When traveling half way around the world to South Africa there are some differences and similarities to be found in the beef industry compared to the U.S.

Last week, I visited the Beefcor feedlot near Bronkhorstspruit, South Africa and approximately 80 km (50 miles) from Johannesburg.

(Wyatt Bechtel/Farm Journal Media)

Beefcor started in 1973 as a 1,000 head feedlot. Today, it is a vertically integrated cattle feeding operation:

  • Feeding 30,000 cattle in feedlot pens
  • Backgrounding 20,000 calves on surrounding pastures
  • Owns a 50% stake in a packing plant
  • Markets branded beef in grocery stores across the country

(Wyatt Bechtel/Farm Journal Media)

The company is family owned with the second generation working in the business.

Feedlot manager Pierre Franken showed my tour group around the facilities giving us a behind the scenes view of a large cattle feeding operation in South Africa.

(Wyatt Bechtel/Farm Journal Media)

Here is a quick rundown on the cattle feeding program:

  • Cattle spend approximately 115 days on feed
  • Consume 10.5 kg (23.15 lb) of feed dry matter
  • Gaining up to 1.95 kg (4.3 lb) per day
  • The biggest health problem is respiratory disease, followed by digestive upsets like acidosis and lameness problems like foot rot
  • Cattle are vaccinated for pneumonia, anthrax and receive a 7-way clostridial
  • Pens are regularly checked by people on foot
  • Calves are purchased from across South Africa, except for near the Kruger National Park region in the east because of corridor disease
  • Namibia also supplies some calves and it can take more than 24 hours to truck cattle from the neighboring country
  • Castration is not common in South Africa and Beefcor leaves bulls intact at the feedlot. Namibian cattle are usually castrated
  • Truckloads of cattle are usually mixed between multiple owners with varying weights and breeds
  • Usually a load of calves will have 30% heifers, but last year during the drought there were up to 45% heifers
  • Calves are bought at 180-250 kg (400-550 lb) and go through the backgrounding program before entering the feedlot
  • Finished cattle are slaughtered at 450 kg (990 lb) dressing at 58% and yielding a 250 kg (550 lb) carcass
  • Cattle are fed four times per day with 25% of the ration in the morning, 27.5% at mid-morning, 27.5% at mid-afternoon and 20% at evening
  • The ration is very dry containing no silage at the moment, but Beefcor is currently working with local farmers to source some corn silage
  • Rations have varying amounts of white corn meal, hominy chop, molasses, distiller’s grain and hay
  • Backgrounded cattle graze 3,500 hectares (8,650 acres) of pasture, but Beefcor owns no farmland
  • All feed is purchased off the farm from across locations in South Africa
  • A nearby bio gas plant buys the manure and electricity produced at the plant goes to a BMW manufacturing facility

(Wyatt Bechtel/Farm Journal Media)

Franken pointed out the use of total traceability in their system through radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags. The yellow RFID tags help with the promotion of the branded beef program and gathering data on cattle performance.

It makes the accuracy of your data better, Franken says of the tagging system.

Calves also receive color coded identification tags with large printed numbers for easy visual identification.


(Wyatt Bechtel/Farm Journal Media)

Growth promotants like zilpaterol are still in use at the feedlot. Feed grade antibiotics like monensin and tylosin are commonly used, while chlortetracycline is added when a weather event is about to happen.

In the future, there could be a push to put some cattle into a natural, never-ever branded beef program under the Beefcor label.

We’ll need more money beef for the loss in production if we go to a never-ever program, Franken says.

For more on Beefcor check out their company website and Facebook page.

(Wyatt Bechtel/Farm Journal Media)


Note: The author, Wyatt Bechtel, is attending the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists world congress in South Africa. While at the congress he is learning about agriculture in South Africa while networking with journalists from across the globe.