We paid a visit to Daan Loock and his team at the Secunda Sunfuels Operation cattle farm (herd) in June 2020, just next to the Sasol factory in Secunda. Daan and his team reports on a number of nature and ecological projects in and around the Sasol factory. Daan has a great passion for cattle farming but is probably more known for his work on the Serval research project around the Sasol factory.
Read more about this amazing research on the Serval cat here:
Production is all about data!
Back to the cattle story...Daan and his team has been operating this herd of cattle for about 20 years now. Their approach has been an ongoing quest for optimising production efficiency. The land is approximately 3000 hectares and the herd is about 500-600 cows. They farm only with Bovelder cattle and has improved many statistics over the years most notably the calving rate that is now consistently above 94%. Most experienced cattle farmers struggle to get this over 85%.
Even more interesting is the analysis of weight! Upon calving, they weigh the calve and cow and again at weaning date. These ratio's (indexes) are used to establish an average for the herd and "under performers" are moved to a different group and subsequently sold or slaughtered.
The idea is to continuously improve these indexes and hopefully in doing so improve the total herd production on an ongoing basis.
Challenges are similar to so many other farm owner: Managing the veld to ensure no overgrazing, managing the overheads of the operation in order to be profitable and other similar issues you will find on any other farm.
The million dollar question
Is this herd operating at maximum production? Or are there changes that can still be made to improve production?
Daan and I discussed this issue at length on the day and a few times over the telephone (and Zoom). The answer lies directly in our CattleProduction.org.za objective: To measure production on MANY farms, first at a total level (total herd production). Once this is done for many farms one will certainly be able to compare results and subsequent analysis between farms on a more detail level. The criteria that influences production, and hence makes one farmer more efficient than the other can only be found in the detail.
It is almost impossible for one farmer to find the answer to these questions on his/her own. There are just too many variables that you have to experiment with for many years. Even after decades, it will still be hard to establish whether you are at maximum production, as even though you might be doing many things right, who says you are not making assumptions along the lines that can and should still be challenged.
Dr. André Mentz even trialed, for about 2 years, the idea to wean calves at 13 months on his farm, as supposed to the traditional 6-7 months. This proved to greatly increase cow conception as the cows were under much less stress. The total production per year (weighing the total herd) actually compared very well with the previous years of weaning at 6-7 months. One example that challenged the status quo. Which is the better approach? More statistics is needed!
This brings me to my final point after spending a cold winters morning with Daan and his team: Benchmarking! (see the Wikipedia definition here)
Benchmarking is now a well known term in the manufacturing world. But up until the 80's it was every man for himself (in the manufacturing world that is). Subsequently the Global Benchmarking Network was formed (click here). In basic terms benchmarking is simply a process of comparing data in order to improve a production process. If someone out there makes the same widget as you, why re-invent the wheel, learn from them and apply their successes in your own factory.
CattleProduction.org.za is nothing more than a vehicle for benchmarking in the extensive, commercial, cattle production world. We hope to literally help every farmer out there to measure, and IMPROVE, production by sharing and analysing production data from many farms (and farmers).
You supply the data, we compare it with others, analyse the details, and together we all improve!