Braunvieh cattle crossed with Brahman produce a cross-bred animal that is very popular among extensive dairy farmers in Namibia.
Dairy farmers are suffering all around the world amid low producer prices and high production costs. In Namibia, with its difficult farming conditions, you can expect it to be even tougher, but this country’s handful of extensive dairy farmers rely heavily on a dairy cow bloodline in which the Brahman plays a vital role.
Japie Engelbrecht, chairman of Namibia’s Dairy Producers Association, relates how they manage to make a living. He produces milk successfully in extremely extensive conditions, cross-breeding with various cattle breeds.
Japie and his wife Christa farm along with their sons, Koos and Japie Jnr in a trust on farms with sandy soil and sweetveld in the Gobabis district. The enterprises consist of extensive dairy production with cross-breed cattle (Holstein, Brahman, Braunvieh and Dairy Swiss), and ox and weaner production with Beefmaster and Santa Gertrudis.
Initially he was an intensive farmer, milking Holsteins. Later when he decided to change to extensive production due to the tough conditions and high costs of intensive production, he covered the Holsteins with Brahman bulls to achieve balanced dairy and meat production.
“A cow that produces too much milk can’t walk 3km with large udders to graze in the veld to get roughage, and if the beef characteristics are too dominant, then her lactation is too short, she produces too little milk and she gets too fat, because the concentrates that she gets in the kraal are converted into fat and not milk,” he says.
SECOND BLOODLINE BRED
He also bred a second bloodline by cross-breeding Dairy Swiss cows with Brahman bulls. In turn, he covers these cross-breed cows with a Braunvieh bull to improve the milk and then with a Brahman bull to improve the meat quality. The Holstein-Brahman bloodline’s female animals are also alternately covered by Braunvieh and Brahman bulls.
The result is an exceptionally hardy cow that delivers a good quantity of milk and weans calves of 220kg at the age of 10 months. This is a little lighter than the beef farmers’ weaners that wean at eight months weighing 225 to 230kg. “It is important that we don’t rely solely on milk production,” says Japie.
The cows graze on the veld at night and during the day they will mostly rest and ruminate. In the morning they go to the kraal. They are then milked – he milks only once a day – and then stay in the kraal with the calves until the afternoon, at which time they then return to the veld without the calves. This ensures that the calves get milk the entire day and grow strong.
“The calves accompany the cows to the milking stall so that the cows release and can be milked. One of the teats is the calf’s and it drinks while its mother is milked by a milking machine,” he says. While the cows are in the veld, the calves graze in another camp. The calves remain with their mothers until they are 10 months old, at which time they are weaned.
Johan Lůck, also of Gobabis, was Namib Dairies’ Extensive Dairy Producer of the year in 2016. He farms on the family farm, Jonkershoek. Johan’s father, Otto, first farmed with Shorthorns x Red Polls and milked them to sell cream.
Johan joined him in the farming enterprise in 1980 and took over in 1995. Later they switched to Simmentaler x Afrikaners, which produced more milk, but over time started cross-breeding Braunviehs with Brahmans, which he now still farms.
“It is a cow that produces quite a lot of milk, is very hardy and has good meat characteristics. The Brahman provides the hardiness and the Braunvieh contributes the milk traits,” says Johan. He milks 80 to 100 cows once a day. In winter, the stall average is 5 – 6 litres per cow, and in the summer 10 – 12 litres.
The decrease in winter is due to the poorer grazing on the veld which consists mostly of bushman grass and wire grass. Early in summer, if it rains well, there are also annual grasses that provide good grazing.
GRAZE AT NIGHT IN THE VELD
After they have been milked, the cows return by to the veld, where they graze throughout the night, In the morning, they go back to the kraal. When the cows go to the veld in the afternoons, the calves are cordoned off so that they don’t drink the cows dry overnight.
The calves are herded off to graze in another camp far away from the cows, so that they don’t try and break through the fencing.
Johan keeps all the heifers that are born. Once they are yearlings he selects the best as replacement heifers for the old cows. The heifers that he doesn’t keep are auctioned at 18 months. The bull calves are sold as bullocks at 18 to 24 months once they reach about 300kg.
Johan also has a herd of Brahman x Braunvieh cows that he keeps to one side to produce weaners. He calls it the free drinking herd. They are not milked, but stay with their calves on the veld where they only get a salt-phosphate lick.
He keeps the heifers until they weigh about 300kg and have been covered already. They are in demand by other farmers because they have potential for good milk production, have a mild temperament and are easily managed.
Even farmers who don’t do milking will buy these heifers, as they produce heavy weaners because of their plentiful milk.
The farmer named as Namibia’s Best Extensive Dairy Farmer for 2015, Boeta Horn of Gobabis, combines the production of fresh milk and the growing out of oxen on the veld in his farming enterprise, which operates in harsh, dry conditions.
His dairy herd was originally Friesland cattle, but he hasn’t milked with pure bred cows for the last 10 years. He covered those Friesland cows with Braunvieh bulls and the resulting cross-breeds were then mated with Brahman bulls. Nowadays he milks Braunvieh-Brahman cross-breed cows, that have quite a lot of milk.
The heifers that he selects to join the dairy herd are mated with a Sussex bull to produce large oxen. The surplus heifers are sold on auction. The second time that the first-calf cows come into heat, he mates them with a Brahman bull.
This cross-breed, a medium-framed animal, is the ideal cross-breed he is looking for. “It is not necessarily the best dairy cow for all conditions, but this cross-breed cow is the most suitable for us. The Brahman gives the hardiness and adaptability to the female animals, and the Braunvieh provides good meat and milking characteristics,” says Boeta.
“A large cow doesn’t fare well here, as her maintenance needs are too high for the sparse grazing.” He only milks once a day. The cows graze at night and return in the morning to the kraal where they get milked. There they stay until the afternoon when they are put out to graze again.
Although the area is normally dry, he has good sweetveld with mainly bushman grass (Stipagrostis uniplumis) and finger grass (Digitaria eriantha). Shrubs also provide good grazing for the cattle. While the grazing is good, Boeta’s daily milk yield is an average of 15 litres per cow.
He only milks three teats; the milk from the fourth is for her calf to ensure fat weaners. “The dairy industry has looked after us throughout the years,” says Boeta.
Some of the bull calves are raised as oxen, and the rest are auctioned after weaning at about 200kg. The oxen roam freely on the veld, where they receive a commercial lick that has been specifically developed for shrub utilisation.
Boeta sells all his oxen at auction when they are five years old. “An ox doesn’t stop growing. I have sold oxen that weighed 960kg,” he says.
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