The Afrikaner, once the most popular breed in southern Africa, is ideally suited to today's uncertain climatic conditions, says Namibia-based breeder Jan Blaauw, co-owner of the Salztal Afrikaner stud.
The Blaauw family's Salztal Afrikaner stud has over decades proved the breed's worth as a truly African beef cattle breed.
The herd is run on the vast and remote semi-arid sandy savanna area of Aroab in the //Kharas region of southern Namibia, and the animals have shown their ability to perform under these extremely challenging production conditions.
Blaauw is the fifth generation to farm on the family farm, Salztal, and has been on the farm for the past 40 years. He bred Afrikaners commercially until 2012, when he decided to embark on stud breeding.
In the early days of commercial cattle farming in southern Africa, the Afrikaner was the most popular and important breed, and contributed its genetics to many synthetic breeds. But its supremacy did not last forever.
"The introduction of cattle breeds from other parts of the world and the development of synthetic breeds subsequently led to a steady decline in its popularity," says Blaauw.
However, given the challenges facing farmers these days, he is convinced that the breed could again play a central role in the beef industry, due to a shift in focus in beef cattle production towards adaptability and productivity.
According to Blaauw, little is known about the origins of the Afrikaner breed, but it is thought to have descended from wild cattle on the Steppes of Central Asia.
About 2 000 years ago, it crossed into North Africa and gradually migrated southwards over the centuries, with only the animals best adapted to arid desert conditions, extreme heat, tropical diseases and internal and external parasites finally reaching the southernmost parts of the continent.
"Despite the devastating drought ravishing large parts of Namibia at the moment, our cattle are faring well on the veld. So far, there has been no need for additional feed, except the normal winter and summer licks. But if conditions continue to deteriorate, we'll have to start producing boskos (bush feed) soon as supplementary feed," he says.
Boskos has been a godsend to livestock farmers in Namibia. Bush encroachment is a major problem in many parts of the country, but the leaves, branches and seeds of the encroaching bushes can be used as a valuable feed source.
The Salztal herd comprises about 150 cows and the grazing consists of mixed sweet- and sourveld.
According to Blaauw, their Afrikaners are indiscriminate grazers and often resort to browsing, which is particularly important in times of drought. The breed's high mobility enables it to traverse many kilometres through the Kalahari sand to optimally utilise all available grazing.
"We cannot afford stud animals that we have to pamper. To ensure they'll be able to perform well in a commercial breeding environment, stud animals must be treated as if they were commercial cattle," says Blaauw.
He adds that the Salztal Afrikaners are not only low-maintenance animals, but also exhibit good resistance to diseases and internal and external parasites.
The Afrikaner's good temperament and strong maternal and herding instincts are some of the reasons the Blaauws choose to farm them. Bulls run with the cows throughout the year to ensure optimal productivity. - Farmers Weekly
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