2014 World Brahman Congress & Tour: The Trip of a Lifetime

Dr. Joe C. Paschal:

My presence at the 2014 World Brahman Congress in Parys, South Africa, actually began about a half a world away and six months earlier when I was invited to speak at the 2013 World Brahman Assembly in Guayaquil, Ecuador. Mr. Wessel Hattig, the Vice-President of the Brahman Cattle Breeder’s Society and Convener of the Congress, was also a speaker at the Assembly. After my presentation there he asked if I would also present at the Congress. In my travels over the past 35 years, extensive to some, not so much to others, I have had the opportunity to visit the continent of Africa twice – both offers I turned down either due to unrest or scheduling, so when Wessel made his generous offer I was ecstatic!

I was accompanied by my wife Vickey, as well as a number of American Brahman breeders and a few Brahman Journal staff members. For those of you who have made the trip, you know it is a long flight, especially if you are in economy or “cattle class”. The flight is made in the evening and most people will sleep through most of it, but I like to read so that is how I passed the time.

We landed the next evening, we had added 6 hours in time zones to a 15 hours flight, and loaded a bus for the 100 km drive to Parys. In my reading I learned that the location of Parys reminded the German who founded the town of Paris, France. The Vaal River reminding him of the Seine. The pronunciation and spelling is Afrikaans, the principal language spoken by the Boers (Dutch for farmers) who settled in that area. Our lodgings were unique; they were in appearance similar to the many African tribal huts, but much larger and quite modern inside, with thatched roofs.

One thing I learned right away was that South Africa uses an electrical plug that is configured differently than in the Americas. Needless to say curling irons, computers and cell phones could not be used or charged without an adaptor!

The first day, while most of our folks went to see the meteor crater that struck the area about 2 billion years ago, Chris Shivers and I attended the Genetic Evaluation and Genomics meeting. We listened to several speakers discuss their performance testing programs and heard an update on a proposal to share genomic information to enhance genomic EPD prediction. These programs should improve the testing accuracy, especially in young bulls.

There was also a lot of discussion of physical or phenotypic classification or scoring systems, similar to the calving ease score that other associations were interested in turning into EPDs. Some of those had merit for the systems of production they represented, but may be of little use here in the US.

Later that day Chris, Kasey and I went to the location of the show, the Afri Dome. The Dome was not a dome but a huge elegant exhibition building, originally designed to host equine events. For the World Brahman Show it was converted half into show ring and half into an entertainment venue, and the South Africans SURE CAN entertain!

The stalling area was packed full of very good quality Gray and Red Brahman genetics with pedigree and performance information posted with every animal. After Chris set up the ABBA display we went to look at the cattle in the stalling area. We met several breeders and I was very impressed with the quality of the cattle. I realized that there is a lot of US influence in the Brahman cattle in South Africa. While you can send the best genetics anywhere, you can still not have the quality of cattle I saw without selection and management. That night they had an impressive sale. In between lots I was trying to keep up with the sale price by converting the sale price in Rand, the official currency of South Africa, into US dollars.

The next morning was the official opening of the 2014 World Brahman Congress and it started naturally enough with the South African national anthem and a prayer. Actually it was more like a sermon about a passage from the bible on Cain and Able. Anyway it caused me to remember it, so I guess it worked. Because all the buildings were thatched we also had an official explain what the fire alarm was and what to do when it sounded. It was a unique experience to say the least!

The first speaker was an economist from the ABSA Bank, Ernst Janovsky, who talked about the economy of various countries on the continent and said that South Africa was one of the four strongest, the others being Egypt, Liberia and Nigeria. He went on to explain that South Africa’s main weakness was in energy. However he indicated the future looks good for South Africa if they can ease their credit crunch.
Other speakers spoke on the importance of genetic improvement for commercial producers and opportunities for beef production in developing countries, measurements of feed efficiency, the cause and effects of heat tolerance in Zebu cattle, improving fertility in Bos indicus cattle, genetic improvement of South African Brahman cattle and genomically enhanced breeding values. All the presentations were very interesting and many of the slides and pictures of the event are posted on the Brahman Society of South Africa’s webpage. I would encourage you to go look them over.

In my presentation I spoke about the benefits of crossbreeding and reviewed some of the Brahman research done at Texas A&M University, Dr. Franke’s work at LSU, and research conducted at Mississippi State University, IFAS and the USDA Research Station in Brooksville, Florida. I also covered the percentage Brahman performance from the TAMU Ranch to Rail Program, as well as the ABBA Carcass Merit Program. The information on carcass merit and tenderness was of the most interest to the Congress since most associations do not have the resources of ABBA to conduct long term research on feedyard performance, carcass merit and tenderness. My presentation showed up this month in the May 2014 edition of Agriforum, Namibia’s agricultural magazine.

After the Congress the Brahman show began and ran for two days. As I have said previously, there were a lot of really high quality cattle. I watched and took pictures but mostly I visited with breeders or our own folks. I even picked up a really nice book,“The Intelligent Choice – Brahman - 50 Years in South Africa,” to add to my collection of books on livestock breeds. We had earlier received in our registration packet a book entitled “The Namibian Brahman 1954” published by the Namibian Brahman Breeder’s Society. Both are excellent books that relate stories from the first Brahman breeders in these two countries, as Brahmans came to both countries in 1954 and carry on to the present.

A funny story ought to be told here, I was browsing the Afrikaans version of the book at the South African’s Brahman Breeders Society booth and was in the process of paying for it thinking it was only in that language. I thought that I could at least look at the pictures and interpret a few words when the nice sales lady offered me one in English. The funny part was that they were right next to each other!

At the end of the show on Thursday night the Congress organizers had a fantastic evening of entertainment and excellent food. Come to think of it, every meal and every evening during this trip was full of good food and great entertainment. The history of the breed in South Africa was revisited and winners of the show and performance tests were announced and feted and even the oldest breeders were recognized. It was truly a gala evening and a fitting close to the official Congress events.

Little did I realize that the next day would be the other half of the trip of a lifetime when most of our little group spent a week riding 3500 km, almost 2200 miles, in a bus visiting several Gray and Red Brahman breeders and seeing some of the finest Brahman cattle I have seen anywhere in the world, outside the US of course!