Pet Keen is reader-supported. When you buy via links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission at no cost to you. Learn more.

Home > Breeds > Bonsmara Cattle Breed: Pictures, Facts, Uses, Origins & Characteristics

Bonsmara Cattle Breed: Pictures, Facts, Uses, Origins & Characteristics

bonsmara cattle

Before the Bonsmara breeding program began in 1937, cattle breeds in South Africa struggled with tick-borne diseases and challenging climate conditions. The Bonsmara was developed to create a new species that could handle the harsh conditions in South Africa, and the cattle became available to South African Farmers in the 1950s. The Bonsmara’s success helped South Africa and other regions on the continent maintain high production levels and contributed to the overall success of the beef industry in Africa.

new hoof divider

Quick Facts about Bonsmara

bonsmara cattle in the field
Image Credit: JMx Images, Shutterstock
Breed Name: Bonsmara
Place of Origin: South Africa
Uses: Beef production, crossbreeding, stud breeding
Bull (Male) Size: Up to 1,763 pounds
Cow (Female) Size: 1,102–1,212 pounds
Color: Red or brown
Lifespan: 15–20 years
Climate Tolerance: Hot, humid conditions
Care Level: Moderate
Production: High beef production; cows are still productive at 10-years old
Crossbreeding: Bonsmara cattle are the top choice for crossbreeding programs in South Africa

Bonsmara Origins

Professor Jan Bosma began experimenting with several Afrikaner and British cattle breeds at the Mara Research Station in 1937. The most successful breed crosses, which became the Bonsmara breed, were 3/16 Shorthorn, 3/16 Hereford, and 5/8 Afrikaner. The Bonsmara was officially recognized in 1964 and registered in 1972. It was exported to Botswana and eventually became an established breed in Namibia, Zambia, Angola, Mozambique, Rwanda, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, and the United States. The Mara Research Station’s studies proved that the Bonsmara outperformed dual-purpose, British, and indigenous breeds in the harsh climate of South Africa.

herd of bonsmara cattle
Image Credit: Erich Sacco, Shutterstock

Bonsmara Characteristics

The Bonsmara represents the best characteristics of the British and Afrikaner breeds. Professor Bosma used a methodical approach combined with scale photography to document multiple traits of every species in his experiments. As a result, the Bonsmara is the only cattle with a pictorial genealogy documenting the animal’s progression from the first crosses to its recognition as an established breed.

Bonsmara are popular around the world because of their friendly temperament. They interact well with humans, and the cows are exceptional mothers. Mothers provide milk to their young with high butterfat content to help them grow fast in harsh grasslands and sub-tropical landscapes.

Calves mature quicker than Afrikaner breeds and are ready to breed when they’re 12–18 months old. A critical advantage of the breed, when compared to other cattle, is its success in birthing. Bonsmaras experience fewer birthing issues, and the cows have a low mortality rate.

The Bonsmara Cattle Breeders’ Society oversees all breeding programs in South Africa, and it uses scientific selection procedures, called the Bonsmara system, to help breeders maintain elevated production levels. The society established the standards for the breed, which include:

bonsmara cattle breed
Image Credit: Erich Sacco, Shuterstock
  • Calving intervals cannot exceed 790 days.
  • Heifers must give birth before they reach 39 months of age
  • Cows cannot ween more than two calves with indexes below 90
  • Cows must raise at least two out of three consecutive calves.

These strict breeding standards have helped the Bonsmara become one of the most trusted and successful breeds for meat production, crossbreeding, and stud-breeding.

Uses

Bonsmara cattle are primarily used for beef production, and they’re adaptable to feedlots and grazing lands. Whether it’s produced from grazing or feedlots, Bonsmara beef has excellent marbling, a high dressing percentage, and a consistent fat disposition. Unlike British Cattle, Bonsmara are not susceptible to tick-borne diseases, and this disease resistance has made the Bosnmara a top choice for crossbreeding programs. Since it was created with three cattle breeds, the Bonsmara is a popular choice for improving the production and hardiness of other species used in South Africa.

bonsmara cattle standing in the field
Image Credit: JMx Images, Shutterstock

Appearance & Varieties

With a red or brown coat, broad head, convex profile, and smooth, oily coat, the Bonsmara is perfectly adapted to the scorching climate of South Africa. Although the cattle have horns, they’re removed to conform with the breed standard. When Bosma experimented with different breeds at the Mara Research Station, he discovered that the broader heads of Afrikaner cattle allowed them to cool off more efficiently than animals with narrower heads. The Bonsmara’s massive head and wide nostrils are advantages in hot climates, and they help the breed control respiration and prevent the brain from overheating on scorching days.

Bonsmara are three-composite cattle which means they were developed with three breeds: the Afrikaner, Hereford, and Shorthorn. Using three-composite breeds in crossbreed programs is an effective method of improving the health and characteristics of other cattle. African cattle farmers use the Bonsmara to enhance these breeds:

  • Red Poll
  • Sussex
  • Shorthorn
  • Afrikaner
  • Holstein
  • Hereford
  • Germany Red
  • Braunvieh
  • Senepol
  • Tuli
herd of bonsmara cattle in the field
Image Credit: Erich Sacco, Shutterstock

Population, Distribution & Habitat

More beef is produced in South Africa with the Bonsmara than any other breed, and it comprises 50% to 60% of total beef production in the country. South Africa had 130,000 registered Bonsmara cattle in 2019, and the worldwide population is over 4 million. The breed remains in high demand on the African continent, but it’s also become popular in Chile, Argentina, Brazil, and Columbia. Recently, the Bonsmara was introduced in Australia and North America.

new hoof divider

Are Bonsmara Good for Small-Scale Farming?

Bonsmara are hardy cattle that can tolerate harsh conditions and resist disease-carrying ticks, but they are not suitable for small-scale farming. The Bonsmara Cattle Breeders’ society recommends that farmers should not raise fewer than 20 cattle because smaller herds allow for fewer genetic improvements in the breed. However, the Bonsmara is an excellent choice for owners of large farms with ample grazing land.


Featured Image Credit: JMx Images, Shutterstock

Our vets

Want to talk to a vet online?

Whether you have concerns about your dog, cat, or other pet, trained vets have the answers!

Our vets