Firth Group Brangus Prize Bull

Improving the Genetic Quality of the Firth Red Brangus Herd

Adrian Baillie-Stewart
Adrian Baillie-Stewart

On a part-time basis, Adrian serves as lead digital communications consultant for the Firth Group of farms. This includes Hillcrest Game Estates, Firth Red Brangus, Firth Wagyu, Maquassi Spruit Pecan Nuts and Highlands Cycads. A communications specialist at Content Strategics (Pty) Ltd., Adrian helps small to medium enterprises achieve their primary operational goals by maximising the commercial impact of their media content published across multiple online digital platforms.

EMBRYO FLUSHING AND ARTIFICAL INSEMINATION

At Firth Red Brangus, our recent growth and improvement efforts (for the past 2 years or so) have been (and continue to be) on refining the genetic quality of the entire Red Brangus herd.

Increasing the number/size of a cattle herd is far easier than improving upon the breed-quality of the herd. We’ve been focusing on the latter: improving the quality of the herd. To achieve this breeding goal, we place a strong reliance upon embryo flushing and artificial insemination. For example, with embryo flushing from a single top genetic-quality cow, we’re able to artificially inseminate up to 15 surrogate cows with high-quality eggs. Scientifically speaking, this is a proven method of reliably producing superb calves.

A few years ago, after our herd had experienced considerable initial growth, John Baxter (Ed. probably the most experienced Brangus judge in South Africa) visited our stud and selected only the most exceptional cows—which constituted the initial high quality genetic core of the herd. Now, several years later, we continue to strive towards growing the stud to a point where we have sufficient animals (about 500 in total) to host our own annual stud sale of top quality bulls and cows.

When it comes to professional consultant’s advice, we work with Dr. Paul Lubout, animal science educator with excellent experience in genetics research and practical animal production (both for livestock and wildlife). Dr. Lubout is also highly skilled in livestock management, animal breeding, genomics, genetics analysis and wildlife farming.

We also rely on the South African Brangus Cattle Breeders Society’s prescribed breeding plan, cattle management guidelines and mating predictor. To keep accurate records of our cattle herd, HerdMaster remains indispensable for our cattle stud.

Firth Group Brangus Prize Bull
Firth Red Brangus — FHW1764 Prize Bull

FIRTH RED BRANGUS PRIMARY BREEDING GOALS

Our primary breeding policy has been to buy semen that has been harvested from the best local and international bulls. This we use for artificial insemination, using top quality local bulls as ‘pick-up’ bulls. Outstanding cows are regularly purchased. They are super-ovulated and flushed and the embryos inserted into surrogate cows. All animals bought are not only selected on their phenotype but also on their estimated breeding values (EBV’s / genotype). We are also part of a Veld Bull test group where the performance of young bulls is measured and evaluated under natural grazing conditions.

NO COMPROMISE ON SELECTION AND SORTING FOR QUALITY HEREDITARY TRAITS

Good selection and sorting protocols determine further quality of the herd. We look for and retain only the very best hereditary traits in all of our Red Brangus cattle. This is an ongoing exercise that we will not compromise on—it’s the only way to eradicate inferior genetic quality from the herd. Similarly, achieving optimum fertility rates within the herd necessitates ongoing analysis to determine which cows are fertile. Infertile cows weaken the quality and reproduction capacity of the herd. Every cow in the herd must produce at least one calf, every year.

ORIGIN AND CHARACTERISTICS OF THE RED BRANGUS CATTLE BREED

The Red Brangus was first bred in America around 1912.  In looking at improving their herd genetics, the breeders decided to breed a cross between the Red Angus and Brahman breeds, with the idea of optimising the superior characteristics of both breeds. This included the suitability of the breed when exposed to adverse climatic conditions. The breeders noticed that the this new Brangus breed grew faster and had more meat than the British purebreds that were popular at the time.

Brangus cattle are red (or black), polled, with a sleek coat and pigmented skin. Their ears are medium to large, with loose skin and neck folds. The rump is slightly rounded and the bulls have a moderate hump.       

Apart from being incredibly hardy, they have a gentle disposition and good temperament, with the ability to thrive in climates typical to South Africa. They are extremely versatile and go through their calving and milking abilities with ease. Red Brangus cattle combine the hardiness, disease resistance and incredible maternal instincts of the Brahman breed with the superior carcass quality, fertility, maternal and milking ability of the Angus (Source: www.thecattlesite.com).

MANAGING THE CHALLENGES

With cattle farming, there will always be challenges—from weather conditions, to stock theft, managing ticks and other animal sicknesses to name but a few. However, to minimise these challenges, an efficient and cost-effective vaccination programme remains paramount. Similarly, we need to keep a tight eye on the quality and sustainability of grazing conditions on the farm. Poor grazing management results in a reduction in grazing capacity of the veld, which then necessitates the reduction of animal numbers and/or the provision of supplement feeding at a cost. Continuous poor grazing management may even lead to a permanent reduction in grazing capacity, if topsoil and nutrients are lost through erosion. Good grazing management, on the other hand, increases the carrying capacity of the veld, leading to an increased potential stocking density with animals feeding and producing on the most affordable feed resource, namely good veld. At the end of the day, good grazing management is not an option but a necessity. — Click to read Frits van Oudtshoorn’s in-depth article on sustainable land use grazing management strategies.

A WINNING BREED—GOING FROM STRENGTH TO STRENGTH

At Firth Red Brangus, we remain enthusiastic and committed to farming with this winning breed. Significant gains have been made over the past 2 years. We look forward to seeing our Firth Red Brangus herd grow from strength to strength.

A special word of thanks is extended to our embryo consultant, Dr Robert Treadwell at Embryo Plus—for his many years’ service to our cattle farming business at Firth Red Brangus (and Firth Wagyu).