Preventing wildlife attacks and animal theft is a daily chore for Botswanan beef farmers, as Chris McCullough finds out.
Every evening, Calla Visser has to round up more than 400 cattle on his farm in Botswana and herd them into outdoor corrals for the night to protect them against theft and predators.
And the next morning, Mr Vesser and his staff go around the five different corrals on his 6,000 hectare (14,826-acre) farm, counting all the cows, calves and bulls, hoping they all made it through the night in one piece.
With potential attacks from hyenas and leopards a constant threat, Mr Visser must take every precaution to keep his cattle alive and also try to prevent them from being stolen by locals.
Mr Visser explains: “Our farm borders the town of Francistown in eastern Botswana and being so close means we are constantly looking out for both two-legged and four-legged threats to the herd.
“Hyenas and leopards attack and kill cattle up to about three years of age, when they are grazing in the veld, so we have to bring them into the fenced corrals at night time to keep them safe. The hyenas and leopards normally will not attack cattle in the pens as they are intimidated by larger groups such as this.
“But people might. My staff and I continuously monitor the pasture and bushland for snares set by locals to trap a cow or calf for eating.
“It is part of the daily routine of farming in Botswana.”
When Mr Visser first started farming with cattle on his farm, he lost 15-20 cattle in three months to attacks by hyenas and leopards and realised something had to be done.
He now loses about five cattle a year to theft and wildlife killings, but he is trying to solve the problem by reintroducing game to his farm, therefore redressing the food cycle balance with nature.
“Encouraging more impala [medium-sized antelope] and other wildlife into the veld by opening up water sources will give the hyenas and leopards another source of food and, hopefully, that will keep them away from my cattle,” he explains.
Mr Visser runs 300 Bonsmara cows plus followers and bulls and operates both a commercial herd producing beef for the domestic and export markets plus a registered pedigree herd as a stud unit.
Developed in South Africa, the Bonsmara is a breed of cattle known for its high quality beef and resistance to local diseases.
It was the result of a scientific experiment carried out by Prof Jan Bonsma and was created following many cross-matings and backcrosses, involving the Afrikaner, Hereford, and Shorthorn breeds.
Although Mr Visser has been farming for 20 years, he has only been running the Bonsmara herd for just over four years.
Before this, he ran a herd of 400 Nguni cattle, which were wiped out by foot-and-mouth disease in 2011.
Three years later, he decided to run Bonsmara cattle with a more strategic approach to farming.
He says: “During the time between losing the Nguni cattle and starting the Bonsmaras, I imported some commercial cattle to fatten and sell. Bonsmara is the largest breed numerically in South Africa, so I decided to move to that very popular breed.”
Mr Visser’s goal is to have 40 per cent of the herd run as stud and the remainder as a commercial unit. His commercial beef mainly goes to the local market with cattle killing at 450kg liveweight resulting in a 220kg carcase.
Beef prices in Botswana run at 30 Botswanan pula (£2.14) per kilo for prime beef which attracts an extra 4 pula (29p) per kilo if the beef goes for export. Weaner cattle sell for about 12 pula (86p) per kilo liveweight.
“The Bonsmara cattle are fed only grass and grain and can achieve growth rates of 1.5kg per head per day,” says Mr Visser.
“The breed is early maturing with a medium frame and is a very adaptable animal.
“It can easily withstand the high temperatures of up to 40degC we experience here.
“The cows show excellent fertility and I achieve a 96 per cent calving rate from pregnancy to weaning.”
When it comes to diseases and preventing them in Botswana, Mr Visser is most concerned about heartwater disease, a tick-borne disease, which is endemic to the area.
Although the area Mr Visser farms in is free from brucellosis, he still vaccinates against it.
“All cattle are checked each evening and morning for any health issues and we deal with them immediately,” he says.
“The Bonsmara is a good breed to farm with and is very efficient in this area.
“Our cattle are fitted with bells which help fend off predators, but mostly, the bell sounds help us find cattle in the veld.
“We just need to be on our guard every single day to make sure our cattle stay alive and are not stolen. Disease is also a concern and heartwater is a huge worry, but with constant daily monitoring, I think we can keep on top of it,” he adds.