Cattle can be considered as an essential daily food and nutrition source, a valuable supply of revenue, and they produce nitrogen-rich manure that can be used to rebuild soils. Different breeds are better adapted for each purpose.

Boran cattle

The Boran cattle breed evolved from the Borana people’s native short–horned cattle over a thousand years ago. The breed is made up of 24% European Bos Taurus, 64% Bos Indicus, and 14% African Bos Taurus, which makes sense given the variety of cattle breeds that travelled from Ethiopia to the rest of Africa.

The Boran is a medium-framed breed, with mature cows weighing 380 to 450 kg and bulls weighing 500 to 850 kg. Calves born to Boran cows are small, therefore calving issues are unlikely.

Boran bull with brown dots on his skin. (Source:

Cows as old as fifteen years can still produce healthy calves. Colours range from white with dots to brown and red. The skin is loose and has short hair. The breed’s oily secretions, long eyelashes, and twitching tail assist in repelling insects like ticks and flies.

These cattle are docile and possess a strong herd instinct, making them easy to handle and making it difficult to steal a single animal out of a herd.

Production regions

The Boran breed is produced in Southern Africa due to its adaptability to climatic conditions and tolerance to heat. A shiny coat and exceptional heat tolerance allow it to outperform other breeds in hot, humid areas, but a thick, loose coat and oily hair help it to endure cold and rainy conditions in the winter. The Boran has been developed to be very resistant to parasites, both internal and external, such as ticks, and eye diseases.

Boran bull with brown dots on his skin. (Source:


The Boran belongs to the Bos indicus group and can be used in confined herds or crossbred to improve the meat quality, maternal qualities, and hardiness of Zebu breeds. The Boran is a non-selective browser and grazer with a tough rumen and metabolism. The breed can endure water scarcity and live on low-quality feed.

Meat quality

The breed’s hardiness allows it to be “fattened up” on the veld and sold as “grass-fed”. The meat of the Boran and its hybrids is consistently more tender and marbled than other Zebu breeds.

The breed bridges the gap between the perfect carcass animal, which is expensive to maintain, and indigenous breeds, which fail to fulfil market criteria and yield minimal abattoir income. The Boran produces acceptable carcasses with little input cost.

Brahman cattle

The Brahman is the first cattle breed produced in America and is presently used in Southern African beef production. Brahman is a medium-sized beef breed, with bulls weighing 700 to 1 000 kg and cows weighing 450 to 650 kg. Calves are small at birth, weighing between 25 and 35 kg, but grow quickly and wean at comparable weights to other breeds. Bulls have large, bean-shaped humps.

Brahman cattle range in colour from pale grey to nearly black. Their short, glossy hair and pigmented skin reflect sunlight, allowing them to survive in hot and humid climates. They also have more sweat glands and looser skin than most European breeds, which helps regulate body temperature. There is reasonable loose skin under the abdomen of the breed.

Grey Brahman bull. (Source:

Their short hair makes it harder for parasites to cling to, and the cattle secrete an oily substance that repels insects.

The cows live up to 20 years and have good maternal qualities, making them desirable in crossbreeding programmes. The Brahman is described as an intelligent animal that adapts well to routine and develops a mild temperament when treated gently.

Producing regions

Brahmans are popular in South Africa, Namibia, and Zimbabwe. Brahman cattle thrive in large-scale production systems, and are found throughout South Africa. South African live animals, embryos, and semen are exported to Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Swaziland.

Brahman cow and calve. (Source:


While the Brahman is a pure breed, the Breeders’ Society calls it the “king of crossbreeding” for its superior hybrid vigour, hardiness, maternal qualities, and low birth weight. In South Africa, over 50% of commercial breeders use purebred Brahman animals to produce other breeds. The Simbra is an excellent example of a breed formed by crossing Simmentalers with Brahmans.

Meat quality

Contrary to popular belief, the Brahman possesses the genetic ability to provide high-quality, soft meat.


Braunvieh, named after its brown coat, is one of South Africa’s oldest and purest cattle breeds. The breed originated in the Swiss Alps and has been imported to most of Europe and Russia since 1897.

They were imported to South Africa in 1907 as part of a Department of Agriculture’s crossbreeding experiment to create cattle suitable for the cold highlands.

Braunvieh bull. (Source: Witbek Braunvieh-stoet)

Braunvieh is a 60:40 ratio dual-purpose breed intended for meat and dairy products. The breed has black pigment and a good hide. In summer, they shed hair and thicken in winter to maintain a stable body temperature. The dark pigment prevents eye cancer.

Cattle with powerful legs and black hooves can walk far and thrive under intensive production circumstances. Their calm demeanour makes them easy to farm with and to keep in feedlots. The Braunvieh is a medium to large-framed beef breed, with bulls weighing 810 to 1 100 kg and cows 500 to 680 kg.

The cows are very good mothers. Their exceptional milk production enables calves to grow up fast and have above-average weaning weights.

Production regions

Braunvieh cattle are raised anywhere in South Africa. Because of its Alpine origins, it has a higher red blood count than other cow breeds, allowing them to adapt to a wide range of conditions, from extreme cold to extreme heat.

Braunvieh cows and calves. (Source: Witbek Braunvieh-stoet)


While Braunvieh cattle can be used in isolated herds, they also perform well in crossbreeding programmes. When used for crossbreeding, Braunvieh immediately improves any commercial cattle breed. The first crossbreeds had more milk, better udders and teats, better structure and constitution, and weaners that were heavier than average.

Braunvieh is supposed to be calm cattle that grow up quickly, and save farmers money at weaning time. Braunvieh cross calves achieve weaning weight between 4 and 6 months.

Fast growth and a gentle temperament make the Braunvieh a popular feedlot breed.


Due to their masculinity and constitution, the breed was originally used as draught animals. In the 1920s, functional meat properties became more important. The goal was to produce fast-growing, productive cattle with good meat, without compromising the breed’s sturdiness, temperament, or adaptability to varied climates.

In South Africa, the Charolais breed has evolved without sacrificing its popular qualities. Because the Charolais has been purebred for over 370 years, it possesses a high level of prepotency. The second-generation animal will be white by default.

Charolais bull. (Source: Charnelle Charolais)

According to the Charolais Cattle Breeders Society, one of the biggest blunders made with the Charolais in Southern Africa was emphasising the masculinity and size of the initial imported animals. This caused calving issues and milk shortages in cows. As semen imports rose, so did structural issues, including bad legs.

Since the 1990s, severe import regulations have been implemented to guarantee imported semen meets breed needs and standards, such as smaller frames and ease of calving. Compulsory performance testing since 1997 made poor-quality animals easier to cull. Since 2000, the breed has adopted a tight linear classification system to ensure only the top animals make the cut.

The breed’s inter-calf duration has decreased from 424 to 417 days because of improved reproductive and mothering properties. As a result of improved milk output, Charolais cows are weaning some of the largest calves of all breeds.

Production region

Due to the breed’s adaptability and superior meat quality, the breed has been exported from South Africa to Namibia, Botswana, and Zimbabwe. Zambia and other African countries produce Charolais. It is produced in all nine provinces of South Africa, but is particularly popular in the North West and Northern Cape.

Charolais bull. (Source: Charnelle Charolais)


Aside from stud breeding, many commercial producers use Charolais extensively. The bulls are frequently used to breed smaller-framed cattle, resulting in more desirable feedlot offspring. From genomic research, it appears that the cattle are a small, concentrated group that produces exceptional hybrid vigour (heterosis) when crossed.

Meat quality

Due to its fast growth and feed conversion rate, the breed is in high demand in feedlots. The breed also only gains fat late in the production cycle, allowing feedlots to maintain and feed the animals longer when meat prices are low. Large carcasses make deboning easier and save processing and transport costs.

References (2022). South African Beef Breeds. [online] Available at:

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