but also lots of new faces, not only from the stud industry.

We are proud to be associated with all our guest sellers (Peinke Ranch, Pratos Borane and Heeltevrede Stoetery) who offered exceptional quality animals that did very well on the day. Huge congratulations to Peinke Ranch for having the highest price cow and bull on the day – Shakira PRB 14-21 (R205’000) and Leika PRB 14-18 (R140’000).

2017 Vastrap Auction Results
  Average Price Highest Price
All Bulls (17) R43 000 R140 000
Cows (25) R65 000 R205 000
Heifers (6) R34 000 R55 000

The average price of commercial pregnant cows was about R16’000.

Shakira PRB-14-21 sold for R205’000 to Damina Roberts.

Naledi MHB 11-52 sold for R140’000 to Rory Kockott KKT Boran.

Xany MHB 11-33 sold for R90’000 to Dr Ben Spies.

Rose MHB 06-03 sold for R85’000 to Peinke Ranch.

Jackie MHB 07-29 sold for R80’000 to Frontier Borans.

PRB 14-18 sold for R140’000 to Rohan & Dylan Meintjies Sterkfontein Borane.

Kingston VST 12-28 sold for R60’000 to Ockert Werner Model Borane.

VST 14-34 sold for R50’000 to Ockert Werner Model Borane.

PT 14-21 sold for R55’000 to Dr Ben Spies.

The importance of accurate EBVs in animal selection

In this blog I would like to focus on Estimated Breeding Values (EBV’s) and why are they so important. In particular, how can EBVs be used to help pick which animals to buy in order to build or improve one’s herd. The main point I would like to make is that EBVs supply crucial decision-making information to a buyer, but they are only as useful as the data used to calculate them. It is important to bear in mind that the EBVs published in an auction catalogue do not indicate whether the breeder participates in the National Beef recording and Improvement scheme or how accurate the particular set of EBVs are (i.e. what data on the individual animal has actually been captured rather than inferred). As you will see below, we are doing everything we can at Vastrap to make sure the EBVs in our sale catalogue are meaningful and can be used as an extra tool to select the right animal for your herd.

Unpacking EBVs

Basically, when one buys a stud animal, there are three ways in which to judge the potential value of that animal to your stud. Firstly, one can look at the parentage or genotype (hence the importance of doing proper DNA parentage verification see The importance of  parentage verification through DNA testing), secondly one can look at build or phenotype and lastly one can use EBVs. In rare cases one is able to look at progeny when buying older animals. While parentage and sound functional physical attributes like muscling, leg structure, udder conformation and teat quality will always play a very important role, EBV’s can be used to complement visual screening to select animals. There are several individual EBV’s that allow a breeder to come to an informed decision about what the animal in question can offer the breeder beyond good looks.

All EBV’s are expressed as an index where 100 is the average. Where an animal’s index is below 100, then it has faired poorer than the breed average, while an index above 100 means it has faired better.

I will briefly discuss the individual EBVs below.

  1. Birth EBV – One wants animals that have smaller or lighter calves. This EBV serves as an indication of whether this animal will produce smaller/lighter or bigger/heavier calves. An index of over 100 will mean better than average and equate to a better chance of below average birth weight. This EBV is broken into two categories: the animal’s own birth weight EBV (Direct) and the maternal EBV.  The data that feeds into these EBVs are recorded birth weights of calves born. If one has a calving problem in your herd, one would look to buy a bull with a high calving ease EBV index (i.e. low birth weights)
  2. Calf Growth and Milk EBVs – These values are calculated using the data gathered from wean weights, the mother’s weight at weaning, 12 month weights and 18 month weights as well as the phase-D growth performance testing of bulls which is more accurate than just 12 and 18 month weights and also includes other important data points. Generally a growth and milk index above 100 is very desirable, though like all things in life some balance must be kept. Milk and fertility generally have an inverse relationship and so does growth and calving ease. If one were predominantly a weaner producer, then one would want higher milk and higher growth.
  3. Fertility EBV – The fertility EBV is made of two sub components namely the age at first calf (AFC) and inter-calf period (ICP). Obviously, one wants an animal that has the ability to calve first amongst her peer group and that calves regularly, preferably once a year. An index above 100 is an indication that the animal is more fertile than the breed average and this is based on the past performance of the family members of the animal in question. Milk and fertility often are inversely correlated (the more cow gives to a calf the less likely she is to fall pregnant again), so while one wants the most fertile herd possible, one should avoid negatively influencing the herd milk values in this pursuit.
  4. Cow Weight EBV – The cow weight EBV is made up of the 18 month EBV and adult weight EBV. A heavier animal at 18 months and as an adult has an index of above 100, while smaller animals have indexes low 100. The combined indexes are then used to derive a cow maintenance index, which is inversely proportional to the cow weight indexes, since a smaller cow is deemed to have a lower maintenance value. In harsher environments one would want smaller cows to reduce the maintenance factor.
  5. Cow Value EBV – This is an accumulation of the individual EBV indexes and uses a formula using different weights of importance for the individual EBVs to give an indication of the value of the cow. Personally, I am of the opinion that individual breeders have different needs and therefore place different emphasis on individual EBVs. A breeder should rather look at the individual EBVs to see what is needed in their herd than to rely on a set formula that does not take into account different environments and individual preferences.

EBVs and data collection

Our main purpose in writing this blog is to underline the importance of thorough record keeping and the supply of accurate performance data to the National Beef recording and Improvement scheme. The EBVs supply crucial decision-making information to a buyer, but they are only as useful as the data used to calculate them. It is important to bear in mind that the EBVs published in an auction catalogue do not indicate whether the breeder participates in the beef improvement scheme or how accurate the particular set of EBVs are. One can only judge this by looking at the production data on Logix (Live Stock Information and Genetic Information Exchange) to see whether any weights have been captured.

In the Boran industry, the number of breeders participating in the National Beef recording and Improvement Scheme and performance testing is still low. I am often disappointed to see that animals in which I have a strong interest at auctions do not have a single measured data point – no birth weight, no wean weight, no mother weight at weaning and certainly no 12 or 18 month weight. Without this data, no meaningful insight can be drawn about the potential future performance of the animal and one only has genetics and physical attributes on which to make a decision.

Since buying the Mollshoop Boran stud in 2011, our policy at Vastrap Boran has been to collect as accurate data as possible on every single animal, including birth weight, wean weight and the mother’s weight at weaning. We also collect 12 month and 18 month weights. In addition, since 2011 Vastrap has put 95% of its bull calves through the Studbook administered phase-D veld performance test, which provides additional important information such as testes development, muscling, meat yield and marbling to name a few (see Bull Selection and Performance Testing). Vastrap alone has contributed over 35% of all the recorded phase-D bulls tested in the Boran stud industry.

We can therefore assure you that the EBVs of Vastrap animals, even those older ones where their individual performance data was not measured, is as accurate as it can be. You can rely on the EBVs of Vastrap animals published in the Vastrap Auction sale catalogue and these EBV will provide you with an extra tool to assess the animals you like, over and above build, looks and parentage. This should help you to make a more informed decision about which animals will fit into your herd.

Below are examples of the production data and EVBs drawn from Logix for Jackie VST 12-04, and one of our three-year old bulls that went through performance testing VST 14-84. The first column of data shows all the data on the animal that has actually been measured. This data is important for the animal’s parents and their progeny, who will have EBVs based on the performance of their parents until they get their own data.

Jackie VST 12-04 (Jackie MHB 05-08 x Co-Jack CI 08-30)

Vastrap Auction Bulls

Vastrap Auction Bulls

Hi everyone, it’s Quentin here. We are starting to gear up for the 2017 Vastrap Auction, which will be held on Friday, 18 August. This weekend, while taking photos of the new crop of 3 year old bulls that we’ll be offering, I noticed something which highlights the great value for money that can be had at our auction. We pride ourselves in our rigorous selection process for our bulls (see Bull selection & performance testing), offering only the best bulls for sale each year. There is something for everyone, bulls that will be an asset to any herd, stud or commercial, at very affordable prices.

The photos below illustrate how bulls that did not get sold at the auction last year, which I then held back to use in the Vastrap herd, have developed. These bulls could have been snapped up for a steal last year!

Two of the bulls offered at the 2016 Vastrap Auction (full brothers out of a Jackie/Khan mother, VST 13-59 & VST 13-102), which I really liked, did not get a bid. When they were not sold I kept them to use in the Vastrap herd. Another bull – a Goliat son VST 13-36 – was not offered at the auction because he was slightly less developed and I thought there were better Goliat sons in the auction group.

Here are some photos of the three bulls as they look now. I think that they have developed into pretty nice specimens and I am very happy to have them in my herd.

The main reason I wanted to share these photos is to demonstrate the real value for money you can get at the Vastrap Auction: a buyer could have picked these stunning bulls up for R18’000 last year and several others that went for between R20’000 and R25’000. Another reason was to demonstrate that Boran bulls only actually reach their prime at about 5-6 years and that one needs to factor this in when buying bulls. The bulls we sell at the Vastrap Auction are all between two and a half and three years of age and 100% veld raised. They are selected by their performance against each other on veld conditions and they are only made auction ready for the three months after selection.

For the discerning buyer, there are both very good value for money bulls and future herd sires available at reasonable prices. I have sold all my previous herd sires at extremely good prices to fellow breeders after I have used them for 3-4 years. It amazes me these bulls can sell for hundreds of thousands, yet people are not prepared to pay nearly the same for their sons that have been put through a much more rigorous selection process than their fathers and should perform better in the long-run.

We look forward to introducing you to our selection of bulls for the 2017 Vastrap Auction in the weeks ahead! Please let us know if you would like to be added to our mailing list.

Gumboots and raincoats at the 2016 Vastrap Auction!

Thank you to everyone who supported the 2016 Vastrap Auction on Friday, 19 August. We had a lovely dinner at Vastrap the night before the auction catching up with people who had travelled from far to be there. The next morning, quite unusually for the Free State at this time of year, we woke up to a huge thunderstorm and it rained on and off throughout the morning. It was cold and wet and muddy, but that didn’t deter the Boran enthusiasts who had travelled from far to attend the auction. We hauled out the gas heaters, lit a bond fire and handed out blankets and sherry in the auction tent to keep everyone warm! The team from OVK/CMW did a fantastic job of running the auction smoothly in challenging weather conditions. By lunch time the sun was shining and everyone enjoyed the steak braai for lunch. The organisation of an auction takes a huge physical and emotional toll, but it is all worth it when you see what an effort people make to get here. We were happy to see many repeat customers, but also lots of new faces.

There was something on offer for everyone, with prices varying from R16’000 to as high as R160’000. Astute buyers, who had done their research and know their genetics, were richly rewarded on the day with real value for money on top quality animals. We are proud to say that every animal that got a bid was sold without any negotiation. Our policy is to sell all animals that are offered on the day and not to quibble over prices. We are proud to be associated with all our guest sellers (Peinke Ranch, Frontier Boran, Brenaissance, Pratos, Kieras & Heeltevrede Stoetery) who offered exceptional quality animals that did very well on the day.

The average price of bulls sold on the day was R39,000. The top priced bull was VST 13-84 (Jackie MHB 09-20 x Khan MHB 04-27), which sold for R160’000 to Burnie Staal from Bos Blanco. This bull is the son of the top priced cow, Jackie MHB 09-20.

The average price of females was R34’000. The top priced female was a heifer, PT 14-08 (Shakira BA 08-86 x Magnum CI 07-127), which sold for R160’000. The top priced pregnant cow was Jackie MHB 09-20, which sold for R140’000. The top priced 3-in-1 was Faith PRB 12-08 (with a beautiful Zorro bull calf), which sold for R110’000.

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The importance of parentage verification through DNA testing

The importance of parentage verification through DNA testing

At Vastrap Boran, we verify the parentage of every stud animal through DNA testing at Unistel laboratories. This is not only because we use more than one bull in each breeding herd (multi-siring), but also because we believe that it is crucial to establish the parentage of our animals with 100% certainty.

The confirmation of the parentage of stud animals through DNA testing is still not compulsory in most cattle breeds, but there is a strong case that it should be. In our opinion, if the parentage of an animal is not accurate, the animal should no longer be called a stud animal and would be no different from a commercial animal. When buying a stud animal the parentage of that animal determines two out of the three criteria that one looks at to assess its breeding potential, namely genetic make-up and performance data. Even if an animal’s physical attributes are absolutely perfect, that counts for nothing in the world of stud breeding if it’s parentage cannot be verified.

In Quentin’s short time as a stud breeder, he has tried to learn from as many experienced breeders as possible. He has been fortunate to have interactions with many breeders who have much more knowledge about stud breeding than him. These include some of South Africa’s most prominent breeders in their respective breeds, Philip Barnard (Angus), Bernie Staal (Brahman & Boran) and Arthur de Villiers (Bonsmara). In chatting to them about what to look for in a stud bull, the common theme has been to use a balanced approach. A buyer needs to look at the bull’s physical attributes, at the bull’s performance data and at the bull’s genetic make-up (or parents).

Without parent confirmation through DNA testing a breeder/buyer cannot be 100% sure of the parentage of an animal. Errors can occur with allocating the sire of a calf in many ways. There can be errors in record keeping. A female can be accidentally allocated to an incorrect breeding group. The documentation with the pairing data can be lost or damaged. A stray bull can jump a fence while you are away and you are either unaware or your staff do not tell you for various reasons. One may even just plainly forget to write it down timeously. In short, it happens all the time even in the best-managed herds!

According to Dr Munro Marx from Unistel, random testing of stud animals through independent parentage verification tests have found parentage errors as high as 42% in South Africa. That is scary! Extrapolating this to the entire stud herds of any breed, it would render any performance data entirely redundant. Obviously, the high error rate of the independent testing is skewed because of repeat offenders and the fact that only animals that are not already DNA verified are randomly selected for testing. However, it is still important for buyers to be aware of the perils of buying something that is not parentage verified through DNA testing.

If the parentage of an animal turns out to be wrong, then two of the three factors that one considers in buying the animal become redundant and one cannot accurately predict the breeding potential of that animal. Moreover, it is now compulsory for all bulls being used in a stud herd to have their parentage positively verified through DNA testing. A bull whose parentage cannot be positively confirmed is cancelled by the breeder’s society and its offspring cannot be registered!

We have had personal experience with this in our Angus stud herd, when we recently had to deregister 16 stud heifers because we used a bull that could not be parentage verified by DNA. The bull was purchased from a respected stud breeder and it was used immediately before we realised that the DNA had not been verified. Our rush to use the bull at the start of the breeding season and our trust that all was in order on the seller’s side, ended up costing us dearly and this is not a mistake we will make again.

Given the importance of accurate parentage for stud animals, one has to ask whether it is worth taking the risk of buying an animal that is not DNA verified? In order to use a bull in a stud herd, the parentage will have to be verified eventually so why not before the point of sale, leaving the risk with the seller? We would suggest that all animals sold under the auspices of the Boran Society should be DNA verified. How else can the Society give a buyer the assurance of parentage of an auction animal and corresponding accuracy of the performance data? At the very least, the catalogue and opening information page on an animal on Logix should indicate clearly whether both parents have been verified through DNA.

Below is an example of one of the 20 three year old Boran bulls that will be sold at the 2016 Vastrap Auction, VST 13-102. This bull’s DNA animal information page on Logix, shows that his DNA and parentage have been verified. We can assure you that this is the case with all the animals we sell as is clearly printed in our Vastrap Auction checklist. The 4th Vastrap Auction will be held on Friday, 19 August @ 11h00.

VST 13-102

Sale check listScreen Shot 2016-08-13 at 5.39.14 PM DNA bulls

 

Final bull selection for the 2016 Vastrap Auction

Final bull selection for the 2016 Vastrap Auction

Every year as part of our efforts to ensure that only the best 3-year old bulls are offered at the annual Vastrap Boran Auction, some independent fellow Boran breeders help us to do a visual evaluation of our bulls. It was one of the coldest mornings of the year, but seeing how far the bulls have come made it all worthwhile. We had two visitors from Botswana watching the proceedings and we made sure they were bundled up in warm jackets and beanies!

Stompie Olivier (Hotspot Boran) has been showing with cattle ever since he could walk and we highly respect his knowledge and eye. Due to his “showing” experience, he has an excellent eye for conformity and correctness of both females and bulls. Oom Theo van Zyl (Faurzyl Boran) has been a stud breeder for 30 years and is very strict and picky in his selection of animals. He know what commercial and stud breeders are looking for and which type of bulls breed well. Rikus Stander (Mount Kenya Boran) has a very keen eye for detail and does not miss faults like small testes, bad hooves and leg conformation. He was unfortunately not able to attend our selection day this year. These breeders and cattlemen have knowledge and experience way in excess of ours. They are also not emotionally involved with our cattle and their opinions are not biased due to sentimental attachment to certain dams or sires. We are grateful for their time, effort and the honest opinions and critique they give. As a stud breeder, Quentin believes that one should continuously learn from those more knowledgeable than yourself, continue to grow, ask questions and take constructive criticism.  The path to becoming a better breeder is a journey and not a destination.

All breeders place slightly different importance on certain attributes and each bull is discussed to reach consensus. The evaluations are based purely on phenotype (not genetics). Structural correctness and meat attributes are used to give bulls a rating of A+ for herd sires, A for stud sires, B+ for top commercial , B for average but passable and C for cull.  It is quite important to note that these bulls are all fully registered SP Boran bulls, having passed inspection by the Boran Society of South Africa. They have also been selected against each other based on their performance in a phase-D veld performance test (see Bull selection and Performance testing).  Of the original 70, that started the year, 43 were left over for this physical inspection by the independent breeders. Typically there are about 5 bulls that get an A+ rating, 15-20 that get a A- or A rating, 15-20 that get a B+ rating and about 10 that are B or C.  The B’s and C’s are all culled even though they performed well in the veld test, have been passed by the Boran Society, but are not deemed worthy of the Vastrap Boran brand and will not be good ambassadors for the Boran breed.

Only 20 of our best 3-year old bulls will be offered at the 2016 Vastrap Auction (Friday, 19 August 2016). These 20 have been selected using a combination of their phase-D veld test performance and their physical evaluation with genetic diversity playing a smaller role. Vastrap bulls not only encompass the best genetic combinations from proven lines, but have also gone through far more rigorous selection than their fathers ever did. Watch this space to see which bulls made the grade in our final selection!

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Introducing our new stud sire, Samurai SS 11-31!

Introducing our new stud sire, Samurai SS 11-31!

Vastrap Boran is excited to introduce one of our new stud sires, Samurai SS 11-31 (Dianna SS 06-03 x Kobra SS 08-61). His mother, Dianna SS 06-03 (HVT 97-15 x HVT 95-03) caught Quentin’s eye very early in his stud breeding career when he visited Corn van der Watt in January 2012. She is an extraordinary cow – beautiful with a stunning femine wedge, good length and width and fantastic breeding ability. Kobra also impressed. On that visit Quentin saw three different groups of multi-sired embryo calves at Sandsonia, and in his opinion, Kobra’s progeny were leagues ahead of the other bulls used on the same dams.

We would like to thank Corn and Johan for offering such a top specimen for sale. In our opinion, Samurai impresses both phenotypically and genetically. We would also like to thank Stephen Johnson with whom we consulted extensively before making this purchase.

Samurai SS 11-31

Samurai SS 11-31 (Dianna SS 06-03 x Kobra SS 08-61).

One of the main reasons that Quentin remembers Dianna so well is that her breeding goes back to 1603 on the sire side and ADC 3746 (Mutara) on the dam side, which is so similar to one of our best cow bloodlines, namely Savanna. The Savanna granddam, Savanna TLM 00-03 is also a HVT 95-03 (1603) daughter out of B 96-009 (ADC 8408). Both Savanna and her daughters produced some of the best offspring every year. Unfortunately, the Savanna bloodline does not flush very well, so we have not been able to multiply this bloodline effectively. With only natural mating, it is also extremely difficult to produce a stud sire that we can re-use in the Vastrap herd since many of the females will be related to a Savanna son bred out of one of our own stud bulls. With his breeding, Samurai is therefore the perfect addition to our herd.

Below are some photos showing the consistent quality of the Savanna offspring.

Savanna TLM 00-03 (Savanna B96-09( ADC 8408) x HVT 95-03 (1603))

Savanna TLM 00-03 (Savanna B96-09( ADC 8408) x HVT 95-03 (1603))

Savanna MHB 07-16 (Savanna TLM 00-03 x Khan MHB 04-27) - The second highest priced cow at the 2014 Vastrap Auction (R130'000)

Savanna MHB 07-16 (Savanna TLM 00-03 x Khan MHB 04-27) – The second highest priced cow at the 2014 Vastrap Auction (R130’000)

Savanna MHB 09-13.(Savanna TLM 00-03 x Voorslag TLM 02-03) - On offer at the 2016 Vastrap Auction!

Savanna MHB 09-13.(Savanna TLM 00-03 x Voorslag TLM 02-03) – On offer at the 2016 Vastrap Auction!

Savanna VST 15-91 (Savanna MHB 09-13 x Griffen MHB 06-24)

Savanna VST 15-91 (Savanna MHB 09-13 x Griffen MHB 06-24)

Savanna MHB 11-57 (Savanna MHB 07-16 X Rustin MHB 06-30).

Savanna MHB 11-57 (Savanna MHB 07-16 X Rustin MHB 06-30).

Savanna VST 15-98 (Savanna MHB 11-57 x Zed DLV 10-17).

Savanna VST 15-98 (Savanna MHB 11-57 x Zed DLV 10-17).

Savanna VST 12-58 (Savanna TLM 00-03 x Rustin MHB 06-30)

Savanna VST 12-58 (Savanna TLM 00-03 x Rustin MHB 06-30)

Savanna VST 15-80 (Savanna VST 12-58 x Zed DLV 10-17).

Savanna VST 15-80 (Savanna VST 12-58 x Zed DLV 10-17).

Savanna VST 12-60 (Savanna MHB 09-13 x Rustin MHB 06-30)

Savanna VST 12-60 (Savanna MHB 09-13 x Rustin MHB 06-30)

Savanna VST 15-54 (Savanna VST 12-60 x Zed DLV 10-17)

Savanna VST 15-54 (Savanna VST 12-60 x Zed DLV 10-17)

Savanna VST 13-124 (Savanna TLM 00-03 x Rustin MHB 06-30)

Savanna VST 13-124 (Savanna TLM 00-03 x Rustin MHB 06-30)

Savanna VST 13-126 (Savanna TLM 00-03 x Rustin MHB 06-30)

Savanna VST 13-126 (Savanna TLM 00-03 x Rustin MHB 06-30)

Savanna VST 13-129 (Savanna TLM 00-03 x Rustin MHB 06-30) - highest priced heifer at the 2016 Showcase Auction (R47'000).

Savanna VST 13-129 (Savanna TLM 00-03 x Rustin MHB 06-30) – highest priced heifer at the 2016 Showcase Auction (R47’000).

Boran resilient through extreme drought

Boran resilient through extreme drought

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.

Vastrap rain

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!
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Group of 2015 weaner calves.

Group of 2015 calves weaned on 29 March 2016.

Jackie VST 12-44 with bull calf by Husky MHB 07-09 (248kg & 64%!)

Jackie VST 12-44 with bull calf by Husky MHB 07-09 (248kg & 64% wean ratio!)

VST 15-58 (Jackie VST 12-40 x Husky MHB 07-09). He was the heaviest bull calf at 261kg on 29 March and a wean ratio of 64%!

VST 15-58 (Jackie VST 12-40 x Husky MHB 07-09). He was the heaviest bull calf at 261kg on 29 March and a wean ratio of 64%!

Jackie MHB 07-09 with bull calf by

Jackie MHB 09-07 with her bull calf (not weaned yet).

Savanna MHB 09-13 with heifer calf by Jazz MHB 11-15.

Savanna MHB 09-13 with heifer calf by Jazz MHB 11-15.

Kelly VST 12-113 with heifer calf (228kg & wean ratio of 58%).

Kelly VST 12-113 with heifer calf (228kg & wean ratio of 58%).

Jackie VST 12-59 with her heifer calf by Zambucca VST 11-01 (230kg & wean ratio of 63%!)

Jackie VST 12-59 with her heifer calf by Zambucca VST 11-01 (230kg & wean ratio of 63%!)

Weaned heifer calves.

Weaned heifer calves.

Crossbred Boran Feedlot Trial with Sparta

Crossbred Boran Feedlot Trial with Sparta

Vastrap Boran participated in a feedlot trial of Boran crossbred weaners with Sparta Beef organised by the Free State Boran Club. The initiative was planned and implemented by Rikus Stander of Mount Kenya Boran. The results are great news for the Boran breed. In particular, the feed conversion rates (FCR), both during backgrounding and the feedlot phase were better than the feedlot average and the slaughter percentage was also excellent. Sparta management was very pleased and positive about the results of this particular group of Boran crossbred weaners.

SPARTA Boran weaner feedlot results

Based on the performance of this group, Mr Tinus Greyling, head buyer for Sparta stated emphatically that he would not discriminate on the purchase of this type of animal. Mr Louw van Reenen, co-owner of Sparta and feedlot director has stated personally that the final results were very good and that we should be pleased.

However, Mr Greyling and Mr Van Reenen both added that this was one pen of particularly good animals and that the results of this trial was by no means a guarantee that all Boran crossbred animals would fair so well. There are huge variances within breeds and even more so with cross breeding to a multitude of other breeds. The key to performance is that one should begin with good quality foundation cows crossbred with good quality bulls. In this case the majority of the crosses were with tried and tested commercial Angus cows. The weaners supplied by Vastrap Boran were all from larger framed Khan sons (see Khan MHB 04-27), and this included the best performing animal of the trial. It is also extremely important to note that these were not pure Boran weaners, but mostly first generation (F1) crosses and a smaller percentage of second generation (F2) crosses with mostly British beef breeds as the foundation animals (see “ The Commercial Future of the Boran: Crossbreeding”). This feedlot trial therefore does not address the question of whether pure Boran animal are suitable for feedlot conditions.

Selecting the weaners

On the 10th of July 2015, 129 weaners were delivered to Sparta Feedlot in Marquard. There were 108 animals delivered by Vastrap Boran (Quentin de Bruyn), 9 from SP Els Boran (Fanie Els) and 12 from Jodan Boran (Danie Botha). From these, 81 Boran crossbred males were selected for the pilot – these were mainly F1 animals, but there were probably about 12 F2 animals included. The animals that were excluded were either females or pure Angus. We were given a very competitive price of R20.50/kg. Vastrap’s group of 108 animals averaged 223kg and included 20 females, thus giving us R4,577.65 (ex-VAT) per weaner.

Backgrounding performance & Sparta Tour

A group of about 24 people visited Sparta on 10 October to view the animals that had by now completed their “backgrounding phase” and were in the feedlot proper. Importantly, Danie Botha invited buyers from various livestock auction companies that were also present. Sparta management was very hospitable and gave us a grand tour of their facilities. The tour included viewing of the processing of weaners entering the feedlot for the first time, viewing of animals at various stages of their feedlot life and a look at the complex feed storage and mixing facility. There was a lot of information about the management and performance of feedlot animals, invaluable knowledge for any weaner calf producer. A highlight was viewing their incredible silage bunkers, which have been awarded the best silage quality in South Africa for the last 2 years!

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Whilst viewing the Boran weaner pen, we were given data on their performance. During the backgrounding phase, the Boran animals performed at the long-term average of the feedlot in terms of Average Daily Gain (ADG) (1.46 kg per day per animal), but interestingly much better than average on the Feed Conversion Rates (FCR) (1 kg of live mass gain per 4.36 kg of dry mass eaten). When asked which was more important, Mr Tinus Greyling (head buyer for Sparta) emphatically stated that FCR is much more important for the profitability of the feedlot which was very good news for the Boran.

At this point, the Boran group had been in the main feedlot for 55 days and had an ADG of 1.61kg. This was again approximately the average of the feedlot, but not much more could be said as we were not given the FCR and the animals still had a long way to go. It was interesting to note that several of the F2 Boran had done significantly worse in their ADG, but because FCR was not recorded for individual animals and only for the group as a whole, it was not possible to make an informed decision about whether this was good or bad for the overall test result. At some stage a group of purebred Boran will have to be included in the performance test to gain valuable information about their ADG and FCR relative to other breeds and the feedlot averages. All in all though, it was a highly successful day and the data was looking very positive for the Boran.

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The white F2 animal (above right) had a particularly good ADG of 1.55 kg/day during backgrounding, 2.44 in the first 55 days and a final of 2.05. The brindle animal (above left) is an example of a F1 that performed well with a final ADG of 1.89 kg/day.

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The Boran crossbred pen at 55 days.

118 day performance

Another visit was scheduled for 9 December 2015, which was attended by about 25 people. There were many new faces and some who had been on the previous tour. Again, the Sparta management were very kind to give us a tour of the entire feedlot much the same as the previous tour, but this time we got to see our group of Boran crossbred animals in the week before they were to be slaughtered. We also got given more data. The animals were weighed on 8 December after 118 days in the feedlot. The ADG was 1.77, which is excellent and well above the feedlot average. The animals looked very good too and now all we required was the final FCR and the slaughter results to complete the picture. The wait for these final results have been painfully long since we were all so excited to see and analyse the final results!

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The two top animals are the same two animals pictured previously at 55 days. The animal facing the camera bottom left, was the best performing animal with a final ADG of 2.35 kg/day. Interestingly, this is a Khan grandson out of a pure Angus cow.

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The Boran crossbred pen at 118 days. Notice the nice width of this particular group.

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Final results and slaughter percentages

The final ADG was 1.63 after taking into account the death of 5 animals. The ADG of the group before accounting for fatalities was 1.77 kg per day per animal. Interestingly, one of the animals that died was the poorest performer at the first viewing with an ADG of only 0.18kg per day, but two others had been very good performers with ADG figures of 2.04 and 2.13 respectively. An important reason to continue to pilot the Boran in the feedlot would be to establish whether this number of deaths is a once off or whether the Boran are more susceptible to deaths under feedlot conditions that other breeds.

Overall, this specific group of Boran crossbred animals performed very well in the feedlot environment. Their ADG of 1.63kg gained per animal per day was slightly higher than the feedlot average. Their FCR of 1kg of live weight gained per 4.87kg of dry matter eaten was well above average. The slaughter percentage of 58.83% was also outstanding and the grading of the carcasses was also very good (8 x A3, 68 x A2, 1 x A1).

We can be very happy with these results, but we also need to acknowledge that it is only one group of animals. The quality of the foundation animals undoubtedly plays a role in determining performance. There are huge variances in the quality and performances of animals within the same breed and no bull of any breed will be able to ensure good performance of its offspring in the feedlot when used on poor performing cow herds. We need to continue to run more feedlot pilots and gather much more information to be able to make informed decisions. For now, the good news is that Sparta were very happy with the results, that they were able to make a decent profit from these animals and that, at this stage, there is nothing to indicate that Boran crossbred weaners do not perform in the feedlot!