Hardy Stormbergers thrive in harsh climate

The hard work of the Stormberg Cattle Breeding Improvement Group has paid off over the years. On Robbie Stretton’s farm, Buffelsfontein, Derick Christopher saw how strict selection and minimum pampering has resulted in a hardy, fertile, cattle type, capable of withstanding the harsh climate of the Stormberg region.
Issue date 18 May 2007

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The Stormberg region in the north Eastern Cape, covering the Molteno, Dordrecht and ­Sterkstroom districts, is subject to extremely harsh temperatures as they’re located at an altitude of 1 500m to 1 800m. Snow, frost and cold winds commonly occur in these extreme winters. In the past, temperatures have even dropped to a numbing -18,6ºC on Robbie Stretton’s farm, ­Buffelsfontein, situated in the ­Dordrecht district a few kilometres north of ­Penhoek Pass. ­Robbie’s father, Sandy ­Stretton, ­operates the government weather ­station on their farm and can confirm that on 28 June 1996, the coldest ­temperature ever in South Africa was recorded. Annual ­rainfall can vary from 300mm to 900mm, with a recorded average of 550mm.

Forming a group

Some of the farmers in this area belong to the Stormberg Merino Sheep ­Breeding Group, where members’ rams were ­carefully selected and not pampered, adapted well to the adverse climatic and grazing conditions. Convinced that these same sheep breeding principles would apply to cattle, the members decided to establish a cattle ­breeding group. In August 1981, 15 ­farmers in the area formed the Stormberger ­Cattle ­Breeding ­Improvement Group. The ­founding members provided a gene pool of 1 100 cows from breeds and crosses as diverse as Shorthorn, ­Afrikander, Hereford, Lincoln Red, Sussex, South Devon, Santa Gertrudis, Angus and Bonsmara.

Mounting successes

Over the past 25 years, not a single bull received from the central nucleus has died as a result of the harsh climate, proving that members’ ­confidence in the project was well founded. Raised on grass, supplemented with a minimum protein lick in winter and a phosphate lick in summer, cows from the central nucleus herd are producing bulls well adapted to members’ farms. Before the formation of the ­Stormberger group, members never knew how their new cattle had been managed or the extent to which they’d been pampered.

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Since 1984, the highly respected stock-breeding consultant Erwin Church has been the group’s technical adviser. “It has taken over 20 years to achieve a ­marketable commercial animal, ideally adapted to the prevailing ­environmental conditions, with an extremely high ­fertility level. By adhering to the outlined ­breeding principles, the Stormberg Cattle Breeding Improvement Group can feel justifiably proud of its ­growing success, especially now that the ­increasing herd numbers allow for even more selective breeding,” Erwin says.

Stormberger Cattle Day

On 24 April 2007, Robbie Stretton hosted the official opening of the Stormberger Cattle Day. A 50-strong contingent of cattle farmers from the region and beyond gathered for this meeting at the farm Buffelsfontein. In his opening address, one of the group members, John Stretton, outlined three prerequisites the group followed from inception: performance testing, Tom Lasater’s breeding principles and group breeding, which originated in Australia and New Zealand. John Stretton elaborated on Lasater’s principles, which the group has stringently adhered to from the start of the project. These include ­temperament, fertility and ­culling in case of non-performance, weight, conformation, milk production to achieve a high weaning rate, and hardiness.

Unrestricted growth

Today, the group comprises three herds in the region, managed by members John Daly, Robbie Stretton and Paul ­Mortlock, totalling 500 breeding cows that ­provide bulls for members. Additionally, the nine members farm with a further 580 cows of their own. “ As the cattle are well adapted to the environment they are more fertile. Through selection pressure a medium maturity animal has evolved, enabling members to market 2,5-year-old oxen fat off the veld. Weaner calves are sought after by feedlots,” John Daly says. ­Farmers in the region look forward to August 2007, when 25 bulls will be put up for sale.

Contact Robbie Stretton on (045) 969 0000. |fw