Sydney Hunt, President of the SA Brahman Society, is guiding the Brahmans into the challenging future of global warming and climate change.
The Brahman Society is already committed to the Beef Genomics Program (BGP). Sydney said that they are going to take what they have and improve it. With the help of the BGP, they have identified traits that need improving.
With global warming becoming a reality he wants the breed to be able to handle any changes nature throws at them. The Brahman is well known for hardiness, tick resistance, more efficient utilization of water, can get by with less food, can handle higher temperatures. He said that the “commercial guy” wants fertility, milk and good temperament; the feedlot wants feed conversion, growth and dressing percentage (the percentage of meat after de-boning), and the housewife wants quality meat. When they achieve all of the above they will be in an extremely advantageous position in the marketplace.
BGP is an effective tool for breeders to make very fast genetic progress. He said that simply by sending some hair to the lab he can cut out the age-old problem of the generation gap and know instantly whether or not a potential herd sire has the traits he is looking for. In the past, it took eight years to know if the bull was any good. This is going to take the breed forward in leaps and bounds. Sydney said that the commercial guy is still going to buy a bull by “Eye Balling” it, but the responsibility is on the breeders to supply them with superior genetics.
The HBS Stud was started by the Hunts (Reg was one of the founding members of SA Brahman Society) in 1959. The original genetics came from the Norris herd in Florida (USA), and from Hudgins in Texas, but they ended up concentrating on the Sugarland genetics in Florida. They found them to be big framed, heavy boned cattle, which is what they were looking for. They imported about 200 heifers including some of the legends from Sugarland, bulls like Loxacrata 115, Loxacrata 63 Lockmor Suville 74, Lockmor Suville 84 and Poncrata 100.
Once they had the basic genetics they closed the herd and started line breeding. Sydney said that the Brahman is one of the best cross breeding breeds you can get, and the purer (line-bred) you breed them the more hybrid vigour you are selling to your buyers. His clients are more than happy with the increased hybrid vigour.
There are two things you have to watch when line breeding, he said and that is growth and fertility, so he puts pressure on those traits. The ICP of the herd is 60 days under breed average. When a Hunt bull arrives on a client’s farm there is an explosion of growth because he has bred them so pure. “Wound up genetics” he calls it. Most of his clients are repeat buyers and the new ones
are often word of mouth from the existing buyers. Sydney farms with 220 Grey Brahman cows on the farm Sydney’s Hope (3400 ha) in the Warrenton district. The area has been hit by severe drought for a few years and he had to slaughter 87 stud cows.
The cows are a bit bigger than medium frame and have an average weight of 570 kg. The bull calves weigh 218kg at weaning.Due to the unreliable weather conditions Sydney has a six month breeding season. He said that Brahmans won’t come on heat unless the conditions are right. It needs to be warm and they should have had some rain. Their rainy season is usually in February and March.
When Reg was still running the herd, the bulls were with the cows all year round. Sydney said that the problem with that system is if you get cows calving in the middle of winter and the temperature is -5oC, a lot of the calves die. To get the herd into a reasonable calving season he started by removing the bulls first for 3 months and then the following year for 4 months. Every year he added a month until he got to where he is now (6 months in and 6 months out). The bulls are put with the cows in December and removed in May. First calves are born in September and continue to March. He weans the first batch in the first week of June and the second in September. The calves born in December will only be five months old and the oldest calves will be eight months.
The farm is Sweat veld with “Vaal Bos” which is very useful, highly nutritious and is grazed in the winter months and in drought. The farm is divided into 100 ha camps and a four-camp rotation is used.
The government recommendation for carrying capacity is 1 LSU per 7 hectares, the average farmer uses 1:10 but they use 1:14. In the good years, they save their grazing and build up their fodder bank for the dry years. The average rainfall is 340 mm. Marketing: Sydney noticed a trend in the commercial bull market and decided to concentrate on the Emerging Farmers because their numbers are growing, where-as the traditional stud cattle numbers are dwindling. In the past, he has exported to Australia, Zambia, Botswana, Namibia and a few to Zimbabwe. About 10% of his bulls are sold into the stud market.
Sydney says that a normal auction is too impersonal and prefers to sell off the farm and most of the leads are by word of mouth. He says they call his farm the “Wimpy of Warrenton” because if you are interested in buying you get treated like a king. Breakfast, lunch and supper if necessary. He builds his business on personal relationships with his clients. Exciting future plans: Johan Roodt from Ventersdorp has been breeding from HBS genetics for 40 years (Suville cows). They decided to swop genetics from these two absolutely pure Sugarland herds by exchanging bulls. HBS 36 09 is the top Genomics bull in South Africa is the result of this partnership. Their plan is to flush Johan’s Suville cows with HBS 36 09 and produce the next generation of Sugarland bulls. They are going to flush with all the original Sugarland semen that is left in the flask in order to increase the numbers of what they already have. There are already a number of Loxcrata 115 calves on the ground. These efforts will benefit the whole industry, not just these two herds.
Dr. Niel van Zyl of Invitro (Parys) is in charge of the flushing. He gave them a program to follow, and the cows must be on the station on a specific day, the transplanting is done at home by Dr. Terence Ions. Sydney has an international quarantine station on the farm. They are waiting for the licence approval from State. Once they have the licence it will be open for all Brahman breeders to use. Sydney said that the breeders are happy with this as it will be a solution for many breeders to quarantine their cattle and be assured that they will be cared for properly without risk of disease or sickness. They are looking to export to countries in Africa, Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines.
Sydney’s great grandparents immigrated to South Africa in 1866 but decided this was not their cup of tea and moved to New Zealand. His grandfather Sydney was 12 at the time and he decided to remain. He saved all his money and started breeding horses in Cradock. Just as the business was getting going, the animals were all destroyed by African Horse Sickness. He went bankrupt and moved to Colesburg where he tried again and was wiped out for a second time. He ended up in Warrenton where he became a respected member of the community.
He was a real go-getter. He acquired a farm which he named Sydney’s Hope. He milked 300 cows by hand, started a cheese factory, started a bone meal factory (which is the oldest in the world), started Vleissentraal, Noord Kaap Livestock, initiated the Vaalharts irrigation scheme for the returning war veterans, was a founder member of Stud Book and he started Farming Associations. Reg took over the operations in 1945.
Sydney is a great ambassador for the breed and is very positive about the future of Brahmans in Africa.