HomeAgri NewsSAFJA announces expansion of heifer competition

SAFJA announces expansion of heifer competition

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

The South African Fatstock Judging Association (SAFJA) plans to increase its efforts to help South African producers breed more functionally efficient cattle in 2024.

Jan de Jong, a SAFJA judge, revealed the association’s plans to expand its heifer competition to all the slaughter ox competitions in KwaZulu-Natal this year. “While slaughter oxen constitute a producer’s cash flow, the cows that remain on the farm are a long-term asset.” Any producer that is breeding for sustainability, therefore needs to have good dams on the farm.  

Producer can enter any group of four heifers in this heifer competition. The competition aims to select the group that is the most uniform, so the breed is irrelevant. Ideally, animals should be veld-reared and not fed prior to the competition.

Read more about fatstock judging here.

Judging criteria

However, De Jong mentioned that the competition is not just about uniformity. Animals must also adhere to the following criteria:

  • Identification – 5 points.
  • Uniformity – 5 points.
  • Temperament – 5 points.
  • Hide and skin – 5 points.
  • Legs and feet (Set to leg, hooves and shape of the leg) – 10 points.
  • Functional efficiency (femineity, cull points, udder development, sexual development, width/length of pins, hips and pins to hips) – 15 points.
  • Balance and conformation (size for age, width, appearance, capacity and spring of rib) – 15 points.

This adds up to 60 points. “It is important to note that no mention is made of breed. Only practical selection criteria are used,” said De Jong. He added that the criteria could be changed or weighted differently as required.

At each of these competitions, the judge will take the time to explain why a certain group of heifers was selected as winners. “The contestants do not need to partake in the carcass competition to be part of the group competition. We just want producers to bring their animals, because this is a wonderful opportunity to teach them the characteristics of a good heifer. This should enable producers to get their strategies for proper herd management in place.”

According to De Jong, a cow should ideally produce several calves during her lifespan, not just one or two. That is why a focus on functional efficiency is crucial during the judging process. SAFJA aims to assist producers in improving their farms, which, in turn, boosts the national herd. Raising a heifer to the production stage is costly. “A heifer can only be placed with a bull after 18 months, while a fertile cow can produce a calf every year.”

However, it is a reality that older cows have a limited lifespan and therefore need to be replaced. SAFJA aims to teach producers how to select the right heifers to take the herd forward. The ideal cow is fertile, has a good temperament, never requires special attention from the producer and does not necessarily produce large calves that might lead to calving difficulties.

Biltong cows

SAFJA will also be judging the biltong cow competition at Vryburg Abattoir between March and May. These cows have reached the end of their lifespan and SAFJA is specifically looking for animals with a conditioning score of between three and four.

“When it comes to biltong with yellow fat, having a little bit more fat is not a scandal,” De Jong said.

These cows grazed on veld and due to this, the fat is yellow. “The yellow comes from the carotenoids in the green grass. We are looking for a bright yellow and we call it Tal-Tec yellow, named after the competition’s main sponsor.”

While there are no weight limits on these cows, the animals’ build plays a small role. These cows were good, functional animals. If they weren’t, the producer would have culled them a long time ago.

“Biltong cows that were raised on grass usually fetch a premium price because many consumers prefer yellow fat biltong,” De Jong said.

For more information about SAFJA’s events, contact Jan de Jong at jdejongconsulting@gmail.com. – Susan Marais, Plaas Media

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