High-powered speakers at Beef School

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TODAY the three most important market traits are all quality traits: food safety; eating satisfaction; and information on how and where cattle are raised. 

The US beef herd is dominated by the Angus breed which accounts for 60% and 73% of local and export semen sales respectively.

Sixty-five per cent  of US cattle are black, emphasising the importance of the Angus in the US beef market.

Prior to the 1970s cattle were selected on visual appraisal.Since then cattle have been selected on performance which has been augmented with ‘Estimated Progeny Differences’ (EPD’s) on a wide range of traits.  Current traits of importance are disposition, calving ease, performance, maternal traits and carcass merit.

Clive Marshall comes from South London, UK. At the age of 16 he embarked on a career in the cattle business and at 17 became the youngest ever winner of the Duke of Edinburgh Trophy for Judging and Stockmanship, an award he won again when he was 19.

He worked in South Africa from 1985 to 1993.  He then moved to Botswana where he was in charge of the ranching operations of the Hurvitz Group running 10 000 females and pushing the productivity to an average pregnancy and weaning rate of 90% and 92% respectively over a 14-year period.

In 2007 he was employed by the Botswana Meat Commission to run the Livestock Procurement Department with a view to increase throughput. Marshall presented two excellent papers, one describing the ‘A to Z’ of cattle production covering the principles of profitable production.  He highlighted the critical importance of husbandry, noting that this is the single biggest factor influencing success or failure in beef production.

Marshall stated that reproductive efficiency amongst females in the herd is five times more valuable than any other trait.  His second presentation was a fascinating discussion of the beef value chain in Botswana and the ‘Direct Cattle Purchase’ (DCP) model that has been put in place to increase the cow herd from a million to 1,5 million.  This will increase offtake without increasing the beef herd of 2,7 million.

Since the implementation of DCP, cattle prices have increased by 56%, increasing the value of the Botswana herd by P2,5 billion.Michael Bradfield has extensive international experience in the animal breeding field and holds a PhD in Animal Breeding from the University of New England, Australia, where he was the recipient of an Australian Meat and Livestock Scholarship.

He is also the principal architect of the Aldam Stockman’s School.  Bradfield gave a stirring address on the potential of modern breeding methods.  With improved management, a genetic change of one to three percent per trait per annum is easily achievable in farm livestock.  This change is also possible in the Zimbabwe beef industry and will increase the worth and value of the national herd.

He also highlighted three challenges in improving the genetic traits in a herd:

  • The commercial producer needs to understand the monetary value that modern breeding methods can add to genetic potential and translate this to financial gain;
  • The stud industry must move away from old fashioned methods based on visual appraisal for selection of superior stock.  He noted that “if the stud industry is not recording data, a breeder cannot realistically expect the commercial producer to buy genetic material from the stud industry” and “breed societies that do not take on new scientific methods for selecting superior animals will simply become hobby breeds”;
  • To have courage and trust to use the modern breeding methods.

Bradfield added that if a producer buys a bull without fertility Estimated Breeding Values (EBVs) then no progress for fertility will be made in the herd.  The livestock industry has moved to selection indexes where traits of economic importance to a particular production system are weighted to yield an economic index.

Providing a good recording system across a range of traits must be the first priority of any modern recording system.  Exciting new tools offered by BreedPlan® include TakeStock®, a genetic bench-marking tool, MateSel®, to assist with mating decisions and EBVM, marker assisted EBVs  to genetic values of difficult and/or expensive traits to measure, e.g. meat tenderness.

Douglas Bruce is a Zimbabwean veterinarian trained at Onderstepoort Veterinary School of Pretoria University in South Africa. He has broad experience in clinical practice, large scale intensive pig and ostrich production and the animal health industry.

His main objective is to improve the efficiency of local producers and make them internationally competitive.  He gave a presentation on a cattle health calendar that covered the importance of disease control, understanding the farm environment and creating a disease profile.  He also spoke about practical suggestions on preventative and disease control measures and shared aid templates on health, replacement heifer and cattle management calendars.

Japie Jackson, a legend in the cattle industry, qualified with a BVSc from Onderstepoort in 1954.  His first employment in 1955 was as ranch veterinarian on Liebig’s Ranch in Beitbridge, West Nicholson, and Nuanetsi districts where he ran a baby calf heartwater immunisation scheme using infected sheep blood and inseminated ranch cows with semen drawn from the first imports of Brahman bulls.

In the Government Veterinary Department he was stationed at Lupane for the duration of a foot and mouth disease outbreak as well as  Gweru and at Chivhu.  After transferring to Bulawayo he embarked on an intensive investigation of plant poisoning and its effects on livestock.  In 1975, Jackson went full time farming and veterinary practice.

His main interest since his youth has been the natural veld and the interaction between cattle and vegetation.  With cattle, fertility is the measure of their well-being and PDs became the main thrust of his practice.

And now, more than one and a half million PD’s later, done over and over again, on so many different kinds of veldt, under so many different kinds of management, in so many different seasons, and on so many different breeds of cattle, a picture has emerged in his mind.  It is that picture which has led to giving talks at field days.

In March 1997 he was awarded a silver medal by the Zimbabwe Society for Animal Production and in July 2001, he received a Meritorious Service Award from the Zimbabwe Animal and Grassland Society.  In 2003 he was awarded The Farming Oscar by the Commercial Farmers’ Union.

His presentation to the Beef School was an intense lecture on the Zimbabwean high veld, grass growth and grass management, an animal’s physiological requirements and matching these requirements with veld nutrition.  His talk stimulated considerable discussion during the two days of the school.

Member of Parliament Patrick Zhuwao, producer and legislator, shared ideas on policy options for enhancing local beef production.  While the cattle population of Zimbabwe is 5,2 million, off-take, calving rate and mortality is 3,5%, 46% and 4% respectively.   He proposed three interlinked options to improve cattle productivity;
–    increased focus on pen-feeding, testing and pilot research by the state and public sectors
–    increased attention on quality genetics for the commercial herd by established and A2 resettled commercial farmers; and
–    strengthened productive capacity in the smallholder sector where 95% of cattle are found.

John Crawford is a Zimbabwean farmer with a B. Ag. Management degree from the University of Natal and he has experience in mixed farming, with his passion being cattle.

He had four years of practical experience in Australia working on an extensive beef cattle operation running 16 000 head, where he gained most of the cattle handling skills shared at the Beef School.  His main objective is to improve the economic viability of his cattle enterprise and share this knowledge with as many people as possible.  He discussed aspects of cattle management and arranged a practical demonstration on how to handle cattle.

Mark Hayter studied Agriculture at the University of Natal and majored in animal science and had the opportunity to work on the in-vitro fertilisation of bovine embryos in his final year thesis. On his return, he joined Animal Breeders Co Ltd and became the managing director in 1999.  He took on the management of CC Sales in 2004 and has trained to be an auctioneer.

In a practical demonstration, Hayter discussed the evaluation of fat stock and carcass attributes.  He also discussed the pros and cons of castration, dehorning and branding cattle management procedures.

Jaco Erasmus holds a Master of Agricultural Management degree from the University of Natal. He joined the family commercial beef operation in Zimbabwe in1995, primarily geared towards supplying beef for export to the European Union.

Between 2002 and 2006 he was general manager of a large scale (15 000 head) beef operation in Zambia.  In 2006 he returned to Zimbabwe to manage the downsized family operation where they run a commercial Mashona/Beefmaster composite herd.

He strives to improve both biological and economic efficiency in beef production. His interests include the economics of beef production and modelling beef production systems. He provided an in-depth review of economics of beef production in Zimbabwe using two case studies of a beef producer and a pedigree producer.  In his presentation, Erasmus worked through detailed templates which producers can use to review their own operations.  He noted that there is a large variation in production and financial performance between herds which means there is room to improve productive efficiency through management.

The case studies emphasized the importance of financial and herd-performance records as “Managing performance requires measuring performance”’.

Mario Beffa’s first employment was at Matopos Research Station where, as Chief Research Officer, he was responsible for the administration of cattle breeding research programmes.  His involvement with a long-term selection and genotype x environment interaction study with grade Afrikaner cattle formed the basis of his doctorate that he obtained in 2005.  He was also responsible for the genetic conservation and improvement of the indigenous Nguni and Tuli Sanga breeds of cattle.

In 1999, Beffa was appointed general manager of the Livestock Identification Trust that successfully launched the Zimbabwe Cattle Traceability Scheme.  The Trust also processes data for the Dairy Herd Improvement Programme and he is the manager of the Zimbabwe Herd Book and Administrator of the Livestock and Meat Advisory Council (LMAC).

He presented an overview of the functions and objectives of the LMAC, meat production and consumption trends and findings from in-depth reviews of the poultry, pig, beef and dairy industries.  The LMAC with significant assistance from the USaid’s Zimbabwe Competitiveness Programme (Zim-ACP) is working closely with the Department of Livestock and Veterinary Services on the on-going regulatory review process.

Beffa also presented a review of some of the findings from the Matopos Breed Evaluation study highlighting the superior performance of the indigenous breeds of cattle of Zimbabwe, the Mashona, Nguni and Tuli.

The Beef School was immensely successful with lively discussion about the topics presented.  Established and new producers, students and public sector representatives had the opportunity to share notes and experiences.  It was a well organised event and the Zimbabwe Herd Book Beef School 2013 is eagerly anticipated.

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