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More than 3 200 breeders currently raise 38 different breeds of cattle in South Africa as of 2014. The average herd contains 75 cows, although farmers raise herds as small as four and as large as 200. The cattle industry has experienced an 18 per cent growth rate in the last decade.
Approximately 23 per cent of all cattle raised in South Africa are Bonsmara. Jan Bonsma created this breed by breeding carefully selected Afrikaner, Hereford, and Shorthorn breeds. The breed has a high feed conversion rate that allows farmers to raise them on pasture land that is less than ideal. Bonsmara meat is very tender with a large amount of marbling.
The Zulu people have raised Nguni cattle for hundreds of years. They are greatly valued for their multi-coloured hides that consist of black, brown, white, and golden colours, usually with dapples or large spots. This medium size breed is particularly well suited to grazing on the Highveld. Farmers like this breed for its high resistance to diseases and good fertility rates. Nguni account for about 11 per cent of all cattle in South Africa.
Farmers created Brahman cattle by crossing Gyr, Gujarat, Kankrej, and Ongole breeds. A Brahman cow's skin is thicker than that found on most cattle. Therefore, it often escapes diseases carried by insects because they cannot penetrate the thick skin. The Brahman breed is popular because of its large carcass size and the quality of the meat.
The Beefmaster breed is gaining in popularity with South African farmers. Farmers in Texas first bred Beefmaster cows in the 1940s by combining Shorthorns and Herefords. The major advantage of this breed is the cows give birth to extremely large calves, and that allows farmers to take their stock to market sooner.
Farmers produced Simbra cattle by crossing Simmental cattle with Brahman cattle. These cattle feature red or red and white colouring and medium frames. They produce good quality meat and have an easier time calving than many other breeds. Farmers love this breed for its high-quality rump meats.
Farmers are raising more cattle in South Africa than ever before. About one in four of these cattle are Bonsmara. Other farmers raise Brahman, Beefmaster, and Simbra cows for their meat. The Nguni breed is also highly valued for its hides.