Sunday, August 14, 2022

Vhanyai Boran: Breeding functional, fertile cattle through proven genetics

Estimated reading time: 0 minutes

A well-educated, humble Boran stud breeder in North West is making his mark in the cattle production industry, despite various challenges that forced him to rebuild his commercial herd. Mpho Munyai decided to leave the corporate world behind in 2018 to pursue his passion for cattle production on a full-time basis. It was the right decision as Mpho, who hails from the small village Tshino Ha-Nesengani in Venda, Limpopo, is now shaking up the sector as a responsible and excellence-driven Boran breeder who is also playing a mentoring role.

Mpho owns the Vhanyai Boran stud, consisting of over 350 cattle, on the farm Vlakfontein near Magaliesburg and Syferbult in North West. The farm, which he obtained through the government’s land reform programme, is 1 400ha in size.

Maize, soya beans and sunflower are planted on a rotational basis on 500ha, while the remaining farmland is divided into 18 natural grazing camps ranging from 25 to 40ha in size. To complement the lack of minerals on the natural grazing (a mix of sour- and sweetveld), animals receive phosphate in summer and lick during winter. Lactating cows are given a production lick during spring.

Read more about Bloodline Boran cattle here.

Humble beginnings

His interest in cattle production started at a young age while looking after the Afrikaner cattle of his late grandfather, Piet Munyai. He also worked in the crop fields alongside his grandmother, Tshinakaho Munyai, who still plays an important role in his farming activities – Mpho always taps into her wisdom.

He started farming part time in 2009 on communal land near Randfontein. It was a humble beginning with only two Brahman crossbred heifers and a steer. In 2013 he bought a Boran and Bonsmara crossbred bull calf and during the same year, approached the Boran Cattle Breeders’ Society of South Africa seeking to purchase a few more bulls. He then bought a Boran bull from the Ntaba Nyoni stud owned by President Cyril Ramaphosa.

His part-time farming activities did not come without challenges. In 2017, while farming on the communal land, all 120 cows in Mpho’s commercial herd contracted brucellosis. The infected cows had to be slaughtered, forcing him to start from scratch and rebuild his herd. This is when he decided to invest in Boran cows, as he believed in their crossbreeding abilities.

Investing in superior cattle

Mpho believes Boran cattle are easy to handle and resistant to most of the common cattle diseases. “Their ability to maintain their body condition during the dry season affords them greater survivability under harsh conditions.” Boran cattle have a strong herd instinct, making it difficult for predators to attack and assisting in preventing stock theft. Female animals have a strong mothering instinct, as well as high fertility and longevity.

The Boran’s fertility is demonstrated by the fact that, even under harsh conditions, a cow will continue to breed and rear calves without ‘punishing’ herself. This means that cows lose relatively little bodyweight over the suckling period and maintain good condition, allowing them to conceive again.

Breeding objectives

Mpho says his breeding objectives are to breed animals based on the balanced package of low maintenance and high fertility. “As far as stud breeding goes, I believe that I am responsible for producing highly fertile, functional progeny that do not require a lot of maintenance. These quality genes are passed on to the herd’s highly efficient, fertile heifers and bulls.”

The aim is also to improve the farm’s carrying capacity by continuing to acquire animals with proven genetics from established Boran breeders. “It is important to be cognisant of the fact that I am farming in tandem with nature. To optimise profitability, I need to continue measuring profit by the amount of beef produced per hectare, instead of measuring profit by the weight of a weaner,” says Mpho. “I believe I should strive to continue improving the environment by practicing good grazing management and improving the carrying capacity of my veld. This will enable me to maximise profit per hectare.”

A well-educated, humble Boran stud breeder in North West is making his mark in the cattle production industry.
Mpho requires bulls that are balanced and structurally sound, with strong bones, capacity, width and depth.

Selection criteria

Mpho uses both genotype and phenotype selection criteria to retain bull and heifer calves. With regard to genotype, he considers the genetic material passed on by the dam and sire. In terms of phenotype, which involves animals’ observable traits, Mpho has a few specific requirements.

“In the case of heifer calves I look at femininity, whereas with bull calves I don’t just look at masculinity, but at the entire balance of the bull, including structural soundness, strong bones, capacity, width and depth.” Mpho also prefers animals with a short coat.

Focus on summer breeding

The breeding programme entails embryo transfer, artificial insemination (AI) and natural mating. The focus is mainly on a summer breeding season (November to February), but a winter breeding season (July to September) is also utilised in a bid to give cows that skipped a chance to conceive.

Embryo transfer is performed at the beginning of November and AI at the beginning of December, with bulls introduced afterwards. The bulls run with the herd from December until the end of February. Heifers are mated at 24 months, allowing them to calve before 40 months of age.

First calvers, Mpho has learned, recover quickly and are ready to be mated again much sooner. Heifers run with a young bull for six months from November to the end of April. Pregnancy diagnosis for the summer breeding season is performed in April, while pregnancy testing for heifers is conducted in June.

Mature cows and heifers that are not in calf during the summer breeding season, are afforded a chance to be mated during the winter breeding programme. All mature cows that are not in calf in November after the winter breeding programme, are sent to the abattoir. “I strive to work on an intercalving period of less than 400 days, at a calving rate of 98%. The average birthweight for male animals is 29kg and for female animals it is 26kg.”

Read more about the South African livestock awards here.

Emphasis on breeding soundness

Mpho has achieved a weaning percentage of 99,2%. Calves are weaned at seven to eight months of age at an average weight of 200kg. The main consideration for weaning depends on the condition of the cow, and not the age of the calf. Weaners are not sold, but are backgrounded on veld, allowing Mpho to select the best animals based on his breeding objective of low maintenance.

Animals that do not exhibit breeding soundness are sent to the abattoir at a weight of over 400kg. Those animals with proven breeding soundness are marketed to producers who are starting a Boran herd or who want to introduce proven genetics into their herds. “These animals are then sold as open heifers, pregnant heifers, stud bulls or commercial breeding bulls,” says Mpho.

Giving back through mentorship

Mpho’s recipe for success is his willingness to learn and he is certainly not shy to visit other producers to learn from them. He continues to seek advice from experienced breeders and mentors in the industry.

But apart from a willingness to learn, Mpho is committed to making a difference in the industry by mentoring farmers on communal land, as well as aspiring Boran producers from Gauteng and North West. Every four months he hosts 15 to 20 students from Unisa on his farm, during which he focusses on animal improvement, cattle selection, grazing management as well as health management. This forms part of their practical farming experience.

He also initiated an animal improvement project in 2021 for communal farmers in both provinces, during which he artificially inseminates their animals using Boran semen straws donated by Boran stud breeders. “To date we have assisted over 200 communal farmers to improve their herds using Boran genetics.” – Christal-Lize Muller, Stockfarm

For more information, contact Mpho Munyai on 078 099 8874 or

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