Horseshoe Tuli cattle thrive on Eastern Cape veld

Dave Cawthorn runs stud and commercial Tuli cattle on semi-sweet veld near Stutterheim in the Eastern Cape. Mike Burgess recently visited the Horseshoe Farm to investigate the impact of this hardy and fertile indigenous beef breed on the Cawthorn farming operation.

Horseshoe Tuli stud cows on the veld near Sutterheim in the Eastern Cape. Cattle receive a protein lick in winter and a phosphate lick in summer.
Photo: Mike Burgess

Dave Cawthorn is adamant. “We mustn’t get away from the fact that indigenous breeds thrive on the veld, and must
allow them to show us what they can do,’’ he says as we drive towards the cattle on his 400ha Horseshoe Farm. “There are no lands here,” he adds, “and I don’t own a tractor.”

The Tuli’s ability to produce uniform weaners from the veld without any extra feed convinced Dave way back in the late 1980s that he had found the beef breed for the farm. In 1989, he visited the Queenstown Agricultural Show where Nick Bekker from Molteno was exhibiting indigenous Zimbabwean Tuli cattle. The polled animals made an immediate impression on Dave. Soon after his return to Stutterheim, he contacted Nick to buy his first Tuli bull to use in his own modest beef cattle crossbreeding programme.

At the time Dave focused on a dairy and smallstock, selling milk, sheep and goats in the nearby communal areas. He admits he had no specific breeding strategy and put crossbred cows to bulls from several breeds in his fledgling beef initiative.
“I used anything,” he says with a chuckle. This all changed after he bought his first Tuli bull. It sired exceptionally uniform calves, convincing Dave of the value of including the breed in his crossbreeding programme.

tuli-stud-owners-Dave-Cawthorn-and-his-son-Andrew
Dave Cawthorn and his son, Andrew. ‘When I saw them they impressed me,’ says Dave about his chance meeting with Tuli cattle at the Queenstown Agricultural Show in 1989. ‘They looked like such lovely cattle.’

“It was amazing how quickly this bull transformed my herd of genetic allsorts into a distinct Tuli type,” he recalls. “The Tuli is very dominant in a crossbreeding programme.” Dave was so impressed with the Tuli that by the mid-1990s he had decided to establish a herd of pure Tuli cattle. He started by selecting some of his own Tuli-type females and looking for the best Tuli genetics in the country.

Building on a solid base
In 1995, Dave travelled to the Reitz district in the Free State and the highly respected Langlyf Tuli Stud of the late Abel Rautenbach, who helped him select a bull. Three years later, in order to expand his genetic base, Dave turned to the outstanding HBH Tuli Stud of Russell Clark in the Dordrecht district and bought another bull.

In 2004 – the year he registered the Horseshoe Tuli Stud – he bought three cows from the Nonnie Tuli stud of Abel’s son, Cornelius. This was followed by another seven cows from the HBH Tuli Stud. Two years later, Dave bought six cows from the Nonnie Tuli Stud and a bull from the Langlyf Tuli Stud (now managed by Abel’s other son Albie).

In this way, Dave created a solid genetic base for his own stud herd. Looking back, he says that his single greatest regret is taking so long to register the Horseshoe Tuli Stud. He advises newcomers to the Tuli fraternity to begin with quality genetics and to register as soon as possible.

“Buy mature cows and a proven sire,” he stresses. “Don’t waste time. If you want to start, start!”

Veld conditions
Dave feels that the livestock stud industry should focus on breeding animals that can perform under natural conditions. It was a lesson he learnt more than 30 years ago when he bought a Merino ram that appeared to be blessed with incredible conformation at a production sale in the Molteno district.

“I was so proud of him, but my father Joe simply said he wasn’t a bad bag of mealie-meal,’’ recalls Dave with a wry smile. “I was hurt, but he told me that he didn’t mean to criticise and urged me to put the ram to the ewes and look at him after two months.’’

Joe was, of course, dead right. The ram Dave had purchased quickly lost condition and looked less than ordinary under the veld conditions it had to adapt to. Today, Dave runs his cattle according to the limits of the veld. He explains that Horseshoe Tuli cows are medium-framed – between 450kg and 475kg – and well adapted to their environment.

“I don’t want them too big. This veld doesn’t have enough food for a large cow,” he says.

Although the Tuli is renowned for its fertility and certain breeders in different regions will mate heifers for the first time at 18 months (or less) Dave believes that his decision to mate his heifers at 24 months is justified as the only supplementation his cattle receive is a phosphate lick in summer and a protein lick in winter.

“They [heifers] will calve by three years,’’ he says. “Because my heifers get nothing extra they don’t get to the weight at which they can be mated early.’’

Dave aims to breed a type that is short in the leg, broad, well-fleshed with good milk production to ensure quality weaners.
Estimated breeding values (EBVs) are crucial in Dave’s selection process. He favours certain dam lines, such as that of the influential cow J94 19 19 that he bought from the Nonnie Tuli Stud in 2006 several years after it had been imported from Zimbabwe.

“She was so compatible,” he recalls. “I could mate her to any bull and she would give me a damn good bull calf.”

Pregnant commercial Tuli heifers
Pregnant commercial Tuli heifers. Heifers are mated for the first time at 24 months.
Horseshoe females are put to the bull in single-sire breeding herds from January to the end of March. The stud and commercial herds together achieve an average annual calving rate of between 75% and 78%. As the breeding females on the veld receive no additional feed, Dave allows heifers that have not conceived by their second breeding season another chance if the season has been exceptionally dry.

“The heifer may be a very good animal,” he explains.

Ease of calving
For Dave, with his experience of working with a variety of crossbred female animals that had their fair share of calving problems, the outstanding feature of the Tuli is its ease of calving. He has had only two calving complications with his Tulis in more than 25 years.

Calves are weaned at 205 days on the veld at an average weight of between 195kg to 205kg (bull calves) and 185kg to 195kg (heifers). Normally, around eight bull calves are selected to be grown out and marketed as breeding bulls – the top-priced Horseshoe Tuli bull to date was sold for R26 500 in 2010. The rest are marketed immediately after weaning.

Heifers selected for the stud breeding herd may be downgraded to the commercial herd based on their first breeding season performance.

Phone Dave Cawthorn on 084 363 5392.