Joburg auctions off unique cattle genes

The Johannesburg city council will Auctionoff the large Bovelder cattle herd that it has kept on Northern Farm, Diepsloot, Gauteng, for 40 years.

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Breeding programme staff, cattle breeders and educators alike have billed the sale as a “tragedy”, ”a loss due to lack of understanding” and “a mistake.”

The roots of the herd go back to the early 1970s, when city engineer Val Bolitho recognised the potential for developing the beef herd that was grazing the pastures that aided the purification of effluent from the sewerage works into a cattle breeding project. The breeding programme would become the most intensive of its kind internationally.

Bolitho, described by those who knew him as a “man of great vision with incredible technical ability,” died before the Bovelder breed was fully established. The name “Bo” velder was chosen in his honour.

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A string of respected animal scientists established the breed throughout the country. Breed director of the Angus Society of South Africa John Boulle said the breed is “very desirable, genetically speaking, because of the rigorous selection processes developed over the years.”

New engineering techniques rendered the Bovelder’s part in the purification process of the sewerage works obsolete, so senior council management decided to sell it. Former in-house scientist on the Bovelder project Alistair Paterson said they have “no idea or interest in the value of the herd for supplying valuable genetic material to our farmers.”

A letter to the Johannesburg City Council signed by four Onderstepoort professors argues for the preservation of the breeding programme at Northern Farm on the grounds that it’s in close proximity to the Onderstepoort campus, boasts good management, a well-described production system, and unique herd genetics, amongst other benefits, making the farm a research asset.

“For community engagement the possibilities to develop projects in collaboration with Northern Farm are vast.”

However, arguments haven’t swayed the council. Forty years of good breeding are to go under the hammer on 14 April.