Introducing the 2013 Vastrap Boran Sale

We’ve been very busy finalising our plans for the inaugural Vastrap Boran Sale, which will take place on 16 August at our farm near Ladybrand in the Eastern Free State (click HERE to see where we are located). There is so much to plan and organise, but we are very excited to welcome fellow cattle farmers and stud breeders to Vastrap later in the year for our sale.

We have been working hard to come up with a concept that makes the Vastrap Boran auction special, one that stands out from the crowd and becomes one of the must-attend auctions of the year. To do this, we are introducing a new sale concept, which will guarantee that we consistently deliver top quality aminals to the market in an open and transparent manner. This year we will be selling all of our registered and pregnant 2004 and older females (no exceptions) and all of our 4 year old bulls. This includes some of the most famous Mollshoop cows such as Hope MHB 04-11 (see The Hope bloodline), Kelly MHB 04-24 (see The Kelly bloodline), Cindy MHB 04-06 and her full sister 04-04 (see The Cindy bloodline). There are also some very rare genetics such as a FE 93-66 daughter and grand-daughter. By placing all of our pregnant 2004 and older cows on auction you can be guaranteed that we are not being selective.

The timing of the sale in mid-August also lends itself to bull sales and again we are not being selective – every single 2009 bull is for sale.

This is our first annual auction and we want it to be a success. We will be serious sellers of every animal at the auction so that buyers return in 2014.

We are having the sale in partnership with Paul Pienaar (Bar Circle), Bernie Staal (Bos Blanco), Keith Peinke (Peinke Ranch) and Stephen Johnson (Frontier) in order to offer more animals, a wider range of genetics and younger female animals (particularly heifers).

We look forward to seeing you there. You will not want to miss out on this one!!

Hope Scene (2013)Kelly 04-24Cindy MHBGinger MHB 04-07EVE TLM 02-43Group of bulls

A farmer’s work is never done

I’ve been trying to write this post since early yesterday morning, but our internet connection was down and somehow I never finished it. I haven’t posted about the farm in ages because we’ve been away so much. It has been raining heavily in most parts of the country except here with us. Every time rain is forecast it is scaled right back down on the day and we end up with nothing. The veld is greener than it was, but there is still very little food for the cattle and the wheat crop has suffered a lot. We had a few light showers over the weekend and yesterday so fortunately Quentin has started planting maize, but it will need to rain again soon for the crops to germinate properly.

Not very lush veld and wheat fields.

Here is a story to show you that a farmer’s work is never done, even on a Sunday. Start out thinking it’s going to be a relaxing day and before you know it a whole lot of work is happening!

We set off on Sunday morning to forage for wild plants that I want to use in a neglected area of the garden. Every time I go for a walk I notice new wild flowers that I would like in the garden, but I never have a spade or a bag handy. My beloved agreed to come along to dig in the hard dry soil.

Dainty white vygie thriving in the hard clay soil.

Pink vygies.

Some type of aloe.

Tired dogs.

A cow skull for our collection.

Shortly after leaving home we noticed that the sheep were grazing in the wheat, which is not a good thing. It would be worse if it was cows, but sheep can do damage too and they were not supposed to be in that field! We raced around trying to herd them back to where they were supposed to be, knowing that there was a gate open somewhere that shouldn’t have been.

Naughty sheep grazing in the wheat.

My beloved chasing sheep on a Sunday.

Back where they should be.

Making sure the gate is firmly closed.

Whilst herding the sheep we drove past a herd of our Boran cattle and stopped to check if everything was okay. They looked happy and content except for this little baby who was obviously standing in the wrong place at the wrong time and got shat on by his mother!

Wrong place at the wrong time!

Phew! Something stinks around here!

Then we were starting to get tired and the dogs were hot, so they went for a swim in the not-so-deep dam.

Refreshed Coco.

Then we noticed that the sheep had escaped again and the Boran bulls were in the wrong place too! So we drove all the way round the valley to find the open gate and chase the bulls back to where they were supposed to be, which is far away from the cows!

Act confident and pretend to know what you’re doing Marisa!

Chasing the bulls back through the open gate.

Then, just because we were already in work mode, we went to check on one of our Boran heifer cows who was close to giving birth. When young cows give birth for the first time they can experience problems so it is important to monitor them closely when the time is near. As it turned out she hadn’t calved yet, but there were a whole lot of other cute babies around. Visiting the Boran never feels like work and Quentin’s face lights up and relaxes the moment he sees his Boran beauties  – unlike when he sees sheep grazing in the wheat!

Rose (MHB-06-05) with her new calf sired by Griffen (MHB 06-27).

Hanging with Hope

You have probably gathered by now that we love our Boran cattle. They are so beautiful and serene. Having them on our farm has really added another dimension from a business perspective, but also for the pure enjoyment of them. Our Boran stud was significantly expanded late last year when Vastrap Boran (VST) acquired the whole of Mollshoop Boran (MHB), one of the most well-known Boran studs in the country.

Quentin loves cattle farming above all other farming, because cows and bulls have personalities. Each one is an individual. A character. But that doesn’t mean that they like us. No, a cow will usually run away if you try to get close to her out in the open veld. Unless they are being worked in a cattle crush, most cows and bulls tend to mind their own business and stay clear of people. One has to be careful though, because cows can get quite aggressive when they are protecting their young calves. I avoid walking between cattle and their calves when our blind dog Paris is with me. Even our little beagle Coco can be a liability because she is so curious and likes to bark at the cows!

The Boran tend to be a bit more friendly than other breeds of cattle and some of them are very tame. At Vastrap, there is no bigger character than Hope (MHB 04-11). She is one of the top cows in our stud herd – a polled cow (no horns) with a strong head that has already bred three stud sires – but she is also the most friendly. She loves a good tickle and scratch especially if you bring her a treat of lucern pellets.

Magnificent Hope MHB 04-11.

A little tickle and scratch to say hello.

Can’t get enough of them pellets!

We love taking people to meet Hope and she especially loves kids, because they give her more food and they are a whole lot cuter than us!

Ashley meeting Hope for the first time.

Dylan saying hello to Hope.

Wait-up! I haven’t finished eating yet!

When we had visitors a few weekends ago we took the kids out to feed Hope again. It was a freezing cold morning and the kids were all bundled up in their winter kit. But the cows were happy because they had just been put into a newly harvested maize field, which tastes delicious and nutritious compared to the dead winter grass.

Cold cows enjoying the left-over maize.

Some pellets for you Hope?

Haven’t had enough yet?

She looks hungry Quentin.

Here Hope, try some delicious lucern pellets.

She likes a good pat and a rub while she is eating.

Thank you Alexander… munch, munch, munch.

And then last Sunday after Quentin’s birthday lunch we took another ride out to see Hope (see A Whiff of Spring!). Thankfully it was MUCH warmer. But Hope liked the pellets and attention just as much as ever. She can’t get enough of those pellets and we can’t seem to get enough of her… the things we do for amusement on a farm!

I’m not leaving this bucket until the last pellet is finished!

R.I.P. Little Calf

It’s been a sad few days here at Vastrap. Ashley arrived at the farm on Sunday for her monthly 10 day visit. On Monday an extremely severe cold front swept through the country causing snow fall in all nine provinces. I was in Johannesburg for a night on Monday and when I drove back to the farm on Tuesday it was starting to snow quite heavily in the city. The last time I saw snow like that in Joburg was in 1981 when I was six! Anyway, I got back to the farm and everything was covered in white.

The rose garden.

The mountain.

Ashley and Quentin with their snowman.

As beautiful as it was, and as much as the kids enjoyed the snow, it was not a good time for the new born little calves that I wrote about in my last post, “Calving Season has Begun!”. Quentin was extremely busy on Monday and Tuesday with the hoof smith who was checking all the bulls and cows for hoof problems and genetic faults. He didn’t have time to check on the calves until late Tuesday afternoon just after I arrived home.

He came home in a state, because the little calf that we had found in an aardvark hole on Saturday had almost frozen to death. Its tail had been eaten off by a jackal and its one eye looked like it had gone blind. He was too weak to stand and drink milk from his mother. In addition, Quentin could not find one of the calves that had been perfectly healthy on Sunday (the one with the black cow mother in the previous post) and another had died during child-birth.

Quentin brought the sopping wet calf without a tail home. We immediately put the little thing in front of the Aga stove and spent ages blow-drying it. We also tried to feed him a mixture of ideal milk, egg and milk, but he did not eat much and looked very weak and traumatised.

Drying the baby calf.

Ashley saying hello.

With Sibella and the dogs.

Trying very hard to get it to drink.

He looked okay the next day, but still wouldn’t eat much and struggled to stand.

Lying in front of the warm stove with Paris.

We took him outside for a walk and a wee. The dogs were quite puzzled by this new arrival in the house and kept sniffing the wound on his tail.

Resting on the grass with Coco.

Then Quentin arrived home with another little one whose feet had frozen during the night. She couldn’t stand or walk and would’ve died left like that. We immediately got the blow dryer out to thaw her feet so that she could go back to her mom as soon as possible. It was obvious that she was much stronger than the other little one.

And then there were two!

Fortunately she got up quite quickly and started stumbling around the kitchen island. After a few rounds she was walking more confidently and ready to go back to her mom. We checked on her this morning and although she looks quite weak she is drinking. Phew!

Eeck! There’s a calf in my kitchen!

Curious Coco.

We carried on trying with the first calf, but he really was not looking good. He just wouldn’t drink from the bottle so eventually Quentin had to pour the milk down his throat just to get some sustenance in him.

It just wouldn’t drink from the bottle.

That night we knew that things were not going to turn out well. He was not getting up and his breath became more and more laboured. All we could do was put him in front of a warm fire and stroke him.

Sleeping in front of the warm fire.

This morning he was gone. Hopefully a more peaceful death than he would have had out in the cold night. The kids were sad, but all along we had said that he might not survive. We all agreed that the best thing to do would be to put him back with the elements and let nature take its course. Perhaps we shouldn’t have interfered in the first place.

My father-in-law says this is the coldest weather he has experienced on the farm in his 60 years of farming. I think the main difference is that we usually have dry cold, which the animals can handle, but as soon as it is wet and cold they really struggle. In total, Quentin lost five calves in the past few days – one disappeared before anyone saw it, two disappeared after birth (suspected jackal), one died during birth, and one died on our kitchen floor in front of the Aga. R.I.P. little calves. Hope you enjoy it up there in calf heaven.

Calving season has begun!

It’s calving seasons at Vastrap! Since the end of July little babies have been arriving all over the place keeping Quentin, Abraham, Tshidiso and Molantwa very busy recording each birth and checking to see that there aren’t any problems.

We have three different types of calves at Vastrap. The naturally bred Angus and Boran calves and the Boran embryo calves born to surrogate mothers. For the natural breeding season the cows are with the bulls for about three months between December and February – about 3 bulls to every 100 cows. A cow’s gestation period is the same as a woman so the calves are born between the end of July and October. The timing of the breeding season is determined by the fact that we are a summer rainfall area so the grazing is better from October through to March. Also, our winters are very severe so a cow cannot raise a calf in the harsh months of May to July. While food is still scarce in August and September, the newly harvested maize fields provide an extra source of sustenance.

This was the first Angus calf born this season. Its mother had bottle teats so it could not suckle properly. The mother had to be milked by hand to reduce the swelling so that the calf could get his mouth around the teats.

Angus cow with “bottle teats”.

Just born Angus calf with her mother.

Embryo calves are born throughout the year depending on when the surrogate mother is implanted with an embryo. Using embryos allows us to increase the size of the Boran herd more quickly, but we only use cows with the best genetics to ensure that the quality of the herd improves over time (see The Boran: God’s Gift to Cattlemen). In the past one could only multiply the best genetics through the sire by using artificial insemination (AI), however advances in embryo technology now allow dam genetics to be propagated too. Embryo technology is a lot more complicated and expensive so it is used only with really top genetics.

This weekend I helped Quentin to check on the embryo calves being born and to document them. For each new calf we take down its mother’s number, date of birth, sex, colour and weight. The new babies are so cute and soft! It is quite funny how they look so different from their mothers. Some of the calves are full brother and sister because the embryos came from the same sire and dam.

Surrogate mother and her new Boran calf.

A cute little white one.

Surrogate mothers do a great job with their little ones.

A group of full brothers and sisters from Jackie MHB 05-08 & Co-Jack CI 08-030.

Things don’t always go according to plan. On Saturday evening we found a little calf that had fallen into an aardvark hole. The poor little thing would have died if we hadn’t been there and hadn’t got out of the car to look around. It was getting dark so the photos aren’t that good, but he was really squashed in there!

Stuck in a hole.

Helping him stand on his numb legs.

His mother also had an injury to her leg, but she ran away when we had saved the calf. We spent about half an hour trying to herd her back to the calf so that she would bond with him and feed him, but she kept running away on her funny leg. In total frustration Quentin said this is where the saying “stupid cow” comes from!

Early on Sunday morning we went back to check on the calf and took a bottle of milk with in case it had been abandoned. He seemed fine and warm, but his mother was nowhere to be seen. We tried to chase her back towards the calf, but she didn’t want anything to do with him. Just in case we fed him the milk and tried again to get her to go to him. We’ll only know tomorrow whether this mission succeeded. At least she was standing close to him when we left, but she still didn’t seem that interested and we hadn’t actually seen him drink from her. These things sometimes happen when heifers calf for the first time. They just need a little bit of help to learn how to be good mothers.

Feeding the little calf a mixture of milk and egg.

Lapping it up!

Too cute!

Stupid cow ignoring her little calf.

How life has changed: weekends at cattle auctions

The past week is a good illustration of my schizophrenic life. I spent the first few days of the week at home on the farm working and fixing things in the garden. I drove to Johannesburg on Wednesday afternoon and spent two busy days in the office on Thursday and Friday. There is never much time to catch a breath when I’m in the city. I’m either in the traffic commuting to Pretoria, in the office, or catching up with friends and family in the evenings. I never cook, hardly ever go into the garden and I don’t bother bringing walking shoes because exercise simply isn’t a priority. The complete opposite of life on the farm!

I was stuck in traffic for two and a half hours on Friday afternoon driving from Pretoria to Parys, where the National Boran Auction is held.

Quentin became a Boran breeder about 2 years ago, but this was the first time he had animals for sale at the National auction. I am learning that auctions are not for sissies. They require a lot of hard work to get the animals prepared and the days leading up to it are nerve-wracking as one hopes that nothing will go wrong with the animals in transporting them and wonders how the prices will go! Fortunately, there is a lot of socialising that happens amongst breeders in the days around the auction which also makes it quite fun.

Before I went to my first cattle auction in July 2010, I knew very little about cattle and how they are farmed. Apart from knowing that I like my fillet steak done medium-rare, I had no idea about the difference between commercial cattle farming and stud breeding, never mind all that is entailed in managing a herd. Quentin has been very patient in explaining how things work so I know a little bit more now than I used to. He also started the stud business after I met him so in a sense we have both been on a steep learning curve.

This year’s National auction was the biggest yet, with 140 animals entered. The poor auctioneer must be congratulated for his stamina – he went non-stop for about 6 hours! The same cannot be said for the audience whose concentration flagged towards the end. I suspect this had something to do with the late-night socialising on the Friday, but it was a long day in anyone’s books! The guest of honour was the Zulu monarch King Goodwill Zwelithini who recently started a Boran stud. This added some pomp and ceremony to the proceedings.

Last year there was much excitement because Stephen Johnson from Frontier Boran sold a bull for a South African record price of R1 million. Not surprisingly, the bull will forever be known as “Mr Million”. This year, the highest priced bull was sold by Cyril Ramaphosa and his Thaba Nyoni stud. B04-001 otherwise known as “Ramaphosa” was sold for R770 000. Proudly, Vastrap Boran sold the highest priced female animal called Jackie 05-36 for R280 000.

All in all, it was a great event and we feel very proud to be part of this new community of breeders who feel so passionate about their animals. I look forward to many more visits to Parys in future and slowly becoming more cattle savvy!

“Parys Show Ground”

Quentin with the Vastrap Boran animals.

B04-001 known as “Ramaphosa”.

Refreshments at the Hotspot Boran stand… sherry and koeksusters.

Inconspicuous auction fashion.

Let the bidding begin! Only 6 hours to go.

Jackie 05-36 in the ring with a flurry of bidding.