Farmer-and-son team Zolani and Mandange Tyali farm Nguni cattle on their 202ha farm, Brooklyn, near Morgan Bay in the Eastern Cape.
The quality of their Tshezi Nguni herd of 70 stud and 35 commercial female animals was recently recognised when the Tyalis received the 2017 Unistel SA Stud Book Elite Developing Farmer award.
“Our Ngunis were good enough to be registered with SA Stud Book in 2011, and we were then invited to join the Amathole Nguni Breeders’ Group in 2013,” recalls Mandange.
These events, he says, are his greatest accomplishments since returning to the farm in 2008, after having completed a BA in sports science at the University of Pretoria and working in Port Elizabeth for a period.
Despite these achievements, Zolani and Mandange have been unable to improve and expand their operation by acquiring additional quality land. They have been searching for 10 years without success.
“All the production problems we have revert to the same thing: a lack of land,’’ Mandange says.
The land problem
In the 1990s, Zolani belonged to the Eastern Cape Nguni Club and ran cattle on two small farms near Kei Mouth that he bought and sold successively.
In 2004, after selling the second of these, he bought Brooklyn. In the mid-2000s, he and several other family members received the 192ha farm, Hatchleydene near Komga, through the state’s Land Distribution for Agricultural Development (LRAD) programme.
This farm had several major shortcomings, however: it was too small to carry more than 40 head of cattle, it was infested with lantana and inkberry, and it had poor water resources and infrastructure. After unsuccessful negotiations to return it to the state, Zolani sold Hatchleydene on the open market in 2015.
Over the years, the Tyalis have viewed a number of other farms for sale in the region. However, the state’s evaluation of these was consistently lower than what the sellers could fetch on the open market, and the properties were subsequently sold to private buyers.
“It’s discouraging,” says Mandange. “Every time we make an offer, we wait for government to approve it, and it doesn’t. Government listens, but it doesn’t move.’’
According to Mandange, the land reform process is complicated by the fact that many farmers are unwilling to face the red tape associated with it; selling on the open market is simply easier and less time-consuming.
What is particuarly galling to him is that there are a number of derelict land reform farms in the region. He argues that the state should always earmark successful and committed developing farmers for settlement.
“We would have been far by now [with the Ngunis], if we could have sourced land,’’ he says.
Because of the land problem, the Tyalis have had little option but to develop Brooklyn vertically to add value to their beef operation.
While still farming on his farms near Kei Mouth in the 1990s, Zolani sourced genetics from various Nguni breeders, including founder breeder, Victor Biggs.
After buying Brooklyn, Zolani continued to build the stud using genetics from renowned Eastern Cape studs, including breeders that are today members of the Amathole Nguni Breeders’ Group.
The Tyalis recently purchased a herd sire, PH 11 111, from Pat Hobbs, owner of the Ntsikizi Nguni Stud and Mandange’s mentor for the past few years.
They also sourced another herd sire, DI 10 26, from the Dohne Agricultural Development Institute’s Nguni herd near Stutterheim. This stud was shortlisted for the 2017 Taurus Evolution SA Stud Book Elite Beef Stud herd award.
The Tshezi Ngunis are run in two single-sire stud herds of 35 female animals each, as well as a commercial herd of 35 females run with three commercial bulls including two young self-bred bulls.
Bulls are run with female animals throughout the year, a system that Mandange admits has a disadvantage: the occasional calf born in winter cannot compete with those born in summer.
This is clearly illustrated by the difference in birthweights and respective weights at 205, 365 and 540 days.
According to Mandange, the weighing of animals as required by SA Stud Book has been enlightening.
“It shows that winter calves are always behind summer calves in terms of production.”
Selection of Tshezi Ngunis is based primarily on fertility, mothering abilities, adaptability and resistance to tick-borne diseases.
Nevertheless, because Brooklyn is located in a virulent redwater and gallsickness area, the Tyalis dip their cattle once every 10 to 14 days in summer, and once every three weeks in winter. They also follow a standard inoculation regime.
In 2016, they were caught off guard when they lost a number of cattle to tulp (Homeria pallida) poisoning.
All the cattle receive a phosphate and salt lick in summer, and a protein and salt lick in winter.
According to Mandange, the predominantly sourveld average weight of their Ngunis, with cows ranging from 320kg to 350kg, and weaners from 140kg to 150kg at 205 days of age.
Because of this, it is sometimes challenging to adhere to the Nguni Cattle Breeders’ Society’s requirement that stud heifers calve before the age of 39 months.
“We can’t compare our cattle with those of other breeders – it’s very sour here,’’ he says. “By the time they need to be mated, they’re old enough, but not big enough; they’re just not ready for the bull yet.”
Heifers are therefore kept suckling for as long as possible before being fitted with weaner rings. After this, they are moved to an alternative herd to ensure they are not impregnated by their sire.
Although Mandange is willing to try putting selected cows to a bull of another beef breed in order to boost weaner weights, his father is dead against any terminal breeding programme.
“We’d be destroying the value of the Nguni,” insists Zolani. “We are passionate about the breed.”
His reasoning is that they do not rely on the formal weaner market, which demands heavier weaners, as they have convenient access to the livestock trade in the former Transkei. This can be highly lucrative for oxen (used in traditional ceremonies) and heifers (used for breeding).
“They [communal farmers] like the Nguni heifers, because they’re adapted and hardy, and offer resistance to tick-borne diseases,’’ Zolani says.
“We don’t need to access markets in the formal sector that are judged by weight or certain ages; we have an alternative market where we fetch better prices.”
Phone Mandange Tyali on 072 795 0983, or email him at [email protected]. Phone Zolani Tyali on 083 274 3319.