In 2015, the South African bull, Locheim Best Performer WDW 12 0053, was crowned Asian and African Champion in the Hereford Champion of the World Competition. The animal was entered by Philip de Waal of Locheim studs near Morreesburg in the Swartland and Vredenburg on the West Coast, and the achievement was the most prestigious yet in a string of awards.
Philip and his father Willem have over the years won various national and regional show titles with their Hereford, Simmentaler, Black Angus, and SA Mutton Merino stud animals.
The Hereford stud has competed in the National Hereford Show, held every three years, since 1999. During this time, Locheim bulls have won the Grand Champion, Hereford Champion and/or Interbreed Champion title at every show, except in 2002.
According to Philip, he bases his breeding decisions on genetic worth and how the animals perform on the farm. Part of this involves consistently spending time among his cattle, he explains. “A successful stud breeder must have a natural aptitude and be able to identify the genetic line of an animal by simply looking at it, and know which cows and bulls would best complement one another when breeding.”
Nobody can be taught this natural ability, he stresses. “I often see people buying stud cattle with the idea of making some money on the side. Their plans won’t succeed if they lack a ‘feel’ for stud breeding and don’t spend enough time with the animals. If you have to outsource your stud, ensure that the person you appoint to be in charge has this talent, and will care for the animals as if they are his own.”
Bulls not used in the stud or not sold at auction are used in the commercial herd. (Photo courtesy of Philip de Waal)
Philip carefully monitors the way in which animals and their offspring perform over the years. “[In this way], you will notice specific trends in certain bloodlines. Every once in a while you will notice an outlier. These are usually linked to specific genetic lines.”
He uses a variety of genetic lines to prevent inbreeding in the studs. “Insufficient variation in the genetic lines will have a negative impact on animals’ performance and reproduction,” he explains. “Preventing this requires a large pool of animals from different genetic lines to eliminate defects.”
While performance testing, such as BLUP (best linear unbiased prediction) is used to guide breeding decisions, Philip says that it accounts for less than 20% of his decision-making.
“To me, BLUP is more important as a marketing tool than a decision-making tool,” he explains. “Because I spend time with my animals, I have a good feel for what’s happening and how they’re performing. For farmers who don’t know their animals that well, BLUP could serve as a guarantee of genetic performance.”
Philip says that he made the decision not to use BLUP as the “alpha and omega” of breeding in 2009, after attending a talk by well-known Australian stockman, Bruce Robertson, at a cattle show in New Zealand. “He was already warning then that the New Zealand cattle industry was heading for disaster, because people were blindly following BLUP growth values,” he recalls.
According to Robertson, this was resulting in fast growers with no depth or width. Although Philip does not believe that the same problem is occurring in South Africa, he says that breeders should not lose focus of the importance of a well-balanced animal, in terms of conformation and adaptation to its production environment. “The BLUP values that are most important to me are the breeding values,” he stresses.
Philip’s four studs currently comprise: Hereford – 350 cattle, Angus – 100 cattle, Simmentaler – 200 cattle, and SA Mutton Merino – 700 sheep. The replacement rate of the studs ranges between 20% and 30% per year.
Calves in the different herds are weaned at 210 days and are then run under similar conditions so that Philip can obtain a balanced view of each animal’s performance. The cattle are evaluated according to performance testing scores for growth and feed conversion, and physical appearance in terms of structural soundness and conformity to breed standards.
The best-performing animals are incorporated into the stud, and those that do not make the grade are sold for slaughter at 12 months. The remaining animals are run on pasture or veld, but receive energy licks. Heifers receive energy licks and silage about six months before being put to the bull at 15 to 18 months.
Bulls not incorporated into the stud are finished off and auctioned at 30 months. Approximately 100 stud bulls are sold annually, with prices starting at about R30 000/head. Animals not sold at auction are included in the commercial herd.
While Philip has a website and a Facebook page, he says that he does not actively promote his animals as he has a solid existing client base.
Philip does not believe in over-feeding his animals. “Some farmers do so to achieve a higher weight at different stages of production,” he says. This is dangerous, he stresses, as it could damage animals’ digestive systems, preventing them from utilising feed as efficiently as healthy animals, thus making them more prone to disease and other problems.
Philip uses either artificial insemination (AI), or bulls or rams from his own studs. This reduces the risk of disease, while keeping production costs down. “It made economic sense to start a sheep stud to breed rams, as we would otherwise have had to buy them in,” he says. With about 3 000 ewes, more than 80 rams would have had to be bought annually, at a total cost of around R800 000.
The area under grain production on Philip’s farms near Moorreesburg, Vredenburg, Hopefield, Riebeek West, Caledon and Oudtshoorn determines the livestock population. His rule of thumb is to have one head of cattle for every hectare of grain, with the sheep flocks helping to diversify his risk.
“This means we can lean on our animal component when the grain component is down. Having farms in different regions also helps to spread our climatic risk,” he explains.
Philip adds that the drought has dealt a blow to farmers in the Swartland, but over time farmers have learnt to deal with these conditions. “We build up reserves during the years of prosperity to survive the tough years. In the end, farmers who can hold out the longest, triumph.”
Email Philip de Waal at [email protected]