Brahmans come in from the cold

Brahman stud breeder James Prinsloo runs a thriving cattle enterprise on the Mpumalanga highveld where winter temperatures can fall to -12°C. Known for their resilience to heat and drought, the Brahman of the Jamica stud prove the commendable adaptability of the breed. Annelie Coleman reports.

Brahmans come  in from the cold
- Advertisement -

For James Prinsloo, stud breeding makes economic sense in that it generates a higher profit per hectare. “Economic realities are such that optimum production is essential for long-term sustainability and profitability,” says James. “A stud cow eats no more than a commercial cow, but her progeny generate a bigger income than commercial weaners. The higher input costs of stud breeding are offset by the increased income. Emotionally, one can never develop the same relationship with a commercial herd. I know every animal in my herd and that gives me great joy.”

James and his twin 22-year-old sons Janco and Nicolai farm on Rusthoek near Perdekop. They run a Brahman stud herd of 250 red and white animals, a Simbra stud herd of 200 animals and 100 commercial Simbras. There is also a Merino stud flock and a crop division of soya beans and maize, the latter mainly for the farm’s own use. James is passionate about the Brahman breed and bought his first cow shortly after matriculating in 1980.

Nicolai, Helena and James Prinsloo with a typical Jamica bull. The Jamica bulls are known for their adaptability, hardiness and excellent conformation.

- Advertisement -

He stresses the Brahman’s cross-breeding value, hardiness, outstanding mothering ability and strong foraging capacity. Brahman do well in climates ranging from the hot Bushveld and Karoo to the bitter cold of the Mpumalanga and Free State highveld. The Jamica stud has both White and Red Brahman. James discounts the notion that Red Brahman have less meat. “We breed both because there is a demand for both. Our red animals perform just as well as the whites and sell for the same and sometimes better prices.

“The success of any stud depends on selection. We select for optimum beef production and conformation. Our ideal cow is medium framed with a strong mouth. A strong mouth means the animal grazes well. We look for a feminine head, neck and face. The cow should be heavier in the back quarter than in front.” James sees good udder and teat placement as crucial. Cows with bottle teats are culled and poor calf suckling reflex has been eliminated from the Jamica herd. Also known as the dummy or silly calf syndrome, it describes the lack of instinctive ability of calves to suckle purposefully, and left unattended leads to calf death.

Breeding selection
“Our dam lines are extremely important. On the highveld we put heifers to bulls at 30 months because of the harsh climate and sourveld grazing. If the heifers conceive earlier the post- calving recovery period is too long. We need strong, well developed heifers to deal with the highveld climate and sourveld.” “The breed is known for late teeth shedding, an economic bonus because
A grade animals usually sell for higher prices than AB grades that have shed teeth. It also means increased longevity and productivity. We have a 17-year-old cow that still calves regularly,” James explains.

Good muscling, conformation and width, as well as strong heads and necks are among the selection criteria for Jamica bulls. James selects for short, well developed sheaths. A short sheath means less irritation and inflammation. Strong and well developed feet are also important. “There must be a balance between the animal’s physical appearance and its estimated breeding values (EBVs), but the role of EBVs in selection should not be overestimated. For example, a bull with a scrotum 2cm below the breed standard that breeds well is not necessarily a poor choice.”

Jamica heifers are put to the bull at 30 months because of the harsh climate. The post calving recovery period is prolonged if heifers conceive younger than this.

A good bull is the best investment in any breeding programme, explains James. “Buy good bulls and in a few years’ time the entire herd will have inherited their top traits. Top genetics are not negotiable. We maintain a summer and winter breeding season to ensure an optimum calving rate. Each cow and her calf are evaluated before the breeding season so that she is matched to the correct bull. These criteria form the cornerstone of a well adapted, top performing herd.”

Most of the Jamica cows are kept with the bulls during the winter and summer breeding seasons on Rusthoek. Artificial insemination is used on 30% of the herd to introduce new genetics. James currently uses 13 AI bulls including Umberto KH 05 505 and Bos 01 108. He selects bulls with a record of siring calves born between 25kg and 35kg and has very few calving problems. “I can count the number of assisted calvings I have attended on one hand. We usually wean at 7 months at an average weaner weight of 230kg. Jamica Brahmans are known for their calm and even dispositions and we select for temperament. ”

The Jamica bulls are mainly auctioned at bull sales such as the Ermelo Bull Sale. Bulls are also sold from the farm. “Our bulls are sought after by both commercial and stud breeders. Jamica animals are found as far afield as Kathu in the Northern Cape and Namibia. About five years ago we exported a bull to Nigeria.” Cows and heifers are sold through stud sales such as the annual National Brahman Sale, where James’s Red Brahman cows have averaged R37 000 from 2007 onwards. The first Jamica production sale is planned for 2014.

Low maintenance
Jamica Brahmans are hardy and adaptable and permanently on the veld, but cows with calves utilise maize stover in June and July. Rusthoek’s grazing consists mainly of tough lovegrass (Eragrostis plana) and red grass or rooigras (Themeda triandra) on turf soils. The average rainfall is 750mm to 1 000mm per year. The carrying capacity is 2ha/MLU to 3ha/MLU. Rusthoek is subdivided into 92 camps with 96 watering points and 35 dams.

James branched into stud breeding in 1994 to earn more from each hectare of land he farms.

Kimtrafos phosphate licks are supplied in summer. In winter a Molatek condition lick is put down for weaners and pregnant heifers and a protein lick for adult animals. A production supplement containing condition lick, protein lick and 25% maize meal is provided in very cold conditions.

“Our animals are used to cold and even snow. Eragrostis curvula bales in the valleys and among the trees afford them some form of protection when it’s very cold.” The animals are inoculated against lumpy skin disease, three day stiff sickness, pasteurella, botulism, anthrax and Rift Valley fever. “Inoculating is vital because of the sharply fluctuating weather conditions in this part of the world. Botulism and redwater are endemic.”

Manure samples are taken for parasite identification and counts and the breeding seasons are planned accordingly. “Most calves are born from the onset of winter until October when the parasite count is at its lowest,” says James. Auctioned animals receive heartwater blood to ensure a smooth adaptation to areas where the disease is endemic, such as the Limpopo bushveld.”

Advice to prospective breeders
“Know your breed and familiarise yourself with its diversity and genetic lines,” says James. “Introduce the best genetics to your herd as quickly as possible. Tap into the older breeders’ experience. I have learnt a lot from Tok Serfontein of Potchefstroom, Lano Schlebusch of Colesberg, the late Attie Maré of Pongola and Mike Bentley from Winterton.”

Contact James Prinsloo on 082 781 4135 or [email protected]