farmers, Sustainability
Leave a comment

Ting Braithwaite’s passion for sustainable farming

Words: Hein Eksteen | Photography: Michel Dei-Cont

En route to Ting Braithwaite’s Brahman stud on the farm Damview, newcomers to the area are struck by another fact: KZNians are tough.

Ting Braithwaite saw his first Brahman at the age of five and fell in love.

While newcomers don what amounts to Arctic survival gear, the locals sport spring outfits. To further stress the point: against the backdrop of snow on the Drakensberg Mountains hangs a hot air balloon in obviously very cold air – the higher the altitude, the colder it gets, non? And the passengers are doing this for fun, they say?

And to crown this toughness, a herd of majestic Brahman bulls nestle contently in a pasture alongside the dirt road – while firebreaks are being burnt not too far away.

If you need to form an impression of a Brahman farmer, Ting is a prime example: tall and tough-looking.

If you need to form an impression of a Brahman farmer, Ting is a prime example: tall and tough-looking.

But how is the name Ting related to tall and tough?
Ting: “My mom gave me the name when I was a couple of months old and it stuck. However, she never explained the why to me.”
Be that as it may.

Ting, together with his brother Angus, is the fourth generation to own Damview Farming and the Spioenkop Dam below the homestead plays an important part in the family’s history.
“Tony is our dad and his grandparents on his mother’s side owned the land before the dam was built. After it was built, they only had two small pieces of land left on either side of the dam and they moved to where we are now. My dad built the business up from there.”

We will discover more about the legacy of Tony’s passion, hard work and success later on.
Ting is responsible for the Brahman stud, while Angus oversees the crops – maize and soya. Their sister Pippa is responsible for the feedlot, abattoir and butchery.

Any Taurus cow cross-bred with a Brahman will produce strong cows with exceptional mothering abilities.

“Maize and soya do extremely well here. All due to our high rainfall and heat units.”
The love of the Brahman breed started with Ting’s grandfather and was passed on to Tony and eventually to him.

“I was a boy of around five years old when the breed caught my eye and I fell in love with them, too. Moreover,
this breed does very well here,” he explains. Although Brahmans do well anywhere, Ting’s main motivation is his lifelong love affair with the breed.

“Farm with what you love.”
Simple as that. According to Ting, the Brahman’s greatest benefit is its cross-breeding ability, as it complements other breeds. “We recently had our bull sale here on the farm. We offered 55 bulls and sold 45. Most of them go to cross-breeding programs with Hereford and Simmental and the like.”

The economy being what is, many commercial farmers decided to keep their older bulls for another year. And Ting will easily sell the 10 remaining bulls off the farm.
Ting runs 400 stud cows of which one-third is red and the rest grey. These two groups come from two different gene pools which were created about 80 years ago in the USA and were imported to South Africa 70 years ago.

“Maize and soya do extremely well here. All due to our high rainfall and heat units.”

Historically, the Reds were a lot taller and flatter animals. “Over the years we have managed to bring their size down and make them beefier. The cows are now more fertile and have much better mothering abilities. And as soon as you cross-breed Brahmans with a Taurus-type of cow [Angus, Hereford, Simmental and the like], that cow is very strong and capable.”

To novices, all Brahmans appear perfect. However, although all Brahmans are perfect, there are some more perfect than others (apology to George Orwell).
And this is what the apex perfect specimen should look like: “The bull must have good masculinity in its head – it must look like a bull. Middle of the road, not too tall and not too short. Looking at it from behind, the bull must have that characteristic width which must go right through from the back to the front of the shoulders. A deep body with good length. Good size testes are of utmost importance, of course. A nice clean sheath – not a long one that hangs in the grass and thorns. The bull must be good on its feet and able to walk – one that can climb mountains and walk in the desert.”

Firebreaks are burnt all over the Bergville area to protect pastures.

These chosen ones along with the lesser chosen ones mostly feed on natural grazing. That said, inferior pastures are planted with grazing to increase their carrying capacity. Producing that holy of the holies: free-range cattle.

Although Brahmans are tough, they are paradoxically not keen on cold weather.
“Therefore farmers need to be streetwise and move them to protected areas like windbreaks, trees and bushes during extremely cold spells.”

Other than being sensitive to inclement weather, surely farming with these gentle giants can’t pose any other challenges? Not so.
Market and price, the two adversaries faced by all farmers.
“I always say that Brahmans are like salt on a steak in your commercial herds. If you don’t have any salt on the steak, it doesn’t taste nice. The right amount and it tastes great. I mean to say that there is always room for a Brahman in commercial herds.”

Another big challenge is that many farmers want to start Brahman studs and therefore the market becomes flooded.
“The other thing is educating our emerging or new- generation farmers to buy quality bulls and not just anything equipped with a set of testes. These are things we are trying to sort out at the moment,” he says with a rueful smile.

Ting runs 400 stud cows of which one-third is red and the rest grey.

As a member of the KZN Brahman Club and a Breed Judge, Ting offers judging courses for these new- generation farmers – from young learners to adults.

The 10 unsold bulls mentioned earlier, will mostly be sold to these new-generation farmers, as many of them prefer to buy direct from the farmer.

“To sell bulls, the farmer needs to be honest, have integrity and not try and squeeze an extra buck out of a customer. This kind of farming is a lifelong enterprise and you need to treat your buyers well otherwise they will not come back to buy from you again.”

According to Ting, the most important benefit of having a stud is the record-keeping to help the farmer to check his herd for many generations into the past.
“Added to this, we have a computer system linked to the Australians from which you can pick up any data you need – like how many calves a specific cow produced. For me, the best part is the breeding. Meaning, which bull and cow I am going to use next year.”

The Brahman’s hump is filled with marbling to provide energy when needed, while the dewlap serves as a cooling mechanism for the animal. The perfect Brahman bull must not be too tall, have a broad and long body and obviously be endowed with the right size equipment.

To make these intricate decisions, Ting employs different tools. These include the animals’ pedigree and what they look like.

“When I want to select a bull either for artificial insemination or to buy, the bull must catch my eye. So, a bull that I like and one that the market wants to buy. The mother line is also of huge importance – how his mother and her mother produced. On top of that their EBV, or Estimated Breeding Values: how much milk the cow should have and what her calf’s birth weight is going to be. You use those as guidelines to make an informed decision.”

“As soon as you cross- breed Brahmans with a Taurus-type of cow [Angus, Hereford, Simmental and the like], that cow is very strong and capable.”

Cows breed for about 10 to twelve years on average. Ting, however, has cows aged 19 and 20 that are still breeding well.

“I have a policy: if she doesn’t conceive this time, I will give her one more chance. If she doesn’t conceive the next time, she is off to Pippa’s feedlot. Since applying that rule, our cows’ general fertility has definitely improved.” By the way, for all those who have wondered what the purpose of the hump is. That very characteristic feature contains marbling, which is very rich fat mixed with muscle. This is the animal’s reserve energy reservoir during lean times, or whenever there is strenuous work to be done.

The dewlap, those folds running down along the throat, apparently helps with cooling the animal, as the Brahman’s skin is much thicker than other breeds – Brahmans originated in hot areas, after all.

Brahmans come from two genetic pools: red and grey.

Taking a walk on Damview, visitors are introduced to yet another wonderful surprise. Rather than being mindlessly plugged into their cell phones – as is the wont of most youngsters (and adults) worldwide – Ting’s three kids are grooming ginormous Brahmans in a set of stables. The 5 Year Lifetime Quality reason for this is simple: Ting selects his show animals at a young age and they need to be trained to behave and present themselves properly at the various shows where they will compete in the future. And this is where Tatum (11), Olivia (9) and Huntley (9) come into play. Tatum takes part in the Junior Section, while Olivia and Huntley compete in the Junior-Junior Section of the KZN Youth Shows. This ‘play’ actually seems like hard work, but the kids are happy and filled with energy, looking forward to their next event.

This family’s passion for the Brahmans started with Tony decades ago, was passed on to Ting and now inspires these young Brahman breeders of the future.
Cheers to Tony, for he deserves a generous toot of that which was once water.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.