What Boer Goats Tell Us
History of the Bonsmara Breed
The majority of breeds in the world have their origin in crossbreeding – the Bonsmara however, is the only breed that had its origin in scientific crossbreeding, based on traits of economic importance.
The Bonsmara breed was developed in South Africa where the need for a beef breed that would do well in the subtropical savannah regions had been identified in the 1930’s. The breed was named Bonsmara after the late Professor Bonsma, who conceived the scientific experiments that led to the development of the breed at the Mara Research Station. From the earliest crossbreeding results it became evident that the development of the Bonsmara should proceed on a 5/8 Afrikaner and 3/8 Exotic (Shorthorn/Hereford) breeding mixture – The Adaptability of the Afrikaner, the meat production of the Hereford and the milk production of the Shorthorn breeds were successfully combined. The breed, that today is the forerunner in the stud and commercial beef industries in South Africa, is a functional, productive, well-adapted breed – the Bonsmara.
Bonsmara SA was founded in 1964 and within 20 years has become the biggest of all beef and dual-purpose breeds in South Africa. Strict adherence to minimum breed standards based on functional efficiency and compulsory participation in the National Beef Cattle Performance Testing Scheme (man must measure!) for all animals has ensured that the Bonsmara is one of the most efficient producers of good quality beef off natural veld as well as feedlots.
Because of its adaptability in basically all environmental conditions, growth efficiency, beef and carcass characteristics, the breed has gained much ground and today proliferates throughout South Africa. Bonsmara can also be found in Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia, Mozambique, Uganda, Kenya, Nigeria and Zambia on the African continent, while the breed is also popular in Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, Brazil, Mexico, the USA (Texas), Canada and Australia.
A database of approximately one and a half million performance tested animals recorded since 1937 provides the Bonsmara breed with the largest beef cattle data set to calculate breeding values. The open upgrading system also ensures one of the largest beef cattle gene pools in the world.
The Bonsmara is a medium framed, smooth coated, heat and tick tolerant beef breed. It is uniform red-brown to light brown in color and has the typical frame of an efficient sub-tropical breed. A slightly sloping rump ensures that it is also an easy calver.
Over the years the Bonsmara has distinguised itself as an “easy care’ breed with the following positive attributes:
- Very well adapted to most climatic conditions; bushveld, savannah and sourveld environments.
- Very fertile with sort inter-calving periods.
- Early maturity.
- Low birth weights and therefore easy calving with high re-conception rates.
- Well developed udders with adequate milk to wean a strong calf.
- Good growth ability. Bonsmara bulls may thus be used to good effect in a crossbreeding program.
- Advantageous feed conversion ratio.
- Excellent carcass and meat qualities; its meat is of high quality – tender, tasty and succulent. In a crossbreeding program the Bonsmara improves the quality of the meat of the breed with which it is crossed, especially as regards tenderness.”
I think that you might appreciate being able to read an excerpt from the very informative book, “Livestock Production – A Global Approach” by Jan Bonsma in which he explains and discusses his “Man Must Measure” concept of livestock production. I hope you enjoy this information as much as I have and will see its relevance to the South African Boer Goat.
“Man Must Measure”
The Bonsmara is the only breed in the world that can boast a pictorial genealogy from the very start of the breeding work until the Bonsmara breed was established. It is also the only breed in the world where every mating was based on scientific data, where the concept Man Must Measure was always taken into consideration; nothing was based on guesswork or on worthless antiquated show standards. The scientific data used in the breeding work were based on climatological data and adaptability measured in terms of performance testing. The data included 14 body measurements taken quarterly and monthly weights and average daily gains were recorded.
The concept Man Must Measure included:
1. Measurement of adaptability based on all the available data on the foundation animals in terms of body temperature, respiration and pulse rate, tick count, hide thickness, hair count per square centimeter and the most composite measurement for adaptability, namely average daily gain (mass for age), fertility, milk production, low mortality and ultimately longevity. No heritable defects were tolerated, nor inferiority in function of any organ that results in lower resistance to stress or disease. No locus minoris resistentia was tolerated.
2. Measurement of growth by monthly mass determination.
3. Milk production was determined by measuring the calf’s growth and weaning mass and also by measuring the actual milk intake of the calf, by weighing it before and after suckling. That is how it was established that an average of 6 kg milk production a day over a 205-day lactation period is the optimum for a ranch cow.
4. Fertility was measured by keeping a recording sheet for every female kept in the herd and any cow that skipped two calves in eight years was slaughtered.
5. Body conformation was based on subjective evaluation by careful observation, but in the case of our experimental animals fourteen body measurements were taken on each animal from birth to maturity or until it was eliminated from the herd. The records and data taken from 4 and the handling and measuring of thousands of animals under 5 years enabled us to formulate the concept of judging livestock for functional efficiency.
6. Temperament was measured by doing tractability tests on free-grazing animals. This was done by approaching animals in the veld and determining how near a man could walk to the grazing animal before the animal would walk away. The behaviour of the animals in the measure pen where they were intimately handled gave a very good indication of an animal’s temperament.
7. Longevity was a measurement very much neglected in the past. Most commercial cattle producers used to cull their brood cows at the age of eight or ten years. In the breed creation work cows were kept in the herd as long as they could produce a good calf annually and did not lose too much condition (more than 20 per cent of their mass at the time of calving). The young cows often lost less than 10 per cent of their mass during the suckling period. If an animal could satisfy these standards of longevity she cannot have a locus minoris resistentia and must therefore be functionally efficient.”
(The above section is taken from “Livestock Production – A Global Approach” by Jan Bonsma.)
Finally I would like to share one final bit of wisdom from Dr. Bonsma. This is part of his discussion of judging an animal for functional efficiency.
“Judging For Functional Efficiency” – by Prof. Jan Bonsma, Head Dept. of Animal Productions, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, South Africa (an excerpt)
“At the moment of conception, the complete genetic potential of the animal is fixed. What the animal ultimately is depends on the interaction of genetics and the total environment. The genes of an animal determine how the endocrine glands (pituitary, thyroid and adrenal glands, the testes, and ovaries) will function.
The function of these endocrine glands in turn affect the morphology of the animal. If some of the endocrine glands function improperly, this hormone imbalance will be reflected in the morphology of the animal and its body conformation will be altered.
The pituitary secrets gonadatropins, which influence the sex glands – the testes and ovaries. The testes and ovaries in turn secrete hormones that influence the secondary sex characteristics of the animal. Thus, the alteration of any of the glands or hormone functions will be reflected in the morphology (body conformation) of the animal.
For example, the male sex hormones have a direct influence on the masculinity of the head. In the human this masculinity is expressed by a beard, receding of the hairline, and baldness; in the bull it is expressed by coarser hair on the head and neck, and a special pattern of hair on the neck, upper shank region, lower midrib region and on the lower thigh. Sex hormones also have a direct influence on the sound the animal makes. When an animal bellows, an experienced cattleman will tell you if it is a bull, steer, or a cow bellowing.
Since the male hormones cause an outward visual expression of masculinity, any imbalance or impairment of secretion of the hormones will cause the bull to lack the appearance of a normal male. The same is true for the female.
The male and female sex hormones have a direct bearing on total growth.
Bone growth is stopped when the cartilage sections of the bones (epiphysis) ossify or turn into bone. The time of ossification depends on the hormone balance. The secretion of the sex hormones – estrogen in the female, testosterone in the male – causes the bones to ossify, and thus stops overall growth. If ossification is delayed the animal continues to grow taller, hence the objection to very tall animals (excessive height indicates a lack of sex hormone, thus, excessive height may be an indicator of low fertility). An animal should be large lying down, but should not be large and long legged (indicative of sex hormone imbalance and low fertility) when standing.
The basis of the approach to judging livestock for functional efficiency is: a bull should look like a bull, a steer like a steer, and a cow like a cow. A bull should NOT look like a steer, and neither should a cow. If you have ever seen a 5-6 year old steer you will realize that a steer does not look like a bull at all.
IN CONCLUSION – It is my hope and wish that you can take the information presented in the article and use it to help formulate your Boer goat breeding program in such a way that your efforts will improve the breed over time and contribute to the growth and commercialization of the Boer goat breed around the world.