Afrikander cattle: The beast of burden

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THE breed is thought to have been developed from the lateral long-horned Zebu and the Egyptian long-horn cattle that migrated to present-day southern Africa together with the Khoi-Khoi people during the Ubuntu Migration in the 1st Century AD.
It originally crossed into Africa from Aden, about 2 000 years ago, and gradually migrated southwards during successive centuries.
Only the animals best adapted to arid desert conditions — extreme heat, tropical diseases and both internal and external parasites — finally reached the southern tip of the continent.
The Afrikaner cattle breed (also known as Afrikander), belong to the bos indicus group and fit into the indigenous Sanga category owned by the Hottentots living in the southern tip of Africa who owned vast herds of Sanga cattle prior to the arrival of European settlers.
In the 15th Century, Portuguese sailors reported the Hottentots in the south-western region of the country owned herds of cattle.
Vasco da Gama, in 1497, described them as being ‘very fat, reddish-coloured and very wild’; though the original cattle were thought to be gaunt bony animals.
When Dutch settlers established the Cape Colony in 1652, they obtained these cattle from the Hottentots and developed them for use as trek oxen or draught animals.
The Afrkander oxen drew the wagons on the Great Trek of 1835-1836, which carried Boer farmers and their families from the Cape of Good Hope to the Orange Free State, Natal and the Transvaal.
These oxen were later also used by Cecil John Rhodes’ Pioneer Column in 1890, on their trek to Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe).
An estimated 200 000 Afrikaner and Afarikaner-type cattle formed part of the Great Trek in South Africa.
It was part of an extensive gene pool that has stood the local beef cattle industry in good stead since.
The Afrikander is among the largest breeds in Africa; birth weights of male animals is about 33kg; adult bulls weigh an average 745-1 090kg, weights of up to 1 100kg have been recorded in show animals; adult cows weigh around 450-600kg.
An Afrikaner has won the coveted gold cup awarded for the supreme champion beef animal at the Rand Easter Show in South Africa, on four occasions, the supreme champions at the Windhoek Show in Namibia for two years, as well at the Gobabis Show.
The breed has a well-muscled body and deep broad chest with round ribs.
The hump, prominent but not large, is cervico-thoracic. Although they have a fairly shallow body, they have good depth and a muscular back, loins, rump and thighs suitable as a heavy beef animal with good meat quality, known for its tenderness.
The beef is tender and juicy.
Though its potential as beef cattle has only been recognised and developed during the past four decades, the breed is a major asset in the beef industry of southern Africa.
The Afrikaners have loose skin, large drooping ears and longer legs.
They have long lateral horns of a flesh to creamy white in colour with amber tips.
Their long-spreading horns leave the head in a downward and backward direction, then, at maturity, bend gracefully forwards, upwards and backwards; their characteristic long, wide and elegantly turned horns are often polled.
Similar to the Zebu, the hump of muscle and fat on the neck of the Afrikander bulls can rise to 7cm or more above the top line.
With a high degree of uniformity in colour and conformation, infrequently seen in other African livestock breeds; the breed is typically red, their colour ranges and can vary from light tan to deep cherry red; and yellow strains were common in earlier ages though not as common today.
The breed exhibit good resistance to heat and a high level of resistance to ticks. It is resistant to most endemics such as redwater, hartwater and gallsickness.
Young Afrikaner cattle acquire immunity through their dam’s milk when bred in an area in which these diseases prevail.
It is a hardy, quiet tempered, no-nonsense breed with a number of outstanding traits and have long productive lives (up to 12-years and older).
Bulls are virile, active and prolaps free; they have a high level of fertility under harsh conditions.
This makes the breed particularly valued in cross-breeding programmes.
The cattle are well-adapted to veld conditions in the warm, arid and extensive grazing areas of the country and react well to intensive feeding.
There is considerable variation in the performance of pure Afrikander cattle, especially in weaning weight and growth rate to slaughter age; but in general they tend to be slow maturing with comparatively low fat cover; with a 54 percent dressing percentage.
As a purely beef-producing breed, the Afrikander is not considered a good milk breed though the Afrikaner cow yields excellent and adequate milk for its calves.
Experiments have shown that, during a suckling period of 210 days, the calf on average consumes 900 litres of milk.
The age at first calving is about 36 months and calving interval about 445 days; calving percentages are variable and have been compared unfavourably with other indigenous breeds such as the Tswana, Tuli, Angoni and Mashona.
Given good grazing and ample fresh water, the cows with their excellent mothering abilities, calve regularly once a year. Afrikander cows have been used extensively for commercial cross-breeding, with bulls of European breeds – especially Hereford, Sussex, Devon, Simmental and Charolais from which several composite cattle breeds have been developed.
These include Hugenoot, Bonsmara, Afarigus, the Sanganer — an Afrikaner-Nguni composite — and the Afrisim – a Simmental cross.
It has also been crossed with the shorthorn in developing the Bonsmara breed, and with the Holstein in creating the Drakensberger composite.
All composite breeds are resilient and well adapted to Africa’s veld conditions.
The breed initially developed from the original Hottentot cattle in the Cape Province was registered in the 1907 South African Studbook.
In 1912, it was the first indigenous South African breed to form a breed society. Today, it has become South Africa’s most popular indigenous breed throughout South Africa, mainly in the North-eastern Cape, Orange Free State, Transvaal and West Natal.
In South Africa, the breed was almost exterminated by the viral disease of cattle rinderpest, when huge numbers died; others were destroyed during the South African war.
As a result, various exotic breeds were imported, mainly from Britain and Europe, to build up the depleted cattle numbers.
Today, the cryogenic conservation in semen form and keeping the animals in the different improvement stations is expected to ensure that the breed is not at risk.
The breed’s popularity overseas began in 1929 when a bull and two cows were presented to the King of England as a gift from the local breeder’s society.
The animals were on view in the Whipsnade Park for many years.
Large numbers began to be exported from the early 1930s nd containued to the present day.
Afrikander cattle have been exported to several countries in southern Africa, including Namibia, Botswana, Swaziland, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, Mozambique and the southern parts of the DRC, Australia, the US and other tropical countries.
Dr Tony Monda holds a PhD in Art Theory and Philosophy and a DBA (Doctorate in Business Administration) and Post-Colonial Heritage Studies. He is a writer, lecturer, musician, art critic, practicing artist and corporate image consultant. He is also a specialist art consultant, Post-colonial scholar, Zimbabwean socio-economic analyst and
researcher.

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