Improving the stud one animal at a time

Dirco Swart, owner of Blinkmeneer Beefmasters in Frankfort, says that the future of the Beefmaster is bright, thanks to the breed’s adaptability and breeders’ passion for improvement.

The success of any livestock breeding concern depends on choosing a breed that makes economic sense and optimises returns on investment to ensure sustainability and profitability. That is why I chose Beefmasters. I run a stud of 180 breeding female animals near Frankfort in the eastern Free State. I established the Blinkmeneer Beefmaster (Blinkmeneer) stud in 2010, and decided on the stud breeding route from the onset in order to realise optimal value.


The main objective at Blinkmeneer is to combine my passion for cattle with my passion for numbers, and thus to optimise economic return. In order to achieve this, Blinkmeneer’s selection principles are aligned with Tom Lasater’s (the founder of the Beefmaster) philosophy of the Six Essentials. I thus focus on fertility, hardiness, milk production, and weight gain. This means a cow must produce a calf every season, or she is culled.


Moreover, she has to produce a calf with above average performance. Beefmaster breeders pride themselves on maintaining the highest cow-to-calf weight ratio at weaning across all beef cattle breeds in the country. The Beefmaster originated as a crossbreed between Brahman, Hereford and Shorthorn cattle. One of Lasater’s aims was to create hybrid vigour by ‘capturing’ the most valuable traits of each of the mentioned breeds in one animal. During the early stages of Blinkmeneer, good animals were acquired from reputable Beefmaster breeders.


Not everything can be observed with the eye, and therefore I place high importance on breeding values over and above visual appraisal. As such, in order to grow my stud, I have had to buy in bulls and female animals from some of the best breeders in the country. Beefmaster is a participating breed of the Beef Genomics Programme (BGP), which aims to enhance predictability of certain beef traits that are not observable with the eye, some of which can only be measured over a long period of time or are very expensive to measure.

Since the BGP was launched, the accuracy of breeding values has increased significantly. I consider animal recording and EBVs vital. The purpose of bull selection, for instance, is to choose a bull that will maintain the good qualities of a cow herd and improve on the poor qualities. It is therefore wise to have a specific goal in mind when selecting a bull and to ensure that such a bull meets the needed requirements as expressed in the animal’s EBVs. Such a list could, for example, include fertility, length, width, muscling, growth and milk production.


In my case, I cannot afford to pamper animals, especially during the harsh eastern Free State winter. My business has no crop integration concern, which means that a winter lick forms the only supportive supplement during these months. For this reason, hardiness and fertility are crucial elements in my selection process and I have found that a medium-framed cow is much better adapted when exposed to the elements. Not only does this selection process work for me, but it also ensures better adaptability of Blinkmeneer cattle for prospective buyers.


Young bulls undergo a veld test annually to assist in selection for hardiness and adaptability. Bulls are also evaluated for growth, temperament, and muscling, as well as scrotum size. Blinkmeneer is a member of the Eastern Free State Veld-bull Club where it participates with several other Beefmasters breeders. Over the years, Blinkmeneer Beefmasters has performed very well and was awarded the Best Breeder in 2019. Blinkmeneer also received a record price at the Makiti Veld-bull auction in 2020.


When selecting new bulls, it is important to understand the requirements of the stud and to plan selection criteria accordingly. For instance, if milk production or general quality of the female animals must be improved, choose bulls that have high EBVs for milk and cow value. Moreover, you must also consider the bull’s dam line. In other words, how did the bull’s dam perform? How many registered animals have been recorded for her? What are her average wean indices?


In addition to buying bulls I also try to optimise the genetic quality of the herd through artificial insemination (AI) and have used South African bulls, as well as semen from bulls in the US. When performing AI, I carefully match a specific bull to a cow in order to improve a specific genetic trait.


I maintain a three-month breeding season from November to the end of January. This means that calving starts in August to coincide with the beginning of spring/summer and the recovery of the veld after winter. Bull-to-cow matches are done very selectively, but the entire calf crop still undergoes a DNA test for sire verification.


Even after many years, I am still seeing improvement in the quality of calves each year, and this makes me very excited as a business owner, but also for the future of the Beefmaster breed. When I compare the quality of Beefmaster cattle today to when I started in 2010, there has been a significant improvement. Breeders are placing more emphasis on quality, efficiency and economic viability. The future of the Beefmaster is very bright, especially in the very good hands of the Beefmaster Cattle Breeders’ Society of South Africa.


Blinkmeneer Beefmasters will participate in the following upcoming sales: the National Veld-bull Auction (2 June), Makiti Auction (21 July) and the Eastern Free State Veld-bull Auction (26 August).

Phone Dirco Swart on 082 228 8625.

Phone the Beefmaster Cattle Breeders’ Society of South Africa on 051 410 0935.