First-time buyers choose nyala
With a reproduction rate second only to some of the so-called pygmy antelope such as duiker and steenbok, the nyala has become the buck of choice for many first-time buyers entering the game breeding industry. But the fact that a ewe can produce three lambs in two years is not the only reason why this spiral-horned antelope is in such high demand.
For the better part of a year now, the market price for nyala ewes is steady at R25 000 a piece. This consistency in price is swaying both seasoned game farmers and weekend ranchers alike to invest in nyala. Add a 31 inch bull to the mix, and a breeder’s pregnant ewe can fetch up to R140 000 on auction.
Ewes aside, regal nyala bulls with 32 inch horns sell for jaw-dropping prices. In the 2014 season, a then record price of R500 000 was paid for the nyala bull, Castle, with horns measuring an impressive 32 and 4/8 of an inch. This set a cracking pace for later in the year when another bull was bought for R1,8 million.
Nyala breed year-round with two peak periods in March and October. A healthy bull can serve 15 to 20 ewes.
“They are mass breeders,” says Johan van der Merwe of Leopard Rock Game Breeders. “Therefore, quality is king.”
Van der Merwe has been farming nyala for the past 15 years. “The market for nyala will grow steadily for the remainder of the year,” he says. “But be warned. The best genetics will play a pivotal role in the future. It’s like everything else – it’s a matter of supply and demand. When the market gets saturated with ewes in lamb to average bulls, the price per animal will drop. But,” he says, “the price for a ewe pregnant from a 30 inch-plus bull will continue to climb.”
At Leopard Rock, Van der Merwe calculates the monetary value of a ewe at 10% of the bull’s base price. Thus, if a buyer is expected to pay R25 000 for a pregnant ewe, the breeding bull in question must be in the genetic class of an animal worth R250 000. A ewe in lamb to a 31 inch bull worth R500 000, can therefore be marketed for R50 000.
Richard York of Golden Breeders shares Van der Merwe’s sentiments regarding quality over quantity. York says it is wise to breed to a sire with horn measurements of no less than 28 inches to accommodate the demands of the market. “In the Golden Breeders programme, ewes have been selected for strength in conformation and size. With these characteristics in mind and strict limits set on inbreeding, quality animals can be bred.”
York goes on to explain that at 12 months, young bulls are taken out of the breeding camps and regrouped in bachelor camps. “It is here where they grow until they are about four years old when breeding bulls can be selected. Bulls with horns shorter than 26 and a half inches are offered to the hunting market.”
Van der Merwe employs the same strategy. But he is quick to point out that genetics play an important role. “You cannot expect to breed 30 inch bulls from a sire of 27 inches just because you’ve placed them in a camp void of any female animals,” he says, adding that supplying your bulls with the right nutrition is essential when breeding for horn length.
The fact that a nyala ewe is not in lamb for only two months of the year, is a double-edged sword for Van der Merwe. “I’m guaranteed of a lamb every eight months,” he says. “But because of their reproduction rate, nyala have to eat a lot – twice as much as impala and roughly the same amount as kudu.” Sixty percent of Van der Merwe’s expenses are allocated to supplying his animals with additional feed.
Golden Breeders provide their nyala with a daily ration of about 350g of game pellets. York says this ration compensates for mineral and nutritional shortages in the natural grazing. “When self-feeders are used, a 10% protein pellet should be given to avoid acidosis. In addition to this, one block of rock-salt per camp can be set down close to the feeding trough. And in the absence of adequate browsing material, it is necessary to add lucerne.” York says the strategic use of molasses poured onto feed can further help meet energy requirements.
Van der Merwe is of the opinion that three to four hectares per animal is sufficient for nyala living off natural grazing in areas with abundant foliage. “Ranchers who make use of additional feed, however, can get away with one hectare for every nyala.”
The operation at Golden Breeders run nyala with impala, springbok and wildebeest in double camp rotational systems with two sections of 50 hectares each or 100 hectares per breeding herd. York points out that the traditional 22 to 24 strand game fence is no guarantee to confining nyala. He advises ranchers to use 32 strands instead. Pig wire or welded mesh (90 mm x 90 mm) should also be used to ensure that game are effectively fenced in and that predators are prevented from gaining access to camps.
Inadequate fencing, says York, is the primary cause of most game losses. “Jackal and caracal pose a serious threat because they will take nyala lambs. But they can be harmlessly excluded from breeding camps with proper predator-proof fencing.”
Predators are not the only concern. Cold, wet weather can be just as deadly.
Japie Nel of Serengeti Hunting Safaris knows more about the impact of cold weather on wildlife than most farmers. A vastly experienced rancher with 31 years in the industry under his belt, he estimates that he lost up to 97% of his nyala herd when a freak weather event occurred on his farms near Lephalale in Limpopo in September 2013. The area lost a collective 500 to 600 nyala and Nel’s damages totalled more than R1,2 million by today’s valuation.
“A cold front moved in from the south-eastern part of the country at around 5am,” recalls Nel. “Temperatures dropped to -4°C. The animals can handle this sort of sudden, gripping cold without any problems, but the freezing rain that followed led to a lot of the animals – including wildebeest, sable and kudu – getting pneumonia. We lost almost our entire herd of nyala and many other species over that weekend. This would have been unusual if it happened in winter, let alone September.”
York concedes that nyala need a reasonable amount of bush and cover so they can shelter from the cold. “In open areas, field shelters with wind shields should be provided. Maintaining body heat in cold weather is a function of energy, so in winter when the temperatures drop and the food sources are limited it may be necessary to further supplement their diet.”
Both York and Van der Merwe believe the nyala has a bright future within the South African game industry.
“They are affordable,” says York. “With relatively low handling and management costs, coupled with the ability to build numbers fairly quickly, nyala make a good choice for start-up game farmers and weekend or part-time ranchers. Where nutrition is adequate, these antelope do not need huge tracts of land and can be ranched on smaller units with the potential of decent returns.”
As Van der Merwe concludes: “For a game farmer, nyala are usually the first and yes, the most memorable acquisition.”