Jan Buitendag, A Free State farmer has scooped the Farmer’s Weekly-ARC Best Elite Cow award with the 10-year-old AA 98 0820. His father, PC Buitendag, farmed with commercial Afrikaners in Zimbabwe many years ago and Jan owned cattle while still at school. Jan served as the vice-chairperson of the Afrikaner Breeders’ Society for nine years, as president for four years and he has also served on numerous other committees. His cows have won three Farmer’s Weekly-Best Cow awards and he was an Absa-ARC Beef Improvement Herd of the Year finalist in 2003 and 2004.
He started out as a teacher at Rondebosch High School, but studied further at Stellenbosch University to graduate with a doctorate in physics, a subject he lectured in at the same university and later at the Pretoria Technikon. He then worked as a health physicist with the Department of Health for seven years before he started farming. His 71-year-old Aprilskraal Afrikaner herd was started by Jan’s father-in-law Izak Cronjé in 1937 and has been performance tested since 1961. Jan started farming with Izak when he was 45 and it became something of a crash-course in cattle farming because passed away two years later.
Top-notch production Jan’s winning cow, 98 0820, first calved at the age of 26 months and has had eight calves. When Farmer’s Weekly visited the farm in July, she was pregnant with her ninth calf. Her dam was the Farmer’s Weekly-ARC Best Elite Cow in 2003. Jan farms extensively on veld grazing, carrying a herd of 120 stud Afrikaner cows and offspring.
He has only been farming at Kareeboom for six years and stocks at a conservative 12,5ha/MLU to handle the below-average years. Apart from winter and summer licks, there’s absolutely no supplementary feed and they have to survive on the veld even under harsh conditions. Jan does, however, provide a production lick to heifers in winter and explains that if the heifers can gain a bit of weight during this period, the conception rate is higher during the mating season.
Hardy Afrikaner breed The Afrikaner is hardy and capable of producing irrespective of environmental conditions. Before last year’s excellent season, Jan says he suffered four bad years in a row. In the bad years, the average 205-day weaning weight of heifers was 208kg and that of bull calves was 232kg. last year’s good season, weaning weights were 260kg for females and 279kg for bull calves – an additional 50kg of beef in a good year.
The heifers are mated slightly earlier than the cows (in November) and the mature cows from early December to the end of February. Normally the heifers are mated at two years of age, by which time they would have reached the target weight of 320kg. During the past good season, this target weight was reached at 18 months. Jan could’ve mated them earlier but prefers to synchronise breeding with the onset of the rainy season. he female herd is run in three groups of 40, but in the breeding season the groups are smaller. Mature bulls are allocated to 30 females each and the younger bulls to 15 to 20 females.
The replacement rate in the breeding herd is 25%, but only 20% of the heifers will enter the herd after final selection. Jan’s cattle are marked in four different ways: ear tags and ear notches, tattoos in the ear and branding at 18 months. Marketing is straightforward. At weaning, all animals not approved for the stud herd (low indices or incorrect types) are sold to Jan’s cousin who keeps them on planted pasture and sells them in December. Cows failing to conceive are also sold after their calves have been weaned.
Bulls are sold in September and October. Jan uses a three-book system to record all the animals and he keeps all the books with him at all times. In the calf book he records ID numbers, weights, indices and ancestry until they graduate into the herd. In the cow book, all ancestry up to the grand sire and grand dam, calving and indices are recorded. The third book is used for all matings. Cows are listed according to age and the bulls are entered in columns alongside the cows.
This book system allows one to monitor the performance of the bulls, such as how many cows are pregnant from each bull. If there’s a problem with a bull, it can be picked up immediately. The books also indicate where each animal is located and, in case of a mix-up with cows or calves, consulting the book will help. Jan admits it involves a bit more writing, but he gets to know his cows and their history. Logix is used to process the data, the results of which are normally returned to him the following day. Jan’s advice to young farmers is to love the breed they choose and buy the best breeding stock they can afford.
“A good way to obtain top genetics at a reasonable price is to buy old cows from reputable breeders. A cow that’s been in a herd for a long time must be good. Even if you only get one or two calves from her, it will be a good start.” Contact Dr Jan Buitendag on 082 411 0323. |fw