The stud was started 35 years ago, when Lawrence and Derek Ralfe bought a small Bonsmara herd from Rob Taylor in the Underberg district. The stud first started as the Kenriet Bonsmara stud in the Kokstad district and was later changed to Up George Bonsmaras when the farm Up George was bought from the original Rumevite Farms in the Elandslaagte area. The cattle then moved to Up George Farm in 1988. A group of well adapted, highly fertile and high producing Simmentaler/Afrikaner type cows were bought from the Rumevite Farms research institute and upgraded to basics which became the foundation of the Up George Bonsmara herd. Bulls from the Arcadia herd of Arthur De Villiers were bought to upgrade the basic females. Two herd sires which had a considerable impact were AGN-81 and AG92-97.
Location: Up George Farm, Elandslaagte KZN
Size: 2660 ha
Carrying capacity: 2.5 to 3 Ha / LSU
Height above sea-level: 1400 to 1600m
Rainfall: 900 mm/ year
Summer rainfall of an average of 900 mm per year, with dry and cold winter months. Summer temperatures can get up to the upper 30’s, but they range between 25° and 35°. The winters can be harsh for this region, with temperatures sometimes in the minus with an average of 10 to 20° for midday temperatures. We do have intermittent frosts, with snowfalls on the high lying areas every 2 or 3 years.
The Bonsmara has been scientifically bred and strictly selected for economical production in extensive cattle grazing areas in SA. The Bonsmara system is unique, while its strict implementation by competent and dedicated staff contributes greatly to the position of the breed in the beef industry. Bonsmara selection strives for accelerated reproduction, with specific reference to ICP and age at first calving. In both cases the Bonsmara performs better than the average of the national registered herd in SA. The Bonsmara is the most prominent of South African beef cattle breeds and has more than 130 000 registered animals on record. Economically based traits, along with its affordability, make the Bonsmara a popular choice amongst stud and commercial breeders alike. A contributing factor is also that there is a large gene pool of genetic material, making it easier and more exciting in the process of striving for ultimate quality and efficiency. The Bonsmara has; excellent adaptability on the veld and in all areas of SA. Good mothering ability. Superior fertility maintained by strict selection standards. High weaning weights due to good milk production and calf growth. Easy calving. Superior growth under intensive and extensive conditions. Good carcass that rounds off well. Calm temperament and easy to handle.
SIZE OF UP GEORGE BONSMARA HERD
Approximately 600 females are mated per year at Up George. 450 stud cows and 150 commercial cows. We keep the stud herd to a manageable 450 breeding cows. We are very much hands on, and do not delegate any of the practical and physical work of applying the strict vaccination and health programme, as well as the day to day stud management and the all-important herd selections. The stud is based on an inherit passion for cattle, therefore it is a natural process to want to work the cattle ourselves. As the Lasater saying goes, “The eye of the master fattens” which is our basic motto.
We have -+400 to 420 stud calves per year, depending on the season, where 150 of these weaner bull calves which have been selected, do an extensive D Phase test on rye grass, hay and energy lick from June until early October. The young bulls who pass this test and visual selection pressures will then go onto natural veld conditions in harsh, hilly terrain to toughen up before being prepared for the Production sale, 16 months later. We have an annual Production Sale each year on the first Friday of July with 70 bulls and about 60 females. The young weaner replacement heifers go directly onto the veld once selected until they are mated as 2 year olds, and then they join the main herd.
Fertility and milk are the most important economic aspects. The environment has a major influence on reproduction and milk production, so it is of utmost importance to select females who have adapted well to the conditions on the farm. Females are not pampered in any way and run only on the veld with a lick in accordance to the season. Winter, summer and Autumn licks. In this way it allows for only the well adapted, hardier female who produces a good weaner calf and who reconceives with no extra added nutrition, to be selected into the herd.
This is a very important factor in our breeding scheme in producing bulls for the weaner market. Notwithstanding the cost of the weaner calf, feed expenses make up the biggest portion of a feedlot’s cost. FCR, therefore is an extremely important trait when it comes to the profitability of a feedlot and is becoming more important due to the ever-increasing costs of feed. Besides reproduction, FCR has the highest correlation with profit. So when selecting herd sires to produce breeding bulls for the market, this also becomes an important factor to consider.
We are in a severe tick-infested area, and as a result have virulent Redwater,( both Asiatic and African,) as well as Gallsickness/Anaplasmosis. The tick challenge is severe from both Redwater Blue ticks (Rhicephalus microplus – Asian Blue Tick, and Rhicephalus decoloratus – African Blue Tick) which are also important vectors in transmitting Gallsickness/ Anaplasmosis. Due to the ongoing game migration in the area, we are starting to pick up a few cases of Heartwater.
The Bonsmara is a breed par excellence in any beef production system and it is compulsory to performance test. An EBV (estimated breeding value) is a numerical value that predicts the genetic value of that specific trait. (It is a prediction) The animal’s own performance, pedigree and progeny performance, as well as the correlations between traits, are all used to calculate that EBV. So yes, performance testing can be a useful tool and guideline for selection, which takes a look into the animal’s ancestors giving an indication of the probability of what the bull or cow might breed and to reduce the risk slightly. You need to know the genetic background of the bull in depth as well as the performance of most traits, to go forward in the success of any cattle breeding operation. However, it is also the visual and structural appraisal which plays the most important role when it comes down to the final selection.
ANNUAL PRODUCTION SALE
We have an annual Production sale each year on the first Friday of July which is held on the farm Up George. Our goal in this Bonsmara cattle breeding journey, is to produce and supply to the stud and commercial market, uniform bulls of utmost quality, capacity, length, width, broad over the shoulder, a good balance of muscling and easy fleshing and not too high on the leg. The bull must have a decent masculine head, with a broad muzzle, as this trait follows through to good conformation. These are the type of Bonsmaras which are well adapted to our harsh extensive conditions and in most conditions in SA. We strive for a broad selection of top preforming, visually appraised, tough hardy bulls, which will suit and adapt to the needs of the buyers. A cattle farmer usually knows what he wants to improve in his herd, whether its milk, heavier weaners, fertility, so we strive to produce bulls with the highest level of these specific selected traits as well as being of the utmost importance to us, the bull must have the highest quality visual traits and conformation. Visual appearance to us is the most important factor in cattle selection, and then follows the importance of sound EBV’s, with milk, fertility and heavy weaning weights at the top of the pile! Uniformity plays and key role in striving for top class animals. We strive to use the best Bonsmara bulls possible each year all the same type phenotypically, concentrating on capacity, length, width, broad over the shoulder, a good balance of muscling and easy fleshing and not too high on the leg. The bull must have a decent masculine head, with a broad muzzle, as this trait follows through to good conformation. The weight of the animal must come from the width and length as opposed to height. If you keep infusing these traits into your herd each year, one does expect uniformity to prevail at some point, and one would become more confident as to how the bulls you produce each year will breed at the end of the chain when they come up for auction on the Production sale each year. Buyer’s satisfaction is extremely important to us and we would like to be proud of each and every animal which comes up on auction.