The history of Afrikaner cattle in South Africa is an interesting one and is closely associated with the history of the countryís people. These typical Bos Indicus animals, the most important of our indigenous breeds, were the first cattle encountered by Jan van Riebeeck shortly after he had arrived at the Cape. Little is known about the origins of the breed. The most likely theory is that, in its most primitive state, it originated on the steppes of Asia from the wild cattle of that time. Since then, it had descended from the lateral-horned Zebu without any infusion of foreign blood.

This hardy, no-nonsense breed has a number of outstanding traits, its value in cross-breeding programmes being particularly appreciated.

About 2 000 years ago it crossed into Africa from Aden and  gradually migrated southwards during successive centuries, with only the animals best adapted to arid desert conditions, extreme heat, tropical diseases and both internal and external parasites finally reaching the southern tip of the continent. As long ago as the 15th century, Portuguese sailors reported that the Hottentots in the south-western region of the country already owned herds of these cattle.

However, South African cattle farmers began to appreciate the Afrikanerís outstanding qualities only in about 1912. Then, largely due to the efforts of Alex Holm, Director of the Potchefstroom College of Agriculture and a champion of the breed, a studbook was formed so that planned breeding could take place for controlling the breedís development into the Afrikaner we know today. Not many people are aware that, some years earlier, the breed was almost exterminated when huge numbers died of rinderpest or were destroyed during the South African War. As a direct result, various exotic breeds were imported, mainly from Britain and Europe, to build up the countryís depleted cattle numbers.

Kept stock pure

Although considerable interbreeding occurred at the time, some breeders, to their credit, succeeded in keeping their Afrikaner stock pure, ensuring the continued existence of this hardy breed.

Prominent among these breeders were Jozef du Plessis of Rietfontein Farm, Kroonstad, who kept his herd intact. Others who started to build up their purebred herds included the well-known Malan, Pieterse, Ras, De Wet, Lubbe, Greyling, Van Biljon and Jordaan families, all of whom played a significant part in the development and distribution of the breed.


The Afrikaner is well named the no-nonsense breed

Livestock specialists say the Afrikaner does not have the compact, block-like conformation of many of the British beef breeds. It has longer legs, yet good depth, and a muscular back, loins, rump and thigh, but a fairly shallow body.

It seems almost a pity the characteristic long, wide and elegantly turned horns have had to be polled in so many commercials and even purebred herds. A mature Afrikaner bull weighs 820 - 1090 kg and a cow 450 - 600 kg. Steers reared on the veld with only a phosphorus lick and salt and slaughtered at the age of 27-30 months on average yield a carcass of 250 kg.

However, when given additives, such as in feedlots, the same mass is produced within 18Ė22 months. The beef is tender and juicy and carcass in demand by consumers. Its meat is of high quality and tender, tasty and succulent, and in a crossbreeding programme the Afrikaner  improves the quality of the meat of the breed with which it is crossed, especially with regard to tenderness (De Bruyn, ADSRI, Irene). Perhaps one of the most important characteristics of the Afrikaner is its suitability for cross-breeding with exotic beef breeds. The value of purebred Afrikaner sires in commercial herds, when mated to grade cows of mixed parentage has been repeatedly shown in the good development and excellent prices realised by progeny. Another outstanding characteristic is the Afrikaner's resistance to most of the country's endemic, such as redwater, hartwater and gallsickness. When bred in an area in which these diseases prevail, young Afrikaner cattle acquire immunity through their dam's milk. 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.

As a purely beef-producing breed, the Afrikaner cow yield 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 cow has excellent mothering abilities. Itís common on many farms to see a lone cow surrounded by several calves, which are guarded by her, while their own mothers are grazing or on their way to distant watering points. Given good grazing and ample fresh water, the cows calve regularly once a year. Due to the cowís slightly drooping rump and wide vaginal passage, there are few if any calving problems. At birth calves weigh only about 34 kg, which also ensures easy and uncomplicated calving. The breed thrives in extreme heat.

This exceptional characteristic is attributed to the ample area of its thick hide, which has twice as many sweat pores as those of cattle bred in Europe. The short, strong, shiny hair also discourages tick attacks. The oval-shaped conformation and slightly sickle hocks of the Afrikaner enable it to walk long distances without effort. Farmers have reported it can cover up to 40 km a day, even in rough or sandy country.

The Afrikaner is one of the beef breeds that can be finished for marketing in the shortest time. It is practically the only breed that can be finished off the veld within the most desirable age and its carcass mass ranges to produce the ideal carcass. Also in the feedlot, the breed is marketable in the shortest time: 102 days compared with an average of 111 days (Sandfontein feedlot).

The animals use stock licks sparingly, with experimental trails indicating an average lick cost of about R14 per cow over 250 days. The Afrikaner is also remarkable for its longevity and itís not unusual that at least 10% of the cows in a stud herd are 16 years & older. Breeders generally cull the moment the cow begins to show indifference to rearing its calf. Calves are generally weaned at 210 days to allow their pregnant dams time to prepare, once again, to produce their next well developed and healthy calves.

At 210 days, the female calves weigh about 205 kg and the bull calves about 225 kg, and at the same time the dams weigh from 350Ė450 kg each.

Trials at the Glen College of Agriculture have shown that 100 Afrikaner cows and calves can be maintained comfortably on the same area of veld that would normally carry 80 cows with calves of exotic breeds. In tests at an experimental station, the net lifetime income from the Afrikaner cow was much greater than that of four other beef breeds monitored in the same tests. The trails also revealed the calf survival rate of the Afrikaner in two successive years was 92 and 100%, respectively. The Afrikaner has also made its mark in several overseas countries. It all began when in 1929 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 thirties, and continued to the present day.

A few months ago, for instance, more than 100 Afrikaners were consigned to Mozambique, with more orders to follow.  On four occasions, an Afrikaner has won the coveted gold cup awarded for the supreme champion beef animal at the Rand Easter Show.

The breed also produced the supreme champions at the Windhoek Show in Namibia in the past two years, as well at the Gobabis Show last year. The Afrikaner Cattle Breederís Society was established in 1912 and its inaugural meeting the standards of excellence and scale of points for the breed were determined. The society's president is Mr Pierre Fouchť of Leeudoringstad, and its Vice-President is Mr David van der Linde of Standerton.

The system of values of the Society and its members is as follows:

■  Total cooperation as a team, sharing in one anotherísí success and joy.
■  Integrity of our breeders.
■  Accurate record keeping.
■  Promogation of minimum fertility requirements for maintenance of registration of female animals.
■  High professional standards; administrative services of the highest quality.
■  Presentation of courses, sales, farmers' days, shows and the Nampo Exhibition.




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