EXRACTS FROM THE Farmer’s Weekly
14 SEPTEMBER 2012
With acknowledgement to Mr. Graham Hart
A group of Beefmaster breeders (Dennis Staal, Dr Willie Nel, Johan van der Nest and Graham Hart) visited a number of Droughtmaster breeders in Queensland in 1999 under guidance of the then Droughtmaster breed director, Neil Donaldson.
Their objective was to have a first-hand look at this breed, the conditions under which it was run, and to select bulls from which semen could be obtained for use in South Africa.
DEVELOPMENT OF THE DROUGHTMASTER BREED
The Droughtmaster was developed in Queensland for the same reasons and based on the same principles as the Beefmaster. Monty Atkinson, the founder of the Droughtmaster, needed a beef animal that was adapted to the tropics, could handle ticks and had good beef qualities. The Australians have very strict veterinary control measures in place to prevent importation of new diseases to their island. In 1931, the importation of Brahmans enabled Atkinson and others to broaden their breeding program and to combine the best characteristics of the Brahman and British breeds.
The founder of the Beefmaster, Tom Lasater, and Atkinson corresponded and shared ideas during the early development of their respective herds. After a visit to Lasater and a disagreement over patent rights, the Australians decided to call their new breed Droughtmaster and establish a breed society in 1962.
IMPRESSIONS – CONDITIONS UNDER WHICH THE DROUGTMASTERS WERE RUN.
The herds they visited were large and ran on improved pasture, mostly bloubuffelsgras (Cenchrus cilaris) imported from South Africa and were in excellent condition.
They learned that the Cenchrus was grown mostly in soils where the indigenous Australian shrub-like legume, brigalow (Acacia harpophylla) had been cleared and oversown. This soil was extremely fertile and no fertilisation was needed. One breeder, a Mr. Childs, said that he wouldn’t have to fertilise for 20 years! The South Africans found it hard to believe, as a lot of fertiliser would have been required to achieve the same result in SA. One farmer they visited was maintaining the nitrogen level by establishing rows of tree lucerne (Leucaena leucocephala) in the pasture.
LARGER FRAMED CATTLE
The Droughtmaster cows they saw were feminine and smooth coated with impressive calves at foot. They were generally larger framed than SA cows. The visitors had to bear in mind, though, the higher plane of nutrition they enjoyed.
The bulls, mostly polled, were also impressive with their smooth, shiny red coats and good muscling. The South African’s selection of bulls for local conditions was limited by excessive sheaths in otherwise very good animals. The important Japanese market requires a heavy, well marbled carcass, resulting in a tendency for Australians to select for larger, later maturing animals.
Despite these limitations, the South Africans were able to identify some excellent early maturing medium-sized bulls with clean underlines to complement SA’s Beefmaster genetics.
APPLICATION TO IMPORT DROUGTMASTER GENETICS.
The Beefmaster Breed Society in SA applied to the then Registrar of Livestock Improvement, Keith Ramsey, for the exclusive right to import Droughtmaster semen. This was granted in 1997 on condition that the progeny were recorded as Beefmasters, as he was not prepared to have two such similar names for cattle breeds. Subsequent visits to Australia by other Beefmaster breeders have resulted in semen from a number of Droughtmaster bulls being used in Beefmaster herds.
INCORPORATION OF THE DROUGTMASTER INTO THE SA BEEFMASTER BREED.
In total seven Droughtmaster bulls were introduced and were used by many Beefmaster Breeders. The SA Beefmaster is unashamedly a continuously developing breed. The SA Beefmaster ‘three-legged pot’ is well stocked with a broad gene pool. This gene pool is then subjected tothe Lasater philosophy. High selection pressure is always applied to ensure that only those animals that are well adapted to South African conditions survive.
The Beefmaster programme is based on survival of the fittest, thus the best cattle stay in the breeding herd and the poorest are culled.
But most important of all is that we use this gene pool to select cattle that make the most profit in a commercial environment.”
INFLUENCE ON SA BEEFMASTER
The use of Droughtmaster semen has broadened SA’s gene pool, specifically with the polled factor and solid red colour. Although the red colour is not a prerequisite in the Beefmaster, SA cattle farmers prefer red animals and this has resulted in SA Beefmasters becoming predominantly solid red.
A recent study (during 2013) by Charl Hunlin and Lezanne Bonthuys of the SA Studbook Association indicated that only 2.37% of the current Beefmasters registered with SA Studbook are influenced by the seven Droughtmaster bulls that were imported and that they had a rather limited impact.
The application of the Lasater philosophy i.e. selection for the six economically important traits assisted South African farmers to retain the desired characteristics that they set out to obtain whilst at the same time eliminating undesired traits such as excessive sheaths, later maturing animals, finer boned animals etc.
This again stresses the importance of continuous selection pressure and selection only for the required economically important traits being fertility, temperament, weight, conformation, hardiness and milk production.
The whole issue regarding the so-called Droughtmaster is confusing beef breeders, especially commercial breeders not well informed on the Act and the disciplined way breeding and breeds are managed in South Africa. According to the General Manager of SA Stud Book, they are receiving enquiries from breeders who have read about this "new breed", asking whether they will be able to register the animals with Stud Book.This is however not possible because the Droughtmaster is not a declared breed in South Africa and therefore, according to the Animal Improvement Act, may not be registered by a Registering Authority.
Some history may be useful to help clear any confusion. The Beefmaster Cattle Breeders’ Society obtained permission from the Registrar of Animal Improvement in 1997 that Droughtmaster (the Austalian Beefmaster) genetics would be allowed to be imported and used only by Beefmaster breeders, on condition that the progeny would be registered as Beefmasters, not Droughtmasters. Any intended importation of “Droughtmasters” has furthermore to be submitted to the Beefmaster Society for approval and a recommendation to the Registrar of Animal Improvement.
Droughtmaster bulls such as Wingfield Rocket, Wingfield Blarney (Wrinkles), Glenlands Harry and Fancy Boy were used in Beefmaster herds from the late 1990’s and breeders can contact the Beefmaster Office in Parys for pedigree or any other information.
The Registrar of Animal Improvement, Mr M J Mamabolo sent the following e-mail to Dr Pierre Van Rooyen, General Manager of S A Stud Book on 24th April 2013:
“This is to inform you that in terms of Article 2 of Animal Improvement Act,1998 (Act 62 of 1998) the so called Droughtmaster breed is not recognised in South Africa nor do we have any records of such breed in our database (INTERGIS) at this stage.”