Breeding Buffalo With 50”+ Horns?

Here’s what you need to know


The hunter is our valued client and it is the hunter that affords the buffalo its monetary value. A worldwide survey has been conducted by hunting organisations representing approximately 37 million hunters. (Russia alone boasts ± 4 million registered hunters.) The survey posed questions about favourite hunting destinations, favourite calibres, etc. One of the questions was the following: If money was not a consideration, compile a priority list of the game species you wish to hunt. This is where the good news comes in: The African buffalo appears at the top of this list. If only one per cent of hunters decided to hunt this sought-after species, there would not be enough buffalo in Africa.

We at 4 Daughters Ranching went to a great deal of trouble to find out from hunters what they expect of a buffalo hunt. We spoke to hunters from America, Germany, Spain, Russia, South Africa, Botswana, Mozambique, Tanzania and Kenya and identified the most important issues:

1. High costs are not the most important consideration.

2. Hunters do not want to experience problems with customs and firearm permits.

3. Trophies should be shipped home effortlessly and as quickly as possible.

4. Hunters want to hunt in vast, pristine wilderness areas.

5. Accommodation should be of a good standard and malaria remains a problem.

6. Hunters require a professional hunter who can be trusted.

7. Biggest complaint is that the trophy size is too small.

At the Hunting Indaba, held at Sun City on 29 October 2012, the minister of Water and Environmental Affairs said that her departments aim for the South Africa’s trophy hunting industry is to grow it to an R10bn industry a year. Through this growth it would allow the creation of more jobs and would contribute even more to the South African economy. It is said that the industry currently employs 140 000 people and contribute R6bn to gross domestic product. We believe that for South Africa to be “the” premium hunting destination, the South African government could and should assist with the first 6 issues identified above. This still leave us with the last and most important issue:

DariusAll hunters want bigger horn measurements. We talked to a group of hunters that came to Tanzania to hunt a trophy-sized buffalo bull. After six weeks of searching the disappointed hunter shot the biggest bull he could find, which measured only 38 inches in spread. When the hunter asked us why they found so few really big buffalo bulls one of his fellow hunters responded with:

“If all the big trophy bulls have been hunted for over 100 years, what do you expect?”

We agree that all the big bulls have been hunted in large parts of Africa for many years now. This has caused great damage to the gene pool in these areas. Where little or no hunting took place there is by way of natural selection a considerable difference in the horn measurements of the animals.

Subsequently, there is a great gap in the market for bigger horn lengths from 42” to 50”, or even 50”+ in spread. 4 Daughters Ranching has decided to try and fill this gap and breed bulls in excess of 50”. The million dollar question is: How do you breed bulls measuring 50”+? We have 35 years’ experience in the breeding of Bonsmara beef cattle and Holstein dairy cattle. Breeding cattle, or in this instance buffalo, for their horns, however, is a totally different story. We started off by first looking at all the different kinds of buffalo – the Addo, Natal, East Africa and Lowveld or Kruger buffalo. According to Dr Kriek all these buffalo belong to the same species. After the rinderpest only small groups of buffalo survived in different habitats. No subspecies therefore exists; the buffalo are only differentiated by environmental factors. After comprehensive consultation 4 Daughters Ranching decided to take on the challenge and breed 50”+ bulls from the Kruger buffalo. We know that when breeding cattle, the environment is a determining factor for body size but how does this affect horn length?

According to Rowland Ward and Safari Club International (SCI) trophy hunters regard horn measurement and not body size as the most important factor. Buffalo are unique in that they differ in conformation and horn shape. 4 Daughters Ranching has identified three basic horn shapes in buffalo bulls. We regard all three horn shapes as unique and exceptional. In answering the question on which horn shape will make the best trophy, the answer is simple: the beauty of each trophy is in the eyes of the beholder.

But what does the hunter prefer? We have asked many hunters this question. For most hunters the horn type is not as important as a well-balanced set of horns with wide bosses, a slight curve and, most important, the width of the horns. It therefore has to be a bull measuring 50”+ in sprAllead. The SCI standard takes all measurements into consideration: boss, width and curve of the horns. Rowland Ward, on the other hand, used to focus on the width rather than the bosses. However, a new measurement system for Rowland Ward has been introduced, but to date the minimum criteria to qualify has not been published yet. The main objective of 4 Daughters Ranching is to breed buffalo bulls and cows that will in turn produce bulls of 50”+. As in the case of cattle, we have tested different combinations of bulls with cows. Young bulls are only measured and weighed at three years of age. We then changed the bull/ cow combination and after three years measured the horn length and body weight of these young bulls.

Results of this test:

1. The environment has a significant effect on the animal (weight and horns). Animals are kept free of diseases and parasites.

2. As in the case of cattle, the combination of the biggest and best-looking cows and bulls does not produce the best horns or body size.

3. Cows with strong feminine traits produce the biggest horns and best body size. When it comes to genetics there is no set rule. However, the combination of a specific cow with a specific bull resulted in exceptional horns and a good-sized body.

4. Ten years of breeding are not really significant when it comes to genetics and we still have a long way to go.

Through our ten years of experience we have been fortunate to have bred Salomo, a bull measuring 53”, with a boss of 18” (SCI 136,5”). Salomo is currently one, if not the biggest, disease free bull in Africa. We currently have 11 bulls (16th months of age) sired by Salomo all of them showing immense potential. Salomo has also covered a number of cows and heifers and we estimate that Salomo’s genes would have a big influence on the wildlife and hunting industry resulting in bigger trophy sizes for hunters in the foreseeable future.

Furthermore, due to our intensive breeding program we have also noticed one of our young bulls, Sebastian (less than 3 years of age), already measuring 41”. Normally bull’s between the ages of 2 and 3 years, has a spread of between 16,1” and 24,4”. We at 4 Daughters Ranching believe that Sebastian would reach 50” before he reach 5 years of age. Currently, we have moved Sebastian to a male herd in order for him to reach his full potential and he would be used together with Salomo as our breeding bulls here at 4 Daughters Ranching in the future.

The Wildlife Industry is currently in a very exciting phase and we believe that the market for top genes would drive industry to new and even higher prices than those seen in recent months. A word of advice to prospective breeders: ensure that you buy the best genes that your money allows.

A final message to all our fellow breeders:

AdolfWe must never forget that the hunter is our most important client. It is the hunter that gives game its monetary value. The greatest conservationists are and were also hunters (President Paul Kruger and President Theodore Rooseveld). Ethical hunting should be promoted and practised at all costs. 4 Daughters Ranching is not involved in the hunting industry but in the breeding of top male and female animals for fellow breeders who wish to meet hunters’ demands for great horn measurements. Our clients are also our friends and our animals are our pride.

This article was written by Michiel Els and Paul Michau of 4 Daughters Ranching.

Follow them on twitter @BuffaloBreeder

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