Nelore Cattle

Last updated: May 27, 2024
Verified by: AZ Animals Staff
Murillo Mazza/

Nelore cattle make up about 65% of the total world beef-producing population!


Nelore Cattle Scientific Classification


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Nelore Cattle Conservation Status

Nelore Cattle Locations

Nelore Cattle Facts

Name Of Young
Group Behavior
  • Herd
Fun Fact
Nelore cattle make up about 65% of the total world beef-producing population!
Estimated Population Size
Five million
Most Distinctive Feature
Hump on neck
Distinctive Feature
Long legs
Other Name(s)
Nellore, Ongole cattle
Gestation Period
291.4 days

Nelore Cattle Physical Characteristics

  • White
Skin Type
15-20 years
990-1100 pounds
Age of Sexual Maturity
two years

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Nelore cattle make up about 65% of the total world beef-producing population!


This Brazilian cattle breed descended from the Ongole cattle breed, which was originally from India. Their main use is for meat and milk production, but they are also used for draft and riding animals. Nelore is a widespread breed, accounting for more than half of the world’s total bovine, beef-producing population. This breed is not just sought after for its tasty beef, but also for its hardiness; resistance to extreme heat, insects, and bloat; and prolific reproductive life as well.

5 Interesting Facts

  • Nelore cattle are a hardy breed. They can survive in conditions of drought and poor food quality.
  • These cattle are resistant to insects and can withstand harsh climate conditions of extreme heat. This ability results from having sweat glands that are twice as big as other breeds and many more of them. In addition, they have black, loose skin with white hair that reflects the sun’s rays.
  • Nelore cattle produce optimal beef without excessive marbling (fat) and with a great taste! They can produce excellent meat even in conditions of poor food quality.
  • Nelore cows have long and deep bodies, wide pelvic openings, and sizeable birth canals which contribute to an easier calving process. Further, Nelore cows possess favorable mothering skills and have lengthy reproductive lives.
  • Nelore cattle have a high resistance to bloat, which is as a result of their feeding behavior. This cattle breed has a very slow metabolic rate that allows it to feed less frequently.

Scientific Name

This Brazilian breed (Bos indicus) gets its name from the Nellore district in the Andhra Pradesh state in India, but the name was transformed into Nelore. They are descendants of the Ongole cattle originally brought to India over 2,000 years ago by Aryan tribes. The first pair was brought to Brazil in 1868, and a second pair came to the Rio de Janeiro Zoo in 1878. Others may have been brought to Brazil through the years, but of significance were the 100 Nelore cattle brought from India in the 1960s since most of the Nelore in Brazil today are descendants of those 100 animals.

This breed belongs to the order Artiodactyla, which are hoofed animals that bear equal weight on two of their five toes, and the family Bovidae, which are cloven-hoofed, ruminant animals. Bovidae is comprised of 52 genuses and 146 extant species, including the goat, antelope, bison, wildebeest, and sheep.

Other animals that belong to the family Artiodactyla include pigs, hippos, camels, buffalo, and giraffes.

Appearance and Behavior

Nelore Cattle

Nelore cattle are a hardy breed; they are able to survive dry, hot conditions.

Nelore cattle are medium-size animals with relatively long legs that enable them to tread bodies of water while grazing. Their ears are the shortest of the Bos indicus breeds. They have black skin and white hair, which helps them tolerate heat by redirecting the sun’s rays.

This cattle breed has adapted well to the different Brazilian climates and can withstand conditions of extreme heat. Nelore cattle have very large sweat glands, 25-35% bigger than European breeds. These large glands are the reason that Nelore cattle have loose skin. The glands helps them regulate their body heat, keeping it low.

Another adaptive trait of Nelore cattle is their resistance to insects such as horn flies, fleas, and gnats by shaking them off using a layer of muscle under their skin.

The cattle have a distinctive hump behind their neck region, and they typically have round horns pointed upwards. Some animals of this breed are naturally polled, meaning they do not have horns. Polled cattle are more desired because the absence of horns reduces the risk of injuries during fights and makes for easier transportation of the cattle. As is typical of animals belonging to the Bovidae family, Nelore cattle are ruminant animals and possess a four-chamber stomach.

Nelore bulls weigh up to 1,100 pounds, while the cows weigh in at around 990 pounds. Their size is part of their immense physical strength, which makes them great as riding and draft animals. Considering their strength, it is fortunate that Nelore cattle are a well-tempered breed.

Habitat and Population

The Nelore cattle breed is native to both India and Brazil but has its largest population in Brazil. From Brazil, the Nelore cattle breed traveled to Paraguay, Argentina, the United States, Mexico, Central America, Venezuela, and other countries. The Nelore cattle breed makes up 65% of the world’s total bovine population, and over 80% of beef-producing cattle are either purebred or hybrid Nelore cattle.

Currently, the total registered purebred Nelore cattle population stands at more than five million animals so this cattle breed is not currently on the IUCN Red List of endangered species.


Nelore cattle feed mostly on grasses. They also eat grains and soy. Nelore cattle are very economical animals, producing high-quality beef from low-quality forage. This breed can go weeks without water.

These cattle are ruminant animals, which means that they possess a four-chambered stomach. A unique trait of this breed is that it has a slow metabolic rate, enabling it to feed less often, thereby producing less heat. This feeding trait also gives it resistance to bloating.

Digestion begins in the mouth, and when the food moves into the first stomach, or rumen, it is turned into cud and regurgitated to be chewed again. This process is called “chewing the cud.”

Reproduction and Lifespan

Nelore cattle have an ideal reproductive life as a result of some favorable physical characteristics. The cows have small udders with short teats. The cows also have long, deep bodies, wide pelvic openings, and large birth canals. These characteristics enable them to give birth to calves easily.

Nelore cows reach sexual maturity at about two years of age and have a long, productive breeding life. Like other breeds of cattle, they usually give birth to one calf at a time. The gestation period for Nelore cows is around 291 days. The cows are very diligent mothers, which increases the calf’s survival rate.

Nelore cattle have a lengthy lifespan ranging from 15-20 years, unless sent to slaughter for their beef.

Predators and Threats

As a domesticated cattle, Nelores are well-protected in herds and by their owners. There is only the occasional large, wild animal that will attack a stray calf.

Although Nelore cattle can survivie without drinking water for weeks, chronic thirst still poses a serious problem for this breed. A clean source of drinking water is one of the scarcest resources, especially under extreme heat and when the water content of the forage is low.

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Nelore Cattle FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Where are Nelore cattle originally from?

Nelore cattle are originally from India. They were brought to Brazil from India in the 1960s and from there, the breed spread to other parts of the Western hemisphere.

Which country has the largest Nelore cattle population?

Brazil has the highest Nelore cattle population with a purebred nu

Why do Nelore cattle have long legs?

The long legs of Nelore cattle enable them to tread on shallow bodies of water such as lakes while they graze.

Can Nelore cattle survive the cold?

Nelore cattle can withstand cold and hot temperatures, however they prefer tropical regions to cold ones.

What are Nelore cattle used for?

Nelore cattle are reared for their meat, milk, and used as draught animals because of their incredible physical strength and hardiness.

Is Nelore beef any good?

Nelore beef is award-winning, and considered to be very tasty and high quality. The meat is lean and tender, and contains just enough fat.

Are Nelore cattle prone to diseases?

Nelore cattle are resistant to insects and blood-sucking parasites which makes them less prone to parasitic diseases.

How long can Nelore cattle go without water?

Nelore cattle can go long periods of time without drinking water, even up to weeks.

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.


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