The Blackstone Beef Project was established as a vehicle for us to further our beef farming interests from a producer perspective. The objective is to produce beef on a commercial basis across the beef producer chain. With the given resources, we select rigorously for a herd that performs optimally by producing:
- Large, early-maturing weaners for the feedlot market;
- Growthy steers we can get to about 450kg with minimal supplementation on the veldt to slaughter at below 24 months of age (essentially before wisseling);
- Aged stock with doability to quickly and easily get to slaughter condition after weaning their calves; and
- Longevity of both males and females, to produce into their teen years.
As an aside, albeit an important factor, we also strive to produce consistent, quality, commercially-orientated seed stock and genetics for commercial and stud breeders looking to achieve similar objectives.
From 2014, some specified bulls will be sold with an in-herd semen use interest (collection at the seller’s expense and the buyer’s convenience) and 50% semen sale rights retained.
Breeding and selection policy
Breeding and selection are the cornerstones of a successful operation. At Blackstone Beef, we take this very seriously, and are absolutely ruthless when it comes to culling poor performers. Selection is done based on animal performance as well as conformation and soundness, and for this purpose we utilise two strict and impartial services:
- S A Studbook – Registrations as well as Phase A, B and C performance recording. This is done through BenguFarm BEEF, by recording and analysing birth, 100-day, wean, 12-month and 18-month weights, as well as dam weights on each weaning.
- Falkirk Scientific Foundation – The cattle are ultrasound scanned for muscle, fat deposition and skin thickness. The Falkirk Index is used to objectively analyse our animals for superior genetics for enhanced retail meat value. The cattle are also phenotypically selected for structural soundness as well as disposition. This process happens at six-monthly intervals to ensure evaluation is not seasonally influenced.
We also use a modified Lasater principle in that we do not cull if cows don’t wean a calf due to circumstances beyond their control, such as lightning strikes, calves killed by predators, snake bites and tick-borne diseases.
We breed twice annually to spread the load between spring and autumn. Being situated close to the coast, rainfall is fairly evenly spread throughout the year, so there are no predefined wet and dry seasons per se. Both breeding periods begin with timed AI, followed by a strict 65 day breeding season. The breeding periods are May/ June and November/ December each year.
When we started breeding Beef Shorthorns in 2003, we were often asked why, out of all the breeds, we chose Shorthorns. The answer for us is fairly simple: we are in the business of beef, so start with a breed that is fit for purpose. That steered us towards the British breeds, as, in addition to producing quality beef, they are generally naturally fertile, easy calving, and importantly, easy to work with. Shorthorns, as a breed in South Africa, presented what we believed to be the greatest opportunity for us to shape a strong beef identity with all the original qualities that made Shorthorns great for generations in years gone by.
Other breed characteristics that are intrinsic to the Shorthorn identity are the availability of the polled gene, extremely strong maternal strengths including good milk, as well as longevity, early maturity, easy finishing, good disposition and virility. Finally, from a seed stock perspective, they also possess the undisputed ability to add hybrid vigour in cross-breeding programmes. Composite breeds developed from Shorthorns include the following popular breeds:
- Durham Reds, and
- Santa Gertrudis.
Our focus from the very first day has been on enhancing the commercial traits of the breed, primarily muscling, with an emphasis on the hindquarter and overall muscle expression, without detracting from their excellent capacity and volume, fertility and mothering ability.
Furthermore, an emphasis on producing the type of cattle that thrive even when conditions are sub-optimal has also become a quest. In this time of rising input costs we feel that animals that can fatten with what is on the farm are going to improve the profit per hectare of your operation.
The two separate herds additionally provide us with both the opportunity to work with cutting-edge genetics on the one hand, and to fine-tune traditional South African genetics on the other.
In order to remain at the cutting edge of developments in the Shorthorn breed, we, in addition to being members of the Shorthorn Breeder’s Society of South Africa, also subscribe to the American Shorthorn Association, the Beef Shorthorn Cattle Society UK and the Shorthorn Society of Australia, which includes “Shorthorn Profit”.
Duncraggan Beef Shorthorns
The Duncraggan Beef Shorthorn herd is a relatively young herd of registered Shorthorns. In establishing the herd we were able to
cherry-pick top genetics to form the foundation for the herd. These included genetics from:
Rigby’s Beef Shorthorns, the dispersal sale of the herd of Mr. John Rigby of Endwell Farm, Grahamstown in early 2003. This included the Broadhooks, Lady Comely, Wildeyes, Maud, Duchess and Festal Queen families.
Two tranches of females from the Carnarvon herd of Mr. Robin Halse of Carnarvon Estates, Sterkstroom, in 2004 and at the herd dispersal sale in 2009. The focus when acquiring these females was on traditional Beef Shorthorn lines, including the Augusta, Bessie, Duchess, Lancaster, Secret, Jealousy, Wildeyes and Rowena families.
Two tranches of females and a proven herd sire from the Tukulu herd of Mr. Ted Matthews in the Tsitsikamma. Our initial group of females was acquired in 2004 and at the Tukulu herd dispersal in 2007 we managed to acquire a large number of additional fine females, with the notable stand-out being Tukulu Ladysmaid 65. At the fall of the hammer she became the top-priced Shorthorn female ever to be sold at a public auction in South Africa. Families acquired included Ladysmaid, Duchess, Duchess Kirklevington, Swallowtail and Seraphina families.
From the Redlands herd of Mr. Gray Edwards based in Stutterheim, we picked up some top females, including the Gracious family from the Nonen herd, as well as some Rozetta females of the Firefly and Lancaster Maid families that were purchased from the late Steven Gawith.
The final numbers were repurchased when we disposed of our original Redstone Beef Shorthorn herd in 2007.
With this foundation, we have sourced commercially-orientated sires from Australia, Canada, Ireland and the USA, together with a few local bulls we found while scouring the countryside. These we have used heavily to great benefit.
In terms of pasture bulls, we have tried to retain a senior herd sire and then we try to stack genetics by using our top two-year old bulls every year to speed up genetic progression, and maintain a degree of evenness. We then present these bulls for sale at three years of age or older, as proven sires, where prospective buyers are able to see their progeny first hand.
The Primeston Stud is the oldest registered herd of Shorthorn cattle in South Africa. The foundation of the herd was laid in 1861 with the importation of a parcel of heifers and a bull by Messrs George King and Sons of Bedford and that were then exhibited at the Bedford Show in 1863. The herd was subsequently divided and was run as two separate entities on the farms Elizabeth Farm and Primeston.
An interesting point about the herd was that there was once an arrangement with ships visiting Algoa Bay and East London that Shorthorns were sent out from Britain in lactation, with the assumption that after a 3 month voyage they were becoming dry, and these were swopped with lactating cows from the Primeston herd for the onward journey to the colonies, including Australia and New Zealand.
In 1929, when Edward and Willie King’s father died, the two brothers conducted their farming and Shorthorn business as King Bros. going forward.
The polled beef herd was established in 1938 with the importation of a nucleus of females and a bull from Lewis W. Thieman’s, Thieman Polled Shorthorn (TPS) Stud from the USA as well as additional importations from Kansas, USA and Scotland in the UK.
When cattle showing was en vogue in the post war era, King Bros. were at the top of the game in terms of show-ring success, with one of the highlights being winning the Gold Cup in Kimberly. The stud was runner up to the Rand Easter Show Gold Cup on three occasions.
A commercial decision was made to part with the polled beef herd, and it was sold in its entirety to Steven Gawith, Rozetta Stud, KwaZulu-Natal in 1972, leaving the remaining traditional, dual purpose herd within the Primeston fold.
On expiry of certain terms and conditions of the sale agreement, a concerted effort was made to reincorporate these genetics back into the Primeston herd, and from 1995 onwards at least 20 cows and a bull from Steven Gawith’s sales were acquired to assist the switch from the then “Dual Purpose” Shorthorn category to the Beef Shorthorn category.
Given this history, when the opportunity arose to acquire the Primeston stud from Mr David Girdwood, still based at Primeston, we thought it would be a good complement to our current operation. The herd was established, widely known, and consisted of stable, traditional, South African genetics. The family lines we acquired include the Farewell, Marjory and Sarah Fulbeck families from the Primeston herd and we have added the Firefly, Lancaster Maid and Sunbeam families from Steven Gawith’s Rozetta herd. Over time the breeding has been consistent with sires used from the Wait-and-See, Rigby’s, Rozetta, Tukulu, Redstone and Nonen herds as well as from within the Primeston herd.
The herd is traditional to type with very early maturing, stocky animals. Bulls show overt masculinity early, while the females have good width across the back and hips. We believe there is a place for traditional South African genetics that have stood the test of time, and we will endeavour to retain this unique identity that has ensured the herd success over all these years.
To this day, the KBS (King Bros. Shorthorns) herd designation mark lives on at Primeston Stud, and we will ensure it remains successful under the Blackstone Beef umbrella.