The Drakensberger cattle breed is not well-known among most people, especially those not working within the international beef industry. However, this South African breed of cattle has many positive characteristics that make it an ideal and profitable farm animal to raise. This article goes over essential information about this lesser-known breed of beef cattle.
Quick Facts about the Drakensberger
|Place of Origin:||South Africa|
|Uses:||Milk production; meat|
|Bull (Male) Size:||1800–2400 pounds|
|Cow (Female) Size:||1200–1585 pounds|
|Lifespan:||14 years or more|
|Climate Tolerance:||Tolerates extreme heat and cold|
|Optional:||Docile temperament; excellent mothering ability|
The Drakensberger is indigenous to South Africa. The Drakensberger was acquired by Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama in 1497, making this year the first time the cattle breed was recorded in history. The Drakensberger has been developed over a few centuries. Initially, this cattle breed went by the name Vaderland cattle for some time until the name was changed again to the Uys cattle after the Uys family worked to improve and maintain the quality of the breed. In 1947, the breed was officially renamed the Drakensberger after the region where the cattle roamed.
Drakensberger Cattle Characteristics
Known as extremely hardy and adaptable, the Drakensberger has developed a natural resistance against tick-borne diseases; these diseases can lead to a cow’s death. This was proven when they were herbed by Dutch-speaker settlers as they traveled across the country to new settlements, known as The Great Trek.
The shine and sleekness of their coat have benefits: it repels insects that could cause infections or illness and reflects the sunshine helping them stay cooler. They have short, strong legs making them good walkers on rough terrain and steep hills. Their heavy brows protect them from the sun’s rays and insects.
The Drakensberger cattle have an easy temperament and are quite docile. They are easily handled and raised by breeders. This cattle breed can live over 14 years, remaining productive for the majority of their lives. Cows have a high fertility rate and give birth to calves easily. Calves have a fast growth rate due to the quality and quantity of their mother’s milk but continue to gain weight quickly after weaning. All these characteristics support this cattle’s title of being a “profit breed.”
The use of the Drakensberger cattle is for beef. There are many cattle breeds used for beef in South Africa, and the Drakensberger makes it on the top 10 list of highest quality beef. Their meat has been described as very succulent, juicy, and flavorful. The hindquarters are the most expensive cuts. However, it is challenging to find Drakensberger beef outside of South Africa. While this cattle breed has high milk production, the Drakensberger is not used for commercial milk production.
Appearance & Varieties
Drakensberger cattle are a medium-frame breed with a long and deep body and have a black smooth coat. Their horns are short and curved. Mature bulls can weigh between 1800-2400 pounds while cows weigh less with a range of 1200-1585 pounds. At birth, calves weigh about 75 pounds.
The majority of Drakensbergers are not crossbred on farms in South Africa; however, there has been successful crossbreeding with the Black Angus cattle breed in Australia. Beef from Black Angus cattle is known for tenderness due to the marbling of the meat.
Population, Distribution & Habitat
Currently, the population of Drakensbergers is over 20,000, with 14,000 of those being purebred cows and the remaining purebred males. A lot of effort and care is put in to maintain the purity of the Drakensbergers by South African cattle breeders. The majority of Drakensbergers remain in southern Africa; however, a few dozen Drakensberger embryos were sent to Australia in 2004, cross-breeding with the Black Angus breed. In 2009, Australia acquired a few dozen more embryos to have a purebred Drakensberger herd.
Since the Drakensberger cattle are indigenous to South Africa, they have adapted to extreme heat and subzero temperatures. These cattle thrive on even low-quality foraging in rough terrain.
Are Drakensbergers Good for Small-Scale Farming?
There are a few considerations when it comes to cattle and small-scale farming. Beef and milk products are always in demand in the USA, so there is a good chance of profiting from small-scale cattle farming. On average, farmers can use a steer for its meat within two years. Cattle manure also makes good compost, which can be used on crops or sold to other farms. A small herd of cattle can benefit their grazing pasture from their manure as well. Of course, there are other costs that must be remembered when raising even one cow or bull for profit. Sometimes, small-scale farmers cannot afford those extra costs overall.
It is not clear whether the Drakensbergers are good for small-scale farming. However, since this particular breed can handle tough conditions, have a docile temperament, easily forage, and are resistant to tick-borne illnesses, this breed of cattle could be acceptable for small-scale farming. All of those factors can make having a small herd of Drakensberger easy to maintain compared to other beef cattle.
The hardy and quiet Drakensberger cattle breed has been a reliable and easy farm animal to maintain. From their high fertility to low mortality rate, the Drakensberger prove that they are profitable to raise to produce tender beef. Although their beef is not as recognized on an international scale, it is considered high quality.
However, despite the Drakensberger being a sturdy bovine, they will still need space to graze. If there is only one acre of land available for even a single Drakensberger, this is not a large enough plot for them to graze and allow the pasture to regrow. But cows can be kept on small plots of land – as long as they are fed. A farmer can balance out the cows’ food from grazing on a small plot of land with high-quality cow feed.
- Related read: Chianina Cattle Breed
Featured Image Credit: Hannes Thirion, Shutterstock