Cattle Breeds of the Zebu type
Cattle are divided into two types. The genus name of domestic cattle is 'Bos'. There are two main types. These may be cited as two closely related species (Bos taurus and Bos indicus) or as two subspecies of the one species (Bos taurus taurus and Bos taurus indicus). Bos indicus may also be known as zebu. Bos taurus (taurine cattle) comprise the typical cattle breeds of Europe (such as Holstein or Gloucester), north-east Asia and parts of Africa. Over the centuries, many of the Bos taurus types have adapted to cooler climates.
Bos indicus or zebu cattle have adapted to tropical conditions of heat, dryness and humidity. They are very frugal and are resistant to many insect pests. Typical of the Bos indicus breeds are loose skin, a flabby throatlatch and dewlap, large, pendulous ears and a hump over the shoulders. The loose skin and large ears help in dissipating heat because of the greater surface area. Zebus have more sweat glands than Bos taurus breeds. As well as more highly developed sweat glands, bos indicus cattle secrete an oil from sebaceous glands. This secretion has a distinctive odour and is believed to assist in repelling insects.
Much of the fatty hump over the top of the shoulder and the neck is composed of muscular tissue. The horns are another feature of the zebu type and usually curve upward and are sometimes tilted toward the rear.
In the western world, the Brahman is the best known of the zebu cattle breeds. This breed was developed from the Guzerat, Nellore and Gir breeds imported from India, with lesser influence from the Krishna Valley strain.
There are hybrid breeds which have been developed to take advantage of the zebu's better tolerance of tropical conditions and its resistance to ticks and other pests. Some of these breeds are:
- Chanchim: from Brazil, a cross between Charolais (taurine – 63%) and zebu (37%)
- Brangus: Aberdeen Angus/Brahman
- Greyman: Murray Grey/Brahman
- Braford – Brahman/Hereford
- Droughtmaster – Brahman/Beef Shorthorn (mostly)
- Santa Gertrudis - 3/8 Brahman/5/8 Beef Shorthorn
Left is a Brangus steer and on the right, a Santa Gertrudis bull.
Bos indicus cattle have different character traits and different reactions to taurine breeds. Their behaviour is more akin to horses. Bos indicus cattle will seek to escape by fleeing when frightened but respond well to quiet, kind handling. They are also inquisitive and may return to have another inspection even after being frightened.
They don't like to be singled out of a herd and will run if chased. If left to their own devices, they will more than likely return to the mob.
As a mob, the cattle like to string out behind a leader. If allowed to do this, they will travel freely. Bulls sometimes try to guard their cows and will endeavour to keep intruders away. Thus bulls may need to be yarded first with a few cows before yarding the rest of the herd. The cows are very protective and great care should be taken when handling cows and calves.
Bos indicus cattle will respond to a regular pattern of being mustered and yarded. They can be trained to become accustomed to handling. The easiest way of producing manageable cattle is by weaning young stock in yards. Have water available in the yards. The day after the weaners have been yarded, feed about a kilogram of hay per head. Twice a day from then on, walk quietly through the pens offering hay by hand before putting it in racks. Only feed as much as can be cleaned up before the next feed. Work the weaners quietly through the yards and races every day if possible for a period of 5 to 6 days. Once they have quietened down somewhat (5 to 6 days) let them find their own way into a small holding paddock through an open gate. If they don't come into the yard for their night feed, yard them. Turn them into the holding pen each day preferably with a few quiet cattle. Yard and feed at night. Teach the weaners to block up and walk through the gate. If you use dogs, keep them under control and don't let them stir up the stock. After a few nights of coming in and out of the yards, turn them into the weaning paddock.
Occasionally inspect the weaners. Approach them quietly and hold them in a group for a few moments until all are standing quietly. Then leave them be. Don't allow them to run away from you.
With mature mobs, let them string out a little and follow a lead rider. Don't over-correct so that the lead swings round back into the mob. If an animal breaks away, give it a chance to return of its own accord. Hold the rest securely. Don't overload the yards but give the cattle plenty of room. If they become upset, reduce the pressure on them and go slower. Back off and keep the noise down. Don't single cattle out but always keep two or three together and draft off the bulls before commencing any other yard work. Always buy bulls of good temperament and cull beasts that won't settle and/or continue to upset the herd.
Bos indicus have long been recognised for their ability to cope with drought and tropical conditions. When crossed with taurine breeds, the toughness and frugality of the Bos indicus is mellowed by the (generally) higher production and more tender beef of the other breed.