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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Beefmaster’s colour has never been a breeding priority, but the cattle usually have a brownish-red coat colour.
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.
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.
Beefmaster beef is of excellent quality, which has resulted in high consumer and abattoir demand for the meat.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.