If a young breeder were to ask him what he or she should keep in mind when building a herd, Linde du Plessis would suggest three basic guidelines, the first of which would be to buy a good, balanced bull.
“Start by buying a bull that has as few defects as possible. Remember, you buy cows from different breeders, each representing the type that the specific breeder selects. Your priority is to build a herd consisting of good, balanced cows with as few defects as possible. You can only start thinking of breeding stud bulls once you have established your herd. An animal represents the average of the herd from which it comes. The average of your own herd should therefore be as high as possible,” Linde says.
Linde is a well-known Brahman and Droughtmaster stud breeder from the farm Bloemhoek, near the picturesque town of Fouriesburg in the Eastern Free State.
As far as cows are concerned, his advice is to buy animals with measured performance data. “Buy older cows from reputable breeders and, where possible, use in vitro technology to increase herd numbers as quickly as possible. Older cows have proven their worth several times over. It’s the reason why they are still part of the breeder’s herd.”
A third tip for young breeders, says Linde, is to visit as many established breeders as possible to get a good idea of their management practices. This way they will also learn more about the type of animal they may want to use for breeding. “Always do your homework and get to know the area. You need to know what the predecessors of the animals you might encounter on auction look like.”
The highest accolades
Linde is no stranger to successful breeding. His Brahmans carrying the HOT brand have won interbreed championships at the country’s top shows several times. In fact, it is not that farfetched to assume that an animal would first have to beat the HOT opponent before walking away with first prize.
To win the Gold Cup at the Royal Show in Pietermaritzburg even once is a tremendous achievement – Linde has done it four times. In 2013, one of his Brahman bulls was sold for the highest price ever paid in the country. In the same year, he was the Voermol Beef Cattle Producer of the Year.
The HOT brand, says Linde, is actually an allusion to the stud name, Brandwater Brahmans. “We farm in the Brandwater Basin, a large area surrounded by different mountain ranges, and Grootspruit, previously known as Brandwaterspruit, flows nearby. So, when the time came to register the stud, we decided on using the name Brandwater. The HOT brand was a fun tongue-in-cheek allusion to the name.”
The value of performance measurement was made clear to Linde early on, because he had experienced first-hand the effect of underweight weaners on his business.
“When I arrived on the farm in 1974, we had an Afrikaner cow herd on which we used Sussex bulls. But the weaners were just not good enough. I also realised that numbers alone cannot be the only selection criterion and that visual assessment is just as important. The visual balance of an animal remains a core selection criterion. I will assess an animal in terms of its conformation and balance. If I find it appealing, I will bring the animal’s statistics into account.”
Although his customers’ calves are usually all destined for the feedlot, it is not the primary goal in his own selection, he says. Animals that perform in the feedlot will not necessarily perform on the veld, but those that perform on the veld will definitely perform in the feedlot. He says that performance on the veld is therefore an extremely important criterion.
As much as he requires an animal to show balanced conformation, Linde does not value outliers with exceptionally high numbers. In his mind the numbers must reflect a balance.
He obtained two excellent bulls early on, which was very fortunate because at the time they were breed trend leaders in respect of milk and growth.
Linde has been applying crossbreeding over the years, and the Brahman’s merit as an ideal crossbreeding animal continues to impress him.
“In the early days, before I started farming Brahman, I mated the Afrikaner-Sussex crossbred cows to Simmentaler bulls, which yielded excellent results. But the results I got from breeding Brahmans to the same Simmentaler crosses were even better. Their growth was phenomenal, and the Brahman influence yielded a completely smooth hair coat. The bone structure also improved dramatically. I still use purebred Simmentaler and Droughtmaster bulls on my commercial cows.”
Linde says he uses the Simbra-type cow herd as a benchmark for his purebred Brahmans, which are exceeding all expectations. “The latest group of weaner calves, which we weaned in early May, have once again proven that there is no real difference between the weaner weights of the crossbred calves and that of the purebred Brahmans.”
Linde bases his planned breeding on the principle of corrective mating. The aim is usually not to fix big mistakes, but rather to make small adjustments to create a balanced animal. However, there are exceptions, especially when he uses a bull that does not necessarily have the best balance but that has a specific and very strong characteristic he wants to use to fix a mistake.
“Commercial clients are not impressed by stories about breeding policies. They are looking for meat on their calves and animals that can walk properly and adapt to their individual circumstances. So, my aim is first and foremost to breed for that market. If I’m lucky enough to breed a good stud bull in the process, then that’s great, but it is not my primary aim.”
Apart from a corrective mating approach, Linde is very focused on cow families. Success, he says, is primarily based on good cows and if a cow breeds superior calves throughout her lifetime, it will be advantageous to take good care of her progeny.
“A good cow doesn’t have to be beautiful. The only thing I look at is the ‘score board’. Does her progeny perform? This will quickly tell you just how good she is. A good cow breeds above average calves with different bulls. And she is primarily in your herd because of her mother’s ‘score board’. This means she represents a certain cow family, the longevity of which has been proven over a few generations.” On the other hand, there are bulls that are also known for breeding good cows. “In the end,” says Linde philosophically, “you have to realise that breeding is rather difficult and unpredictable. You are very fortunate if you are able to breed a good animal, because for every exceptional animal you breed there are just as many inferior ones.” – Izak Hofmeyr, Stockfarm
For more information, phone Linde du Plessis on 083 700 8592.