A better understanding of the influences of the bioregion (production environment) and environmental factors on the productivity of beef cows is vital in the pursuit of improving beef production. The influence of bioregion and important environmental factors in South Africa (temperature, rainfall, soil pH, soil cation exchange capacity, soil organic carbon content, soil phosphorus (P) concentration, and grazing capacity) on production and reproduction traits of Bonsmara cows were analysed by means of cluster analysis and analysis of variance (ANOVA). Stepwise regression analyses were used to determine the influence of the different environmental factors (and possible non-additive genetic effects) on the production and reproduction efficiency of the cows. Results of the effects of bioregion and non-additive genetic effects (the contribution of which was not quantified per se) on beef cow productivity indicate that bioregion influenced production and reproduction traits of cows, while significant farm effects were also noted. Bonsmara farm influenced the production efficiency of cows through the implementation of management practices and breeding objectives. Environmental factors significantly influenced all production traits measured for Bonsmara cows. The extent of the effects of the combined influences of environmental factors on cow productivity depended on the physiological stage of animal growth and reproduction. Environmental effects on production efficiency were buffered by maternal effects at birth, but became more significant after weaning (9%) to yearling age (10%) and maturity. Most environmental factors studied influenced the production traits of cows, with rainfall and temperature having the largest influence. The negative influence of rainfall on cow productivity was attributed to its negative influence on grazing quality, through effects on soil pH, phosphorus and soil organic carbon content. The small negative influence of temperature on the productivity of cows indicates that this breed is well adapted to the main South African beef production regions. It should be noted that in this study the non-additive genetic component was not separated from the environmental components.
The study was conceived by ECW, based on the MSc dissertation of PCV, which was produced under the supervision of ECW, JvdW and HAS.