Rensbou Ankoles: Perfection is the only way to go

Estimated reading time: 7 minutes

  • Dail van Rensburg, owner of the Rensbou Ankole stud between Delareyville and Stella in North West, is proud of what he’s achieved with this tough African breed, which originally hails from Uganda.
  • True to his word, Dail established his Ankole stud in 2001. The herd consisted of cows, heifers and bulls, and in 2017 he purchased the bull, Sugar Daddy, at a Ntaba Nyoni sale.
  • Dail finds that the Ankole’s horns, especially in a herd context, serve as a good deterrent against wild animals and other intruders.
  • In addition to the Ankole’s exceptional breed traits, Dail’s success can be attributed to sound selection goals and the fact that he incorporates these from the outset.
  • Dail targets the commercial market and sells some of his stud animals out of hand for meat purposes.

Dail van Rensburg, owner of the Rensbou Ankole stud between Delareyville and Stella in North West, is proud of what he’s achieved with this tough African breed, which originally hails from Uganda. And rightly so, because after more than two decades he is one of the leading Ankole stud breeders in the country, although he is very modest about the myriad accolades this prestigious stud has won.

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Dail joined his father, Boetie, in 1983, after having finished his university training and army service. His father’s mixed farming enterprise was well established at the time. After his father’s death, Dail took over the reins and has since established Santa Gertrudis and Romagnola studs, commercial cattle, a farm feedlot and a crop branch consisting of maize, soya bean and sunflower. His pride and joy, however, is his Ankole stud.

The Ankole’s exceptional traits

This cattle breed, which is known for its majestic horns, piqued Dail’s interest during a visit to the Bloemfontein Zoo in the late 1980s. “It was my first encounter with these amazing animals, and I decided on the spot that I wanted my own stud one day.”

He was especially impressed with the breed’s remarkable horns and appearance. True to his word, Dail established his Ankole stud in 2001. The herd consisted of cows, heifers and bulls, and in 2017 he purchased the bull, Sugar Daddy, at a Ntaba Nyoni sale. Over the years he bought several bulls from this stud, which belongs to president Cyril Ramaphosa, to build up Rensbou Ankoles, keep the herd pure and to prevent inbreeding.

In his pursuit of perfection and the breeding of prime beef cattle, Dail says he is still amazed by what the herd is capable of, even after 22 years in the Ankole industry. The initial attraction, namely the breed’s large horns (the blood that flows through them serves as a cooling mechanism) and conformation, later made way for several other breed traits to come to the fore.

Ankole’s have several valuable qualities such as their adaptability to hot weather, as well as their hardiness and ability to thrive amid harsh environmental conditions, says Dail. His herd has excellent disease resistance, especially with regard to footrot, which can be very challenging in summer in the region he farms in.

Given the amount of rain received the past two years, many a producer has struggled to contain this disease – the wet grass causes the skin above the animal’s claws to soften; even the slightest thorn prick will lead to swelling and inflammation in the foot. “I suspect the skin above the Ankole’s hoof wall is thicker or better at protecting the animal against footrot organisms.”

The Rensbou Ankole herd is also relatively resistant to tickborne diseases. Moreover, cows are not prone to experiencing calving or prenatal problems. This, combined with fertility, excellent carcass and maternal traits, small calves and calving ease, makes managing this extensively farmed herd a breeze.

Dail finds that the Ankole’s horns, especially in a herd context, serve as a good deterrent against wild animals and other intruders. Cattle will group together when threatened. This trait, which has been bred into the Ankole over many years, is probably the reason why the herds on some of his other farms in high-theft areas are not targeted, says Dail.

Ideal for crossbreeding

If your goal is to breed hardy, disease-resistant females that carry more meat and can thrive in harsh grazing conditions, the Ankole is the ideal animal for crossbreeding. It is a good option, says Dail, to place an Ankole bull with the existing cow herd of another breed, or to place a polled Santa Gertrudis bull with a group of Ankole cows, like he did. This resulted in polled, hardy calves with excellent carcass traits.

Strict selection goals

In addition to the Ankole’s exceptional breed traits, Dail’s success can be attributed to sound selection goals and the fact that he incorporates these from the outset. He selects for temperament – during weaning at seven months of age, calves that fail the temperament test are culled, meaning that his cattle are docile.

He also selects for fertility and early calving at regular intervals, and believes his herd is unique in that first calvers calve at two years and five months of age. Female animals’ condition scores play a pivotal role in this regard, especially since he selects for excellent condition scores and carcass traits. “There must be a balance between the animal’s horns and carcass.”

Him starting the Santa Gertrudis stud in 1983 drove home the fact that a breeder must maintain a balance in his or her beef cattle herd, as well as pay attention to profit drivers such as fertility and meat traits. This encapsulates his approach with the Ankole stud. “The cow you breed must have decent horns and top-quality meat traits, as well as an excellent condition score.”

Dail believes an animal that cannot maintain itself on the veld will not be able to calve regularly. Condition is determined by recording the body’s fat coverage (ribs and across the back). “A cow needs to have an excellent condition score amid favourable grazing conditions; if a cow remains thin while conditions are good, that cow will calve infrequently because her own condition will not be optimal.”

Commercial target market

Dail targets the commercial market and sells some of his stud animals out of hand for meat purposes. At the same time, he contributes to expanding this breed in South Africa. This year he will also host his first production auction on 5 August in Frankfort, in conjunction with Francois Coertsen from Parys. Some of Dail’s Ankole bulls, cows and heifers as well as Romagnola cattle will be up for sale.

The Ankole no doubt adds profitability to the value chain. “Cows may have a smaller carcass, but more cows can be farmed per hectare. And to increase meat production, another breed of beef cattle can be used on the Ankole, while preserving the fertility and hardiness as well as calving ease of the Ankole.”

In his experience, says Dail, African cattle breeds, especially the Ankole, have a key role to play in the South African cattle industry. “The Ankole industry in the country is doing well and numbers are increasing. There are several producers wanting to invest in this breed and animals are becoming more accessible thanks to more cattle being available.”

South Africa’s challenging environmental conditions mean that producers often have to turn to animals that can thrive in such an environment, and what better breed to farm than the Ankole which possesses all the traits necessary for this. This African cattle breed is not only well equipped and adapted to make use of the less than desirable grazing in some parts of the country, but it is also able to reproduce and thrive in those regions. – Christal-Lize Muller, Stockfarm

For more information, contact Dail van Rensburg on 082 809 8841 or dail@cluesnet.co.za.