Beef farmers in Botswana are hoping Brexit, no matter what the outcome is, will provide new opportunities to export more beef into the UK and Europe. With this in mind, the African farmers are already producing beef suitable for export meeting all the regulations required to do so.
Situated just outside Francistown in eastern Botswana, is the Wayside Brahman Stud run by three generations of the Munger family. This well-known family has been breeding both the red and grey Brahman cattle for over 30 years, gaining a good reputation for quality stud and commercial stock.
In fact, Wayside Brahmans hosts an on-farm auction of their pedigree cattle every year with animals selling to new farms, both locally and internationally. Started by Keith Munger, the farm is now run by his son, Rowland and grandson, Rowly, who focus heavily on breeding the best cattle they can from the best available genetics. The farm has 100 red Brahman cows and another 100 grey Brahman cows in the stud. It also runs up to 500 commercial cows and another 1000 finishing cattle in feedlots.
Farming in Botswana is not without its limitations, though. Nine dams across the Mungers’ farm collect water which is then pumped to water troughs around the fields and to the farmhouses via solar-powered pumping stations. Rowland outlined why the farm, which also boasts a game farm, holiday chalets and an 18-hole golf course, chose the Brahman breed:
“After years of experimenting with many other breeds, we found the Brahman was the only breed that could handle the harsh Botswana conditions.
“Brahmans are hardy, adaptable, fertile, virile, heat tolerant, disease resistant and require low levels of maintenance. So they can take everything our climate and farm can throw at them. We produce pedigree Brahman cattle for stud and also commercial cattle for the meat markets. Our goal is to produce meat for export as this attracts a higher premium for us.”
The Mungers use AI to increase the genetic potential of their breeding herd and bulls for sale with semen from South Africa and America as well as from their own genetics. The main goal is to sell around 40 bulls from the stud farm each year – 20 of each colour, plus females.
At the most recent pedigree auction at the farm in February, one of their grey bulls, the 3½-year-old Wayside Mr Energy, sold for 180,000 Botswana Pula (£12,649) to a buyer in South Africa and a red bull, the seven-year-old Wayside Mr Express, sold for P120,000 (£8,433) to a farm in Zimbabwe.
In total, the farm extends to 13,000 ha, of which 10,000 ha are used for cattle and the remainder for game, although there is opportunity to alter these areas if required.
While the pedigree side of the business is quite lucrative, the commercial beef production is also in high demand. Both the pedigree cattle and the commercial stock are fed the same ration consisting of maize bran, roughage such as hay, concentrates and bush vegetation that is finely chopped and extremely beneficial to the animals.
“We cross the Brahman with Simmental or Charolais in the commercial herd,” said Rowland. “This gives us an excellent animal for the feedlots and to supply the beef market.
“The export market demands a 200 to300kg carcase, so we aim for a finished animal weighing around 385kg to 576kg working on the assumption of a 52% killing out rate,” he said.
To put this into perspective, cattle killed for the local beef market are worth around 30 Pula per kg (£2.11). If suitable for export, then it attracts another 28p per kg. Store cattle destined for the feedlots would sell for on average 15 Pula (£1.05) per kg liveweight.
In order to qualify for the export premium, the beef must adhere to European regulations.
“It is worth producing beef to export and we in Botswana would like to export more beef at the higher price,” said Rowland.
“But, there are strict guidelines that we must stick to in order to ensure the beef passes the export requirements.
“Carcase weight is very important but also traceability and disease control programmes need to meet the standards. One of the most important requirements is that the cattle are fed on GM-free feed and that can pose a problem.
“Most of the feed in Botswana is imported from South Africa where the use of GM crops is popular. Our records need to be transparent and show we do not use any GM material in the beef production,” said Rowland.
Rowland and his team vaccinate the cattle each year against anthrax, botulism, blackleg and lumpy skin diseases. Foot-and-mouth disease is another problem in Botswana and this is carried around by buffalo and can easily get into a cattle herd.
“While there is no vaccination for foot-and-mouth disease, we are based in a green export zone which means we are good to export,” said Rowland.
“It would be beneficial for us, no matter what the outcome of Brexit is, if we could export more beef into the UK and Europe.
“We meet all the export regulations, so it really is up to the Botswana Meat Commission to be more proactive in getting us into more export markets. BMC is state-owned and levy-funded but there have been calls in the past to privatise it,” he added.
“Perhaps if the current president of Botswana, who has been in the job less than two years, can survive the next election he can sort this out for us. So far, he has been showing a great interest in agriculture and he knows exactly how vital the sector is to the economy of Botswana,” he said.