Despite farming in marginal areas suited for cattle breeds that can withstand harsh conditions, some North West farmers still believe bigger is better. They farm with large-framed animals that force them to dig deeper into their pockets to maintain them. Jones Moraka of the Limpopo Department of Agriculture looks at the
merits of the Western Sanga indigenous cattle as a viable alternative.
Western Sanga cows have proved to be more efficient than Bonsmara cows in terms of reproduction performance, referring particularly to calving percentage.
Photos: Courtesy of Jones Moraka
Despite farming in marginal areas suited for cattle breeds that can withstand harsh conditions, some North West farmers still believe bigger is better. They farm with large-framed animals that force them to dig deeper into their pockets to maintain them. Jones Moraka of the Limpopo Departmentof Agriculture looks at themerits of the Western Sanga indigenous cattle as a viable alternative.
Indigenous cattle breeds, such as Tswana and Nguni cattle, are ideal for farmers who are entering the cattle production sector. This according to a study by the Department of Agriculture at Klipkuil Genetic Breeding farm in the Bojanala district in North West.These cattle breeds are part of the Sanga group and they have demonstrated their hardiness by surviving and reproducing under harsh conditions, including severe drought and veld fires, where other breeds simply have perished.The Western Sanga herd at Wolwehoek Farm that belongs to Mrs Dipale in the Zeerust district in North West, demonstrates the findings of the Klipkuil study that compared the production performance of the Western Sanga and Bonsmara breeds.
In 1984 Mrs Dipale and her now late husband started farming with various cattle breeds including Brahman, Bonsmara, Simmentaler and Charolais crosses. They introduced Western Sanga cattle in 1997 and today the five cattle breeds are maintained under the same management system.Breeding season starts in December and calving in September. Calves are weaned at seven to eight months old. Animals are put on natural veld and only receive Dicalcium Phosphate and salt in summer, and lick during winter. Dipping is done fortnightly in summer and once a month in winter.In general, the fertility of Dipale’s Western Sangas has proved to be superior to that of the other breeds. Due to their small frame, they wean lighter calves (an average weaning mass of 20kg), but their calving percentage has always been 8% higher than that of the other breeds. Their pre-wean mortality (due to tick-born diseases) has been lower, especially compared to Simmentalers and Charolais crosses. Setshwaelo’s (1993) figures in Table 1 support these findings.
Klipkuil is approximately 5 400ha with a carrying capacity of 8ha/LSU (large stock unit). A Western Sanga cow that raises a small-frame calf represents 1,2 LSU for a year and a Bonsmara cow that raises a medium-frame calf represents 1,4 LSU for a year (Meissner et al, 1983). Data on production performance of the two breeds is presented in Table 2.
It’s evident from Table 2 that Western Sangas return higher yields in terms of kilogram weaned calves per hectare (103,1kg) than the Bonsmaras (92,8kg). Under the prevailing conditions during the trial at Klipkuil, the Sangas could produce 69 630kg weaned calf compared with the 62 662kg weaned calf produced by the Bonsmaras on an annual basis. This is due to the fact that a Western Sanga requires less surface area for maintenance than a Bonsmara.
Klipkuil can accommodate a greater number of Western Sangas than Bonsmaras, and therefore production performance of the Sangas would be better. Based on its size of about 5 400ha, Klipkuil can carry 563 Sangas and 482 Bonsmaras if only breeding cows are kept.
Cow efficiency of the Bonsmara and the Western Sanga was assessed according to the following formula:
Cow efficiency =
Average weaning mass
Average dam mass at weaning
The results are presented in Table 3. Western Sanga cows have proved to be more efficient than Bonsmara cows. Although the growth rate of the medium-frame Bonsmara was superior to that of the small-frame Western Sanga, the latter’s reproduction performance – with particular reference to calving percentage – was higher. The Western Sangas weaned 422 calves (75%) while the Bonsmaras weaned 323 calves (67%). This shows the potential difference between the breeds in terms of numbers.
Table 2 indicates the gross income per hectare and LSU of the two breeds. Bearing in mind that the smaller framed animals require fewer licks (De Brouwer, 1998) and low maintenance in terms of dipping and dosing it becomes clear that gross margins, although not directly calculated here, will favour the small-frame Western Sanga cattle.
The progeny of the Western Sanga, being an early carcass maturing type, is also ideal for finishing in extensive systems without expensive inputs.
Advantages of Western Sangas
This cattle breed evolved in Africa and is well adapted to prevailing conditions. They have an important role to play in animal production systems as a result of natural selection. It is suggested that the Sangas should form the basis of the cattle industry under the prevailing managerial and environmental conditions of the African continent.
They are hardy, disease resistant and multifunctional. In many instances their use has expanded to that of draft animals, impacting on long-term nutrient requirements.
Western Sanga cattle seem to be among the smallest of the beef breeds and to those farmers obsessed with size, the Western Sanga seemingly have nothing to offer.
However, it is due to their size that their maintenance requirements are lower than those of other breeds. Tierney et al (1992), as mentioned by De Brouwer (1998), argued that large-frame animals require high maintenance in less favourable environments.
Gross margin in any beef cow operation is directly determined by cow performance and productivity (Schultheiss, 1992). Higher reproductive rates in the indigenous Western Sanga support the fact that livestock farmers in North West should seriously consider production of this breed to reap maximum benefit from farming operations. With the breed’s adaptive traits, beef production can become more cost-effective as input costs are lower, resulting in increased unit sales.
Is bigger really better?
Cattle farmers have been led to believe that bigger is better, and that everything from abroad is automatically superior. This false impression has been strengthened by the demand for a specific type of weaner calf.
The Sanga doesn’t wholly fit the description of the ideal feedlot calf and many farmers have opted to farm with bigger, lean beef European-type cattle that are not truly adapted to Southern Africa’s harsh environment. This partly explains why beef production is seen as unprofitable. These less adapted cattle require higher inputs and more sophisticated management – factors that lead to less income.
Research (Frisch, 1997) suggests that to remain competitive for the foreseeable future beef producers will have to adopt practices that are environmentally sustainable, and produce the desired product at a price that the market is prepared to pay. |fw
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