Smallholders with a larger than usual piece of land, who are looking to keep cattle, would do well to consider keeping nguni cattle.

The group is classified as Sanga or Bos taurus africanus and the Nguni is the most prevalent ecoptype within the group and the breed on which there has been the most research.

Because they are indigenous, the Nguni have many advantages over the European cattle breeds.

What is special about Nguni cattle?

The Nguni is the result of centuries of natural selection under challenging African conditions. This means that it is able to thrive in sub-optimum Highveld grazing conditions. Controlled tests at the Vrede Veld Bull Club showed the breed to be among the top performers on sour veld with only a salt/phosphate lick.

Another aspect of its hardiness is its ability to cope with heat. The oval shape of the body with the long axis in a vertical position increases the skin surface for respiration and heat loss from the sides, while a small amount of back area is exposed to direct sunlight. For the same reason the small stomach and chest area do not absorb reflected heat from the ground.

The Nguni can also cope with extremes in temperatures, as well as with a variety of rainfall patterns. They have a great ability to maintain their condition in winter.

One of the Nguni’s most famous attributes is their tick tolerance. This is partly due to the excretion of a waxy substance on their skin, which inhibits ticks from maturing. This has important implications for their tolerance for tick borne diseases, particularly heartwater. Dipping costs are also hugely reduced and the cattle play a significant role in reducing the tick population where they are kept, which is advantageous to the other livestock or game on the property.

Can you keep Ngunis for meat?

Meat quality from Nguni compares favourably with that from established European breeds, when raised on natural pasture. It is the smallest of beef cattle breeds in South Africa but it is the most productive in terms of kg/calf weaned.

The cows are noted for their fertility and their mothering ability. The heifers conceive at a comparatively young age and the cows are also known for their longevity. They give birth easily to robust viable calves and post-calving problems are minimal.

Because the cows are relatively small-framed, more of them can be kept on the pasture.

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