Indigenous breeds celebrated at ARC Farmers’ Day

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More than 200 producers attended the Agricultural Research Council’s (ARC) Beef Cattle Farmers’ Day at the ARC-Animal Production Irene Campus in April. The theme was “The role of indigenous breeds in climate-smart beef production”.

Prof Michiel Scholtz, specialist researcher at the ARC, said producers need to heed the impact that climate change-related heat stress could have on cattle. Both bull and cow fertility across all breeds will be negatively impacted by heat stress. However, indigenous breeds will be able to cope better. “Our research indicates that fertility in Sanga breeds such as the Nguni and Afrikaner, will only decrease by 9% due to heat stress. Over the long term, indigenous breeds will be key to food security.”

Prof Linky Makgahlela, senior ARC researcher, explained that pests would also become a bigger issue going forward. “There will be more, and this might even include pests that we do not currently have in the country. This poses a challenge, as the cattle we currently farm might not all be able to tolerate these pests.”

Dr Pieter de Kock, a well-known Afrikaner breeder from Thabazimbi, believes this indigenous breed was created for the changing climate. Producers must select animals based on BLUP-figures, rather than appearance, he said. If they are guided by science, they will be able to produce more meat per hectare.

“A producer should aim for maximum outset (profit) from minimal input.” However, they must ensure that animals have enough feed, are free of ticks and disease, and receive the necessary licks.

Growing demand, despite pressure

Dr Ben Greyling, cattle improvement programme manager at the ARC-Animal Production, told producers that demand for meat is growing, despite short-term economic pressures. “There is a massive demand for product due to continued urbanisation, growing income levels and changing lifestyles. In 2020/21, South Africa slaughtered 3,2 million head of cattle. This is significantly higher than the 2,3 million head of cattle slaughtered a decade before that.”

Exports were also on the rise, Greyling added. In 2020, South Africa exported 37 000 tons of meat valued at R2,5 billion. Producers wanting to capitalise on this upward cycle need to focus on genetic improvement. “The return on investment for genetic improvement is 1:18. In other words, for every R1 spent to genetically improve your animals, you will eventually gain R18 in profits/equity.”

Greyling said producers should tap into science and technology to help them progress.

Read more about the recent Peritum Agri graduation ceremony here.

More inclusivity

Dr Dan Motiang, programme director of the Kaonafatso ya Dikgomo (KyD) Animal Improvement Scheme, said nearly half of the country’s head of cattle are in the hands of small-scale farmers who own between one and ten animals. They should become more active in the agricultural value chain.

“Annually, these small-scale farmers only sell around 8% of their herd and we would like to see this grow to 25%,” Dr Motiang said, adding that large commercial producers sold roughly a quarter of their cattle annually. “To increase sales, it is therefore firstly important to improve the mortality rate of these herds. Some mortality rates are as high as 18%. We need to improve this to below 5%.”

One of the biggest areas demanding attention is bull fertility, Dr Motiang said. “Owners must demand a bulls’ fertility records before buying the animal.”

Despite these challenges, more owners are participating in the value chain and gaining market access. “We are now at a point where livestock auctions are becoming an annual event in many rural villages. Auctioneers will provide statistics and information beforehand, and producers can use this information to ensure their animals fetch market-related prices.” – Susan Marais, Stockfarm

For enquiries, phone the ARC-Animal Production Irene Campus on 012 672 9111.

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