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June 2006

Why Senepols?

1. The Red Poll Connection

For years now we have been selecting our Braford breeders for good temperament, no horns and the ability to survive on natural pasture with minimal supplements and no grain. We have been achieving this - our breeder herd is now about 60% natural polls, droughts have culled the poor doers, and anything that gives trouble in the yards or crush is culled.

About 10 years ago, we decided we had not enough time in this life to complete our upgrading without going outside the Braford genetic pool. We wanted to speed up the process of breeding quiet, polled, fertile, hardy, tender, red cattle.

We had previously tried and rejected Simmental (not fertile enough) and Charolais (poor temperament and calving problems). After looking at and reading about a lot of breeds, we choose Red Polls, and bought about 6 pure bred Red Poll heifers. These certainly fulfilled two of our criteria – quiet and polled. They were smaller than our big Brafords, with a big stomach and looked a bit like a cross between a dairy cow and a beef cow. But, they had calves regularly, survived the drought and never produced bad temperament offspring. (US research showed that Red Poll came first in a trial of meat quality (marbling and tenderness), and breed reproductive traits such as 200 day calf weight per cow put to the bull.) All offspring did well on their better milk and inherited the deep red colour with no horns. But they were hairy little cows and did struggle in the drought – they had not evolved in Queensland climatic conditions. We felt we should start with cattle that evolved to survive and thrive in our conditions. That sent us looking at African cattle. (We liked the sound of Nguni cattle, but found them not easily available here).

2. From Red Polls to Senepols.

Some five years ago we first heard about Senepols. They sounded like the answer to our search – polled red cattle with good features from both Red Poll and African genetics. Another advantage was their Bos Taurus origins, unlike most tropical breeds which are Bos Indicus. This gives great potential for hybrid vigour when used in cross breeding operations.

Senepols were developed on the Island of St Crois in the Caribbean over 100 years ago from two breeds - British Red Poll and N’Dama cattle, a native Bos Taurus breed of cattle from Senegal in tropical Africa. The N’Dama (a descendant of the hump-less longhorn cattle of Egypt) were originally brought to St Crois in the 1800’s to pull sugar cane carts on the plantations. Red Polls were introduced from England via Trinidad in 1918 and the Senepol breed was developed from the crosses by selecting for early maturity, maternal efficiency, polled, heat tolerant, red colour and gentle disposition. N’Dama was superior in heat tolerance, insect resistance and ability to thrive on poor quality pasture. The Red Poll gave carcass quality, high fertility, feed efficiency, quiet temperament and improved milking ability. Senepol has now been a fixed breed for almost a century – it is no longer a cross-bred composite, so the genetics are more concentrated and offspring more predictable and consistent.

Senepol cattle were introduced into Australia in the mid 1990’s with the aim of improving fertility, temperament and meat quality in Northern cattle herds. They are performing well in Southern USA and the big beef producing nations of South America.

3. The Benefits of Senepols

Senepol cattle are naturally polled, range from dark red to ginger in colour with good eye and skin pigmentation, have short shiny hair, calve easily and have a docile temperament. They look like a slick coated red Angus. We see their big benefits are:

No Horns – we dislike cattle with big horns, and hate doing the dehorning. Also, once the animal libbers finish doing over the merino people for mulesing and tail docking, they will discover de-horning of cattle. We prefer to avoid that hassle (In July 06, the President of the RSPCA announced that he wants all surgical animal procedures (mulesing, dehorning, spaying) to be done by those with qualifications and experience, and under anaesthetic).

Heat tolerance – research in US has shown that Senepol cows maintained a cooler rectal temperature than Brahman cows whilst grazing in the heat of the day. They also discovered that this heat tolerance was passed onto F1 Senepol cross breds.

There are three reasons for Senepol heat tolerance.

First, Senepols have a sweat gland that runs down the middle of their back. It is this unusual sweat gland that makes the breed so famously heat tolerant. It must also help deter ticks.

Second, Senepols have been found to have a “Slick Coat gene” which confers a very short sleek coat on offspring. It has been found that animals with a short hair coat and glossy sheen reflect far more light and heat than animals with long hair and no sheen. Senepols are famous for a short, shiny sleek coat. They are the only breed in Australia known to carry the Slick Hair Gene.

Third, work by Jan Bonsma in South Africa also showed that red is the preferred colour for maximum heat tolerance in treeless pastures. Heat tolerance is highly heritable.

Other research has shown that all genetically heat resistant cattle are small framed, have fine, short glossy hair, solid red or tan coats and thick hides. Senepols add their magic sweat gland to this mix.

Black hair is a disadvantage in hot climates, but black skin is an advantage in protecting the animal from UV light and skin cancer, so we select for black skin and noses.

Tick Resistance - The same cattle tick that infests Australia is endemic on the Island of St Crois. We cannot remember seeing a tick on our Senepols yet. Slick coats, sweat glands and genetic resistance make Senepols a valuable breed in ticky country. AA Company finds that both pure and first cross Senepols have higher tick resistance than Brahman.

Calving ease – Senepol calves are slim and come out easily “The look like wet rats when they’re born, but they can jump up and run like a deer”.

Fertility – one factor dominates all others in commercial cattle breeding operations – “Can I wean and sell a healthy calf off this cow, without trouble, every year?” Red Polls, N Dama and Senepols will all deliver this.

Longevity – Senepol cows have good udders and long lives – some still in production at 20 years.

Body shape – animals that thrive on poorer quality pasture (most of Queensland for most of most years) need four characteristics – smaller body size, big rumen, wide mouth and able to walk well. Senepols have a body size and shape best suited for low care survival and calving ease.

Early maturing – Senepol tend to mature as quickly and Angus and Hereford.

Tight sheaths, good sires – many Brahman cross cattle have long slack, penis sheaths. Too often they get stepped on, caught on logs or wire, or get grass spears in them. Senepols have close tight sheaths with an efficient angle of dangle. They also have high libido, and are early and aggressive breeders.

Hardiness – Senepols developed in tropical conditions with ticks, biting insects, poor pastures and little veterinary and drug assistance. This has produced a naturally hardy beast suited to the wet and dry hot climates.

Meat Quality – The Bos Taurus/Red Poll background of the Senepols has produced consistent good quality meat. Taste tests by Meat Standards Australia found that Senepol meat averaged 4 star eating quality with no samples below 3+ star - “an unusually high result”.

Docility – Both sides of the Senepol family tree have been selected for docility, hardiness and fertility since the days of Ancient Egypt and Norman Britain. Neither has a history of drug dependency. Senepols are thus the ultimate “Easy Care” cattle.

4. Our Experience in Senepols

We bought our first Senepol bulls at the first Senepol Auction at Gracemere in 2003 and since then have used pure Senepol bulls exclusively on all cows at Sherana.

Senepol

This sale was a marvellous debut for Senepols (unless you were looking for a bull bargain). There was 100% clearance of all bulls (pure and cross bred) with a top price of $17,000 and average price $7,875. Females peaked at $9,000 and averaged $4,706. (In 2005, Senepol bulls topped at $18,000 and females at $12,000.)

We looked carefully at all bulls, looking for good temperament, dark skin, no grain feeding, good feet and minimal evidence of buffalo fly attack. That fussiness was costly – we had to pay $9,900 for Max, our first bull, and $5,500 for Good Girl, our first pure heifer. Since then we have bought another bull, Senepol embryos, more Senepol heifers at computer auctions and a line of Senepol/Angus heifers.

We now have a good line of Senepol/Braford bulls and a couple of Senepol and Senerjy (Senepol/Jersey) bulls for sale.

5. Grain vs Pasture

For years our beef breeders have gone down a dead-end road, producing mountainous cattle that can survive only with supplementary feeding and drugs. Over-fat bulls win show ribbons but their offspring (if they have any) are suitable only for turning into mountains of unhealthy meat in grain based feedlots. Grain prices are heading higher for a long time – high fuel costs, declining soil fertility and competition for grain and molasses from subsidised Ethanol production will ensure that.

Moreover, the health benefits of pasture raised animal food are becoming recognised. And more people are taking an interest in how their food is produced. Factory feedlots do not score well on any criteria except quantity. This century will reverse some of the bad trends of last century – people will take an interest in the quality of their food and how humanely it is raised. The future for beef raising in North Australia has got to be in pasture with no drugs, vaccinations, hormones or dehorning. Grass is our great low cost resource which, with the right cattle and sheep, can be turned into high quality protein for an increasingly hungry world. Senepols and both of their parent breeds evolved on pasture – very few of their ancestors spent time as convicts in a feedlot factory.

(Further reading: Why Grassfed is best – the surprising benefits of grassfed Meat, Eggs and Dairy Products by Jo Robinson, Vashon Island Press, 2000).

6. Fat Bulls vs Skinny Bulls

When a bull is fed grain it lowers semen quality and can develop fat in the scrotum which can make the bull temporarily sterile (because the fat increases temperature of the scrotum). Tests have shown that bulls grown from weaning to maturity on pasture alone had 19% more daily sperm production and 52% greater sperm reserves. The fatter the bull, the less fertile he is (same goes for cows and ewes “She may look thin but she will breed like a rabbit”).

And fat cells, once formed, are permanent. Dick Diven, a cattle nutritionist from Tucson Arizona, says “The bottom line is that a bull that is ever made fat is for all intents and purposes ruined forever”.

The future seems to promise higher costs for fuel, grain and water and drier weather. Animals that cannot survive on pasture alone should be avoided like the plague.

So, if you come to look at our bulls do not expect to see fat fools in Show Ring Gear – our bulls will be in their working clothes and have a lean and hungry look. But they will not spend months deflating fat – they will surge ahead no matter where they go (“anything is an improvement on that desert at Rosevale”). And they spend their nights dreaming about the big mobs of nubile heifers the Rouseabout keeps promising they will meet soon.

7. Senepols in Cross Breeding and Composite Programs

Senepols have been used to improve almost every other breed of cattle – we have crosses with Braford, Brahman, Red Poll, Angus, Santa Gertrudis, and Jersey. We have seen Senepol/Charolais, and read about Senepol/Holstein.

Because they are a fixed breed with tight genetics, Senepols quickly influence other breeds, particularly recently developed breeds with big genetic diversity (rude people refer to these as mongrel breeds). This potential for hybrid vigour is increased by the fact that Senepols are Bos Taurus unlike the Bos Indicus breeds that now dominate Northern Australia. The Australian Agricultural Company, one of the biggest cattle breeders in Australia, is now using Senepols heavily in their breeding programs in the Gulf and Barkly Tablelands. (Senepols give tropical beef breeders a chance to compete with Victorian Angus breeders in the meat quality stakes.) Most tropical breeding programs now start with Zebu type cows, cross them with Red Poll or some other Bos Taurus breed and then look for the slick hair gene of the Senepols. AA coy is finding that Senepols lift meat quality, fertility, docility and tick resistance with no loss of heat tolerance.

We have most experience with Braford crosses, having used senepol bulls exclusively in our dominantly pure Braford breeder mob for two seasons now. The really noticeable changes have been:

Horns have almost disappeared. No horny offspring – some scurs, mainly poll F1 offspring.

Temperament is dramatically improved – in general, much quieter weaners.

Smooth sleek skin/hair. Far less evidence of ticks, but no obvious change in susceptibility to buffalo fly.

Small calves at birth but grow quickly.

Less white hair and skin. 60% of F1’s still have some white on face, 40% solid honey brown or red with no white. Good eye pigmentation. The white faced ones would get lost in a Braford herd.

Much tighter sheaths on bulls – less dangling slack.

It is noticeable that Senepols are less worried by heat than most other cattle. They still get attacked by buffalo flies, but we have not yet seen ticks on them (probably all the ticks were desiccated or decimated by drought).

We have two pure bred red Brahman cows. The Senepol crosses are quieter, polled or scurred with good conformation, smooth skin and a beautiful honey gold colour. And I guess the meat is more tender.

With our pure Red Poll cows, the Senepol improved the body shape and took off the hairy coat.

We have a few pure Jersey milkers – they are skinny looking cows with a big pot belly. But they handle heat well and survive well on pasture. (Research in Jamaica showed Jersey to be as heat tolerant as Brahman). Moreover, Jersey meat quality is much under-rated – they marble better than any breed except Waigu, and come first or second in many beef taste tests. So we have a few Senerjy F1 weaners. The temperament and body shape looks more like a beef breed, with smooth honey tan colour and dark skin. We believe Senerjy have great potential for producing a line of hardy pasture raised beef cattle with great tasting tender marbled meat and good heat and drought resistance.

For Santa Gertrudis, Senepols offer a slick coat, dehorning and we are sure they will improve the fertility of Santa’s.

Senepols also do a great job with Angus, both red and black. They take off that hairy Scottish highland coat and dress up in smooth tropical gear. Senegus ladies report big savings on anti-perspirant and tick repellent.

Senepols have been used a lot in Australia to cross with Charolais. What a beautiful result – smooth honey/grey cattle with thick muscled bodies. At the Gracemere sale that we attended, the Senepol/Charolais bulls sold at stud bull prices. From our experience in Charolais (very limited) Senepols would have to bring great benefits in temperament and calving ease.

8. Senepols in the Tropical Dairy Industry

Like beef cattle, dairy cattle have gone down a bad road – big short life cows producing prodigious quantities of milk from high-cost force-feed feedlot conditions, with loads of anti-biotics and other drug aids.

Farmers in hot Alabama are using Senepol, Holstein and Jersey to produce a heat tolerant dairy cow to be raised on low cost pasture – the aim is a medium sized red cow, polled, with black nose and hooves able to produce well from pasture in a hot climate. Senepols contribute calving ease, high calf survival, no horns and good temperament. Both Senepol and Jersey have high heat tolerance and superb meat quality. Some people believe that Jerseys are the only dairy breed that will be successful in tropical dairying from pasture. Senepols improve heat tolerance, body size and docility with little harm to natural milking ability.

9. Gene-Testing for Marbling and Tenderness

We have tested 19 Senepol and Senepol infused cattle for marbling and tenderness. In tenderness the best possible score is 8 (from 4 genes); in marbling the best possible score is 6 (from 3 genes). The best results were:

TendernessMarbling
Pure Senepol8Senepol/Red Poll2
Senepol Jersey8Senepol/Braford2
Other Senepol X6-7Other Senepol X1

The best individual score came from a sleek looking Senepol/Jersey bull who scored the maximum 8 for tenderness and a good 2 for marbling. A Senepol/Braford/Red Poll poll also got 2 for marbling and 5 for tenderness.

10. Home Remedies

“For high blood pressure sufferers: simply cut yourself and bleed for a few minutes, thus reducing the pressure in your veins.

“Remember to use a timer.”

11. Service Fees.

A North Dakota Farmer got in his pickup and drove to a neighboring farm and knocked at the farmhouse door.

A young boy about 12 opened the door. "Is your Dad home?" the farmer asked?

"No sir, he isn't," the boy replied. "He went into town."

"Well," said the farmer, "is your Mom here?"

"No, sir, she isn't here neither. She went into town with Dad."

"How about your brother, Howard? Is he here?" "No, he went with Mom and Dad."

The farmer stood there for a few minutes, shifting from one foot to the other and mumbling to himself.

"Is there anything I can do for you?" the boy asked politely. "I know where all the tools are, if you want to borrow one. Or maybe I could take a message for Dad."

"Well," said the farmer uncomfortably, "I really wanted to talk to your Dad. It's about your brother Howard getting my daughter, Pearly Mae, pregnant."

The boy considered for a moment. "You would have to talk to Pa about that", he finally conceded. "If it helps you any, I know that Pa charges $50 for the bull and $25 for the hog, but I really don't know how much he gets for Howard."

12. Mother Maremma.

During the drought, a Braford cow on the mountain died and we got an orphan calf. Mother of All Things (who is psychic about babies in distress) got an urge “I think I’ll go and check the cows”. She noticed a small lost calf, managed to run it into a fence and caught it - she always carries a dog chain and collar (even in supermarkets in case she meets friends with feral grandkids). Unaware of Premier Pete’s safety regulations on what ladies may lift, and ignoring all the bike safety warnings, she hauled it onto the saddle of the Yamaha Quad bike, held it down and tootled home.

Sheba the White Wolf notices and inspects everything that enters her territory around the house and stockyards. She noticed the orphan on the bike and immediately adopted it.

As MOAT got a bottle ready Sheba cleaned the baby’s bottom. As it attempted the bottle, she cleaned its face and rubbed against it. The calf seemed to recognise the protective attention and calmed down. Sheba then took up guard beside the calf and never left it, growling at any threats that wandered too near (chooks, turkeys, or even the Hunting Dog (a big threat to cattle as she is a house dog the size of a baby hare.)

She even looked sideways at Rouseabout who had the job of hauling the orphan onto the ute for a trip to the sale. (All that was worthwhile – MOAT attended the auction, did a sales job on everyone who walked past and got $202 for a week old heifer calf – our first Senepol cross sold).

13. SALE OO

We have a good line of Senepol/Braford bulls, and Senepol/Jerseys for sale now. Never had grain or hormones, and all tested for the tenderness and marbling genes. We may also have some pure Senepol bulls we would let go. Enquiries welcome.

14. Easy Care Sheep

If you are sick of steak, add some easy care damara, dorper or meatmaster sheep to your enterprise. We always have sheep for sale, especially in droughts (ie all the time).

15. Mailing Lists

Every time we send out a Sherana Report on Sheep or Cattle, we have two problems – too many envelopes to stuff, and too many letters and emails returned because they are “Unknown at this address”, “left address” or their email is "Full" or "Over Quota". So Please:

  • Advise promptly of change of address
  • Empty your email box
  • Advise if you wish to be taken off our mail list
  • Please give us an email address if you have one

Profit margins and Rouseabout time do not support too many postage stamps and envelopes

Otherwise, like stirry bulls and barren cows, YOU WILL GET CULLED.

Bye for now.

(PS we prefer to send this newsletter by email (printing and postage costs too much) so if you have an email address we would appreciate that advice. Please let us know if you wish to also get our Sheep Report, or no more newsletters whatsoever.

Best Wishes for early spring storms (if this gets sent by then) or for Christmas, if it doesn’t

From Mother-of-All-Things, Rouseabout, Fixit, Sheba the White Wolf, the Hunting Dog, Max, Ben and all their Senepol offspring and all the other Ovines and Bovines.

Viv & Judy Forbes

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