One of Botswana’s leading Brahman breeders has set up his own AI (artificial insemination) and embryo station in Gaborone after spending time in Canada. He selects for cattle that excel and thrive in Africa’s punishing climate.
The mortality rate in Africa’s herds is too high and the production efficiency is too low, but these are problems that can be overcome with better cattle, appropriate technology, and sound training in management methods.
Monty Chiepe (55) of Gaborone, former chairman of Botswana’s Beef Producers’ Association and designated chairman of the country’s Brahman Breeders’ Society, feels he can play a role in improving the quality of farming on the continent through interactive involvement with training and the use of genetic material suited to local conditions.
He started farming commercially with Brahmans in 1994, but has farmed with pure-bred white Brahmans since 1996. He built an AI and embryo station in Gaborone.
Monty grew up in a communal environment. His father, Lekoko Chiepe, passed away in 1968 when Monty was only eight years old. Thereafter he was raised by his step-father, Augustine Balebetse. His grandfather, Selogwe Dikeme Pilane, who farmed with commercial Afrikaner cattle, kept a watchful eye over the youngster’s education.
After high school, he sent him to the Haileybury School of Mines, the Cambrian College of Applied Arts and Technology, and the University of New Brunswick in Canada where he qualified as a geologist and geological engineering technologist.
After he completed his studies in 1985, Monty worked as an exploration engineer for the Botswanan government and the private sector. In 1989, he started his own consulting geo-sciences and engineering company which he managed for 17 years.
HIS ROOTS AS A BRAHMAN FARMER
Before Monty started farming, he visited many Brahman breeders over a period of nine years to study their stud farms. He also went to see how American breeders operated, including the renowned J.D. Hudgins stud farm in Texas, which played a leading role in the breeding of the American Brahman.
In 1994, he started farming on three farms totalling 19 000 ha in the Central and Kgalagadi districts of Botswana. In Botswana, farmers don’t have direct property ownership, but lease the land from the government for periods of 25, 50, or 99 years at favourable, fluctuating rates.
All three farms are in Botswana’s green belt where foot-and-mouth disease doesn’t occur. This disease does occur in some parts of the country, but the government has succeeded in keeping this green belt disease-free. These areas thus meet the requirements for the export of beef to the European Union.
Monty initially expanded his herd by keeping his own calves. Since 1996 he has purchased roughly 175 registered Brahman cows and heifers from leading Brahman breeders in South Africa, and also procured top-quality semen and embryos from South Africa and the United States.
His core herd comes from, among others, the South African breeders, Sydney Hunt (Hunt Stud), Bob Tecklenburg (Hanging Stone), Burnie Staal (Bos Blanco), Wayne Porter (Tarka), Le Roux Steenkamp (Androux), Llewellyn Labuschagne (R10) and Louis Meyer (Loriza).
He also bought breeding material from the American stud farms, J.K. Hudgins and V8 Ranch, and recently also acquired semen that has been sexed by Sexing Technologies.
Over the years, Monty has bred his Brahmans in tough semi-desert conditions, as he knows what suits his breeding program. “These days I farm full time and have restructured my enterprise for high performance and the development of top-quality breeding material for Africa,” says Monty, speaking from his embryo station, Desert Ranch Reproduction Management Centre (DRMC), on the outskirts of the capital, Gaborone.
He built the centre in 2013 on a smallholding as it didn’t need much space. The facilities include everything needed for artificial insemination and embryo transfer.
He’s currently working closely with Botswana’s Department of Agriculture to certify and register his centre for the export of semen and embryos. The centre is located close to an international airport and main routes to neighbouring countries.
Monty uses his top 5% cows for embryo flushing from the farms to the centre and implants the superior breeding material in the form of embryos in commercial recipient cows of various breeds. He started with 26 donor cows. In the future, this figure will be determined by the demand for the breeding material.
AFRICA IS THE GOAL
Monty says he has a good marketing plan and travels a lot throughout Africa, which ultimately will be his most important market for embryos. “I continually research opportunities in many countries.
This continent has an emerging market with many opportunities. Socio-economic conditions are tougher than in countries with an established economy and this presents unique problems. African farmers must take pains to improve their productivity,” he says. He would like to work with breeder associations to achieve this goal.
He doesn’t provide breeding material to Africa without carefully considering all the factors. “A project such as this demands many years of preparation and great determination. Attention to the smallest details is critical, because without it, the project will never succeed.
I began my preparations way back in 2004 with Embryo Plus from Brits in South Africa, and we are still working hard on it.” Good results have already been achieved and they currently obtain an average of 9,6 embryos per flushing and a conception rate of 63%.
Monty initially had a team of workers who harvested natural grasses under contract on other farms for the cattle at the embryo station. However, the participating farms proved to be too small to supply the grass sustainably and he had to import bales of grass.
Botswana’s harsh climate with its high temperatures and low rainfall demands smart farming. So Monty developed a good feed flow program with sufficient nutrients, whereby he plants feed crops and supplements them with veld grasses and affordable imported grasses from reliable sources.
NO BULLS AT THE CENTRE
No bulls are kept at the centre and he only does AI with imported semen. He also makes use of semen from the best of his self-bred bulls. “It is a dynamic genetic project and I look forward to the next generation of bulls and donor cows from my breeding program,” he tells us excitedly. The best bull calves will then be selected for phase C or phase D performance tests and the very best will be kept for semen collection, AI and export.
Monty is the lead breeder in the project. One of the goals is to breed offspring which will produce from the veld effectively and at the same time have improved carcass characteristics. Breedplan will play a key role in ensuring genetic advancement.
He is working closely with the head of Breedplan in Southern Africa, Dr Michael Bradfield, to lay the proper foundation for selection, breeding and farming methods. Eventually the genetic program will comply fully with Breedplan’s requirements and he will also do DNA testing.
Another aim is to register the offspring with both the South African and the American Brahman Breeders’ Association. He also participates in the International Brahman Federation’s congresses and meetings to keep up with the newest developments in the Brahman world and to have a say in the further development of the breed.
In order to achieve all his goals and ideals it is important to breed cattle that are easy to farm with, have a medium frame, and thrive in Africa’s conditions, while at the same time ensuring that the cattle comply with international standards. This is why he keeps these requirements in mind when he selects cattle for AI and embryo transfer and only uses new breeding material from proven breeders.
Only the best breeding material will fix Africa’s cattle industry and ensure its future.
Q & A with Monty Chiepe
What was your best farming decision?
To farm with Brahman; the breed is perfect for African conditions.
What is the best advice you have ever received?
The best farming advice doesn’t happen in a flash – it comes in regular small bursts of guidance and support. I learnt the most from my uncle Letsebe Pilane and my grandfather Selogwe Dikeme Pilane. Both have passed away. My grandfather farmed with commercial Afrikaner cattle. My uncle worked for him and I discovered the Brahman breed through him.
What is the biggest farming problem in Botswana?
As far as cattle farming goes, Botswana has the same problems as many other African countries: trying to change the traditional methods of cattle farming, making the cattle industry more professional and acquiring large, agriculturally friendly investments for the country.
What are the greatest opportunities?
The growing population and middle class in Africa, the increasing demand for food and converting the continent’s cattle populations into viable assets.
What technology do you use the most on the farm?
We have developed the Desert Ranch Production System in which various farms play various roles including production, research and development, customer support, and reproduction. For instance, we do artificial insemination and embryo transfer and use the Cattle Watch satellite system which gathers data about cattle with the aid of collars and satellites. We have involved Breedplan to measure our cattle’s genetic progress.
Enquiries: Monty Chiepe, email: firstname.lastname@example.org.