Sosian

Boran Cattle Stud

Sosian Ranch runs a herd of roughly 1600 head of Boran cattle which are all registered as pure Boran with the Kenya Stud Book. There are 400 breeding cows and 30 top quality stud bulls being used in the breeding program. This makes Sosian one of the largest registered herds of Boran cattle in Kenya, and the world. The remaining numbers are made up of farm bred animals from this herd which will eventually be sold to other breeders, retained for our own replacements or sold as top quality, free range grass-fed beef that is sold to some of Nairobi’s top restaurants..

The Boran is a breed of cattle originally developed in Kenya from very hardy stock that still lives in Kenya’s northern deserts, Somalia and Ethiopia. The animal has been improved over the years to get the breed we see now. As a member of the Boran Cattle Breeders Society each animal is subject to a rigorous inspection prior to being approved and allowed into the herd. There are a number of characteristics that determine a true Boran some are aesthetic, some from a commercial point of view and others based on what the breed should be. One of the biggest factors determining a Boran is the character and temperament. The breed is known to be placid and not aggressive to people. As a result of this our cattle are very relaxed and are more interested in meeting people than chasing them! However they are also bred for the very strong maternal instincts and it is not recommended to get between a cow and her calf! Once passed the animal gets the mark of the society branded on its hump.

Boran bulls are massive muscled animals that can weigh between 600—800 kg. The cows are considerably smaller and usually weigh around 400 kg. We aim to get one calf per cow every year but this is not always possible and it is more realistic to get one calf every fifteen months. Calves are weaned from their mothers at 8 months and then join the steer or heifer herds until they are 3 years old. Being a stud herd there is only ever one bull with each herd of cows so we always know the sire of any calf born. Therefore we run five herds of breeding cows at any one time of about 65-75 cows each and one bull . All births are recorded and the calf is ear tagged within a few days with it identification number, number of the mother and the ear tag colour denoting the herd. Dehorning, branding and castration take place at weaning.

Compared to other commercial cattle ranches in the area Sosian is under stocked when based on the conventional stocking rates. However these are stocking rates that did not take wildlife into consideration and were only really applicable in the past. At the moment we base our stocking rate on one livestock unit per 15 acres which is double what was the norm. However when one considers we carry around the same amount of game as cattle this makes more sense.

In fact the cattle are our biggest management tool when it comes to encouraging wildlife onto Sosian. Without cattle constantly grazing the grass it becomes overgrown and old which pushes the game out of the area. Wildlife prefers to graze areas where the grass is short and sweet, and they feel vulnerable to predators where there is long grass. Furthermore the cattle graze a wide variety of grasses and shrubs and ensure there are a broad numbers of species of these edible plants growing rather than one dominant type. This, coupled with the churning up of the soil by their hooves and manuring and resultant fertilising of the soil, results in a healthier environment for both cattle and wildlife on Sosian.

All the cattle are put into enclosures (bomas) at night to protect them from predators. Most of our bomas are portable which allows us to move them to areas where there is little grass cover. Once the boma has been moved the soil is enriched with manure which results in a better grass growth and becomes a wildlife hotspot in the following season.

Laikipia has never been an easy place to rear cattle and today there are still numerous problems. Rainfall, or lack of it, is our biggest issue. The area is very drought prone and we often have to feed supplements to the cows in very dry periods. Furthermore during the dry season we are constantly pumping water for the cattle, which the wildlife also gets is share of. However this is another area where the hardy Boran survives due to its relative drought tolerance, the Boran can go for up to three days without water if it has to. Most European breeds of cattle die from drought or disease very quickly in Laikipia.

Predation by lions and leopards are a constant worry and any animals lost and left outside at night we do not expect to find the next day. Tick borne and other tropical diseases are widespread and the cattle have to be “dipped” once a fortnight to get rid of the ticks. As a result of these problems and as part of the management of the herd there are herders with the animals twenty four hours a day who take great pride in their animals and know most of them by name. They can usually give the breeding history of a certain cow and any other details despite not knowing how to read and write.