Cattle Breeds Native to America
The Santa Gertrudis
The King Ranch of Kingsville, South Texas is credited with developing the all-American cattle breed, the Santa Gertrudis. The original Spanish land grant was bought by Captain Richard King from the family of Juan Mendiola. The land was known as 'Rincon de Santa Gertrudis' and the name of the breed comes from this title.
Until around 1880, Richard King ran Longhorn cattle. Longhorn cattle were native to the area and tough enough to thrive in the semi-tropical climate. However it did not produce an ideal carcass and when crossed with European breeds in an attempt to improve the quality of the beef, the progeny did not thrive in the hot and humid climate.
After several unsuccessful attempts to breed a better meat-producing animal, a Shorthorn/ Brahman bull was mated with some Shorthorn cows. This was around 1910. Further cross-breeding was undertaken and the results warranted the introduction of 52 bulls which were of at least ¾ Brahman blood. These were mated with 2,500 Shorthorn cows. One of the offspring was a distinctive red bull calf which was named 'Monkey' for his playful nature. Monkey had a very gentle disposition and a deep, well-muscled body. At a year old, he weighed 1000 pounds.
Monkey was added to the stud herd in 1923. He was a very prepotent sire and his sons bred true to type. It wasn't long before careful selection and judicious culling 'set' the Santa Gertrudis traits.
The first sale of bulls from the King Ranch occurred in 1936 when some bulls were exported to Cuba.
In 1933, the Australian CSIRO (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation) accepted a Santa Gertrudis bull from King Ranch which marked the start of the development of the breed in Australia.
In 1940, the United States Department of Agriculture officially accepted the Santa Gertrudis as a distinct breed.
In 1950, the Santa Gertrudis Breeders International Association was founded. The herd book is 'open' allowing for new bloodlines to be introduced. Providing cattle meet the Standard of Excellence, breeders can upgrade to purebred status.
In 1952, the first of the breed was imported into Australia with the idea of commencing a commercial enterprise.
Being good walkers and aggressive foragers, the breed was found to be well able to thrive under both tropical conditions and the harsh, dry outback. The biting cold of Tasmania and Victoria also had little effect on these hardy cattle.
Today the modern Santa Gertrudis is 5/8 Shorthorn and 3/8 Brahman. The Brahman is what is known as a Bos indicus breed. Bos indicus breeds include several species of Indian cattle which have a solid reputation as being hardy in tropical climes with a high resistance to infestation by ticks. These breeds have been widely used to develop new and hardy breeds of cattle.
The Shorthorn/Brahman cross (ie the Santa Gertrudis) is seen as ideal for beef production with the beef quality being higher than that of purebred Brahmans. Bos indicus traits which persist in the Santa Gertrudis are the generally loose hide, the folds of skin round the navel and on the neck and the Zebu-type hump behind the shoulders. The beef quality is higher than that of purebred Brahmans.
The cows rarely have trouble calving and are good mothers with plenty of milk for their calves. One or two cows will guard a bundle of calves while their peers graze. The breed has a good resistance to heat, bloat and ticks. On pasture or under feedlot conditions they achieve rapid growth rates. Young cattle develop large eye muscle with have very little surplus fat. Even older steers do not become excessively fat. Because of their large size, culled stock bring high prices when eventually sent to market.
The United States Department of Agriculture recognised the breed as pure in 1940. These are large cattle with mature bulls weighing upwards of 900kg and cows up to 750kg. Daily gains of 1.5kg have been recorded. Heifers will calve at two years old under reasonable conditions. A high milk yield with high butterfat content means that weaners are heavier than with some breeds. A cow may still be breeding at 18 years and bulls are still virile and productive at 14 or 15. The breed thrives under harsh situations. They have a thick hide which provides insulation against the cold and good protection against pests and parasites. The loose hide and abundance of sweat glands help the animals dissipate heat under hot conditions. They will travel long distances to food and water without stress thanks to strong legs and good feet.
Santa Gertrudis may be horned or polled. The ears are medium to large and open towards the front. They also droop slightly. The eyes are moderately hooded and have strong pigmentation which gives protection again pink eye and eye cancers. The head is broad with a straight profile and a large, broad muzzle. The shoulder is free-moving and the brisket moderately broad. The back is broad and strong with a full loin. The rump has a moderate slope and the hindquarters are muscular and broad. The skin should be red and the coat is light to dark solid red. There may be white patches on the underline. The coat should be short and slick. Any tendency to excessive curly or coarse hair is frowned on.
The body is balanced, deep and thick with well-sprung ribs and a muscular frame. The legs have good bone and plenty of substance. The legs should be squarely set with no signs of being bow-legged. Despite being bovines, they should show no evidence of cow-hocks or calf-knees! The hooves are solid and dark and the claws of the hoof even in size. The cattle are alert but easily managed. Nervous and/or aggressive animals should be culled.
The Santa Gertrudis breed has had a huge impact on beef cattle production in both the Americas and Australia. The carcass has a sizeable eye muscle with minimal waste fat. Animals do well under pasture conditions or in feedlots.
In Australia, the interests of the breed are protected by the Santa Gertrudis Breeders' (Australia) Association which was formed in 1954. Today the breed is found in all Australian states.
The governing body in the United States is the Santa Gertrudis Breeders International.