Avondale Tuli: Where production comes first

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

  • One of the biggest obstacles faced by beef cattle stud producers like Dave Mullins is breeding Tuli bulls capable of producing heavy commercial weaners.
  • Tulis are highly adaptable, medium-framed animals with very high heritability. They adapt to almost any environment.
  • Dave’s Avondale Tuli stud currently has 70 cows with an intercalving period (ICP) of 378 days. He aims to gradually increase this number to 100 to widen the herd’s selection traits.
  • The commercial Brangus/Tuli cows have been mated to Tuli bulls over the last three-and-a-half years as Dave aims to breed pure Tuli cows from these animals.
  • A phase D growth test is a veld bull test that young bulls undergo shortly after weaning – it can either be applied intensively or extensively. 

One of the biggest obstacles faced by beef cattle stud producers like Dave Mullins is breeding Tuli bulls capable of producing heavy commercial weaners. Dave farms on Hunters Lodge close to Kenton-on-Sea in the Eastern Cape.

He is a born Tuli producer with an unquenchable passion for this breed. His love of the breed can be traced back to the time his father, Arthur Mullins, visited Zimbabwe – the country in which the well-known Len Harvey formally established the Tuli breed. “The Tuli is among the most beautiful cattle breeds there are,” says Dave while we are heading to the veld to check on his phase D test bulls.

Ode to the Tuli

He has been the vice-chairperson of the Tuli Cattle Federation of Southern Africa since its inception in 2021 and is registered as a senior Tuli selector at SA Stud Book. “Tulis are highly adaptable, medium-framed animals with very high heritability. They adapt to almost any environment: from the cold Stormberge and hot, dry Karoo to the country’s tick-prone coastal regions. Not only that, but they are also easy to handle, hardy, fertile and functional.”

One of the oldest Tuli cows on the farm is 19 years old and has delivered 16 calves. “The older the cow on the farm, the more you need to invest in her because she possesses the genetic traits producers seek, namely superior production and longevity.”

Tuli cattle come in four colours, namely white, red, yellow (the predominant colour), and dagha or mud-coloured. According to research by a university in Texas in the United States, if a yellow cow and yellow bull are bred for four years in a row, they will statistically produce two yellow, one white and one red calf.

Read more about cattle breeding here.

Herd reproduction

Dave’s Avondale Tuli stud currently has 70 cows with an intercalving period (ICP) of 378 days. He aims to gradually increase this number to 100 to widen the herd’s selection traits. E1309 is one such top-quality stud cow – last year she was named the breed’s Elite cow in the Agricultural Research Council’s (ARC) 45th National Beef Performers Awards; her ICP is 339 days over nine calves of which both the bulls and heifers are performing well.

The commercial Brangus/Tuli cows have been mated to Tuli bulls over the last three-and-a-half years as Dave aims to breed pure Tuli cows from these animals. “The bulls I use are polled, which helps to gradually get rid of the Brangus horns in my herd. The future herd must consist of at least 50% of the polled Brangus/Tuli cross calves, the goal being to eventually get them to 100% polled.”

A key element that ensures the efficiency of both the stud and commercial herd is the cow-calf weaning ratio on the farm. Cows weigh an average of 475kg and come the weaning period, a bull and heifer calf must come as close as possible to weighing 50% of the mother’s weight.

What the growth test entails

A phase D growth test is a veld bull test that young bulls undergo shortly after weaning – it can either be applied intensively or extensively. 

In an intensive phase D test, young bulls receive a certain amount of concentrate daily. The test period can be as short as 85 days if bulls receive 5 to 7kg concentrate per day. Depending on the conditions, an extensive phase D test usually lasts from 128 to 170 days, allowing the bulls to gain an average of 90kg. Dave puts his stud bulls through the test and, to determine their performance on the veld, gives each a balanced ration of 1,5kg daily.

Upon completion of the test, an official from SA Stud Book visits the farm to measure the bulls’ physical traits such as length, height, skin thickness and scrotal circumference. An ultrasound scan is done to measure the layer of fat on the ribs and rump, as well as the dimensions of the eye muscle (loin), and marbling. Dave believes all red meat producers should record these measurements to determine the genetic potential of their breeding bulls.

Chicken manure, fed at 1kg/animal/day, is the only complementary feed the cattle receive (chicken manure is high in protein and cost-effective). An important criterion is vaccinating the cattle once with Supavax’s three-in-one vaccine against anthrax, blackleg and botulism.

Follow the correct steps

There are two ways to establish a Tuli farm, concludes Dave. “First of all, contact established stud breeders so you can obtain the best stud animals. Secondly, a prospective producer can also contact commercial Tuli producers to obtain females. If you want to make quick genetic progress, you need to buy superior, proven bulls.

“Finally, never lose sight of the fact that the Tuli is a medium-framed animal. You therefore need to stay well clear of an animal with a frame that is either too large or too small. Larger-framed animals are usually the first to experience issues during drought conditions, often losing their fertility in the process.” – Carin Venter, Stockfarm

For more information, phone Dave Mullins on 082 299 7953 or email mullins@isat.co.za.

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