Best 2008 Braunvieh cow in the country

By introducing reputable genetics sourced from top-imported Braunvieh stud cattle, Willie du Plessis has built his Braunvieh Vaaldu Stud into an award-winning herd. Chris Nel spoke the man behind this year’s Farmer’s Weekly-ARC Best Elite Braunvieh Cow award for 2008.

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By introducing reputable genetics sourced from top-imported Braunvieh stud cattle, Willie du Plessis has built his Braunvieh Vaaldu Stud into an award-winning herd. Chris Nel spoke the man behind this year’s Farmer’s Weekly-ARC Best Elite Braunvieh Cow award for 2008.

Outstanding genetics and meticulous data recording are the sound foundations of Willie du Plessis’s Vaaldu Braunvieh Stud near Warrenton. His herd regularly achieves a calving percentage of 100% and a three-year average ICP of 385 days, with twins not being uncommon.

The quality of the herd’s genetics are also evident in the bull Norvicus, the senior Vaaldu Stud sire and the sire of the 2008 Farmer’s Weekly-ARC Best Elite Braunvieh cow for 2008. Norvicus’s sire was Vero Kloster Fahr, a leading AI bull in Switzerland, and his dam was Nuessli Schwarzenberg, the top performance-tested Braunvieh cow in Europe with a recorded average lactation of 7 734kg, a butterfat content of 4,18% and a protein content of 3,3%. Her best lactation was 10 647kg with a 5% butterfat and a 3,2% protein content. Outstanding figures indeed, and these for a dual-purpose breed.

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A South African breeder, Hennie Beukes, imported Nuessli Schwarzenberg when she was in calf with Norvicus. Willie bought Norvicus in 1994, knowing that this superior bull mated to quality cows would produce offspring with enough milk, a high butterfat content and all the other essential traits of fertility and functional efficiency.
One such a cow was PVG1, bought from Piet Venter of Lichtenburg. The offspring included DP 98 0225, the Farmer’s Weekly-ARC Best Elite Braunvieh Cow for 2008.
When Farmer’s Weekly visited the farm in July 2008, this outstanding cow was nine years old and had calved eight times with an intercalving period of 366 days. Four of the calves were heifers and four were bull calves, and all were approved for registration. Willie retained the four heifers in his herd, sold one bull calf to a stud breeder and the three others to commercial cattlemen.

Building a stud
Willie established his Vaaldu Stud in 1990 after Prof Jan Bonsma, with whom he had a close professional relationship and friendship, recommended he should acquire a Braunvieh herd. His initial breeding animals were a number of high-quality cows bought at Abrie Fourie’s complete dispersal sale near Olifantshoek in the Northern Cape. His first bull came from Hennie Beukes’s Glattbrugg Stud.
The Vaaldu Stud herd made rapid progress, aided by Willie’s powers of observation and his ability to match cows and bulls, developed during his long association with Prof Bonsma.

Why Braunvieh? “It is the oldest pure cattle breed in the world,” explains Willie. “It meets all the requirements of modern times, exceptional fertility and longevity, adaptability to a wide range of conditions, efficient roughage conversion, lots of milk, excellent weaning weights and a high muscle-to-bone ratio. What’s more, its highly stable genetics make it ideal for crossbreeding, optimising the benefits of heterosis.”
The Vaaldu herd runs on veld year-round with a bone-meal salt lick, and a bit of molasses added in winter for energy.

Willie used to feed a commercial phosphate supplement, but found this tended to stimulate the development of male characteristics in his cows, causing a 1% drop in calving percentage. When he stopped using the lick, the calving percentage of the herd immediately returned to 100%, proof of the Braunvieh’s outstanding ability to use roughage in an extensive ranching system with the minimum supplementary input.

Breeding for success
Some 50 Vaaldu bulls are Phase C tested at Armoedsvlakte and 12 are Phase D tested on the farm. On the day Farmer’s Weekly visited the farm, the stud herd consisted of 90 breeding cows and 49 replacement heifers. All heifers not culled after weaning are put to the bull, the second culling takes place on failing to conceive. The replacement rate is thus around 30% per year.

All breeding is by natural service in six single-sire breeding herds with between 20 and 35 females per bull. All the bulls currently used in the stud were bred by Willie. The breeding season for heifers is from October to February and for cows from November to March. The conception rate per 100 females mated is 100% for cows and 95% for heifers.

Calving rates per 100 females mated is 98% for cows and 95% for heifers. Weaning rate per 100 females mated is 96% for cows and 95% for heifers. The average age of heifers at first mating is 20 months. The average cow in the Vaaldu Braunvieh herd gives 10 calves before she’s culled. During the last three seasons, the herd’s calving weights were 38kg for heifers, 40kg for bull calves and the average weaning weights are 270kg for heifers and 290kg for bull calves.

Willie’s wife Helena meticulously records all the data required by the National Beef Cattle Improvement Scheme and Braunvieh Society in a herd book. The animals are all marked for individual identification by tattoos and ear tags. Apart from the stud herd run on natural veld, the Du Plessis family enterprise also produces irrigated wheat and maize on 200ha, run by Willie and Helena’s sons Danie, Willem and Fanie.
Willie says a scientific approach to breeding and getting the basics right form the basis of his success and he recommends this approach to young beef farmers.
Contact Willie du Plessis on 082 801 1854.   |fw

The Vaaldu Braunvieh Stud’s production environment
Farm name: Honesty.   
Total area: 4 000ha.
Land type: plains.
No surface water, all water from boreholes.
Long-term average annual rainfall: 500mm.
Soil type: sandy loam.
Natural vegetation: Acocks Veld. Type 16 (Kalahari Thornveld).
Area under annual cash crops: 200ha irrigated wheat/maize.
Area of natural veld grazing: 3 800ha, divided into 25 camps.

The Vaaldu Stud performance-award highlight

Vaaldu bulls represented the Braunvieh breed in the Vleissentraal-ARC Special Performance Test Class at the Pretoria Show from 2000 to 2004, and in 2001 the bull Vaaldu Furca DP 99 33 won the award outright.
In 2006 and 2007 the stud won the Braunvieh Society’s Trophy, designed and sponsored by Jenna Clifford, for the best performance-tested Braunvieh stud in South Africa. In 2007 and 2008 Vaaldu cows won the Farmer’s Weekly-ARC Best Elite Cow awards for the Braunvieh breed.