With their unique patched, speckled and blotched hides, Nguni cattle are amongst the most attractive of all the common breeds found in South Africa. A great favourite amongst local tribesmen, these cattle are hardy, resistant to disease and prolific breeders – making them ideal for most environments within the country. Thus, this particular breed is found throughout Southern Africa, particularly in Swaziland, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Angola and South Africa.
The breed originated in East Africa, and contains a healthy dose of part-bred cattle, European breeds of cattle and Zebu cattle in its genetic makeup. They are medium sized animals with the bulls weighing from 500 to 600 kg each and the cows tipping the scales at 300 – 400 kg. Apart from their multi-coloured hides, these bovines also bear a number of differently shaped horns. With all these variations, each individual can be said to be truly unique.
The Xhosa, Zulu and Swazi people brought their beloved cattle with them when they migrated into Sothern Africa between 600 and 1400 AD and these animals have always played an important role in their culture. Not just as a vital source of leather, food and milk but as status symbols and as an important element of the ‘lobola’ (dowry) custom.
Many a battle was fought on the plains of South Africa over these noble beasts, with King Shaka placing particular importance on seizing as many herds as he could from his enemies. It was he who focused on breeding particular coat patterns amongst his herds, and his regiments were arranged according to the colour of their shields which were made from Nguni hide. His personal guard was famous for their pure white regalia taken from animals of the royal herd the inyonikayiphumuli.
Today the Nguni Cattle Breeders Society controls the registration of Ngunis according to strict breed standards, and the best specimens may be seen strutting their stuff at agricultural shows all over South Africa. This society aims to preserve the qualities of the Nguni breed which make it so suitable for the sometimes harsh conditions under which it survives. Nguni cattle are tolerant of both extreme heat and cold, they are resistant to parasites and have a natural immunity to tick borne diseases – making vet bills and anti-parasitic treatments a rarity for the Nguni farmer.
In addition to all these great attributes, the Nguni fends for itself and can be raised on grazing aloen, with very little supplementary feeding and still produce excellent beef.
The Nguni is a bovine for all seasons in South Africa, a great example of how careful animal husbandry, assisted by nature of course, can benefit both man and beast. They also make an attractive and colourful addition to any pasture.