ASK your average cattleman about Bonsmara and they usually comment on their oddly extended snout, or the double-muscle roll on the neck of a bull, but talk to anyone who has eaten a well-marbled steak from the rump of one of these South African imports and the praise flows forth.
“People thought I was mad but I used to put my unmarketable bulls in the freezer,” Port Macquarie rural agent Tas Morton said.
He took a punt on the breed 15 years ago, importing embryos from South Africa. He successfully sold all his cattle and, at the same time, convinced his dinner guests about the breed’s eating qualities.
Scientifically bred from five-eighths Afrikaner and three-eighths Hereford/Shorthorn-cross, the tick resistant Bonsmara thrives in a subtropical climate, grazing between bladey grass in the blazing sun when other breeds head for the shade of a tree.
Their colouration fails to attract the swarms of buffalo fly, unlike black breeds, and their long snout helps regulate temperature in climates where there is more warmth than cold.
“Breeders forgot all about the Afrikan cattle when they worked out their crosses”, said Bonsmara stud producer Ken Morgan, Yarras, in the Hastings Valley, who imported embryos in the late 1990s.
Mr Morgan’s neighbour, Andy Jung, uses a bull over his herd of mixed breeders and has found favour with buyers who comment favourably on weight for age.
“They’re easy calving, easy doing and hit the ground running. And they produce the best steak I’ve eaten in my life.”
Another Hastings Valley breeder, Peter Grelck, “Carnelian Park”, Pipeclay, is impressed with the low birth weight and fast growth of his Bonsmara calves.
“Australia has so many good breeds but for ease of calving, quick growth, temperament and tick resistance, I think the Bonsmara are very good,” he said.
“On marginal country they don’t drop away. Last winter was tough in our valley and my 32 breeders and calves did alright with no supplementary feeding.”
Gloucester cattle man Bruce Wilson, “Stockyards”, said he bought four bulls to cover his 150 Brahman-cross breeders on 275h hectares of steep country and sold his first line of weaners by Bonsmara bulls at a recent Tamworth store sale, making $1125 for the steers and $1025 for the heifers.
“I would recommend the breed. They have given my calves a nice rump and a broader back. They are compact calves and they grow fast.”
Sanga brings African vigour
Commercial cattleman Rob Warby, Glenmorgan, Queensland, put Bonsmara over his F2 Shorthorn/ Brahman-cross breeders and said there was a gain in yield without losing fertility.
“The Sanga influence definitely brings fertility in harsher conditions,” he said.
“We would use the Bonsmara again. For us it’s about keeping the balance of British, Brahman and African genetics. It’s an ongoing criss-cross.”
The breed is similar to the Australian Belmont Red, developed by CSIRO, but Mr Warby said Bonsmara was more structurally correct.
The fact the breed is well horned can be a turn-off for some, but Yarras breeder Ken Morgan says sensible cauterisation, in conjunction with a pain deadening needle on pre-weaned calves solves the problem.