Author: John Firth — Owner & Managing Director, Hillcrest Game Estates
Welcome to the second in our series of articles presenting insights into the various breeding projects currently taking place at Hillcrest Game Estates.
This article takes a detailed look at Hillcrest’s Roan, Oryx (Gemsbok) and Blesbuck breeding projects.
Hillcrest’s high breeding-standards have been achieved by combining cutting-edge scientific breeding technology such as genomic analysis, estimated breeding values (EBV’s), artificial insemination (AI) and embryo programmes with excellent stockmanship. Hillcrest Game Estates is part of the Firth Group farming enterprise which is already well-known for its superior genetic progress among Brahman and Brangus stud breeders.
Dr. Lubout, specialist genetic advisor for Wildlife Stud Services (WS2) says that Hillcrest’s high standards allow it to excel at its stockmanship, measurements and scientific selection breeding objectives.
At Hillcrest Game Estates, ranch manager Piet Botma says there is no such thing to be said like, “We cannot do it!” On the contrary, Piet’s team are best at turning every challenging situation into a workable solution with a positive outcome. It was with this attitude in mind that the Hillcrest ranching teams prepared themselves for the arrival of the first roans (Afrikaans: bastergemsbok). They knew the odds were strongly against them. It is well known that roans are a difficult game species to breed and farm with. Statistics prove this. Rearing roan calves into healthy adults has an extremely low success-rate. Nevertheless, Piet and his ranching-team tackled the Roan breeding project with enthusiasm, positivity and loads of commitment.
Now, since the arrival of roans at the ranch some three years later, there are two thriving herds which Hillcrest truly is proud of. What’s more, the Hillcrest ranching-team have successfully determined the perfect ‘recipe’ that leads to the successful breeding and delivery of truly beautiful game animals.
To facilitate the expansion its roan gene-pool, Hillcrest now owns two top-class roan breeding bulls, along with a varied assortment of female roan cows that were purchased on auction from various breeders.
As part of the breeding process, horn-lengths at various ages of the life of an animal is carefully monitored and recorded. Further statistical projection of these horn-lengths enables the Hillcrest team of breeding advisors to accurately project what the likelihood of becoming an exceptional adult animal might be. Tracking and monitoring horn widths is also important.
Hillcrest’s two top breeding Bulls are known as Pirate (from Nyumbu Game) and Wilson.
Let us take a look at a few facts about these two prized roan bulls which are confined to separate camps, thereby allowing them to breed with some of the best roan-females in South Africa.
At 11 years of age, Pirate now measures 32.5”. He has produced numerous sons which have exceeded 30” horn lengths. Pirate was extensively used at Nyumbu Game (Norman Adami) as part of a roan super-group project. No less than twenty of Pirate’s daughters remain in this group—something Hillcrest is truly proud of.
The average spread of Pirate’s progeny exceeds 10”. When last measured, at just under 3 years of age, his oldest female offspring measured 20-22”, with a tip to tip measurement of 10-12½”. Pirate’s two oldest male progeny measured 30” at 3 years/10 months and 3 years/11 months respectively.
Pirate also produced a number of bulls between 3 years/5 months and 3 years/9 months with 28½” to 29½” horns. With these superior measurements being achieved at a young age, Pirate’s animals are scientifically certain to surpass the 30” mark.
Wilson, an older bull, was purchased in the Northern Cape where he was exposed to a dry, arid environment. The superiority of his progeny is not only attributed to his strong body, dominant presence and fertility, but more significantly to his genetic resistance to diseases and perfect horn shape.
The Hillcrest ranching team believes that the genetic diversity offered by these distinctly different bulls unquestionably enhances the calibre of progeny that Hillcrest will be able to make to the South African game-breeding market.
Some of Hillcrest’s primary breeding objectives for its roan species include striving for superior horn lengths (and horn spreads) for both bulls and cows, achieving thick and strong horns (specifically at the base), producing true-to-type face masks and colours, and adults that have big, strong bodies.
All the Hillcrest roan are registered with Wildlife Stud Services (WS2).
Next, let us take a take a look at a few facts about Hillcrest’s Oryx game species.
Oryx (Afrikaans: Gemsbok)
Hillcrest have gone to exceptional lengths to acquire a comprehensive assortment of all types of Oryx sub-species. Presently, there are successful breeding herds for the Golden Oryx, Red Oryx, Painted Oryx (Afrikaans: Skilder Gemnsbok) and the Common Oryx. All base game animals used for breeding purposes have the minimum of 40+” horn lengths.
On a personal note, it was some years ago that Piet Botma (ranch manager) and Ben Groenewald (ranch foreman) who where then, still rookies in the game industry, witnessed that arrival of the first few 30″ long-horn Oryx cows at 3am in the morning. Piet recalls how “the Gemsbok were not keen to get off the truck in the dark, and our team of ranchers had to very quickly learn the art of working with the plastic piping intended to protect their long horns from breaking during the dismount from the truck that they were transported in.” Piet maintains that Oryx remain the most beautiful game animals in the game industry.
In the Golden Oryx (Gemsbok) breeding herd, young breeding bull Goldie, has exceptional genetics. Goldie’s mother has 45” horns and all the base females currently being covered by Goldie are 40+” cows.
The Red Oryx breeding herd was purchased from Valley Ventures and all animals are originally from the well-known Namibian bloodlines. This breeding project complements Hillcrest’ existing Oryx breeding projects. As such, Hillcrest now boasts the full species varieties of Oryx genetics. A primary breeding objective for this breeding group, is to produce pure-bred Red Oryx. To achieve this, the Hillcrest ranching-team and its professional breeding advisors employ the use of its own 40” base cows to add horn length and weather-adaptability to the North West province.
The beautiful Painted Oryx (Afrikaans: Skilder Gemsbok) breeding herd was from Namibia. Picasso, with striking colours, is a young breeding bull. All the base females currently being covered by Picasso have +40″ horns.
For the Common Oryx (Gemsbok) breeding herd, the primary breeding bull has a horn length of 42,5”. All females in this group have +40” horns.
Hillcrest is proud of its Saddleback and Yellow Blesbuck breeding herds. The blesbok is endemic to southern Africa.
Not many know what some of the defining characteristics of the Blesbuck are. The online encyclopedia (Wikipedia) offers a good description of the Blesbuck:
Physically, rams and ewes are remarkably similar. Their mass can be as much as 85 kg. A characteristic of the blesbuck is the prominent white blaze on the face and a horizontal brown strip which divides this blaze above the eyes. Body colour is brown with a lighter-coloured saddle on the back, and the rump an even lighter shade. The legs are brown with a white patch behind the top part of the front legs. Lower legs whitish. Both sexes carry horns, ringed almost to the tip. Female horns are slightly more slender. The neck and the top of the back of the blesbok is brown. Lower down on the flanks and buttocks, the colouring becomes darker. The belly, the inside of the buttocks and the area up to the base of the tail is white. Blesbuck can be easily differentiated from other antelopes because they have a distinct white face and forehead. The length of their horns averages at around 38 cm. Male adult blesbuck average around 70 kg, whereas females average lower, at around 61 kg. — Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blesbok
The Hillcrest Saddleback-blesbuck breeding herd was purchased in August 2016 and proudly boasts the magnificent ram, Impi (15¼), which was 2½ years old at the time. With perfect colours, Impi is the ultimate breeding ram. Our first pure Saddleback lambs were born at Hillcrest during 2017 with the next crop due in the next few months.
In the Yellow-blesbuck breeding herd, the breeding ram is Buks (16 5/8″)—a Rowland Ward ram with prominent yellow colours. We have also introduced a younger breeding ram called Buksie. Going forward, Buksie will be used as our primary breeding ram.
Blesbuck is a hardy-type game animal, making breeding rather easy. However, achieving the best colouring remains an art which few accomplish with ease. This makes working with Blesbuck such an enjoyment and a challenge.
Should you be interested in finding out more about Hillcrest’s game—whether for purchase or breeding—why not contact our team today. We will be happy to respond to your enquiry.
On the lighter side — See Frans Groenewald’s comic-art
Looking for a laugh? On the lighter side we invite you to check out some of Frans Groenewald’s humorous comic-art artistic impressions of Hillcrest’s Roan, Oryx (Gemsbok) and Blesbuck breeding projects.
Frans Groenewald creates artworks that puts a smile in the heart and mind of the viewer. His studio is situated at the inspirational and scenic Lourensford Wine Estate in the Cape Winelands.
Visit Frans on Facebook: @fransgroenewaldart