“Without continual growth and progress, such words as improvement,
achievement, and success have no meaning”. ~ Benjamin Franklin

1. THE BONSMARA BREED

The Bonsmara originates from South Africa, it has been scientifically bred and strictly selected for economical production in extensive cattle grazing activities in sub-tropical climates. In 1937, it was generally noted that British breeds did not have the required heat tolerance for the sub tropics and that the Afrikaner Breed did not perform as well in terms of calving regularity. Professor Jan Bonsma decided to test different breed combinations at the Messina Livestock Research Station.

Bulls of five British Beef breeds were used on Afrikaner cows and the progeny were then performance tested. After pilot trials it was decided to continue only with the better performing Hereford and Shorthorn cross-breeds. Ultimately, three-quarter Afrikaners were mated to half-breeds to obtain progeny with 5/8 Afrikaner and 3/8 Hereford or Shorthorn blood.

The first results were already encouraging. Under the management circumstances prevailing at Mara in those days, the weaning weights of the crossbred cows were on average 195kg at 240 days (about 20% higher than those of the three parent breeds). Likewise the calving percentages of the crossbred cows were appreciably higher. The calf mortality was much lower than in the British Beef breeds and close to that of the more resistant Afrikaners.

Through strict selection of breeding animals, rapid progress was made. 20 years after the initial cross-breeding trials, a superior cattle breed performing better than other breeds in the bushveld of the Northern Transvaal had been established.

The name “Bonsmara” was derived from “Bonsma”, the man who played a major role in the development of the breed, and “Mara”, the farm on which the animals were bred.

Interestingly, Bonsma had a unique method of scale photography, so Bonsmara is the only breed in the world that can boast a pictorial genealogy from the very beginning of the breeding work until the new breed was established.

The Bonsmara has become so popular that it has grown to be the strongest beef breed, numerically, in South Africa in less than 25 years.

The Bonsmara is red in colour with a blend of Bosindicus and Bos taurus attributes. They are horned, but must be de-horned to conform to breed standards. Body conformation and traits have all been selected to satisfy the commercial requirements of today’s market.

Today all inspected and approved purebred Bonsmaras are branded with the Bonsmara symbol on the right shoulder.
Traits include:
• Well adapted to sub-tropical climate
• Fertile
• Calving ease
• High quality meat
• Calm temperament and easy handling
• Performance tested and inspected to minimum breed standards
• Suitable for use in cross breeding

The Bonsmara is mainly bred in Africa and approximately 60,000 registered females are currently being performance recorded with the commercial and seedstock herds, adding to around 4 million head. It has been recently exported to North America and Australia.

 

2. HISTORY

The Sernick Bonsmara Stud was started in 1983 with 30 Bonsmara commercial heifers bought from Hannes du Preez and a bull from Gerhard Brön. These heifers were screened by Rex Butler and the stud was registered.

In 1985 the Iffley Investments Bonsmara Stud as well as the Marie-Louis Bonsmara Stud of Andrew Makkink were acquired – increasing the number of breeding cows to over 500.

In 1986 Hennie Snyman was appointed as farm manager and a number of females from various well-known Bonsmara breeders were bought.

In 1994 the annual sale exceeded R1m for the first time – an important milestone in the history of the stud. Hennie left in 1999 and opened his own private consultancy.

In 2002 the stud was halved in order to finance other activities of the value chain. In 2004 the Wellstood Bonsmara Stud of Robert Taute was bought which increased the number of breeding cows to 550.

In 2008 the number of breeding cows was reduced to 250 to make space for the backrounding of weaners for the feedlot.

The Mizpah Bonsmara Stud of Johan van Zyl was acquired in 2014 and the number of breeding cows once again reached 550.

During the period 2000-2010 the priority and focus was mainly on the other activities of Sernick Group’s value chain but since 2011 a great deal of energy and passion has gone into the stud. The results of these efforts are significant.

The highest price for a bull was obtained in 2011 when NFS08-032 was sold to Jaap Prinsloo of the Marloo Bonsmara Stud for R775000.

 

3. SERNICK BREEDING POLICY

Selection aims

Fertility is the most important economic aspect of Sernick’s beef farming enterprise.

When breeding female animals, the emphasis should be on improving the functional components of reproduction such as relative growth. Because the environment (nutrition) has a major influence on reproduction and milk production, care must be taken to supply sufficient nutrition throughout the total production chain.

The overall environment will be the main determining factor in optimal growth and body size of female animals, while market requirements and production systems will dictate the growth and size of animals destined for marketing.

In male animals the emphasis is on effective feed conversion, growth tempo and optimum muscle-to-bone ratio. Because production of beef (excluding fat) requires five times more energy than producing chicken and three times more than producing pork, it confirms the importance of selection for feed conversion efficiency.

Since approximately 75% of all slaughter animals go through a feedlot phase, efficiency of feed utilization will also have a huge economic impact. Efficiency is therefore the keystone of the Sernick breeding objective.

Heifers

Heifers are mated early in a bid to shorten the genetic interval and thus accelerate genetic progress. Cows calve for the first time at 24 months of age, rather than at the breed average of 32 months. The availability of pastures makes it possible to achieve this goal.

We use tested sires that yield low birth weights and good heifer growth. These types of bulls are referred to as curve benders.

Frame size

Because the cowherd is kept mainly on natural red grass grazing (4000ha red grass with 1 200 Smutsfinger divided into 228 camps) the cows cannot be too big. Cows that are too small are culled, because they usually show too little growth to produce a profitable weaner calf for the feedlot, which is what a commercial livestock farmer wants – a proper heavy weaner calf for the feedlot!

Consequently we listen to the needs of our bull buyers, who are mostly commercial breeders who want to breed heavy weaner calves exhibiting good growth and feed conversion. In our area the ideal cow that produces and reproduces best, is one that weighs 520kg (see graph below).

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Breeding values

Emphasis is also placed on the relation between growth and milk breeding values – a ratio of 3,5:1 on wean direct to wean maternal. We find that these are the cows with enough milk, enough meat and good constitution that easily come in calf again and wean calves of 250kg (a 48 to 50% weaning ratio).

 

Growth and Feed Conversion

In herd bulls the emphasis is on feed conversion ratio (FCR) and growth, with calves that aren’t too heavy at birth.

Notwithstanding the cost of the weaner calf, feed expenses make up the biggest portion of a feedlot’s costs. FCR, therefore, is an extremely important trait when it comes to the profitability of a feedlot and is becoming more important due to the ever-increasing cost of feed. Besides reproduction, FCR has the highest correlation with profit.

From an economic viewpoint selection for FCR is three to six times more important than selecting for growth (ADG). Selection for FCR does not have a negative effect, such as higher birth weight and end weight that can impair reproduction due to higher maintenance, as with selection for ADG, for example. There is also a positive correlation between FCR and body length, which in turn correlates positively with dressing percentage.

Our Phase C bull testing station allowed us, over a period of 24 years, to select bulls with outstanding growth and feed conversion.

Consequently, we can meet the needs of our buyers. Since 1990 we have tested more than 9 000 bulls, which included more than 3 000 of our own bulls. In this period the FCR of our bulls improved by 1,2kg feed per kilogram weight gain, while the ADG improved by 200g per day. At the same time shoulder height dropped and length improved. At current feed and beef prices the difference is R1 300 per animal in the feedlot!

 

Other factors

Apart from that, we breed medium-framed animals that are cosmetically beautiful with a focus on hooves, walking ability, head, width, muscling and balance.