Judging by the prices paid for his bulls the past two years, Chris Nel, well-known Sussex breeder of the Eversar Sussex stud near Petrus Steyn, believes there is a new trend towards bulls from the traditional pure British and European breeds.

Chris bases his theory on the increasing demand for his bulls which, over the past few years, has doubled. “My buyers tell me the heterosis they get from the calves of my bulls is extremely rewarding. One buyer even says that he gains 60kg on a weaner calf if he uses my Sussex bulls. He runs a cow herd consisting of one of the composite breeds and often complained that his weaning weights had reached a ceiling, even showing a decline at times. As a result he switched back to purebred bulls.”

He says the main reason why cattle farmers tend to return to pure breeds is the advantages presented by heterosis. “It is important, though, to use performance tested bulls of exceptional quality to get maximum advantage.

“While a composite breed initially has enough variation within the breed to achieve a lot of heterosis through the right choice of bull, you often reach a point where the variation within a herd starts decreasing. If you put a purebred bull with the cows, you bring strong heterosis to the fore. The F1 progeny of a purebred bull with an unrelated maternal line, provides maximum heterosis. These female F1 animals are sought-after cows with unparalleled performance. They perform much better than their parents.”

Predictability and prepotency

Chris explains that predictability and prepotency are two more reasons why there is such a strong trend back to pure breeds.

“Performance measuring and selection in pure breeds have already come such a long way that the genes are well-captured, which makes it possible to predict the performance of a specific bull’s progeny. This trait is becoming increasingly important to farmers. The very first advantage presents itself at the birth of the calf – purebred bulls will provide a predictable birth weight. Afterwards, the progeny exhibit predictable production (pre- and post-weaning growth) as well as predictable reproduction.

“Pure breeds have been selected for structural correctness for a long time and they transfer these traits to their progeny. You can predict fairly accurately whether a bull will transfer a trait such as growth, or perhaps improve his calves’ milk production.

“On the same basis, a farmer can use bulls to improve meat tenderness and marbling in his weaner calves. The next step is genomics, which will improve predictability even more.

“I believe the most important reason for the return to pure breeds is because composite breeds are generally unable to sustain heterosis within the breed, as they become too uniform. Cross-breeding is therefore necessary to achieve heterosis.”

Increase in prices

Chris has already hosted 27 production sales of his Eversar Sussex cattle, with prices having increased considerably the past two years.

“I notice that buyers who have never bought my cattle before are interested in my bulls, although I have done nothing more or extra to draw their attention to my stud.

“I make an effort to follow up with buyers as to whether they are satisfied with my bulls. Thus far I have only received positive feedback, which tells me that the Sussex, a pure British breed, provides the X-factor in a large variety of commercial herds.”

Economically important traits

Chris says it should be remembered that the modern Sussex is completely different from the Sussex of 30 years ago. “Growth, milk, reproduction, adaptability and hair coat, in fact, are all economically important traits that have improved by leaps and bounds. We are currently breeding cattle that are adapted to South African conditions.

“It is a well-known fact that farmers in general are excited by something new. There is excitement when a new breed enters the country, and the demand is usually so high that prices skyrocket. In direct contrast, there is now a tendency to go back to something old, namely the pure breeds, to meet specific needs such as better performance and weaner calves.”

Predictability of bulls

Philip Barnard, well-known Angus breeder of the Mequatling Angus stud near Clocolan, says he also gets the impression that commercial cattle farmers increasingly require better predictability from their bulls, and tend to return to pure breeds. “The longer a breed is purely bred based on strict selection, the greater the predictability of its breeding.”

“My impression is that breeders demand better heterosis, and that they no longer get it from their herds because they have become too uniform. With a composite breed, you initially achieve unbelievable results because of heterosis. You have fantastic calves, but from the third or fourth generation onwards you don’t find heterosis within the breed anymore, and the breeders become disappointed.

“With that, we find that farmers consider pure breeds to improve fertility, which is understandable. When you are building your herd, you retain as many of your female progeny as possible. It is logical that your fertility will receive a blow. Breeders want to correct this by returning to the old pure breeds.”

Philip says the Angus is in great demand as recipient cows for an embryo programme. “Remember, the Angus is the biggest beef breed in the world. The gene pool is therefore very large, and strict selection is possible. This contributes to the great demand for the Angus.”

Afrikaner and Sussex crosses

Nico Kriek is a commercial cattle farmer from the farm Clarenz in the Reitz district. His father started buying purebred bulls in 1960, with Nico quickly following his lead. They initially had an Afrikaner herd, where they used Sussex bulls. These days, they alternate between Afrikaner and Sussex bulls.

“The Afrikaner/Sussex is a very good cross, especially in our conditions in the Eastern Free State. If I use a Sussex bull, I get extremely satisfactory weaning weights – 260kg or more at the age of seven months.”

Why a purebred bull? It is all about predictability and reliability, which he found lacking in many composite breeds. “You get excellent calves from composite bulls, but every now and then there is an extremely bad calf. This isn’t a factor with the pure breeds.

“Of course, you must carefully select the bull you want to buy. You cannot rely on only its history or figures. Your eye provides the final test,” he says.

For more information, phone Chris Nel on 078 245 4442 and Philip Barnard on 051 943 0058 or 082 557 2075. – Izak Hofmeyr, Stockfarm