Crossbreeding Afrikaner, Bonsmara and Nguni cows

Crossbreeding effects with specialized sire lines in Afrikaner, Bonsmara and Nguni beef cattle herds

Industry Sector: Cattle and Small Stock

Research Focus Area: Livestock production with global competitiveness: Breeding, physiology and management

Research Institute: Agriculture Research Institute – Animal Production Institute

Researcher: Dr. M Scholtz

Title Initials Surname Highest Qualification
Mrs. A. Theunissen MSc
Title Name Surname Highest Qualification
Prof F W C Neser Ph.D.
Mr. L De Lange Nat. Dipl.
Mr. T Jonker M.Sc.
Mr. F J Jordaan M.Sc. (Agric)
Dr M D MacNeil Ph.D.
Mr. O Ntwaeagae B.Tech
Mr. W Pieterson Nat. Dipl.
Ms. M C Mokolobate M.Sc. (Agric)
Ms. G M Pyoos B.Sc. (Agric. Sci.)
Ms. M Mokgadi M.Tech

Aims Of The Project

  • 1. To estimate the genetic and phenotypic trends in the dam lines
  • 2. To evaluate crossbreeding systems and quantify the phenotypic progress made in economically important traits in crossbred cattle for beef production
  • 3. To characterize the additive and non-additive genetic effects for production and health traits in progeny of terminal sires and dam line breeding cows
  • 4. To validate an existing simulation model for the development of breeding objectives for specialized sire lines on Landrace breed cows for use in small scale and commercial farming that better meet commercial feedlot requirements
  • 5. To make recommendations with regard to future selection and management of beef herds in warm arid areas
  • 6. To evaluate alternative production systems in anticipation of global warming

Executive Summary

Climate has been changing and these changes are predicted to be highly dynamic. Increasing frequencies of heat stress, drought and flooding events are likely, and these will have adverse effects livestock production. It is therefore important that production systems utilizing local landrace and adapted breeds that are better adapted to warmer climates, be investigated.

In South Africa extensive cattle farming dominate primary cattle production systems, while more than 80% of all beef cattle slaughtered in the formal sector in South Africa originate from commercial feedlots. A total of 67% of feedlot animals are crossbreds, indicating that crossbreeding is playing a significant role in the commercial industry in South Africa. Well-structured crossbreeding systems allows producers to capture benefits from complementarity and heterosis.

The study is being conducted at Vaalharts Research Station. The aim is to use the Afrikaner, Bonsmara and Nguni as dam lines in crosses with specialized sire lines from British (represented by Angus) and European (represented by Simmentaler) breeds. In addition these dam lines were also mated with Afrikaner, Bonsmara and Nguni bulls in all combinations. This is producing 15 different genotypes.

It is anticipated that the information from five breeding seasons will be needed for the a more comprehensive study. Currently the information from three seasons are available and have been summarized. A protocol for Phase 2 of the study has been submitted.

The phenotypic trends in production traits of the three breeds over 25 years revealed an increase in cow productivity in all the breeds varying from 10% in the Bonsmara to 18.3% in the Afrikaner, where cow productivity was defined as kg calf weaned per Large Stock Unit mated. This also resulted in a decrease in the carbon footprint of up to 12%. The bottom line is that cow productivity can be improved if the weaning weight of the calf relative to the weight of the cow can be increased; and the inter-calving period reduced. Well-structured crossbreeding should have a much bigger effect on this and therefore the environmental impact, will be included in the final analyses of this study.

The simulation study indicated that breed, weaner and carcass price have an influence in the gross income from weaner and ox production systems. The simulation model in question can be used to quantify the benefits from the different crosses on completion of the study on condition that it is based on sound assumptions regarding weaner and carcass prices.

The information on 550 weaner calves and 125 feedlot bulls are currently available. The heaviest weaning weights are from Simmentaler sires on Afrikaner (220 kg) and Bonsmara (213 kg) dams, as well as Angus sires on Bonsmara (252 kg) dams. The lightest weaner calves were produced from purebred Ngunis (171 kg) and Angus sires on Nguni dams (173 kg). The severe draught and extreme heat of the 2015/2016 summer season had a big effect on the Angus and Simmentaler sired calves. The Sanga sired calves and Angus/Simmentaler sired calves had the same weaning weight (171 kg) in this season. In contrast, the 2016/2017 summer season was cooler and wetter, resulting in the weaning weight of the Angus/Simmentaler sired calves being 27 kg heavier than the Sanga sired calves (210 kg versus 183 kg). This demonstrates the importance of including the effect of climate on the pre- and post-weaning performance in Phase 2 of the experiment.

At the completion of the study all the information will be updated and this baseline information used to evaluate how effective the current crossbreeding systems in South Africa are and to quantify the direct and maternal heterotic effects, the possible/promising advantages of structured crossbreeding, as well as the effect of climate.

The very dry and hot 2015/2016 season also had an effect on the post weaning feed intake and growth. For example, the ADG of the Angus and Simmentaler types decreased by 17%, whereas that of the Sanga and Sanga derived types (Afrikaner, Bonsmara, Nguni) decreased by 9%, as a result of the heat waves experienced.

It is foreseen that indigenous and adapted beef breeds may become more important in South Africa as a consequence of climate change that will result in more challenging environments. The use of specialized sire and dam lines offer an opportunity to increase output by taking advantage of heterosis and complementarity. The effects of weather patterns on beef production in South Africa should also be estimated and thereafter, mitigation strategies developed in the era of climate change to ensure optimal production efficiency.

With the information collect from the GrowSafe system, it will be possible to study feed and water intake patterns as well as behavior of individual animals and different genotypes. This may give valuable information on the effect of climate on animal performance and behavior.

This study produced one M.Sc. thesis, 8 peer reviewed scientific articles, chapters in books and conference proceedings, as well as 8 popular articles.

Please contact the Primary Researcher if you need a copy of the comprehensive report of this project – Michiel Scholtz on