In this section of the website we feature ALL the articles written by HARTEBEESTLOOP BONSMARAS, mainly from our Bonsmara stud breeding program. In most of the articles we refer to what works for us at Hartebeestloop and how we do things in our Bonsmara stud. We also have articles done by other authors. If we can learn from you, we certainly will publish your work! This is a very comprehensive part of this website and we hope you enjoy reading and learning here!

CONTACT US: JOGGIE BRIEDENHANN +264 81 231 6169 (jbried@joggie.com.na)

Publication selected in the Archive of 2013:
Bull Feeding and finishing off for auction: Keep it natural and as simple as possible
March 2013

Joggie Briedenhann
Hartebeestloop Bonsmaras

Hierdie artikel is ook beskikbaar in Afrikaans:
Bulvoeding en afronding - Hou dit so natuurlik en eenvoudig as moontlik

Bull feeding and finishing (rounding off bulls for the auction) have given me many grey hair. I am sure that fellow breeders will agree and many may have the same experience.
We’ve had our fair share of phone calls from new bull owners that complained about the "bull’s adaptability". It is not a pleasant conversation to have with the new owner!
It forced us to look differently at an age-old problem and to find solutions that work for us and for the new owner.

At Hartebeestloop it all fell into place when we made the following mind shift:
“It is not only about getting the bull in the best condition for the auction but rather to get bull in the best condition for the role that it has to fulfill at the new owner’s farm.”
Let me explain: The best condition of the bull for an auction is usually linked to a high status of feeding, even distribution of fat with a pleasing appearance and ease of access to high quality feed.

The best condition of a bull for where it must go to work, is a combination of rumen status, fitness, overall adaptability and condition.
The above does not mean that the best condition of a bull at the time of auction is not important. It does however mean that for us there are many more factors involved than just the best condition at the auction .

We only ask 2 questions about the Hartebeestloop auction bulls and this determines our feeding philosophy.

  1. What are the chances that the bulls will have easy access to high quality feed that is mainly grain based at the new owner?

  2. ZERO

    Hartebeestloop method: Control the grain component of the feed and costs involved with finishing off bulls. The grain component increases the input costs and is of no value to the buyer. Every feeding and finishing off decision, should prioritize the benefits it holds for the buyer. You would like to welcome back this year’s buyer at next year’s auction.
    Bulls have to be taken off from grain and starch as supplementary feed at least 8 weeks before the auction. In our bull market, the chances are very slim that grain and starch products will make up any of the diet of the bull at its new owner.
    We transport the animals after the auction and know exactly where these bulls go to. There is no opportunity for the bull to slowly and progressively change from an auction finishing off feeding program to a new veld “feeding program”. The breeder needs to ensure that the microbes that digest lignin (grass digestion) are present and well established in the rumen of the bulls at the time of auction. At Hartebeestloop we take responsibility for "rumen adaptability" !
    Since we have implemented the above feeding program the number of bulls that we’ve lost as a result of sub-standard semen quality, has reduced drastically. As a matter of fact, we have not lost a single bull because of sub-standard semen quality for the 2012 auction. We have also managed to improve the average overall semen quality of all the bulls. Fertility tests are done 4 weeks before the auction.

  3. What are the chances that high quality grazing will be readily available and that the bulls will have access to any other feed except for what is naturally available on the veld, supplemented with a strategic lick?

  4. ZERO

    Hartebeestloop method: The bulls have to grow and develop and be rounded off as much as possible under natural grazing conditions . Supplementary feed must include natural products such as camel thorn pods and others where possible. Strategic supplementations can be provided during certain growth stages of the bulls if the veld grazing conditions are not optimum. At Hartebeestloop we do not propagate a "bull-survival program". Optimum supplementary feeding is important for cattle at certain growth stages and during periods where the natural veld may not be able to provide sufficiently. This will ensure that the bulls reach their full genetic potential. We propagate a system of supplementary feeding only when necessary!
    We are aware of the high fraction of fiber that is present in dry veld roughage (winter months) which is high in cellulose, lignin and hemi-cellulose. The capacity of animals to digest these is highly dependent on the presence of certain microbes in the rumen. These microbes require especially Vitamin A, protein, phosphor and other trace elements to convert the cellulose in the fiber component to carbohydrates and sugars while simultaneously releasing vitamins and nitrogen. Take some time to read up on the feeding value of camel thorn pods and the shepherd’s tree later on in the article to fully understand where our animals get their nutrients and supplements from. I would like to reiterate that if the veld or camp does not have a sufficient supply of camel thorn trees and shepherd’s trees - we then supplement with purchased feeding mix. The philosophy is to provide what is needed for optimal production - preferably in a natural way. Otherwise it is purchased and provided.

    The conditions under which bulls mature and are finished off should make it possible for them to work and excel in any environment. The last 8 weeks before the Hartebeestloop Auction we ensure that bulls have to walk at least 2 km daily to the water point. With our unrelenting Namibian heat during January 2013 (average daily temperatures were above 40 degrees Celsius at Hartebeestloop) the cattle drink twice a day. The camps for the bulls are on average 600 hectares in size and they have to graze throughout the entire camp to get sufficient nutrients - which they do. We often find them in every corner of the camp.
    The traditional way of finishing off bulls was to ensure easy access to good quality feed. In the past we followed this tradition by placing the water and lick troughs as close as possible to the farm workers house at the cattle post. Remember, the more the bulls walk around and use energy the better the quality and the more the quantity of feed must be to ensure weight gain. This is not what our clients want and definitely not the way we want to go. We are not interested in weight gain during this time period but rather in maintaining and ensuring fitness.
    The Hartebeestloop method of finishing off the bulls guarantees the fitness of the bulls before and during the time period of preparing the bulls for auction. This helps the bulls to adapt with relative ease to their new environment and not to remain stationary at water points.

    Why should we try to get the bulls in a different condition than what our clients ask for and under which the bulls should work?

    We consider the 8 weeks prior to the auction as a critical time. Should you consider following the Hartebeestloop method of finishing off the bulls – and you are unsure how your farm and cattle will handle this – take the catalogue photos 8 weeks before the auction.
    Do not take unnecessary risks at the start. There most probably will be adjustments to be made to our program based on the specific needs of your area.

    How does our finishing off program look like for the Hartebeestloop Auction on 31 May 2013?

    By 1 March 2013 Hartebeestloop has received only 11 mm of our annual rainfall (220 mm) and currently the grazing conditions are under immense pressure. Past experiences taught us that Hartebeestloop bulls should develop and be prepared for auctions under natural conditions when possible.
    Our bull finishing off program should support our clients and should not contribute to possible bull problems. The lack of rainfall to date is the “natural condition” for us and most of the buyers in the region. It will be of no benefit trying to create “unnatural conditions” by providing a lot of feed to the bulls. It is much more important that the bulls cope with what is available in the veld and is rounded off with minimal input costs.

    We do the following at Hartebeestloop during these difficult times to prevent excessively increasing feed costs.

    1. Sociable weaver nests (Philetairus socius) that fall to the ground can provide good natural feed for the cattle. Often snakes will invade these nests which result in all the sociable weaver birds leaving the nests. The heavy weight of the nests causes the branches of the camel thorn tree to break or large parts of the nests to come apart and fall to the ground. Hartebeestloop is covered by camel thorn trees and sociable weaver nests and we specifically identify these camps for the bulls during dry seasons. The nests are mainly built from Aristida ciliiata and Stipagrostis amabilis grasses. Aristida ciliate at Hartebeestloop is not very palatable and cattle prefer not to graze on this grass. However, when it is broken into smaller pieces and used in the building of birds’ nests the grass becomes more acceptable to the cattle. Stipagrotis amabilis is only grazed when the shoots are young and green.
      Both these 2 grasses are used well if it is first “processed” by the sociable weaver birds. Sociable weaver nests together with the dry veld roughage are important natural feed sources for the bulls during the months of December and January while waiting for the rains. It is important to know that dry veld conditions are low in Vitamin A. The most efficient methods to provide Vitamin A are intramuscular injections or an abundance of green shepherd trees.
    2. Camel thorn trees are full of green pods during January and February. Within the next couple of weeks these pods will ripen and be shed. The pods are wholesome, tasteful and are eaten quickly by the bulls.
      Carmel thorn pods consist of a grey hide, a sweet starch layer and a number of hard inner seeds. The sweet starch layer makes the pods very tasteful but it also holds nitrogen-containing glycosides that is digested to cyanide in ruminating animals. Cyanide is extremely poisonous and can lead to prussic acid poisoning with deadly consequences. Young, green pods hold much more of the nitrogen-containing glycosides than ripe pods. Green pods should never be fed to cattle. Even ripe pods can contain sufficient amounts of cyanogenetic glycosides to cause prussic acid poisoning if fed in excessive amounts. Camel thorn pods should not make up more than 15% of the bulls’ total diet. Camel thorn pods at Hartebeestloop never make up more than 30% of a lick mixture.

      The ripe camel thorn pod contains 22% protein, is more than 70% digestible and has approximately 10MJ metabolic energy/kg. This is almost similar to a high protein concentrate (HPC) and fatten lick combined in one. The pods contain very little calcium (<0.35%) and relatively high amounts of phosphor (>0.15%) in a favorable ratio (approximately 2:1). Almost all the feeding benefits lie within the starch layer because the seeds are indigestible.
      We always collect the ripened pods and keep it in storage for the next year’s dry season. Camel thorn pods are given as part of the lick program to the animals.
      Up to 40% of the stomach contents of our rejected slaughter bulls and the game at Hartebeestloop is made up of camel thorn pods during peak times (autumn months) of pod shedding. Large camel thorn trees can produce between 300 to 500 kg of pods per year. Camel thorn pods make up a large component of the bulls’ supplementary feed from January to the auction in May.

    3. The shepherd’s tree (Boscia albitrunca) with its characteristic yellow-green flowers and orange-yellow berries with red mousse –that ripens during December- is very popular amongst the bulls. The bulls regularly feed on the leaves of this tree which contains approximately 14% protein and is rich in Vitamin A. Not only does the leaves form a big part of the diet of the bulls, but is also provides good shade.
      On a very warm day, the temperature difference between the sand under the shepherd's tree and the exposed sand surface may be up to 21 degrees Celsius. The bulls are constantly busy pruning the trees at the lower half and from our experience they can feed of this tree as much as they want without any negative side effects. The ground moisture is quite high at Hartebeestloop due to the good rainy season of 2012 and the shepherd’s trees started producing news leaves early and are beautifully green now.
    4. We currently have sufficient dry veld for grazing at Hartebeestloop. We still use a winter lick (protein lick) while we wait for the rains to come. The bulls will continue to get this winter lick mixture until 2 weeks after the first good rainfall (20 mm or more).
      After that we will continue with the standard phosphor and salt supplements. The veld is usually more than sufficient during the rainy months of March till April to get the bulls into tip top shape for the auction in May.
    5. Throughout the years we have learnt that 2 factors mostly contribute to “bulls falling apart” at the new owner.

      1. The sudden change in rumen status at the new owner from starch digesting microbes to lignin digesting microbes. This is a difficult "rumen adaptation" for the bulls.
      2. Lazy, overweight bulls that are used to good quality feed that is easily accessible. Our experience is that bulls will wait at the water points for their feed - out of habit - and will only go to the veld when their condition is already quite off. This is a difficult "fitness adaptation" for the bull.

      Bull feeding is a science on its own. Remember to put your clients' interests first and always keep it simple.

      I will explain in a follow up article how our auction date is used as the reference point to obtain maximum growth with minimum input cost during the best times of the year.


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