Rouvos Drakensberger herd: breeding only the best

Gawie Roux of the farm Kalkfontein in Kroonstad, Free State, bred and owns the 2008 Farmer’s Weekly-ARC Best Elite Drakensberger cow GR 97 0726. She is 11 years old, has had nine calves and is pregnant with her tenth, writes Wayne Southwood.
Issue Date: 31 October 2008

- Advertisement -

GR 970726, Farmer’s Weekly-ARC Best Elite Drakensberger cow 2008.
Photos: Wayne Southwood

Gawie Roux of the farm Kalkfontein in Kroonstad, Free State, bred and owns the 2008 Farmer’s Weekly-ARC Best Elite Drakensberger cow GR 97 0726. She is 11 years old, has had nine calves and is pregnant with her tenth, writes Wayne Southwood.

Gawie is no stranger to the various awards under the National Beef Recording and Improvement Scheme. GR 97 0726 is his second Farmer’s Weekly-ARC Best Elite cow.

- Advertisement -

Two of his bulls have won Bayer Platinum Awards and his herd has been selected as the Absa-Beef Cattle Herd of the Year for the Free State three times, and as a provincial finalist 11 times. One of his bulls, 06 0043, represented the Drakensberger breed in the prestigious 2008 Vleissentraal-ARC Special Performance Test Class. A number of his animals is an outstanding example of Drakensberger longevity. One of his cows lived to 20 years of age and gave him 17 calves.

A bull he sold to a client is now more than 17 years old and still running with the cows. Gawie farms on several farms totalling about 3 000ha of sweet grass veld dominated by red grass Themeda triandra, with an average annual rainfall of around 600mm to 650mm. H e started farming in 1967 with commercial cows and Drakensberger bulls, establishing his Rouvos Drakensberger stud herd 32 years ago.

The Drakensberger is the ideal cow for him because it produces off the veld, calves every year and weans decent calves. He now runs 90 stud Drakensberger cows and 350 commercial cows, explaining that before last year’s good season he had five dry years and had to scale down considerably. e grows maize and cowpeas to supplement his veld resources. In the past he grew far more maize, but because it is a marginal maize producing area – averaging 2,5t/ha rainfed maize– with the associated high input costs, he scaled down by half and now produces only for his own use.

A diversified enterprise

The cowpeas are baled and grazed by sheep. Cash crops have been replaced by SA Mutton Merino sheep on pasture, which Gawie says give a fast turnover. e and his son Frik run a flock of Mutton Merino ewes that lamb every eight months. The flock consists of 700 pregnant ewes, 150 young ewes, 380 lambs and 40 stud ewes. They have developed a special method to get them into a regular breeding cycle. At two months the lambs are removed from the ewes for 90 hours and then returned. This seems to synchronise the ewes and they all come into heat. The rams are then sent in. Creep feeding is essential with this system and it is Gawie’s third year of successful lambing twice a year. o carry more stock, about half of the old lands have been planted to rainfed Eragrostis curvula (weeping lovegrass), Panicum maximum (white buffalo grass) and Digitaria eriantha (Smuts finger grass), all grazed unfertilised. The planted pasture and maize stover increase the carrying capacity of the farm to between 5ha per mature livestock unit (MLU) and 7ha/MLU. Bulls and heifers are allowed onto the maize stover, but never the cows.

Gawie explains that if pregnant cows run on maize stover, the calves get too big and the cows have trouble calving. Cows must calve unassisted on the veld. The mating season runs from late November to middle February. Calving from September to November fits in with the rainy season.

The veld is at its best between December and January, but he has found that late calves don’t compare well to early calves due to a decline in forage quality. Herd management Gawie has a strict culling policy. If a cow doesn’t calve she’s culled. The condition of his cows is crucial to him as they have to fend for themselves and only get a winter lick and a phosphate lick in summer to get them in good calving condition. He weans all the calves as soon as the smallest one is big enough.

Last season’s calves were weaned a month earlier at an average weight of 260kg, because the season was good. Heifers are mated at 14 to 15 months to calve at two years. They’re fed together with the bulls during phase C testing during winter, and must weigh at least 300kg before being mated. He puts 20 to 40 cows in per bull, depending on the characteristics of the bull and what corrective mating is necessary. The replacement rate in the breeding herd is between 25% and 30%. Three bulls are currently in use in the stud.

Gawie has had a registered Phase C testing station in operation for 10 years, and he puts all his bulls and heifers through the test. The facility is available to breeders of any breed. Feed conversion and efficiency are very important, especially with high input costs. The facility offers the advantage of selecting replacement bulls and heifers as well as providing valuable information to buyers. Over the past few years, careful selection based on testing, has resulted in considerably improved production figures. He is getting average daily gain (ADG) figures of 1,7kg with a feed conversion ratio (FCR) of 5:1, the best so far being an incredible 4,1:1. When he started testing he was getting FCR’s of 6,5:1 and 7:1. His ambition is to achieve an average FCR of 4,5kg. He uses Logix and Beefpro to manage record keeping. Contact Gawie Roux on 083 264 5487. |fw