Record-breaking Borans start to make their mark

The Boran may be a relative newcomer to SA, but it evolved in Africa, for African conditions. The prices Borans attain at auctions prove local farmers are catching on, with the bull TLM 05-26 Koning fetching a record price of R900 000 at an auction. Wayne Southwood reports.
Issue date : 04 July 2008

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The Boran’s growing popularity is evident in the results of the first two production sales for Circle C Ranches, held a year apart on the Free State farm Welgegund. Both attracted hundreds of attendees, and between them set new records for semen, heifer and bull prices (see box: Circle C’s record-breaking sales).

Currently a stud breeding enterprise, Circle C’s long-term aim is to produce beef off the veld with cattle resistant to heat, cold and drought. After reading an article on the Boran in the 30 December 2005 issue of Farmer’s Weekly, partners Kevin Cloete and Pieter van der Walt decided this was the only breed that can achieve this, thanks to its hardiness, resistance to parasites and ability to convert poor-quality roughage into beef.

An advertisement in Farmer’s Weekly prompted them to contact auctioneer Johan van der Nest, who took them to view Terry McLintock’s cattle in Vryburg. Alongside some of Terry’s top-quality cows and heifers, Circle C also bought famous sire TLM 02 01 Buffel, who went on to star at their sales. W elgegund has an indoor auction facility and an internationally approved quarantine and embryo-transfer centre established by Benchmark Bonsmaras, all available to other breeders.

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Dr Udo Mahne of Select Genetics plays a crucial role in the embryo flushing and semen tapping programmes, structured to flush all cows giving superior results. Of the genetics used to establish Circle C’s herd, 61% originate from Zambia, 29% from Kenya, 1% from Zimbabwe, and the balance from SA. Although their animals are currently still too valuable, and too few for a straight commercial beef enterprise, they foresee the day the Boran will play a key role in beef production in Africa.

Adapted to Africa The slogan of the Boran Cattle Breeders’ Society of SA is “God’s gift to cattlemen”. Breed director and inspector Adriaan Rall of Heilbron predicts the Boran will become the dam line breed of Africa. He explains the Boran’s exceptional heterosis, complementing all and British breeds, will make a huge impact on commercial crossbreeding and weaner producers in SA.

The Boran originated on the Borana Plateau in southern Ethiopia. It has been a pure breed for the last 1 300 years, with the last infusion of new genetics around 700AD, but it never crossed the foot-and-mouth barrier into Southern Africa. With the advent of embryo flushing, the first embryos were imported into 13 years ago, and the Boran is becoming more available worldwide.

Borans are hardy, fertile, early-maturing and long-lived. It’s not unusual for a 15-year-old cow to have sound teeth, and a 16-year-old Boran bull on record still produces high quality semen for AI. Borans are also low-maintenance and handle all African production environments, from sourveld through arid savanna to lush lowland pasture. Their winter coat is darker to absorb more heat.

Prominent bony ridges above the eyes and long eyelashes protect their eyes from sun and insects. Ticks have difficulty attaching to Borans’ short coats, and Borans’ skin produces a waxy secretion that repels insects. It’s highly touch-sensitive, with well-developed subcutaneous muscles.

When an insect lands it twitches vigorously, reducing the chances of a bite. In the 2007 Boran Journal, Tim Ralfe, president of the Boran Cattle Breeders’ Society of SA, notes breeders’ reports that purebred Borans held their body condition better than other breeds during drought conditions. He ascribes this to their adaptability, more efficient nitrogen-recycling and ability to browse.

Temperament and behaviour Borans are gentle, calm and good grazers. The cows are excellent mothers, breeding and rearing calves without undue stress even under very unfavourable conditions. They wean calves at over half their own weight, but lose relatively little weight during the suckling period, maintaining good body condition and readily conceiving again.

This breed has exceptional body depth, width across the back and excellent rumps – traits passed on to the progeny in crossbreeding. Borans exhibit exceptional social bonding and herding behaviour. Under threat, they stay close together, making it impossible to separate one from the herd – very valuable wherever large predators occur. It also makes life difficult for stock thieves, who would have to steal the entire herd or none at all. Where Borans are communally grazed, individual herds don’t mix.

This behaviour is valuable when cattle have to be counted and checked, as in high-intensity, quick-rotation, holistic veld management systems. Future of the Boran With rising feed costs and increasing focus on biofuel, Tim predicts beef production will increasingly be based on natural veld. The Boran’s outstanding ability to utilise low-quality roughage is a great advantage.

Are the record auction prices sustainable? Elna Lotter of the Boran Cattle Breeders’ Society of SA explains, “There’s currently a premium on high-quality, phenotypically correct cattle. Although supply improves every year, demand is also growing as more farmers learn of the Boran’s unique qualities. Prices will stabilise as availability matches demand. Bulls should become more affordable, but prices for females will be high for the foreseeable future. ” Contact Pieter van der Walt on 083 255 8665 or e-mail [email protected]. Contact Dr Udo Mahne of Select Genetics on 083 443 3705. |fw