In the last lecture we looked at the commercial herd, and we saw that most commercial cows are put to the bull so that they calve down at the start of the grazing season; they are Spring calvers. In a normal rainy season, the peak milk yield of the cow coincides with the time when the grass is growing fast and contains the most nutrients. The cows produce their milk and feed their calves from grass alone, and they do not require any extra feeding. This is the most economical system for a breeding herd because it matches the peak nutrient requirement of the cow with the peak nutrient production of the grass; supplementary feeding is required only during the Winter when the cow is dry and her nutrient requirement is comparatively low.


The Pedigree Herd is kept to produce pedigree bulls for sale to commercial farmers and other pedigree breeders; there is no other reason for keeping pedigree cattle. The breeder relies on a high sale price for his bulls to cover the increased costs involved in keeping a pedigree herd.

The time of calving for pedigree herds is governed by two factors:

  •     The times of the National and Breed bull sales which take place in July to October each year. This is so that the commercial farmer can buy his bulls in good time for his own bulling season in December and January. The bulls have time to settle down on their new farm before being put into the breeding herds; and
  •     The fact that the age of a pedigree bull is judged from the 1st January each year. For example, bull born at any time during 2010 becomes a yearling at the 1st of January 2011, a 2 year old from 1st January 2012 and a 3 year old at 1st January 2013. The vast majority of pedigree bulls are sold as 2 year olds when they are fully reared and ready to start to work. The bull sold as a 2 year old in September 2012 could have been born in January 2010 or December 2010. It follows that the bull born in January 2010 will be much larger and more mature than the bull born in December 2010, and will fetch a higher price.

It is because of these two factors that pedigree herds calve their cows early in the year in order to produce well grown, mature animals for the bull sales. This means calving in the period February – May so that these herds are autumn calving. The two calving periods for commercial and pedigree herds are compared in the figure below:

Figure 2: Calving Periods for Commercial and Pedigree Herds


The feeding pattern of a pedigree herd is different from that of a commercial herd because of the different calving times, and because the pedigree year runs from January to December. The cow that calves down in March will be bulled again in June and her calf will be weaned in October – see figure below:

Figure 3: Feeding Calendar for a Commercial Herd

Ration: an amount of food supplied on a regular basis  

This means that the cow will spend the whole of the grazing season as a dry cow, and by March she should be in very good condition from eating only grassy. However, from the time that she calves she will require supplementary feeding for her milk production because the grass will supply some energy but no protein. She will have to be fed for maintenance and for her full milk production, and this means feeding hay or silage together with a concentrate ration. In fact, she will need to be fed in the same way as a dairy cow producing 10 – 15 litres of milk a day.

Example: Digestible Crude Protein requirements for a beef cow of 500 kg live-mass and in full milk production are 0.57 kg per day.

The farmer has the following available:


Maize Silage                                                1.2%

Concentrate                                                   12%

20kg Silage will supply 1.2 x 20 / 100

= 0.24kg of D.C.P.

3kg of Concentrate will supply 12 x 3 / 100

= 0.36kg of D.C.P.

0.6kg of D.C.P.

This is slightly more than the requirement of 0.57kg per day and would be a suitable ration.


A common practice in pedigree herds is to supply the calves with a creep feed once they are about 4 weeks old. This encourages the calf to start eating solid food, reduces the strain on the cow, produces a faster growth rate in the calf with a higher weaning weight, and a reduced shock for the calf at weaning. The paddock or camp where the cows and calves are running is fenced off in one corner, and a hay rack and feeding trough provided. Good quality hay and a concentrate meal (12 – 14% D.C.P.) are provided ad lib. The calves can run into the fenced off area and feed themselves, but the cows cannot get in to steal the food. The older calves will lead the younger calves to the food, and they will quickly acquire a taste for the ration.


This is important in pedigree herds where animals are registered with a Breed Society, and sold with a guarantee, that they have been bred from specific parents. Breed Societies lay down the way in which their animals have to be identified, and whichever method is chosen, it has to be one that is permanent; ear tattoos or branding. Ear tags are not acceptable because they can be removed and put into another animal. For instance, Hereford calves are tattooed in their left ear with a letter, to denote the year of birth, and a number, and the earmarking must be done within 24 hours of the birth of the calf. An animal with the earmark U14 was the 14th calf to be born in that herd in 2014. It is most important that calves are earmarked on the day that they are born. The whole pedigree system depends on the correct identification of both calves and their parents, and this in turn depends on the efficiency and honesty of the farmer or breeder. Mistakes must be avoided at all costs.


All pedigree herds are registered with the breed society for that particular breed, and each breeder is given a herd prefix, or name, for his herd. This prefix is the first name for every animal born in the herd.

Every pedigree breeder buys a book of tear-out forms from the breed society. This book contains four forms for registering each calf born in the herd, and the following information has to be completed on the form:

Ear Number of Calf Name of Calf 
Sire’s Name Herd book Number 
Dam’s Name Herd book Number 
Date of Calf’s Birth Signature of Breeder 

The top copy of the form is detached and sent to the secretary of the breed society within 1 month of the calf’s birth. One year later, copies 2 and 3 are signed by the breeder and an independent witness, and they are sent to the secretary of the breed society. These copies have to be accompanied by the registration forms together with the fee for registration of the animal. Once these copies of the registration forms together with the fee have been received, the breed society will issue a full pedigree certificate for the animal. This gives the registered name of the animal and its herd book number, and the animal is included in the herd book issued by the breed society each year. The 4th copy of the form remains in the registration book and is the breeder’s record of the animals born in his herd each year.

The reason for waiting a full year before full pedigree status is given to an animal is to allow time for the animal to grow and the breeder to decide if it is good enough to retain for breeding or for selling. A poor animal can be kept on the farm but in fact, it can be culled from the registered herd and cannot be sold as a pedigree registered animal, and the breeder does not have to pay the registration fee.

In the case of Hereford cattle, the only identification recognised by the breed society is the ear tattoo containing the herd prefix, the year letter and the calf number. This tattoo must be done when the calf is young, and as the animal grows the ear gets bigger and the tattoo enlarges. A mature animal cannot be tattooed, and a calf that is tattooed with the wrong number cannot be altered and must not be registered.


This is the weight of the animal at weaning or approximately 7 months old. It is a useful indication of the milking capacity of the calf’s dam, and cows that are good milkers produce calves with a good 205 day mass. Another useful figure is the Average Daily Gain of the calf at 205 days, and this is calculated as follows:

Weight at 205 days – Birth weight


= A.D.G

An example is a calf weighing 35kg at birth and 215kg at 205 days old. The A.D.G. of the animal would be:

215 – 35


= 0.87kg a day

The best animal is not necessarily the one that weighs the most at weaning or at 205 days, but the one showing the best average daily gain (A.D.G.).

Calf 133kg249 Days230kg230 – 33 / 249= 0.79
Calf 229kg237 Days225kg225 – 29 / 237= 0.82
Calf 331kg228 Days215kg215 – 31 / 228= 0.8

The 205 day index for these three calves would be:

  •     Calf 1 0.79 X 205 + 33 = 159kg
  •     Calf 2 0.82 X 205 + 29 = 197kg
  •     Calf 3 0.80 X 205 + 31 = 195kg

Although Calf 1 has the heaviest weaning mass, Calf 2 has the better average daily gain and 205 day index, and it is the better performer.

Other useful weights are those taken at 1 year (365 days) and 1.5 year old (550 days). The weight at 550 days can be used to calculate the A.D G. from Weaning to 550 days old. The latter is a guide to the performance of the animal after it has been weaned and is a reflection of the animal’s post weaning growth performance rather than the milking ability of its dam.


The objective of a pedigree herd is to produce bulls for sale, therefore, only culls are castrated and this is done before the animals have to be registered for full pedigree status at 1 year old. Castrated animals are not registered and no fee has to be paid; they are regarded as culls from the pedigree herd and are either put out to grass or into pens for fattening.

Most Breed Societies allow animals to be dehorned, an exception being the Afrikaner Society where the size and shape of horns are an important breed point. Horns are nothing but a nuisance from the point of view of cattle management and all cattle are much easier to handle without them. Dehorning can be done with a hot iron as soon as the horn bud appears. In the case of bulls from breeds known to be aggressive, it is sometimes better to allow the bull to develop his horns, and then have them removed by a large horn cutter or by sawing. This must be done by a veterinary surgeon as the animal is given a local anaesthetic at the base of the horn. The animal becomes used to using his horns when attacking or fighting and continues to attack in the same way after they have been removed. Most beef breeds are fairly docile, and the most aggressive bulls belong to the dairy breeds such as Ayrshires, Frieslands and Jerseys.


In any breeding herd, whether commercial or pedigree, fertility is one of the most important factors, if not the most important. Nutrition has a great effect on fertility, insofar as it allows an animal to fulfil her potential, but nutrition cannot turn an inherently infertile animal into one that is a regular breeder. Professor Bonsma of the University of Pretoria is known for his work in determining the breeding efficiency of cattle. He states that a bull should look masculine and a cow should look feminine. The tendency to look for beef qualities, many of which are steer-like characteristics, can result in selection for sub-fertility or even infertility. His standards of productivity are:

  •     For Cows – a calf reared to 40-50% of the cow’s body mass each year.
  •     For Bulls – 40-50 calves produced in a breeding season.
HeadMasculine headLacks masculinity, lower jaw heavy
NeckStrong muscular development with pronounced crest; hair on neck and crest darker and coarserSteer-like, lacking well defined muscles
ShouldersWell-muscled, muscles well definedLean, lacking muscling
BrisketWell fleshed but not flabbyLean, lacking muscle
HumpStrong, well-muscled, especially the upper partUpper part thin, lacking well defined muscles. Long, thin legs
Front legsShort, well-muscled, especially the upper partUpper part thin, lacking well defined muscles. Long, thin legs
RibsWell sprung, strongly muscledFront ribs long and flat
LoinStrong, muscling pronouncedLacks strong muscling
Stifle jointStrong, clearly defined muscleNo well-defined muscles
SheathNot too pendulous; opening not large or open; masculine hair on openingLacks masculine hair on opening
Thigh musclesStrong and firm; not flabbyFlabby, lacking in definition
TestesWell formed, well suspended and not too pendulousSmall
Animal sizeLarge but not too tall; smaller than sub-fertile bullVery tall
ColourHair on neck, upper front legs and thigh darker than on rest of bodyVery uniform, hair fine
HeadFine and feminine, smooth sleek hair and slightly greasyCoarse, dry hair; coarse hair on the upper regions of the head and bristly hair on the crown
Mandible or Lower JawFine and free from excess fleshiness; teeth fit on dental padHeavy; lower jaw tends to be overshot; tends to be heavily fleshed giving the cheek a rounded appearance
EyesCalm and of medium sizeOften prominent and ex-ophthalmic; blindness often causes impairment of sexual function
HornsAmber or darkOften shiny, flinty and dead white; appear like porcelain
Metacarpus or Cannon BoneShortLong and thin
Scapula or Shoulder BoneLight and upper cartilaginous ridge as high as the upper region of the vertebraeHeavy and fleshy; upper edge of the scapula appreciably lower than the highest point of the vertebrae
VertebraeLevelRising steeply towards the middle; a rising chine
Front and rear ribsAppear to be of same lengthDiffer very much in length; overgrowth of the front ribs; deep through chest
RumpDistance from hip bone to pin bone longShort
Hip to PatellaLength from hip to patella (knee cap) longShort; patella look high


NeckLean; flat and smoothRounded and heavy; muscles clearly seen
ShouldersLight, lean, free from fleshinessWell fleshed; heavily fleshed between the shoulders; buffalo hump
BrisketLean with a skinfold along the edgeHeavy, full with no skinfold; sloping
Mid rib regionFree from fat depositRounded fat deposits
HipboneProminent but leanHeavily padded with fat; rounded between the hips
Pin boneClearly defined and free from fatPin bone and tail setting well covered with fat
EscutcheonFree from fatRounded lump of fat about 150mm below the vulva



Face and NeckHair smooth and sleekHair coarse and wavy; masculine pattern extending from shoulder forwards
Crown and Top of the NeckHair short and smoothHair coarse; bristly and upright along the neck to the shoulders
Barrel and Sides of the RibsSmooth and sleek; impression of slight oilinessDull and long; lacks gloss and looks dry
HairUniformly pigmented and smoothDarkening on cheeks, neck, sides and flanks like the hair on bulls
Udder hairShort, smooth greasy hair. Teats very smooth and glossyLong, silky but dry and dull. Teats wrinkly and dull – not suckled
Hair sheddingSheds winter coat early in springWoolly coat; does not shed winter coat early