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- The country’s largest and one of its most fertile Brahman studs is operated under extensive conditions on grazing southeast of Vryburg.
- The Kroon Vee Brahman stud this year celebrates its fiftieth anniversary, and while it makes use of new technology and methods to progress, the expertise and experience garnered over decades remain the backbone of this stud.
- Kroon Vee Brahman stud regards their buyers as the most important judges of their animals.
- Each animal’s details are available on computer. The evaluation of an animal starts immediately after its birth.
- The traits that boost profitability the most are fertility, herd health and biosecurity.
The country’s largest and one of its most fertile Brahman studs is operated under extensive conditions on grazing southeast of Vryburg. Despite its size, this stud is managed intensively using an extensive database which drives traceability and profitability, making meeting the requirements of their buyer’s market that much easier. A unique evaluation and selection programme is employed to continuously evaluate each animal to ensure genetic efficiency and phenotypic correctness.
The Kroon Vee Brahman stud this year celebrates its fiftieth anniversary, and while it makes use of new technology and methods to progress, the expertise and experience garnered over decades remain the backbone of this stud.
From a small start to market leader
In 1972 when he was in standard eight (grade ten), Jan van Zyl started the Kroon Vee stud with five cows and a bull. In 1986 he and his wife, Irma, settled near Vryburg in South Africa’s beef cattle farming heartland and began to systematically expand the herd. Later their sons, Gideon and Jan jr, joined the farming enterprise and today they run more than 1 400 stud cows.
As a new and unknown breeder, it was difficult to sell breeding stock in those early years. To become more profitable and expand their farming enterprise, the Van Zyls had to focus on more efficient beef production practices. By taking the breed’s weaknesses and turning it into strengths, while offering excellent after-sales service, they managed to establish a list of buyers who continue to use their breeding animals with confidence and success.
The anchor that keeps them at the forefront of targeted breeding is the strong beef production traits they’ve established in those early years.
They regard their buyers as the most important judges of their animals. After each auction they assess the animals that fetched the highest prices and evaluate the reasons behind these prices so they can continue to breed with the market in mind. These are the type of bulls that weaner calf producers like to utilise, and the animals therefore have a strong influence on their mating decisions.
Each animal’s details are available on computer. The evaluation of an animal starts immediately after its birth. The calf is assessed for vitality and conformation so as to identify weaknesses and strengths. The cow and bull are then assessed to determine whether the calf they produced is an improvement and if the mating choice had the desired effect.
The calf will determine whether the cow will be mated to the same bull again, or whether another bull should be used or a heifer should replace the cow. The Van Zyls believe this is where science and the art of breeding meet.
Each bull is placed in a camp system, and the best cows are then selected and placed with a specific bull to make sure they reach their breeding goal. Fertility, excellent growth, temperament, longevity, adaptability and hardiness are the qualities they strive for.
A return on capital, in this case beef, remains their most important management principle. In short, this translates to the net kilograms of beef produced per kilogram of beef/stocking rate on the farm. This information also allows them to compare the profitability of ox production to cow production, and to determine profitability across breeds.
The traits that boost profitability the most are fertility, herd health and biosecurity; where diseases such as brucellosis, trichomonosis or even foot-and-mouth disease are concerned, the smallest mistake can have huge consequences.
Without reliable data relating to weight, fertility and production, there is no management information to improve or grow the business. All animals are weighed four times a year in February, May, August and November; the weaning of calves, vaccinations and herd evaluation is usually done at the same time.
One of the advantages of this system is that all animals can be evaluated based on their progeny and production records; this is done every time calves are weaned.
Evaluation and calf growth
The bull and heifer calves of each bull are separated and placed in adjoining auction pens. The management team and workers will then evaluate each calf group to determine which bulls are producing the desired offspring. Because the workers spend time with the cattle each day and observe them in the veld, they often point out traits that can easily be overlooked.
The bull is in fact the animal that is evaluated when the groups are being evaluated. The best groups’ sires are typically given more cows to mate with, while the bulls that do not perform well are culled and replaced.
Once this has been done, each calf in each group is evaluated. Particular attention is paid to temperament, sheaths and naval skin, conformation and corrected weaning weights. Poor performers, as well as poor growers and their dams are culled. While she is weaning her calf, each cow is examined for pregnancy. She must be in calf again while her calf is being weaned.
Retained calves are sent to outside farms where they are weighed every three months to measure their growth under natural conditions. Heifers are mated when they are around 18 months old and weigh between 340 and 360kg. Heifers are kept separate and incorporated into the cow system after their second calving.
Bulls are grown out on natural pastures and sent to the annual auction when they are approximately three years old. During the finishing period before the auction, they have to walk at least 2km a day to stay fit, build muscle and keep fat deposition to a minimum. Fitness also improves the quality of their semen, says Jan Jr, who manages this department.
Traceability is ensured by the meticulous records they keep of each animal along with the use of modern technology. This allows them to utilise only the best animals, and to not use ones that disappoint time and time again.
To increase production and profitability, pastures are improved by applying first-rate pasture management. There are a number of camps that hold an abundance of red grass. Cattle consume less of this poorer quality grass species than they do finger grass, for instance. Much of the red grass is cut annually to remove old material, stimulate growth and improve veld quality. The cut grass is utilised as hay in the bull finishing programme.
For effective grazing management, an annual estimate is done at the end of the rainy season in May, of the available grass and the number of animals it can support. During good years, the carrying capacity of the grazing is one large livestock unit (LLU) per 9ha. This system makes it possible to plan for drier years.
Market and future of Brahmans
New market opportunities are continuously explored by the Kroon Vee team. A percentage of the bull calves are finished on veld for the ox market, which allows for more flexible pasture management. It also helps that they can reap the benefits of the careful selection done over decades for economically important traits.
The Van Zyls believe the future of Brahman cattle lies in Africa, where the limitations of foot-and-mouth disease are less of a challenge than in the rest of the world. It is a market that can certainly be exploited.
According to Gideon and Jan jr, the Brahman is well suited to any crossbreeding programme. They want to keep on building on the successes achieved so far by using technology such as artificial insemination and embryo transfer to advance genetically.
A valuable lesson they learned from their father is that while they may have a lot of cattle, they only have one name. Their aim is to protect the Kroon Vee name through integrity and transparency while passionately living out the motto that ‘if you can dream it, you can do it’. – Andries Gouws, Stockfarm
For more information, contact Jan van Zyl on 082 444 5222 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.kroonvee.com.