Just ask around. Claire and Martin Joubert are the envy of most cattle breeders in South Africa and rightfully so. Their Full Blood Genetics agribusiness is one of few in the country to breed Ankole cattle.
The duo built their business from the ground up, using cattle that are direct descendants of the Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni’s Royal herd. Today, they own Africa’s most expensive Ankole cow and co-own the continent’s most expensive Ankole bull calf.
Their company offers all the original bull lines and the top performing cows. Also, their farm boasts with about 200 cattle and have bred a herd of Ankole cattle through embryo work.
Getting to this point took great sacrifices. Luckily, going against what’s conventional and expected have never been a problem for them.
Take their wedding day, for example. Instead of throwing a hugely expensive and glamorous wedding which they could afford, the duo chose to say their “I do’s” in a courtroom. They agreed to use their life savings, wedding and honeymoon money, as well as a few loans, to start farming.
“To be honest this decision was a no brainer for us. It was actually my suggestion. Martin was of course on board quickly with this idea! It’s fair to say that we have never really done things the conventional way,” Claire says.
Their sacrifice, Martin adds, is testament to their passion for agriculture. As a couple they have also chosen not to take any weekends or days off, holidays or leave for four years. They often find themselves working into the wee hours of the morning as well.
“We love what we do. There’s nothing else in the world we would have sacrificed so much for and worked so hard towards,” he says.
Trial and error got them here
To be this successful, you would think that they invested a great deal into their agricultural education. But neither of them have ever studied agriculture.
Martin acquired his farming knowledge through trial and error. His passion for farming started as a young child, with poultry.
“I bred and showed ornamental chickens, which I still breed today. I use my chickens as a ‘drawing board’ to test breeding techniques, which I then implement to my cattle.”
“Breeding and genetics have always fascinated and interested me. My goal when pairing two animals is always to look for improvement in their offspring,” says Martin.
Before meeting Martin, Claire hadn’t stepped foot on a farm. Martin introduced her to agriculture and today she considers farming her true calling.
“Martin had the dream of the Ankole project before I met him. I was very grateful and appreciative of how he included me in his dream and wanted to start this project with me,” explains Claire.
Selecting the best Ankole
Their company was launched in 2018 after the two fell in love with the Ankole breed. It was the cattle’s unique appearance that stole their hearts. Upon further research, they were blown away by the breed’s characteristics and traits.
So in 2019 they took an expedition to Uganda to source the best Ankole genetics in the world to bring back to Mzansi. This was a huge challenge and the biggest the couple have had to face to date.
After meticulously hand selecting a number of standout Ankole out of a massive herd, Martin and Claire went through each of the cattle’s specific traits, looking at horns, phenotype, structural integrity as well as balance of body and milking abilities.
The Ankole bulls that they sourced had to be completely unrelated as the Jouberts knew what they chose would contribute to the future of Ankole in South Africa. Genetic variety was paramount, they explain.
After a few weeks, they finally chose eight bulls from different bloodlines in seven different districts in Uganda.
Getting Ankole cattle embryos to SA
The entire trip was problematic. Paying the Ugandan farmer who sold them them the Ankole cattle was challenging. This is because the South African Reserve Bank would not allow them to send any large amounts of money from South Africa to Uganda without special permission.
To top this, the payment would only reach the seller in eight weeks. This was time the Jouberts did not have. They still had to transport the cattle to Kenya, and their import permits to Kenya would soon expire. Little did they know that their export permits from Uganda had already expired.
However, after much back and forth, and losing all their money to extortionists contracted to transport their precious Ankole cattle, they eventually made their way to Kenya.
By the time the Ankole cattle finally arrived in Kenya at the Ol Pejeta Reserve, they had not been fed or watered for more than 24 hours.
The cattle had to stay in Kenya for six months before going through a variety of tests and clearance in order to have their embryos brought to South Africa. They lost a combined total 15kg due to stress and lack of eating, also experiencing constant food poisoning, Martin says.
Despite the challenges, the duo deem themselves lucky. “We were able to be one of the first breeders after President Ramaphosa and this allowed us to be in the forefront of the breed,” Martin says.
“The reaction from people seeing Ankole is even more intense than that of people seeing the big five game,” Claire points out.
As with any start-up business, running costs and funds to build the project, were their biggest challenges in the beginning. “We made many sacrifices to ensure every cent went back into the company. We are however lucky to farm with a breed that has an insatiable demand. Sales to supply this demand have supported the project.”
‘Working with my partner is…’
Working together as husband and wife makes them truly happy. Claire says she and Martin are quite similar. They both have a strong work ethic and sacrifice everything for the company without thinking twice.
“It would be challenging if both didn’t work as hard as we do. We have similar ideas and thoughts about life and understand each other well,” Claire says.
She does, however, admit she can get quite bossy. Only because she’s very organised and plan things to the letter.
“It’s important to me that I manage and plan the days and farm well, so that Martin has the free mental energy to use for things such as genetic planning and client relations.”
Meanwhile Martin says, “I feel fortunate. My wife is my personal chef, personal assistant, hairdresser, bookkeeper, business partner and best friend. We complement each other. Claire is more practical thinking and I’m more creative thinking.”
As a couple and partners, the future sure looks bright and the possibilities endless.
Together they are striving to grow their herd even further, and to breed and offer some of the very best Ankole genetics in South Africa. “We live and breathe Ankole cattle,” the farming duo agrees.
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