Nguni Cattle

Bos taurus

Last updated: October 28, 2022
Verified by: AZ Animals Staff
© iStock.com/Wayne Martin

Nguni cattle are the most profitable breed for beef farmers.

Nguni Cattle Scientific Classification

Kingdom
Animalia
Phylum
Chordata
Class
Mammalia
Order
Artiodactyla
Family
Bovidae
Genus
Bos
Scientific Name
Bos taurus

Read our Complete Guide to Classification of Animals.

Nguni Cattle Conservation Status

Nguni Cattle Locations

Nguni Cattle Locations

Nguni Cattle Facts

Name Of Young
calf
Group Behavior
  • Herd
  • Sociable
  • Herds
Fun Fact
Nguni cattle are the most profitable breed for beef farmers.
Estimated Population Size
1800000
Most Distinctive Feature
Each animal's hide has its own unique color and pattern, as individual as fingerprints in humans.
Distinctive Feature
Nguni bulls have humps on their neck region which are made up of more muscle than fat.
Other Name(s)
Sanga
Gestation Period
275-295 days
Temperament
Good
Average Spawn Size
1
Habitat
South Africa, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Swaziland
Predators
Cheetah
Diet
Herbivore
Average Litter Size
1
Lifestyle
  • Diurnal
  • Herd
Favorite Food
Mixed grasses, thick bush
Common Name
Sanga, Nguni
Origin
Africa
Number Of Species
1800000
Location
South Africa, Mozambique, Zimbabwe

Nguni Cattle Physical Characteristics

Color
  • Brown
  • Red
  • Black
  • White
  • Tan
  • Cream
  • White-Brown
  • Multi-colored
Skin Type
Skin
Lifespan
10 years or more
Weight
700-1550 pounds
Age of Sexual Maturity
14-15 months
Age of Weaning
Calves wean at 385 pounds

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Nguni cattle are the most profitable breed for beef farmers.

Summary

Nguni cattle are native to the Southern region of Africa. They are widely known and revered for their eye-catching speckled and multi-patterned hides. This cattle breed is also known for its good temperament and ability to withstand harsh climate conditions. Nguni cattle originated as a hybrid of various Indian and European breeds. They are sought after for their excellent natural immunity to tick-borne diseases.

Nguni Cattle Facts

  1. Nguni cattle are a hardy breed, resisting ticks and tick-borne diseases, and withstanding harsh climate conditions of extreme heat and cold.
  2. Nguni cattle are the most profitable and economically friendly breed for farmers in that they produce beef at the absolute lowest cost of production per hectare of land.
  3. In addition to their ease of calving and exceptional maternal skills in fending off predators and taking care of their young, Nguni cattle also have a low mortality rate.
  4. The nature of the Nguni cattle hide and pigmentation protects them from skin and eye cancer.
  5. While the quality of their milk is more than adequate, Nguni cattle produce fewer than five liters of it per day.
  6. Nguni cattle are not expensive to take care of. They have low maintenance and veterinary costs, and low feeding costs as they can forage for themselves, and they are not picky eaters.

Nguni Cattle Scientific Name

Ancestors of the Nguni cattle first arrived on the African continent about 8,000 years ago as different tribes moved from northern Africa to the Southern region during south-bound migrations.

Nguni cattle, also called Sanga cattle, get their name from the Nguni tribes of Africa. This cattle breed belongs to the order Artiodactyla, hoofed animals who bear equal weight on two of their five toes, and the family Bovidae, of cloven-hoofed, ruminant animals. Nguni cattle are a hybrid of Bos indicus and Bos taurus species, a mixture of European and Zebu (humped cattle originating in the Indian subcontinent) cattle breeds.

Bovidae comprises of 52 genera 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, giraffes, dolphins, whales, and orca.

Throughout their history, they were deemed an inferior breed when compared to exotic European cattle breeds, which led to many selective breeding efforts aimed at improving the species. However, in the late 1900s, the favorable qualities of the Nguni breed became more widely recognized and understood, in that the indigenous breed was better adapted to its environment than exotic cattle breeds and, therefore, outperformed them.

Nguni Cattle Appearance

Not only can Nguni cattle withstand harsh climate conditions including extreme heat and cold, but they are also tick resistant!
Not only can Nguni cattle withstand harsh climate conditions including extreme heat and cold, but they are also tick resistant.

©iStock.com/EcoPic

Nguni cattle are well-adapted to the Southern African region. As a result of thousands of years of natural evolution, they possess characteristics and traits that enable them to not only withstand but thrive in adverse conditions of extreme cold and heat.

Size

The Nguni breed is smaller in size when compared to other breeds in other countries. This is an adaptive trait that allows them to survive in their grazing regions. The size of the cattle is dependent on their nutritional intake. Nguni bulls are medium-sized, averaging about 1,100 — 1,550 pounds in weight. They are muscular and have humps on their neck region which are made up of more muscle than fat.

The cows are small and weigh between 700 — 975 pounds. Their bodies are sleek around the neck region and possess a characteristic sloping rump which typically helps them avoid complications during the birthing process. Nguni cows do not have humps like bulls. They have small to medium-sized udders with small teats.

Appearance

The beauty of this breed lies in the multicolored and multi-patterned nature of its hides, which can display brown, red, white, tan, black, or yellow colors, either solidly or mixed in different patterns. Each animal has its unique color and pattern, as individual as fingerprints in humans. Even the shape of their horns is distinct and unique. Also, the hide of the animal is sleek, preventing ticks from attaching to it. One of the best adaptive features is that they have a natural immunity to tick-borne diseases.

As is typical of animals belonging to the Bovidae family, Nguni cattle are ruminant animals, possessing a four-chamber stomach.

Nguni cattle are known to be a docile and good-tempered breed.

Nguni Cattle Habitat

The Nguni cattle breed was brought to Southern Africa by various African tribes who migrated south from Northern Africa thousands of years ago. They are found in the Eastern part of Swaziland, the Eastern part of Zululand in South Africa, and parts of Mozambique and Zimbabwe.

Herds graze on the high fields, or highveld in Afrikaans, which refers to a part of the South African inland plateau.

Nguni Cattle Population

The last population estimate for Nguni cattle from 2005 stood at 1.8 million for South Africa and 340,275 for Swaziland. Though this breed occurs naturally in certain regions of Southern Africa, only 1400 cattle have been officially registered by 140 registered breeders outside of the aforementioned countries.

The breed is not currently listed on the IUCN Red List of endangered species.

Nguni Cattle Diet

Some of the most useful traits of Nguni cattle are their foraging and browsing skills. They eat natural mixed grasses and thick bush and graze well on steep hills, as well as in the feedlot. They fatten up well either way. It helps that they aren’t picky eaters.

They are ruminant animals, which means that they possess four stomachs. 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 known as chewing the cud.

Reproduction and Lifespan

Nguni cattle have strong maternal skills and are adept at fending off predators and taking care of their young.
Nguni cattle have strong maternal skills and are adept at fending off predators and taking care of their young.

©

Nguni cattle have an optimal reproductive life, mostly as a result of some of their favorable physical characteristics. The cows have sloping rumps and small uteruses which makes them less likely to experience complications during calving. They have a relatively long lifespan and mature quite early.

Nguni cows, or heifers, reach sexual maturation at around 14 — 15 months of age. Weight influences puberty, therefore heifers need to have reached 65 — 70% of their mature weight to attain puberty. Nguni cows typically carry their calves for 285 days on average. This number varies from cow to cow, ranging from 275 — 295 days.

A cow will usually produce at least 10 calves during her lifetime. Nguni cows are dedicated mothers and their calves fatten up quickly. They grow over 1.5 pounds daily, weighing up to 385 pounds when they are weaned, typically at around 10 months old.

Depending on the breeding management system in place, heifers have about 80 days before they are ready to get pregnant again, either through natural means or via artificial insemination.

Nguni cattle are farmed for their milk and meat. One carcass will produce about 400-500 pounds of marbled meat with minimal fat. Although their milk production is lower than some other breeds, they still manage to produce about 1200 kg or over 1.3 tons of milk a year.

Nguni Cattle Predators and Threats

When it comes to the elements, this breed can withstand even the toughest conditions. Nguni cattle are resistant to a wide host of tick-related diseases, such as trypanosomosis and heartwater. They are a hardy breed, tolerating extreme heat and cold conditions. The cows mature early and possess a high calving percentage.

Nevertheless, Nguni cattle still have natural predators such as cheetahs, who mostly target calves. Nguni cows are aggressive toward predators and will protect their young.

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About the Author

Hi! I am a writer, actor, and filmmaker. Reading is my favorite hobby. Watching old movies and taking short naps are a close second and third. I have been writing since childhood, with a vast collection of handwritten books sealed away in a duffel bag somewhere in my room. I love fiction, especially fantasy and adventure. I recently won the James Currey Prize 2022, so now, naturally, I feel like I own words. When I was 11, I wanted to be a marine biologist because I love animals, particularly dogs, cats, and owls. I also enjoy potatoes and chocolate in all their glorious forms.

Nguni Cattle FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

What do Nguni cattle eat?

Nguni cattle browse and graze on mixed grasses and thick bush. They can feed on steep slopes.

What is so special about Nguni cow meat?

Meat from Nguni cattle are nicely marbled and have minimal fat. The quality of taste is very high as well.

How much milk does an Nguni cow produce?

Nguni cattle produce less than five liters of milk per day and have been known to produce 1200 kilograms in 300 days.

What are some unique traits of the Nguni cattle breed?

Nguni cattle have many special traits, such as their resistance to ticks and tick-borne diseases, their ease of calving, their low calf mortality rate, and their multicolored hide.

Are Nguni cattle a good breed to farm?

Nguni cattle are the most profitable breed for farmers because of their high beef production per hectare of grazing land.

Are Nguni cattle expensive to maintain?

Nguni cattle are a hardy breed and therefore very easy to take care of. They have a low maintenance cost, low veterinary cost, and low feeding cost, among others. They also have excellent foraging skills and can typically fend for themselves.

What eats Nguni cattle?

Predators like cheetahs have been known to attack calves, but the Nguni heifers are aggressive towards predators.

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

Sources
  1. Animal Genetics Training Resource, Available here: http://agtr.ilri.cgiar.org/nguni
  2. Elizabeth Gray, Available here: https://petkeen.com/nguni-cattle/
  3. Jenny Bester, Available here: https://www.fao.org/3/y3970e/y3970e04.htm
  4. ScienceLink, Available here: https://www.up.ac.za/news/post_3003879-up-research-the-history-and-genetics-of-our-famous-nguni-cattle-can-help-conserve-them
  5. , Available here: https://www.nguni.co.za/
  6. The Cattle Site, Available here: https://www.thecattlesite.com/breeds/beef/93/nguni
  7. D. J. Bosman, Available here: https://www.nguni.co.za/Publications/Journals/2019/The%20value%20of%20breeding%20seasons.pdf

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