Cattle breeds and their characteristics

24 Aug 2018

There are 25 different breeds of cattle in Namibia and, much like rugby teams and car preference; all of them have supporters and naysayers.

The reality is that no two farms are exactly alike, so cattle producers need to know their land to determine which breeds are best suited for their environment.

Indigenous breeds are mostly kept in communal areas, such as the Sanga (related to the South-African Nguni). These animals are well adapted to the harsh local environment, which is characterised by high temperatures, prolonged dry periods, pests and diseases. Moreover, they require minimal management, but are still productive.

Commercial farmers tend to keep exotic breeds, which are “high output” animals. These animals require high management since they are not tolerant to the harsh Namibian environment. The major breeds are the Afrikaner, Bonsmara, Brahman and the Simmentaler.

When you produce oxen, it is advisable to use of crossbreeds. Crossbreeding is necessary to capture the best qualities of the breeds involved. For example, some breeds mature at an early age, but they do not have the necessary conformation and mass, while others may have both conformation and mass, but do not have the fat layer required. Mixing breeds and keeping an eye on genetics helps isolate the best qualities suited to one’s needs.

Brahmans, for example, tend to have the right fat layer but not always the correct mass and conformation.

For example, if you crossbreed a Brahman with a Simmentaler, you tend to have the correct mass at an early age of about 24 months as well.

Crossbreeding may be used to develop animals with characteristics for optimum production in a particular region. This results in a change in the genetic makeup and improves productivity. Animals that are properly cross-bred make better use of extra feed and improved management. This is referred to as the efficiency of the animal.

Characteristics of a Brahman

Brahman cattle are known for their extreme tolerance to heat conditions. They are also more resistant to parasites and disease due to their oily skin, which may help repel insect pests. A Brahman cow is a good mother, offering protection and an abundance of milk for her calves. Brahman calves tend to have high weights at weaning because of the rich milk given by Brahman cows. The Brahman is one of the most popular breeds of cattle intended for meat processing. Brahman cattle live longer than many other breeds, often still producing calves at the age of 15 years and older.

Characteristics of a Bonsmara

The Bonsmara is functional, efficient and is well adapted to the extensive African climate. Bonsmaras are very fertile and breed small calves for easy calving. Bonsmaras are subject to minimum growth standards and produce high quality meat. Bonsmaras have a calm temperament and are handled with ease. Bonsmaras are equally suitable for cross-breeding as well as pure cattle farming.

Characteristics of an Afrikaner

Perhaps one of the most important characteristics of the Afrikaner is its suitability for cross-breeding with exotic beef breeds. Another outstanding characteristic is the Afrikaner's resistance to most of the country's endemic diseases, such as redwater, heartwater and gall sickness. The cattle are well adapted to veld conditions in the warm, arid and extensive grazing areas of the country, and react well to intensive feeding. The short, strong, shiny hair discourages tick attacks. Its meat is of high quality and tender, tasty and succulent.

Characteristics of a Simmentaler

The Simmentaler breed adapts easily to the most varied conditions. Simmentalers are bred all over the world for their high beef yields. The heavy muscling, length and overall size and weight of the animal are combined to produce a well fleshed carcass of solid red meat with a minimum of waste fat. In crossbreeding, the Simmentaler has proved very successful. It provides good growth, a large frame and thus a better beef yield to its crossbred progeny. It improves the quality of the meat with white fat and excellent marbling. It improves the milk yield, resulting in strong development of the calves in suckler herds.

Characteristics of Nguni cattle

Nguni cattle are known for their fertility and resistance to diseases. The cattle are heat tolerant. They have long productive lives and cows will produce 10 or more calves, calving regularly. The cows show great efficiency and often wean calves that weigh 45-50% of their body mass. They develop excellent resistance to ticks and immunity to tickborne diseases. Disease incidence and mortality are low. Nguni fatten well on natural grazing as well as in the feedlot. The historical development of the Nguni has resulted in a breed with good temperament and mothering ability.