Red Polls defy ticks, flies, mites and heat at South African farm
- Credit: Archant
A Red Poll cattle herd which has been developed in South Africa from cattle bred in Suffolk is thriving, farm shop owner Oliver Paul discovered on a visit to the farm.
Oliver,, who runs the Suffolk Food Hall at Wherstead with cousin, Rob, and whose family has a Red Poll herd, went to Gauteng in South Africa recently and visited the Oostermoed herd at the invitation of farmer Johan Oosthuizen and his son-in-law, Elma Steenkamp.
Johan has invested in Red Polls following fond memories of a small herd his father had many years back. He is now celebrating improving returns for his business, says Oliver.
As the Red Poll gene pool in South Africa was small, Johan organised for around 150 embryos to be exported from the Kirton and Euston herds in the UK and paired these with the farm’s Fedw Tomos and Fedw Stig. These have so far had a 60% success rate with surrogates, compared to an anticipated success rate of 30 to 50%. They have also produced strong heifer calves with truer breed type characteristics, particularly straighter backs, than their original home herd.
There is a local market demand for Red Poll stock bulls, but Elmer is building up numbers before supplying the livestock market.
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“The challenges of beef farming in South Africa can be acute as well as varied and different from the UK. Temperature, water, grass species, ticks, predators and more, would give the average Brit many sleepless nights. The weather determines their regime with hot wet summers, October to March, and dry winters that can be cold at night and suffer from pastureland becoming burnt-off,” said Oliver. “Calving has to happen towards the end of the winter, down near the farmstead to avoid predators and so mother and calf get close observation in the first few days. Bull calves are kept whole.
“Calves are then weaned before the end of April at just over six months and to avoid cows nurturing during the following lean winter months.”
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The herd is often run in mobs of up to 120 cows together with four bulls and graze mainly on permanent grass during summer and temporary ley in the winter with additional protein provided in the winter via a mix with milled maize corn.
“Ticks are their number one enemy particularly having taken on new ground recently where there had been no tick management,” he explained. “Ticks, along with occasional problems with flies, mites, liver fluke and the risk of eye infections from tall grass, means that preventive drugs often have to be administered once a month in the summer, as well as once a winter.”
The virtues of the breed are apparent, says Oliver. Johan also runs the traditional Bonsmara cattle, a sandy to rust-coloured beast which is polled and of similar size but with thicker skin, lower milk quality and varying temperament. Crossbred stock is recording greater growth rates than the pure-bred Bonsmara or Red Poll.
“The good Red Poll temperament clearly provides an advantage with the level of handling required and it was interesting to hear that the breed was the only one to have stalls at the national agricultural show, Nampo, with gates open to the public,” said Oliver.
“Johan Oosthuizen and his family were fantastically hospitable and his son-in-law Elma Steenkamp is a real enthusiast for the breed.”