Ngunis, superior breed

2008-05-02 00:00

THERE is much controversy over the government’s intervention into the positive development of the indigenous Nguni breed of cattle.

During my intensive evaluation of the past and present research on cattle breeds in the southern African region it was obvious that there was a dearth of information on our local breed, the Nguni.

No doubt the argument in those days was that the Nguni, being a local breed, could not be as advanced as the exotic breeds from Europe and the United States where artificial selection had been applied to the exotics for hundreds of years, and therefore the Nguni were not even included in the research programmes.

What the researchers forgot to acknowledge was the fact that natural selection in a natural environment like Africa results in cattle adapting to that environment, which will ensure they will produce in that environment. Recent studies show that the Nguni is as productive as any other breed and has some characteristics that make it superior in some areas of production.

The negative effect of intervention into African countries through introducing

European breeds is widespread. The “improvement” of the Boran breed in Ethiopia, where selection for growth rate resulted in an increase in size, also resulted in large animals that would not fatten off grass and had to be fed valuable human food like maize in order to fatten.

Luckily, in Kenya the Boran was generally allowed to remain as it was and fattened off the grass at two-and-a-half years of age which produced an excellent export product. Unfortunately, the Europeans climbed in with “aid” cattle to Kenya, producing many animals that could not produce in an extensive, natural environment.

The same has happened in Uganda where many well-meaning people, including the locals, believe that the well-adapted Ankole cattle need to be replaced with bigger breeds.

For these reasons I support the government’s initiative to reinstate the Nguni as an important breed in KwaZulu-Natal. Of course, I do not support any of the nonsense that appears to surround the buying and allocation of these Ngunis.

The government’s purchasing power at the sale ring pushed the price of Nguni breeding stock extremely high. There was a positive aspect to this in that the Ngunis became fashionable. However, after a while many breeders jumped on to the bandwagon selling anything that looked like an Nguni and prices tumbled. The recent central Nguni sale in Gauteng was a bit of a disaster as a result of this.

This has not been the case in KZN where the livestock marketing company of Rolf Aadnesgaard (AAM) has, in conjunction with a committed group of breeders, provided excellent breeding stock for the annual sale at Mooi River sale yards on April 17.

The Du Preez and Kraupner third annual Mooi Nguni sale proved to be a resounding success. The cattle offered for sale at the sale were highly sought after and the well-attended auction resulted in

vigorous bidding and favourable prices for the sellers.

Prices for breeding stock of all breeds are presently low but this is understandable with the present economic climate and that winter approaching. Traditionally, demand for breeding cattle rises sharply in spring and the producers that have good quality stock in September could very likely hit the jackpot.

Weaners are presently pouring on to the market as most farmers wean, and this has put downward pressure on prices. These should firm once supply starts easing and premiums should be obtained in mid-winter when feedlotters look to stock up for the year-end meat market.

Store cows that are thin and need to be fattened have also started coming on to the market in large numbers.

Those farmers that have the capital and fodder to match their sound management are highly likely to realise exceptional prices for finished stock in spring if they purchase, or alternatively, hold on to their culls. The cost of protein is currently at an all-time high.

Super grades have eased ever so slightly these past few weeks, but producers will be encouraged that butchers have already started paying a premium for fat-manufacturing grades.

If this trend continues, which it should, and the gap between the A grades (young) and the C grades (old) narrows, the usual reaction will ensue, leading to an increase in price of A grades.

Prices for fat stock of all grades should be high this winter, not directly because input costs have risen, but because many producers have reduced their numbers recently. This will result in a shortage in the colder months, with fortune favouring the brave, if they do their sums first.

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