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Cattle breeds Part 1

Beef production in Southern Africa has a long history, with cattle being farmed for a variety of purposes in diverse cultures throughout the continent in the present and past.

Different species are adapted to different climatic conditions, regions, and production takes place almost everywhere on the continent.

Afrikaner cattle

An Afrikaner bull with horns that grow upward. (Source: afrikanerbees.com)

The Afrikaner breed has regained popularity, owing to its hardiness and ability to withstand harsh weather conditions, especially hot weather. This breed could help the beef industry cope with rising temperatures due to climate change.

The Afrikaner is a medium to largeframed breed of cattle with a deep red or yellow colour. Their horns are long and turn upward, but they are dehorned in commercial operations. A mature bull weighs between 750 and 1 000 kg, and a cow is around 525 to 600 kg. The cattle are oval in build, with strong legs, a good depth of body,  and loose skin to tolerate the heat.

Afrikaner cows are excellent mothers, easy to calve with low mortality rates because of the relatively small calves at birth, and plenty of milk. A cow can produce ten or more calves in her lifetime and has a good temperament. Afrikaner bulls have a long productive life of up to 12 years and produce mother-line progeny. Production regions Afrikaner cattle are produced throughout South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Mozambique. The cattle are resistant to malignant catarrhal fever, making them ideal for farming in game areas and even poor-quality veld in extensive feeding systems.

Due to the Afrikaner migration from Asia, only animals that could survive in arid desert conditions, extreme heat, tropical diseases, and both internal and external parasites were considered. Due to these traits, the Afrikaner has earned the title of “no-nonsense” breed. It is thus one of the few breeds in South Africa that can be produced year-round on extensive veld.

Uses

The Afrikaner is of the Sanga type and belongs to the Bos taurus africanus group. The breed was used to create the Bonsmara and the Drakensberger with Shorthorn genetics. The breed has been used to improve indigenous cattle in tropical countries due to its fertility, docility, and excellent weight gain in their progeny. They are bred for the production for meat, milk, and the thick hide that makes good quality leather.

Meat quality

The Afrikaner’s meat quality is comparable to that of Angus cattle, which is regarded as the best beef cattle and is considered juicy and tender meat. The Afrikaners’ hardiness allows them to finish them off in the veld, avoiding the need for a feedlot to gain weight before being sent to the abattoir. Afrikaner beef production is almost organic. The Afrikaner Breeders Society created the Afri Beef label as a marketing campaign to guarantee the quality of meat sold under this label.

Dehorned calves, cows, and bulls of the Afrikaner breed. (Source: afrikanerbees.com)

Angus beef

Angus, also known as Aberdeen Angus, was one of the first cattle breeds bred solely for beef. The breed is named after the county of Angus in Aberdeen­shire, North East Scotland. Angus cattle have become a leading international beef breed due to its excellent meat quality, polled status (lack of horns), and rapid marketing weight gain because of its good feed conversion ratio.

Bulls of Black and Red Angus breed. (Source: angus.org.za)

The Angus is a medium-framed breed of cattle. A mature bull weighs around 850 kg and a cow around 550 kg. There is no genetic difference between Red and Black Angus cattle, although Red Angus cattle are said to be less sen­sitive to heat stress, lowering their risk of cancer and sunburned udders.

Production regions

Angus cattle do well in cooler climates, but they can also withstand harsh weather. They are still crossbred, primarily with Brahman and Bonsmara, to improve meat quality and increase their offspring’s weight. They produce high-quality carcasses in intensive feeding systems such as feedlots. They are very well adapted to natural veld or planted pasture production systems.

Uses

The breed belongs to the Bos taurus group. Crossbreeding is widely used with Angus cattle to improve carcass quality and milk production. Angus cows calve easily and have good calf-rearing abilities. Because the polled gene is passed down as a dominant characteristic, it is also used as a ge­netic dehorner.

A Red Angus cow. (Source: Pexels.com by Tom Small)

Meat quality

The Angus Society launched the Angus Beef project in 1989 to emulate the success of the US-based Certified Angus Beef programme. The project al­lows customers to distinguish between Angus beef and beef from other cattle. The society considers Angus beef su­perior to other breeds due to superior marbling (intermuscular fat). This mar­bling improves flavour, tenderness, and moisture retention in the meat.

Beefmaster

A Beefmaster bull. (Source: Pixabay.com by DawidFourie)

The Beefmaster is classified as a cross­breed as the breed has 25% Hereford, 25% Shorthorn, and 50% Brahman genetics. It was bred to be more productive and to live in harsh environ­mental conditions.

The Beefmaster was named after its superiority, or as the “meat machine.”

The Beefmaster is a medium-framed breed. The cows are excellent mothers with good milk production. Calves are small at birth, so birth complications are rare, but they grow quickly and achieve some of the best weaning weights of all breeds. A mature bull weighs can exceed 1 200 kg and a cow around 800 kg.

A Beefmaster bull. (Source: Pixabay.com by DawidFourie)

The Beefmaster’s colour has never been a breeding priority, but the cattle usually have a brownish-red coat colour.

Production regions

Beefmaster cattle have a gentle tem­perament and disposition that make them easy to handle. They are also very adaptable, so they are produced in South Africa and other African coun­tries. The cattle are resistant to heat, drought, and insects.

Uses

Beefmaster cattle can be used in closed herds or crossbred to improve the meat quality, maternal traits, and hardiness of other breeds. Registered Beefmaster bulls can easily increase a farmer’s profit per calf when bred to indigenous breeds, by increasing the weaning weight of commercial herds by 20 to 30 kilogrammes.

Feedlots are willing to pay a premium for Beefmaster calves due to their adaptability, rapid weight gain, and high meat yield.

Meat quality

Beefmaster beef is of excellent quality, which has resulted in high consumer and abattoir demand for the meat.

Bonsmara

Calves and cows from the Bonsmara breed. (Source: iStockphoto.com by EcoPic)

Bonsmara cattle are typically used for beef production and belong to the Bos taurus group. The breed consists of 5/8 Afrikaner with its adaptability, 3/16 Hereford with its meat produc­tion and 3/16 Shorthorn with its milk production. This breed is known for its adaptability, suitability for extensive production, and excellent meat quality. The Bonsmara has distinguished itself as an “easy-care” breed.

The Bonsmara is a medium-framed breed, red in colour, and is born with horns. In order to comply with breed standards, the Bonsmara must be dehorned. Mature cows weigh 500 to 550 kg and have sufficient milk production to wean strong calves. The bulls weigh around 900 kg. How­ever, weight varies greatly depending on the quality of the veld on which the cattle are raised, with sour veld farm­ers preferring smaller animals than sweet veld farmers.

The cows are excellent mothers and are resistant to many of the tick-borne diseases that plague the more Euro­pean breeds. To avoid problems, a good anti-parasite programme should be followed. The breed is also easy to handle on the farm and in feedlots.

Production regions

Because the breed thrives under ex­tensive conditions, it is found through­out South Africa. It is also in high demand in Namibia, Botswana, Mozam­bique, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Kenya. They do well on veld in areas with less than 150 mm of rain per year, but also in areas with more than 2 400 mm. The breed is well adapted to hot climates. It thrives in thorn, mixed bush, tall grass, and sour-veld areas of tropical and temperate climates.

Bull of the Bonsmara breed. (Source: frontierbonsmaras.co.za)

Uses

The Bonsmara is a versatile breed that can be used to improve the meat and mothering qualities of other breeds. When crossed with Brahman, they produce excellent offspring, and they are frequently crossed with Charolais or Limousine for weaner production to sell at a premium. It is a good feedlot weaner because of the breed’s high growth rate and feed conversion ratio.

Meat quality

The meat has excellent marbling and it is juicy and tender. The fact that the animal is docile also means that it is less stressed in the feedlot, which could have an effect on the meat qual­ity. Bonsmara cattle produce a high-quality carcass.

References

Southafrica.co.za. (2022). South African Beef Breeds. [online] Avail­able at: https://southafrica.co.za/south-african-beef-breeds.html

Loubser, A., Schutte, N. and Hofmeyr, I., (2007). Cattle breeds of South Africa. Pretoria, AgriCon­nect, Pages 97-165.

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