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America's Native Cattle Breeds - The Brahman

By Edited Feb 12, 2014 1 0

Bos Indicus Cattle

The Brahman

The Brahman cattle breed is what is known as a Bos indicus breed. Bos indicus cattle are the native cattle of India and have developed to cope with hot, humid conditions. They are able to survive on meagre rations and are resistant to insect pests and parasites.

Bos indicus cattle have a large hump over the top of the shoulders and neck. The ears are long and pendulous and the skin is loose. There is a pronounced dewlap. The excess skin makes it easier for the animal to keep cool because of the greater surface area. The sweat glands are more highly developed than those of Bos taurus (typified by European breeds) and sebaceous glands give off a distinctive odour which helps repel insects.

Brahman Bull

The Brahman breed developed from the Guzerat, Nellore and Gir breeds which were all brought to the United States from India. The Krishna Valley strain also had some influence. There is probably the greatest resemblance between the Brahman and the Guzerat.

The history of the breed is somewhat obscure but there are records of less than 300 imported Brahmans so some of the foundation animals must have been of breeds other than Brahmans. The purebred bulls were used over European cows and over the offspring. By the fifth generation, selective breeding had resulted in an animal superior to the original imports. The breed has a high dressing percentage with a minimum amount of outside fat.

The Brahman has been particularly suited to the southern coastal areas of the United States. They have coped with hot and humid weather and have an inbuilt resistance to insects. The cows are good mothers. Brahmans are now found widely throughout the States and have spread through other continents as well, particularly where conditions are hot and/or humid.

Compared to other beef breeds, the Brahman is of medium size. Bulls weigh between 1600 and 2200 pounds and cows between 1000 and 1400 pounds. Calves weigh only 60 to 65 pounds at birth but wean at weights which match those of other breeds.

Brahman cattle are intelligent and inquisitive. They are also shy and don't react well to rough, noisy handling. They are affectionate if treated well and can become very quiet and docile when handled sensitively and kindly. Bulls in particular should be chosen with a eye to their temperament as this will pass on to their stock.

Brahmans handle a little differently to taurine (European-type breeds) and taking these differences into consideration will help in handling a mob of Brahmans. They like to string out and follow a leader rather than be bunched into a tight herd. They can also cause problems if one is cut out from the others. It is best if possible to leave a couple of animals together. Bulls should be yarded off with a few other animals before drafting/working the rest of the herd as he is often protective of his group of cows. Cows are also very protective of their offspring.

Brahmans or Brahman cross are often used in rodeo arenas for bull-riding. Their strength, agility and speed make them formidable opponents for the cowboys who try to stay on them for the requisite 8 seconds. Clowns stay in the arena to distract the irate bull from his rider once the cowboy dismounts or is thrown. Out of the arena however, some of these bulls are very quiet and tractable.

The Brahman is genetically geared to exist in sparse rations and this trait is still apparent in today's Brahmans. They are very hardy and adapt well to a wide range of conditions. Most are medium to light grey but they can vary from red to almost black. The neck, shoulders and lower thighs are often darker and bulls tend to be darker than cows.

Tests have shown the Bos indicus and Bos taurus beasts cope equally well until the temperature drops below 8oF. Above 70oF, Bos taurus show an increase in body temperature. Appetite and milk production begin to drop at 75oF. Brahmans show little evidence of ill-effects up to and beyond 105oF.

The adaptability of the Brahman to heat is due to several factors. The coat is short, thick and glossy and thus reflects much of the sun's rays. The skin is black which again repels solar rays. Cancer of the eye is almost unknown. The loose skin of all Bos indicus breeds, and thus of the Brahman, gives a greater surface area from which heat can be dissipated. Bos indicus also has more sweat glands than taurine breeds and can sweat freely. Brahmans produce less internal body heat in warm weather than do European breed cattle.

First cross cows are highly valued as beef mothers. Cattlemen in areas of less than ideal environments have developed a number of new breeds by crossing the Brahman with a taurine breed. The Brahman has high hybrid vigour and is sometimes called 'Crossbreeding's Common Denominator'.

Some of the new breeds which have been developed are:

  • Brangus (Brahman/Aberdeen Angus)
  • Greyman (Murray Grey/Brahman)
  • Braford (Brahman/Hereford)
  • Droughtmaster (Brahman/taurine (mostly Beef Shorthorn)
  • Australian Charbray (Charolais/Brahman)
  • Beefmaster (Hereford/Shorthorn/Brahman)
  • Bramousin (Limousin/Brahman).
  • Gelbray (Gelbvieh/Red Angus/Brahman)
  • Simbrah (Simmental/Brahman)
  • Red Brangus (black Angus cows/grey Brahman bulls)
  • Santa Gertrudis (5/8 Shorthorn and 3/8 Brahman).

In all these cases, the aim was to produce an animal with the productivity and quality of a more 'traditional' European (taurine) breed but with increased heat tolerance and insect resistance. Bos indicus traits are evident even when there is less than 50% Bos indicus blood.

The beef cattle industry owes a debt of gratitude to the Brahman.



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