South African Simmentalers for a world market

Southern African Simmentaler genes are in high demand in all the world’s major beef-producing countries for their fertility, functional efficiency and carcass qualities. In partnership with a leading Canadian outfit, local Simmentaler breeder Abraham Kruger’s Bar 5 SA Stud is meeting this select demand. Chris Nel talked to him on his Colesberg farm.
Issue Date:11 January 2008

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Southern African Simmentaler genes are in high demand in all the world’s major beef-producing countries for their fertility, functional efficiency and carcass qualities. In partnership with a leading Canadian outfit, local Simmentaler breeder Abraham Kruger’s Bar 5 SA Stud is meeting this select demand. Chris Nel talked to him on his Colesberg farm.

The Simmentaler, (or Simmenthal, Simmental or Fleckvieh, as it’s called in other countries) originated in the Simmen Valley of the Berner Oberland in Switzerland, not far from the borders of present-day Germany and Austria. From there the breed spread and established itself in middle Europe more than 100 years ago, and subsequently all over Europe. It is today one of the world’s most successful and adaptable breeds, having been introduced to five continents, where the current world population of about 41 million demonstrates its ability to thrive in diverse breeding systems and environments.

In Europe it’s seen as a dual-purpose beef and dairy breed, balancing outstanding dairy with carcass and beef qualities. From the 1960s to 1980s, major Simmentaler countries increasingly selected for milk production with progressively better milk yields to correspondingly lower carcass and beef quality, functional efficiency, adaptability and fertility. Focus on meat production Breeders in Southern Africa, particularly in South Africa and Namibia, resisted the focus on milk production, opting to retain a medium-framed, functionally efficient, well-adapted, fertile type with outstanding carcass and beef qualities.

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Backed by the infrastructure of probably the finest, most progressive and efficient breeders’ society in the Simmentaler world, as well as consistently applied pedigree and performance recording, and later, genetic evaluation systems, the Southern African Simmentaler developed into a unique type found nowhere else. H ence the increasing demand worldwide for our Simmentaler genes. But exporting and importing cattle is not as easy as it used to be, even with modern technology, airfreight and handling facilities. ncreasingly onerous veterinary, animal and public health legislation, and regulations, present an ever-changing minefield of problems and pitfalls to the international livestock trade – sufficient to discourage even the most determined efforts, and pushing costs up to beyond the point where it’s still economically viable. Focus on embryos R estrictions on importing livestock from South Africa are particularly harsh. And this is where Colesberg farmer Abraham Kruger and his Bar 5 SA Simmentaler Stud fit in. t’s a complete, independently operating Simmentaler breeding stud, with a focus on producing embryos through advanced, assisted reproduction technology and the services of leading practitioners in the field.

A braham runs only a handful of meticulously selected breeding cows. Each has an outstanding, proven record based on many performance-recorded progeny, ensuring the accuracy of breeding values. The cows are sourced and bought, often at great expense, from leading breeders throughout Southern Africa. These breeding cows are run in a group, under the strict regime required for regular insemination and embryo flushing six times a year. As their maintenance does not require carrying a calf to term – or calving and then rearing it – nutrition is simple, second-grade lucerne hay. Anything else, even first grade, causes them to become too fat, says Abraham. And “strict” means the programme for super-ovulation, insemination and the subsequent flushing of embryos has to run like Swiss clockwork.

The best oversee the best

The procedures are supervised by Dr Robert Treadwell of Embryo Plus in Brits. He is arguably the leading expert in his field and he personally performs some of the more specialised procedures. Selecting breeding cows and bulls, and then matching them, is the key to any breeding programme. “The higher-priced and more valuable your animals, the greater the risk and reward,” says Abraham, who takes personal responsibility for this demanding and crucial task. “I can’t blame anyone but myself for a bad decision,” he explains. “And neither do I want to depend on anyone, which is why I do it myself. Fortunately I have quite a high success rate.”

A delicate choice

Exactly how does he do it, and what is his secret? That would be telling. In the case of cows, he uses semen from only the best, proven Southern African bulls, backed by outstanding, highly accurate breeding values. And the semen doesn’t come cheap. Abraham and his trained workers Sabantu Ndonga and Frokkie Uitlander personally implement the super-ovulation programme, which consists of a series of hormone injections and insemination of the cows according to an embryo flushing protocol, using two straws of semen per insemination for three inseminations 12 hours apart. A week after insemination, Dr Treadwell first confirms the pregnancy, then flushes the embryos from each pregnant cow. On average, one flushing yields between eight and 10 Class l embryos, and a few Class ll embryos.

Dr Treadwell then begins the exacting task of examining, sorting and classifying the embryos. Classification has nothing to do with genetic merit, but everything to do with the reaction of the embryo to being cryogenically preserved in liquid nitrogen. Class I embryos freeze well and can be stored indefinitely; Class II embryos freeze less well and should preferably be implanted fresh, or frozen and retained for implantation in South Africa. How well an embryo freezes determines how successfully it can be subsequently thawed and implanted into a recipient cow. With Class I embryos the success rate is 80%, while Class II embryos have a 50% success rate.

Each classified embryo is DNA-typed for permanent identification. A copy of the documentation is kept by Dr Treadwell and Abraham, while a third copy is sent to the eventual owner. The Canadian connection Every six months, Abraham ships a flask of Class I embryos, in liquid nitrogen, by airfreight to his partner Ron Nolan, owner of Bar 5 Stock Farms Limited in Markdale, Ontario, Canada. This company is one of the foremost breeders, buyers and suppliers of outstanding beef genes in Canada, if not the world. It also handles breeds such as Angus, SimmAngus, Polled Red Simmental and Polled Black Simmental. Each consignment of embryos is accompanied by full documentation that includes a DNA profile, particulars of sire and dam and their performance records and EBVs, the necessary permits and authorisation, and an invoice. At the Markdale ranch, the embryos are transferred to donor cows.

The scale and dedication to this programme is staggering. The ranch maintains a herd of 300 recipient females, reserved specifically for Bar 5 SA Simmentaler embryos. The calves are performance-recorded, inspected and approved, then registered in Canada under the Bar 5 SA prefix, and sold on auction at the age of 15 months. Buyers at these sales, of which two are held each year, buy pure South African Simmentaler genes. What is significant is that the South African genes receive more prominence than most of the other lots. A growing base Since Abraham started with the project in 2001, he has exported 1 400 embryos to Canada. From these, over 700 calves have been born and most have been sold at auctions in Canada. In addition, he has produced a handful of calves from Class II embryos born from recipient cows on his farm.

These locally born calves are full siblings of the calves born in Canada from exported Bar 5 SA embryos, and are of course of the same genetic merit. High-value returns The productivity and genetic progress associated with embryo flushing is staggering. Class l embryos are successfully transferred into cows at a rate of 80%. Of the embryos that are successfully transplanted, 50% are not absorbed and result in calves being born. Six high-standard and proven Simmentaler cows, flushed every two months can yield 700 calves, or 110 calves each, every year. Normal reproduction would only produce six calves in the same amount of time. Contact Abraham Kruger on 082 854 4139, (051) 753 1332 or e-mail [email protected]. |fw