Capitalizing on the Potential of South African Indigenous Beef Cattle Breeds: A Review

Cattle populations arrived in Southern Africa almost 2000 years ago, brought by farming communities migrating southwards. For centuries, cattle have been an integral component of livestock production to meet the animal protein needs of a growing population and they are also important in many cultural and religious events, as repositories of wealth and signifiers of social status. Selection within these cattle populations led to the development of breeds such as the Nguni, Afrikaner and Drakensberger that are well adapted to the local production environment. Genetic information has been generated for most of these populations, providing new insights into their ancestry and indicating moderate levels of diversity and relatively low inbreeding. Indigenous cattle breeds are present in both the well-developed commercial sector as well as the developing South African livestock sector. These breeds have been included in several research studies, mostly focusing on their production and adaptive potential. Genetic improvement of the local cattle populations and breeds, which are often more resilient to local environmental conditions, has the potential to improve the productivity of the small-scale production developing sector and contribute to the alleviation of poverty.