Looking at the beef breeds in the world today, it is obvious that there are a great number of breeds, and it would be impossible to give a complete survey of all the breeds. The intention of this lecture is to give a brief summary of some of the more important breeds. The details to be covered will include a brief history and some of the more important characteristics of the breeds. Students are not expected to know the breeds in any great detail, but a general knowledge is essential. It is also extremely difficult to give a detailed picture of the various breeds; however, it is assumed that students will make every endeavor to acquaint themselves with the different breeds. Farming publications and journals and online information resources, are full of illustrations and it is suggested that students compile a dossier of the different breeds with additional information. It is, of course, for the students’ own benefit and is not a requirement for the course.

Historical characteristics of the breed will indicate the importance of the breed, and also indicate the reason for its geographical distribution in Africa and on a world-wide basis.

The main beef breeds in Africa are classified as follows:

All cattle belong to the genus Bos, and this genus includes the following:

  •     The wild and domesticated Buffaloes of Asia;
  •     Some species of the wild African Buffalo;
  •     The American and European Bison;
  •     The Tibetan Yak;
  •     Three species of Asian Cattle, both wild and domesticated;
  •     The domesticated, humped Zebu Cattle (Bos indicus) of Asia and Africa; and
  •     The domesticated European Cattle (Bos taurus).

Buffaloes do not cross with others on the list, but the remainder cross freely, and the female hybrids are fertile.

Examples of the different breeds found in Southern Africa:

Aberdeen Angus Sussex Shorthorn   Hereford South Devon Charolais Simmentaler LimousinNguni Afrikaner Tuli Mashona Brahman Boran Ankole



Figure 1: Aberdeen Angus Source: fermanaghpedigreebreeders      

In less than a century, the Aberdeen Angus breed has developed from a handful of cattle in the hills of North Eastern Scotland to one of the world’s top quality beef breeds, established in every major cattle breeding country in the world.

The Aberdeen Angus is a direct descendant of the Hummlies and Doddies which roamed the counties of Aberdeenshire and Angus in Scotland.

Their selection and transmutation to the present beef-producer was the result of the work of:

  •     Hugh Watson (1780 – 1865) – The Founder.
  •     William McCombie (1805 – 1880) – The Great Improver.
  •     Sir George MacPherson-Grant (1839-1907) – The Great Refiner.

McCombie took cattle to the Paris Show in 1857 and with his six entries; he won 2 first, 1 second and 1 third prize. His fame was established in 1878 when his animals won many prizes. Queen Victoria, who attended the Royal Show on his farm, a great honour for him, was most impressed with the cattle. At about the same time the first Aberdeen Angus were exported to South Africa, and the Herd just grew from there. The Aberdeen Angus Society was established in the year 1908.

Advantages of the Aberdeen Angus:

  •     They are naturally polled;
  •     They are excellent for crossbreeding;
  •     Aberdeen Angus cows are famous for their mothering ability;
  •     Their fertility is amongst the world’s highest;
  •     They have a low incidence of eye cancer;
  •     The Aberdeen Angus type is a result of matings based on beefiness;
  •     The Aberdeen Angus produces top quality beef carcasses off the veld;
  •     The Aberdeen Angus cattle tend to do-better in high rainfall areas; and
  •     They have a record of easy calving for first calvers.


The first South African Red Aberdeen Angus stud was established in Zululand by B. Kramer, and it is a popular breed in the United States of America. It has also been shown, that the breed tends to do better in the hotter areas than the black Aberdeen Angus, and this could be an additional factor in favour of the breed.

Undesirable colour markings: Any white, apart from small white markings on the abdomen in front of the navel, is discriminated against.

Figurer 2: Sussex Source:.wikimedia      


The breed had its origin in the Counties of Sussex and Kent in England. From the earliest times, large, strong cattle were bred in these counties and it is certain that the breed has been pure for quite a few centuries; they have also been used as draught animals.

In 1878, the Sussex Breeders Association was established in England. The Sussex is a hardy breed by reason of its origin, being bred for a dual purpose.

The natural feeding conditions in the counties of Sussex and Kent were very poor and the animals had to subsist on poor nutrition, thereby making them ideal for some arid African areas. The breed is particularly suited to beef production under ranching conditions.

The size and conformation of the Sussex is very similar to the Hereford, and they must have had similar antecedents in early times – they come from the North of France: The Hereford and Sussex are adaptable to sub-tropical regions.                                                     

Breed Characteristics of the Sussex:

  •     They are a deep, reddish-brown colour with a white or silver tail switch, and sometimes a little white is found on the tail;
  •     They are horned;
  •     General conformation is short, broad and well fleshed; and
  •     It has been found to be excellent for cross-breeding programmes in ranching areas; a good hybrid vigour results.


Figure 3: Shorthorn Source: ranchers      

The shorthorn originated in a number of closely related types which existed during the early 18th Century in Yorkshire and Northumberland. Their ancestry appears to have been mixed, and this mixture consists of BlackCeltic, Red Anglo-Saxon and Broken Coloured Dutch animals.

The fact that the Dutch cattle were involved is perhaps an explanation of their beef and milk qualities.

The Dairy Shorthorn started in 1905 and a dual purpose beef shorthorn also exists, but both have different qualities and functions.

The first Shorthorn cattle were imported to South Africa in 1836 by Eastern Cape farmers, and in 1912, the Shorthorn Cattle Society of South Africa was established.

Breed Characteristics:

  •     Naturally horned, but a polled strain was developed in the USA and the first were imported to South Africa in 1939. A separate section in the Society for polled cattle has been formed.
  •     African Breeders have concentrated on breeding smooth coated animals.
  •     Colour Markings. With coat colour genes, where no dominant gene exists, the gene pairs produce the following colours : RR – Red     Rr – Roan and rr – White
rr  X rrAll White 
Rr  X  RrRR Red + Rr Roan + rr White(1 : 2 : 1)
RR  X  RrRR Red + Rr Roan(1 : 1)
Rr  X  rrRr Roan + rr White(1 : 1)


Figure 4: Hereford Source: churchillcattle      

The breed is renowned throughout the world for its adaptability to extreme variations of soil and climate and it is a great forager under poor pastures conditions.

Herefords had their origin and evolution in the South West part of England where the county of Herefordshire borders Wales.

The colours of the Herefords originally varied greatly and the origin of the present day colour markings are not known.                 

In 1788 a show was held in Herefordshire and 1000 animals were exhibited and it was stated that the Hereford was the outstanding beef breed of the British Isles, and that the white face was a characteristic appreciated by breeders. Importance of this statement is still valid today.

The Hereford Studbook of England was founded in 1846. The breed was pure since 1883.

In 1903 the Government of South Africa imported 27 females and 4 males, including the famous English bull ‘British Gold’. This herd was kept at Potchefstroom Agricultural College and provided the foundation stock for the breed in Southern Africa. The years between 1903 and 1906, private breeders imported considerable numbers of pedigree Hereford cattle, and the South African Hereford Breeders Association was established in 1917.

Characteristics of the Hereford breed are:

Laminitis: Occurs in cattle being fed on high energy diets during pen fattening. The feet become very tender, the animal lies about and is reluctant to get up and feed, causing a loss of weight and condition. Pure breeds and crosses of Bos indicus are prone to this condition.  
  •     They fatten easily and mature early;
  •     They are good grazers and not fussy about their food. They are suitable for ranching conditions in this part of the world;
  •     They are ideal for crossing with other breeds and particularly the indigenous cattle;
  •     In general the cattle are hardy, although due to the pale pigment around the eye, they are susceptible to eye complaints and eye cancer; and
  •     Pure Herefords and their crosses are ideal cattle for fattening in pens. They are not affected by laminitis and they feed well and fatten quickly.


The South Devon originated, as its name suggests, in the southern part of Devon in the U.K., on the red soils below Dartmoor. Improvement of the breed has been fairly recent, and the Herd Book was started only in 1891. The animals have a yellow/orange coat colour and their general conformation is rather coarse. The breed has been exported to South Africa in large numbers, where it is popular because of its suitability to the climate, and its usefulness in producing trek oxen.   

Characteristics of the breed are:                                                                                                                                                        

Figure 5: South Devon Source: lickhillherd      

  •    It is the largest in size of the British breeds. Cows in ordinary breeding condition weigh 650 – 700kg and bulls in show condition can weigh up to 1300kg.
  • The cows are good milkers and yields of 4500 kg are quite common. Lactation yields of 9 000 kg have been recorded. The milk has a rich, creamy yellow colour with a butterfat of 4 – 4,5%. The breed is a true dual purpose breed.
  •   The bulls are fertile and are used for crossing with both exotic and indigenous cattle.


Figure 6: Charolais Source: mogocharolais      

The Charolais originated in the Juca Mountains of Eastern France, and together with the Pinzguaers and Simmentalers, it makes up the group known as the Basic Cattle. They spread from the Juca Mountains to the Le Charolles area in France and took their name from this district. In 1907 the population was about 1 million head of Charolais cattle in France, and by 1978 this had risen to 2,5 million. It was only after the Second World War that the cattle were exported from France, mainly to the U.K. and America.                                                           

In 1955 and 1956, 4 bulls and 18 heifers were imported into South Africa, and this was followed in 1964 by about 200 bulls and 640 females. The South African Charolais Breeders Association was established in 1966.

Characteristics of the breed are:

  •     The cattle are large and heavy, with adult cows weighing from 750 to 820kg, and bulls from 1000 to 1250kg. They have large heads and this can cause great calving difficulties, particularly when the bulls are used for cross breeding with smaller breeds;
  •     The body is very well muscled and one of the main characteristics of the breed is double muscling down the thigh and lower thigh. This gives a high proportion of lean meat on the carcass. Due to their size, the pure bred animals produce large joints of meat which tend to be too big for the average family but suited to the restaurant trade;
  •     The cows are good milkers and both bulls and cows have a docile temperament which makes them easy to handle;
  •     The cattle are very fertile, and bulls are sexually mature at 1 year old although they should not be worked at this age. The bulls are pre-potent and make good crossing animals; and
  •     The colour varies from white to creamy light yellow to light grey and is very typical of the breed.


Figure 7: Simmentaler Source: ranchers      

The Simmentaler have been imported into Southern Africa from Central Europe. The breed originated in France but has been developed mainly in Germany.

Characteristics of the breed are:

  •     It is a true duaI-purpose breed with excellent beef and milk production. The cows are heavy milkers with lactation yields of 4500kg or more of milk with high butterfat content.
  •     Beef conformation is good, but without the double muscling of the Charolais.
  •     Colour ranges from dark brown to creamy yellow and white in colour.
  •     The bulls are very popular for crossing with other exotic breeds and with indigenous cattle. The cross bred animals grow rapidly. There are no calving problems associated with the breed that occur with Charolais crosses.



Figure 8: Afrikaner      

The Afrikaner is thought to have originated in Central Asia, and to have entered North Africa about 2000 years ago. When Jan Van Riebeck landed in the Cape in 1652 the cattle had reached South Africa and were well established in the area, being in the possession of the local people. By the end of the 18th century the estimated cattle population was 2,500,000. About 1820 the British settlers in the Cape began to keep them as farm animals and as draught animals. From 1896 – 1897 the famous outbreak of rinderpest, an acute viral disease of cattle, decimated the cattle population to the point where the Afrikaner was threatened with extinction. A total of 600,000 animals died at that time. The Afrikaner Breeders Association was formed in 1912.

Characteristics of the breed:

  •     They are hardy animals particularly adapted to arid, dry conditions, and they were used as draught animals during the various treks from South Africa. They have a certain amount of resistance to the various tick-bore and other diseases and parasites found in Southern Africa;
  •     They are good grazers and make good use of poor grazing conditions. They are not good cattle for pen feeding, and they are prone to laminitis when they are enclosed in pens and fed on high energy diets;
  •     Recent experiments and trials with pure and crossbred animals have shown that the Afrikaner breed tend to be slightly less fertile than other indigenous breeds; and
  •     The cows produce very good calves when they are crossed with other breeds, particularly the larger exotic breeds such as the Charolais and the South Devon. Bos indicus cows have far fewer calving problems than Bos taurus cows, and they can produce a larger calf without difficulty. The cross breeds show heterosis, but they are prone to laminitis when they are fattened in pens.


This is a breed indigenous to Zimbabwe, and the cattle are descended from two African types; those with a hump, and those with long horns and no hump. The humpless cattle were bred in Egypt about 5 000 BC, and as the Bantu tribes moved south, they brought their cattle with them. In this way the cattle became established in Central Africa.

In 1942, Mr. Len Harvey realised the potential of the local yellow cattle, and he decided to try and improve the breed and fix the type. In 1945, 1 000ha of land in the Gwanda area were set aside as a research station, for the improve­ment of the breed. Fencing was completed during 1946 – 1947 and 20 females and 1 bull were purchased to form the first herd. The programme of improvement was successful, and in 1950 the area was increased to 8000 ha. By 1956 there were 24 paddocks on the station, and the herd had increased to 1000 animals. Ranchers in the Midlands and Matabeleland began to realise the potential of the breed and in 1961 the Tuli Cattle Breeders Association was formed.

Characteristics of the breed are:

  •     Being indigenous cattle, they are hardy and resistant to many of the local pests and diseases;
  •     They are adaptable, good grazers, fertile and good for cross breeding.


The breed is indigenous to Zimbabwe and originated from crosses between long horned and lateral horned Hamitic cattle and local short horned types. For many years the cattle were confined to Nature Reserves, but in 1941 Messers Willoughby and Mellod developed the first nucleus herd. In 1959 the Government of Rhodesia recognised the breed and granted subsidies for the purchase of registered bulls.

By 1956 there were a number of breeders in the higher rainfall areas of the country and in the latter half of the 1950s breeding stations were set up under Government control. Farmers began sending bulls to these stations for performance and progeny testing and by 1960 the breed was established on a firm basis.

Characteristics of the breed are:

  •     The cattle are small and fine boned, and are generally black in colour and are horned. They are noted for their extreme docility and are easy to handle;
  •     They are hardy and show a resistance to many local diseases, particularly opthalmia, a condition that affects the eyes, and many tick-borne diseases; and
  •     They are fertile and breed regularly under good management. They make good crossing cattle and the Aberdeen Angus X Mashona is a particularly useful animal for beef production, although they are prone to laminitis in pens.



Figure 9: Brahman      

The breed is indigenous to India. Brahmans are the holy cows of the Hindu religion, but the modern breed has been developed in the USA. The first Bos indicus cattle were imported into America in 1849, and in 1854 Great Britain gave several Indian bulls to a Mr. Richard Barrow for foundation stock. Approximately in 1930 specific efforts were made to develop a breed suited to a hot climate, that would be resistant to disease carried by insects, and that would be able to thrive under adverse conditions. This was the foundation of the modern Brahman Breed, and cattle have been exported to many parts of the world.

Characteristics of the breed are:

  •     Well known for longevity, their productive life being up to 50% longer than other breeds;
  •     They are fertile, and the cows make very good mothers, with a strong instinct for looking after their calves. Milk production is high so that the calves have good weaning weights;
  •     In hot climates their hairy coats and loose skin keep out the heat and they have well developed sweat glands.
  •     They have a well-developed resistance to eye cancer, opthalmia, gall sickness and other tick and insect-borne diseases. They have a well-developed subcutaneous muscle layer which enables them to shake off many insects, and their light colour seems to repel insects.

They have good leg length which enables them to cover large areas when foraging, and they do not suffer from fatigue or lameness on rough ground. They perform well under poor conditions and browse leaves and shrubs.


It takes many years to develop a specific type or breed of cattle like the well-established Santa Gertrudis in the USA. Since the early days of developing new breeds, there have been many that have been produced over the past 50 years. Some of the most popular developing breeds are crosses between British and Zebu breeds. These include the following:

  •   Santa Gertrudis – Brahman cross British
  •   Bonsmara – Afrikaner cross British
  •   Beefmaster – Zebu cross British cross Developing breeds
  •   Brangus – Brahman cross Angus
  •   Braford  – Brahman cross Hereford
  •   Simbrah – Brahman cross Simmentaler
  •   Bovelder – Bonsmara cross Charolais cross Hereford cross Simmentaler

Developing breeds have found a good home in the Southern African region, and are becoming popular in Central Africa and further North.