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Brahman cattle fit breeding and meat market

Hearty breed can handle climate and produce quality meat in crossbreeding program

Just outside Francistown in eastern Botswana, South Africa is Wayside Brahman Stud run by three generations of the Munger family.

This well-known family name has been breeding both the red and grey Brahman cattle for more than 30 years, gaining a good reputation for quality stud and commercial stock.

Wayside Brahmans hosts an on-farm auction of their pedigree cattle every year with animals selling to new farms, both locally and internationally.

Started by Keith Munger, the farm is now run by son Rowland and grandson Rowly who focus heavily on breeding the best cattle they can from the best available genetics.

The farm runs 100 red Brahman cows and another 100 grey Brahman cows in the stud. It also runs up to 500 commercial cows and another 1,000 cattle in the feedlots.

Nine dams across the Munger farm collect water that is then pumped to troughs around the fields and to the farmhouses via solar-powered pumping stations.

Rowland says the farm is a diversified operation that along with beef cattle also includes a game farm, holiday chalets and an 18-hole golf course. Brahman cattle have a good fit for their operation.

“After years of experimenting with many other breeds we found the Brahman was the only breed that could handle the harsh Botswana conditions,” he says. “Brahmans are hardy, adaptable, fertile, virile, heat tolerant, disease resistant and require low levels of maintenance. So they can take everything our climate and farm can throw at them.”

The Mungers produce pedigree Brahman cattle for stud and also commercial cattle for the meat markets. “Our goal is to produce meat for export as this attracts a premium price for us.”

Breeding through artificial insemination increases the genetic potential of their breeding herd and bulls for sale with semen from South Africa and America as well as from their own genetics.

The main goal is to sell about 40 bulls from the stud farm each year, 20 of each colour, plus breeding females.

At the most recent pedigree auction at the farm in February one of their grey bulls, 3-1/2-year-old Wayside Mr Energy, sold for 180,000 Botswana Pula (US$16,755) to a buyer in South Africa and a red bull, seven-year-old Wayside Mr Express, sold for 120,000 Pula (US$11,170) to a farm in Zimbabwe.

Extensive land base

The farm covers about 13,000 hectares of which 10,000 are used for cattle and the remainder for game, although there is opportunity to adjust these areas if required.

While the pedigree side of the business is quite lucrative, the commercial beef production is also in high demand.

Both the pedigree cattle and the commercial cattle are fed the exact same ration consisting of maize bran, roughage such as hay, concentrates and bush vegetation that is finely chopped — all make an excellent ration for cattle.

“We cross the Brahman with Simmental or Charolais in the commercial herd,” Rowland says. “This gives us an excellent animal for the feedlots and to supply the beef market.

“The export market demands a 200- to 300-kilogram carcass (440-660 lbs.) so we aim for a finished animal weighing around 385 kgs to 576 kgs working on the assumption of a 52 per cent yield rate at slaughter.”

To set this into perspective, cattle produced for the local beef market are worth around 30 Pula per kilogram (US$2.79). If suitable for export, meat then it attracts another four Pula per kilogram at 34 Pula (US$3.17).

Weaner cattle destined for the feedlots sell for on average 15 Pula (US$1.39) per kilogram live weight.

However, in order to qualify for the export premium the beef must adhere to European regulations.

“It is worth producing beef for export and we in Botswana would like to export more beef at the higher price,” says Rowland. “There are strict guidelines that we must stick to in order to ensure the beef passes the export requirements. Carcass weight is very important but also traceability and disease control programmes need to meet the standards.”

One of the most important requirements is that the cattle be fed a GMO-free ration and that can pose a problem. Most of the feed in Botswana is imported from South Africa where the use of genetically modified crops is popular.

“Our records need to be transparent and show we do not use any GM material in the beef production,” says Rowland.

Rowland and his team vaccinate the cattle each year against anthrax, botulism, blackleg and lumpy skin diseases. Foot and mouth disease is another problem in Botswana, which is carried around by buffalo and can easily get into a cattle herd.

“While there is no vaccination for foot and mouth disease, we are based in a green export zone which means we are good to export,” Rowland says. “We meet all the export regulations so it really is up to the Botswana Meat Commission (BMC) to be more proactive in getting us into more export markets.

“BMC is state owned and levy funded but there have been calls in the past to privatize it,” he says. “Perhaps if the current president of Botswana, who has been in the job less than two years, can survive the next election he can sort this out for us. So far he has been showing a great interest in agriculture and he knows exactly how vital the sector is to the economy of Botswana.”

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