Werner Nel of Bosbok R514 Breeders near Hartbeespoort in North West started breeding bushbuck in 2010. In time, the project expanded to the point where it became necessary to isolate young rams in separate camps to monitor, document and evaluate their growth rate.
When starting out in his bushbuck breeding enterprise in 2010, Werner Nel of Bosbok R514 Breeders set himself several goals to ensure success.
The first was to select animals sourced from various geographical regions to ensure a diverse gene pool.
The second was to select for horn length to breed superior rams, as hunters selectively hunt rams with long horns (19” plus), resulting in a scarcity of such rams in wild bushbuck populations.
The enterprise, located near Hartbeespoort in North West, has made considerable progress during the past seven years. Young breeding rams in the 15-month-old breeding group now show promise of reaching trophy status by three years of age, or even before.
Werner explains that in his search for breeding rams with horns of at least 17”, tooth inspection showed that some of these rams offered for sale at a claimed age of five to eight years, no longer had functionally effective teeth, proving that they were, in fact, considerably older.
For this reason, Bosbok R514’s trials also monitor the rate of horn growth in young rams.
In one trial, a promising young ram (E1L, born on 27 October 2014), was isolated in a small camp of about 500m2 at the age of 12 months, specifically to establish the effect of an extremely limited natural habitat on horn growth and body development.
The animal received a balanced diet ad lib and his horn length was measured monthly from the age of 12 months to 24 months, and thereafter every six months.
On 27 October 2016, at two years of age and with horns measuring 12”, the ram was transferred to a larger camp, but still isolated from ewes. At the current growth rate, E1L’s horns should reach 18” at the age of three years.
This trial put paid to the long-held assumption that a bushbuck ram reached trophy status only at the age of five years. However, as the trial was conducted under favourable controlled conditions, the results may not necessarily apply to a free-living population in less than ideal conditions.
“We found that the natural habitat plays a less important role in the physical development and horn growth of bushbuck, especially when a steady supply of balanced nutrition is available,” says Werner.
Using the rate of horn growth as a selection criterion for rams in a breeding programme from a relatively early age has often proved disappointing, however. The ram, V2P, born on 13 January 2013, was the only breeding ram used for nearly two years up to 31 August 2016. Afterwards, with horns measuring about 12”, he was placed in isolation.
Unfortunately, there was a lack of knowledge and baseline data to show this exceptional ram’s potential of reaching trophy status within an acceptable period. Werner therefore approached well-known bushveld game farmer, Pieter Lampbrecht, for advice.
In his opinion, the ram “still had a lot of go in him”. His verdict led to an exciting experiment which, within four months, yielded significant statistical data: at the rate of horn growth observed, the ram reached trophy status by the end of April this year.
His youthful age (four years), and excellent nutritional status during a two-year breeding programme, largely contributed to eliminating the handicap in horn growth.
Werner shares some observations from his breeding programme:
“From the start, buy high-quality breeding stock that will provide long-term dividends,” advises Werner.
“Expand gradually, read the market continually, and concentrate on game species that will remain scarce and in demand in a declining market.”
With the correct marketing strategy, he adds, a superior, well cared-for young bushbuck trophy ram with 18” horns could sell for considerably more than R100 000.