White saddleback blesbuck

White Saddleback Blesbuck

The White Saddleback Blesbuck Breeders’ Association

Setting a Precedent for Excellence

An estimated 70 white saddleback blesbuck graze on South Africa’s plains. Their scarcity equates to big money. R12,2 million to be precise – the total amount paid for three of these unique animals at a WRSA auction last month.

White saddleback blesbuck

But the rarity of this colour variant was not solely responsible for the millions waged on that day. The ram and two ewes that were sold in Bela-Bela on 23 May 2015 came with a stamp of approval from the White Saddleback Blesbuck Breeders’ Association (WSBBA). A seal of quality which inspired record prices in the past.

Breeders’ societies and associations, with their strict emphasis on breed standards, have played a pivotal and historic role within the sheep and cattle farming fraternities of South Africa. The same cannot be said of the game industry.

Of course, it can be argued that there was never really a need for, say, an impala breeders’ society. In the past, an impala was just an impala. Today, however, with the advent of colour variants and stud breeding within the game sector wherein horn length is the Holy Grail, reputable breeders’ societies might just be what the industry needs to sustain itself as a profitable agricultural entity for the future.

WSBBA president, Dr Donnie Van Zyl, seems to thinks so. “An association like our own is a tool to better regulate the industry,” says Van Zyl. “Gone are the ‘fly-by-night’ breeders. Now, only the best is good enough. Quality animals that meet the breed standards are produced. There are also many benefits such as members exchanging rams so as to ensure genetic diversity.”

Van Zyl is quick to point out that if a WSBBA member wants to sell a white saddleback blesbuck under the auspices of the association, it first needs to be assessed by two independent assessors before any transaction takes place. “This provides peace of mind,” says Van Zyl. “Why can’t this stringent model of quality control not be applied to other colour variants in our industry?”

White saddleback blesbuck

Dr Paul Lubout, head genetic advisor and managing director of Wildlife Stud Services, says if each and every colour variant has its own breeders’ association, the industry will resemble a “madhouse”. “There will never be a white or a black impala breeders’ society. Neither should there be different breeders’ associations with regards to the many blesbuck colour variants. Take the Angus cattle breed for example. There is the red Angus and the black Angus. Both fall under the authority of the Angus Breeders’ Society of South Africa. The same model should be followed in the game industry. One blesbuck association encapsulating all the different colour variations thereof.”

Lubout does concede that breeders’ societies will in future play an important regulatory role within the game industry. “There needs to be rules,” says Lubout. “And breeders’ associations are one way of imposing these rules.”

The WSBBA has a set criteria that has to be met for a blesbuck to be registered as a white saddleback:

  • The buck’s legs must be white up to its flanks without a dividing line.
  • There should be no confusion between the white saddleback blesbuck and the yellow blesbuck. The latter is yellow on its sides.
  • The buck must have a distinct red-brown saddle on its back and neck.
  • It must have a red-brown stripe on its belly.
  • There must be a distinct red-brown round patch on the tail.
  • Good pigmentation is a must.
  • The horns, hoofs and eyes must have no traces of pink.
  • The genitals of the ewes must be pigmented.

White saddleback blesbuck

In addition to its beautiful colour pattern, rams should be muscled and show masculinity with horn length that exceeds 17 inches. Ewes should be feminine, have good udders and be of sufficient size.

White saddleback blesbuck was first seen and described in the mid-1970s by Johan Lambrechts on his farm in the Postmasburg district of the Northern Cape. Sightings were also reported in the Ermelo district in Mpumalanga, but these animals were shot for meat.

In 1991, Van Zyl’s fascination with this colour variant encouraged him to reintroduce the breed on his family farm near Ermelo and in 1996, Van Zyl added white saddleback rams from the Northern Cape to his breeding programme. But it was only in 2009 that Van Zyl and Lambrechts combined their efforts and started a joint breeding project to establish the white saddleback blesbuck as a breed with breed standards. Five years later, the WSBBA was formed with eight other breeders.

Van Zyl says his decision to farm with white saddleback blesbuck was spurred by the sheer beauty of these animals. “They are an absolute pleasure to look at. What’s more is that they are perfectly adapted to flourish on the Mpumalanga Highveld.”

Blesbuck are prolific breeders with ewes reaching sexual maturity within 18 months and lambs being born from 24 to 30 months. Rams can mate at 24 months of age. This means that splits can be produced quickly with the first white saddleback lambs arriving within four to five years, ensuring a quick return on investment.

Van Zyl says the biggest challenge facing potential investors looking to farm white saddleback blesbuck is financing the purchase of a breeding ram. “They come with a price,” says Van Zyl. “But do not compromise on quality. Buy the best genetics from the best breeders and your investment will be worth it. Because these animals are so rare, the demand is massive and the market will have an upward trend for many years to come.”

Experience of existing farmers show:

  • White saddleback ram with white saddleback ewes result in white saddleback lambs.
  • White saddleback ram with split ewes result in +/- 40% white saddleback lambs.
  • White saddleback splits can include:
    • Brown splits (with saddle but yellow on the hind quarter instead of white).
    • White splits (with white on the hind quarter but with a light saddle).

Van Zyl says the white saddleback blesbuck has a fantastic future within the South African wildlife industry. “They are simply gorgeous. They have a no nonsense attitude when it comes to adapting to any habitat or climate anywhere in the country. We’ve moved them to the bushveld, Eastern Cape, Natal, the Free State and even as far as the Kalahari desert with no problems whatsoever. When they exit the truck they immediately start grazing,” says Van Zyl. “They are really hardy animals.”

White saddleback blesbuck

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