It is undeniable that growing up with practical experience of farming, and having access to the knowledge gained by previous generations, can be one of the greatest assets within a family-run farming business.
But there is also something to say for embarking on a career in farming with a fresh perspective.
Carol and Charlie Gould are lucky to find themselves somewhere between the old and the new, and the enthusiasm with which they have built up their stud-breeding business in only a few years shows that experience gained in other professional fields can sometimes be as valuable on the farm as having a background in farming itself.
Newly converted Droughtmaster breeders, the Goulds only started farming on a full-time basis about a year ago. They bought their 930ha farm, Blackwoods, which is situated amongst the picturesque Maluti mountains between Fouriesburg and Clarens in the Free State, in 2004. At first, the farm was only used as a holiday destination.
Carol had a successful career as a medical technologist and Charlie, who is originally from the UK, ran (and still runs) his geophysical borehole surveying business. However, for both Charlie and Carol, the farm was where they wanted to retire and where they wanted to build something for the second part of their lives.
Thanks to their respective professional backgrounds, they complement each other perfectly in their new jobs on the farm. Carol is in charge of record-keeping and their breeding programme, and Charlie takes care of the day-to-day management of the farm.
“Our neighbour, from whom we bought the farm, is Linde du Plessis, who owns the Brandwater Droughtmaster stud [featured in FW, 22 Oct]. Linde initially rented the farm back from us.
“He still rents 120ha of arable land, but we have taken back the grazing land (the farm has about 500ha of grazing land, with 300ha of it being inaccessible mountain areas), and we also have 15ha planted to Eragrostis,” says Charlie.
After a few years of trial and error, and on the advice of their neighbour, they finally settled on breeding Droughtmasters. They bought Droughtmasters from Du Plessis in 2018, and this was the start of the Blackwoods RED Droughtmaster Stud.
A no-fuss breed
“We love that Droughtmasters are fertile, calve easily without needing any assistance; are hardy and easy to handle, and can adapt to almost any conditions,” says Carol.
Like other Droughtmaster breeders, the Goulds have also been impressed by the breed’s strong prepotency, which results in calves with a high level of uniformity in appearance and conformation, even in the F1 generation.
“If you are looking to get involved in stud breeding, and you don’t have prior experience, you need to find a mentor who can guide you,” says Charlie.
“We have relied heavily on the advice of veterans in our industry. Ian Currin, the breed adviser [for the Africa Droughtmaster Cattle Breeders’ Society], helped us select the animals that formed the basis of our breeding herd. We have also been guided by other breeders such as Johan van der Nest, who introduced the first Droughtmaster genetics to South Africa in the 1990s, as well as Linde du Plessis and Chippie Watson [of VOVA Genetics Droughtmaster], [from] whom we have purchased stud bulls,” he says.
Fast-forward to top genetics
The animals are kept on the veld, at a carrying capacity of 1 LSU/5ha. They have eight camps varying in size from 20ha to 80ha. Each camp is grazed for three to five weeks at a time, twice in a season.
As they are situated in a sourveld area, the veld does not offer sufficient nutrition for the animals in winter.
To supplement their feed during this time, the Goulds produce Eragrostis bales on the farm and buy in additional bales as needed. The animals are also given a protein lick in winter, a production lick during the breeding season, and a phosphate lick once the breeding season has ended.
Heifers are bred for the first time when they weigh between 320kg and 330kg, at 24 to 27 months old.
“The aim is for heifers to have their first calves on the ground by the time they are three years old, and after that they need to produce one calf every year,” Charlie says.
They have about 140 animals in the stud of which 70 are female breeding animals. The Goulds have made the decision to invest in an embryo-transfer programme and artificial insemination (AI), which will enable them to move forward more quickly in growing their genetic pool and improving the genetics of their herd to achieve greater uniformity, while breeding top stud animals.
They plan to use this method to breed using genetics from only the best female animals in their herd, leaving the average cows to receive embryos from the better-performing animals. For the embryo transfer and AI programmes, they are using semen from one of their own bulls, 17-177 VOVA (‘Victor’), which they bought from Watson.
In January they will use 27 female animals as recipients (including some heifers) in their embryo-transfer programme, and will perform AI on 26 AAA-graded cows using semen from some of the top genetics available in South Africa. The remaining female animals are already in calf for this season.
“While our focus will be on embryo transfer and AI, we will use our stud bulls to [inseminate] any female animals that fail to conceive via embryo transfer and AI,” says Charlie.
Calves are weaned at around seven months or when they weigh 220kg. The first round of selection is performed at weaning with the help of their breed adviser, Ian. “Any calf that is not up to the mark is sold off to a feedlot,” says Charlie.
The next round of selection takes place when animals are 18 months old, and this is done by the breed director of the Africa Droughtmaster Cattle Breeders’ Society, who selects animals according to the breed standards. For heifers, the final test is to see if they conceive and if they are able to produce a good-quality calf.
Some of the lessons the Goulds have learnt these past few years are that if you want to be successful in stud breeding, you have to have a passion for it. In addition, says Carol, you have to be very hands-on and check up on your animals every day.
This is made easier for them due to the fact that all animals are kraaled every night to protect them from stock thieves that frequent the farms situated on the border between South Africa and Lesotho.
Their ultimate aim is to have a top-notch pedigree Droughtmaster herd and to produce top-rate animals every year. To this end, their next goal is to have their own sale, which they hope will happen in the next year or two.
“We have a small farm, so we do not have the capacity to run a large commercial herd. Instead, we want to focus on establishing an elite, high-quality Droughtmaster stud,” says Carol.