Each industry has symbols that denote its origin, serve as motivation and embody the industry’s unique values and way of doing. For the livestock industry this symbol is an ox.
Over the past few decades, the industry has become more commercialised, with the oxen that are being marketed becoming younger by the day; these days even uncastrated weaners are taken from their dams. In the process, the ox – the animal behind the symbol – has virtually disappeared from the commercial livestock farm. Since they no longer enjoy prominence in the mainstream livestock industry, these large oxen are also no longer on the media’s radar.
According to Albert Loubser, chief organiser of Nampo ALFA, this is exactly why they are working towards elevating the position of the ox by establishing the mega ox concept at ALFA. Here the animals can participate in a mega ox exhibition during which the heaviest ox at the expo will enjoy the spotlight.
“Although few farmers still have large oxen, this exhibition clearly attracts a lot of interest, both from fascinated spectators and the media. Last year, this project alone enjoyed more media coverage than the rest of ALFA’s projects combined. It seems that our efforts to give recognition to the ox is paying off.”
The fence manufacturer, Cape Gate, he adds, fully understood this sentiment, seized the opportunity to act as the sponsor of the project and enthusiastically did more than their share.
“But if you look beyond the symbolism and sentiment of the ox,” Albert emphasises, “you’ll find that there is a lot of science and value attached to an ox farming enterprise. The ox is certainly not a caricature taken from the past for the sake of emotion.”
Do these massive oxen have any commercial merit? Christiaan de Jager of O-La-La Chianinas, who bred both 2018 and 2019’s winners, believes they do.
“I can only speak for the Chianina and Chianina crosses. Looking at them the answer is undoubtedly yes. If the ox continues to grow and its feed conversion and average daily gain (ADG) justify the feed costs, it remains profitable to feed the ox. An ox also has a relatively high dressing percentage, which supports carcass value.
“For example, I had bulls that were part of an official Phase C growth test at the Agricultural Research Council’s (ARC) bull testing station. After six months these A2 bulls still had an ADG of 2,39kg. Their feed conversion was also 4,42. With figures such as these animals can be fed profitably, and they can be slaughtered as super because teeth cutting only occurs later in the Chianina,” he says.
“If you also keep their good dressing percentage in mind, it is clear that meat production is profitable. A carcass weighing 420kg firstly means that it has been produced profitably and secondly that all the cuts, except the T-bone, can be cut up as needed. Producing a big carcass is not a negative factor. And, of course, there is a market for large T-bone cuts.”
According to Rudi van der Westhuizen, managing director of the South African Meat Industry Company (Samic), the ox will soon be able to reclaim its rightful place in the modern market.
“The carcass competitions that Samic presents currently discriminate against carcasses with a slaughter weight of more than 300kg. There is a super ox category for the heavier carcasses, but they can only score 95 out of 100 points during judging. However, Samic is developing a new grading system that will go hand in hand with the classification system and in which aspects such as taste, marbling, tenderness, colour and ripening processes will play an important role.”
This new grading system, says Rudi, will put ox farming back in the spotlight.
Breeding of mega oxen
“Not every breeder can breed a mega ox and rear it so that it can reach its full growth potential,” says Albert. “Science tells us an ox grows for about three to three and a half years. If this growth phase is complete, one could argue that the animal has reached its full commercial value, unless you also consider that an ox does not really require special care.
“Oxen are much less prone to health problems than a producing cow and can utilise poor grazing. In fact, oxen do well on low-value veld. You can run an ox in places that cannot be utilised by other livestock. While out in the veld, the ox does not require extra effort and your investment keeps growing. Other production animals require a lot more input in terms of time, health care and feed.”
Certain breeds, he says, are much better suited to mega ox production, especially the late-maturing breeds. Ox production offers these late-maturing breeds an option, as commercial production tended to move more towards early-maturing breeds over the last few decades. “It is not surprising that late-maturing breeds such as the Charolais, Simmentaler, and specifically the Chianina, are dominating the mega ox competition.”
ALFA mega ox winners
The first mega ox competition at ALFA 2018 was won by a Chianina cross from Christiaan’s O-La-La Chianinas. The ox, named Garibaldi, weighed 1 385kg and had a slaughter weight of 815kg. Second place went to another of Christiaan’s oxen, Mickey Mouse. The meat of these two oxen was donated to two charities.
The ALFA 2019 mega ox competition was on a completely different level. An O-La-La Chianina, weighing 1 335kg, was once again crowned the winner. Although this ox was lighter on the hoof than Garibaldi, his slaughter weight was an incredible 907kg. Bok van Zyl from Cheetau Lodge just outside Bethlehem bought the ox at a record price of R181 827 (just over R200/kg). Of this, R50 000 was donated to the Doxa Deo Church’s trauma centre.
A great investment
Bok is a commercial farmer who crossbreeds all his Bonsmara and Simbra cows with Chianina bulls and upgrades them to animals with a high percentage of Chianina. He then markets the oxen from his own feedlot. The price he paid for the winning ox, he says, was definitely worth it.
“Through the media coverage alone, I’ve already recovered more than half the value,” says Bok. “Furthermore, I sold the carcass to Ciglers Butchery in Bethlehem at a premium. If you add the media coverage and the premium, the transaction tallies.
“In addition, Ciglers introduced the public to Chianina meat and, in doing so, emphasised the high quality of this meat. This created the perfect platform for me to partner with Ciglers to deliver Chianina meat to the market. Buying this winning ox was a great investment and an extremely successful marketing campaign!”
For more information on this year’s Nampo ALFA mega ox competition, contact Albert Loubser on 082 562 2188.