O level Notes : Agriculture - Animal Husbandry - Cattle Management

The rearing of cattle, sheep and goats is farming practice that has been practiced over many years. Goats, cattle and sheep are amongst the most widely consumed livestock with valued meat products. Throughout the decades, farmers and animal breeders have come up with a number of livestock breeds with carefully selected traits and improved characteristics.

The rearing of cattle, sheep and goats is farming practice that has been practiced over many years. Goats, cattle and sheep are amongst the most widely consumed livestock with valued meat products. Throughout the decades, farmers and animal breeders have come up with a number of livestock breeds with carefully selected traits and improved characteristics.

In Zimbabwe, farmers keep indigenous and exotic livestock breeds that have economic advantages. The proper management of cattle, sheep and goats is very important if the farmer is to realize profits from the livestock enterprise. The farmer should understand the requirements of the livestock breeds being reared to produce better quality meat and animal products.


Cattle rearing is a common practice in both communal and commercial farms in Zimbabwe. Farmers keep both exotic and indigenous breeds of cattle. Exotic breeds are cattle which originate from other countries, mostly Europe and are kept in Zimbabwe. Indigenous breeds of cattle are cattle breeds which originated in Zimbabwe and are kept in Zimbabwe.

Exotic cattle breeds have fast growth rate and high fertility, whereas indigenous breeds of cattle are hardy, more adaptable to harsh local climatic conditions and are tolerant to diseases and parasites. Cattle production goals can be for meat or milk production. Indigenous cattle breeds can be for both meat and milk production. Production costs are higher for dairy cattle than beef production. In dairy cattle production, specialised equipment, skilled labour and strict animal management are critical requirements demanded from the farmer.

Indigenous breeds

Indigenous breeds of cattle found in Zimbabwe are Afrikander, Mashona, Tuli and Nguni. Indigenous breeds are called Bos indicus in botanical or scientific classification. Indigenous cattle breeds are multipurpose.They are raised for meat, milk and draught power.


  • Characteristic features of Afrikander cattle breed
  • Afrikander cattle breed is common in the southern part of Africa.
  • The Afrikander is a hardy cattle breed, adaptable to hot and low temperatures.
  • The cattle breed can survive in dry and low rainfall climatic conditions.
  • Afrikander cattle breed is highly resistant to many local and tropical diseases as well as parasites.
  • Afrikanders are good grazers and can survive on poor grazing conditions.
  • Afrikander cows can give birth to large calves without problems.
  • Most of the Afrikander cattle breeds have a hump.

Mashona cattle

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Characteristic features of Mashona cattle breed

  • Mashona cattle are commonly referred to as hardy Mashona because of their tolerance to hot and harsh climatic conditions.
  • Hardy Mashona cattle have a small stature.
  • Mashona cattle breeds are resistant to most local and tropical diseases.
  • They have good fertility rate and do not have problems of dystocia when calving.
  • Mashona cattle can survive on veld grass and have good food to meat conversion ratio.
  • Mashona cattle were mainly kept by the Shona people because of their outstanding performance in hot and low rainfall areas.
  • Their skin colour ranges from black and dark brown, red and mixed red and white.
  • They are horned but some crosses are now polled.
  • Mashona cattle are very docile and easy to handle.

Tuli cattle breeds

Characteristic features of Tuli cattle breed

  • Tuli is a large cattle breed.
  • Tuli cattle are adaptable to hot and harsh climatic conditions.
  • The animal coat is smooth and thick.
  • Tuli cattle are resistant to many local parasites and diseases.
  • They are highly fertile or prolific breeders and present few problems during calving.
  • Tuli cattle can travel long distance in search of water and good grazing.
  • The body colour varies in Tuli cattle, but there are no black coloured Tuli cattle.

Nguni (Ngoni)

Nguni cattle breed derives its name from an African tribe known as the Nguni people who originally kept the breed. The Nguni people contributed to the breed’s characteristic attributes through influencing the breeding patterns.

Characteristic features of Nguni cattle breed

  • Body size of the Nguni ranges from small to medium sized cattle.
  • The Nguni cattle are adaptable to hot temperatures common in the Lowveld.
  • The breed is resistant and tolerant to many local diseases and parasites.
  • The Nguni or Ngoni cattle have a wide variety of colour patterns which also include mixed colour patterns.

 Advantages of indigenous breeds of cattle

  1.  Indigenous breeds of cattle are more resistant to diseases and parasites.
  2.  Indigenous cattle breeds are adaptable to hot and harsh local climatic conditions.
  3. Most indigenous cattle breeds survive better on low and poor nutrition levels.
  4. The local or indigenous breed can calve easily.
  5. Indigenous breeds are good for providing draught power.

Disadvantages of indigenous breeds of cattle

  • Generally, indigenous breeds have a slow growth rate.
  • Indigenous breeds have a small stature and produce small calves.
  • Indigenous cattle breeds do not respond well in pen fattening as they often develop laminitis (swollen feet).
  • Indigenous cattle breeds produce poor beef quality compared to exotic cattle.

Exotic breeds of cattle

Exotic cattle breeds are cattle which came from European countries and are kept in Zimbabwe. Exotic breeds are also called Bos Taurus in botanic or scientific classification. Some of the exotic breeds of cattle are Hereford, Sussex, Charolaise, Simmentaler, Brahman and Aberdeen Angus.


Hereford cattle breed originated in England, Herefordshire near Wales.

Characteristics of the Hereford exotic cattle breed

  • Hereford is renowned for a characteristic white coloured face, white patches under the body and under the neck, with a red body.
  • Hereford is a large cattle breed.
  • Hereford cattle are adaptable to a wide range of climatic conditions.
  • They are good grazers that can survive on poor pasture or grazing conditions.
  • The Hereford is susceptible to ophthalmic complications because of the pale pigment around its eyes.


 The Simmentaler cattle breed originated from France and is kept worldwide.

Characteristic features of the Simmentaler cattle breed

  • The colour of Simmentaler cattle ranges from dark brown to creamy yellow and white.
  • It is a dual-purpose breed with excellent beef and milk production.
  • Simmentaler cows can produce 4500kg to 5000kg milk per lactating period.
  • Simmentaler bulls are used for cross breeding.
  • There are no or few calving problems which are encountered with Simmentaler cows.

Aberdeen Angus

Aberdeen Angus breed originated from Scotland.

Characteristic features of the Aberdeen Angus exotic cattle breed

  • Aberdeen Angus is highly fertile and is amongst the best fertile cattle in the world.
  • The breed is naturally polled.
  • Aberdeen Angus cows have a natural good mothering ability.
  • They are the best breed in terms of easy calving.
  • Aberdeen Angus cattle breed does better in high rainfall areas, especially in Mashonaland central, Mashonaland west, Manicaland, Harare and parts of Midlands.
  • The Aberdeen Angus cattle produces high grade beef feeding on natural veld grasses.

Charolais cattle breed

The cattle breed originated in South Eastern France.

 Characteristic features of Charolais cattle breed

  • The breed has a white colour with pink muzzles and pale hooves.
  • They are good milkers.
  • Charolais has a coarse fur.
  • The breed has good feed conversion ratio and superior natural weight gain.
  • They are good for cross breeding.
  • Have easy calving ability.
  • Their temperament is good and are easy to handle.

Brahman cattle breed

The breed originally is a Bos indicus originating from India.

Characteristic features of a Brahman cattle breed

  • It is characterized by a hump.
  • They vary in colour. Colour ranges from light grey, red, to almost black.
  • The breed is intermediate in size.
  • Brahman breed is hardy and adaptable to a wide range of feed and climates.
  • It has a short thick glossy hair coat.

Sussex cattle breed

The Sussex cattle breed is beef and draught cattle that originated from South England.

Characteristic features of a Sussex cattle breed

  • The breed is medium sized.
  • Sussex cattle breeds are characterized by a smooth dark-red coloured coat with white tail switches.
  • The breed is fairly easy to handle.
  • The breed is highly fertile.
  • The Sussex breed has high or efficient feed conversion ratio.
  • The breed has easy calving ability.
  • Sussex cattle are tolerant to high temperatures.

Short horn cattle breed

Short horn cattle breed originates from the north east of England.

Characteristic features of a Shorthorn cattle breed

  • It calves easily.
  • It has good growth rate.
  • It is highly fertile.
  • It is mild tempered.
  • It is good for cross breeding.

 Advantages of exotic cattle breeds

  • The exotic breeds of cattle have a fast growth rate.
  • Exotic cattle breeds have high food to meat conversion ration hence are very productive.
  • Exotic breeds of cattle are larger than indigenous breeds and as a result they fetch more money at the market.
  • There are many pure breeds to choose from exotic breeds of cattle than indigenous breeds.
  • Exotic breeds produce large calves.

Disadvantages of exotic breeds of cattle

  • They are less hardy and not adaptable to local climatic conditions.
  • Exotic breeds are more prone to local and tropical diseases and parasites.
  • They require first class management and good stockmanship.
  • They tend to have calving problems because most of them produce large calves.

Cattle management practices

Good management practices ensure that high quality and healthy animals are produced which brings better returns. Management practices commonly done on cattle are dehorning, castration, animal identification, deworming or dosing, disease control, supplementary feeding, mating, weaning and record keeping. Success in livestock production depends on the stockmanship qualities of the farmer.


Dehorning is the removal of horn buds so that cattle will not have horns. Dehorning is done as soon as the horn buds start to emerge. The reasons for dehorning are varied. Some of the reasons why most farmers prefer dehorning are:

  • Dehorning helps to reduce injuries sustained when horned cattle fight or when horned animals bully other animals.
  • Dehorning enables easier transportation of cattle.
  • Handling of cattle is made easier and safer after dehorning.
  • It is easier to handle dehorned cattle when treating them or when castration is done.
  • Dehorned cattle occupy less space in feeding pens or feeding troughs.
  • Dehorning of cattle reduces fighting and bullying in cattle herds.

Methods of dehorning

There are three most commonly used methods of dehorning cattle, namely use of hot iron, rubber ring and caustic soda. The most common method used when dehorning animals is use of hot iron. Guillotine is another method but it is not widely used.

Hot iron

A red-hot iron is placed on horn buds as soon as they appear on calves. The red-hot iron has a circular depression at the centre. The red-hot iron depression is pressed hard on horn buds for few seconds to burn the horn buds. Most farmers prefer to use this method for dehorning because it is fast and very effective.

Use of caustic soda

Caustic soda has a burning effect on the horn buds. Before the caustic soda is applied on flicked horn buds, petroleum jelly is applied on the base of the horn buds near the skin to prevent caustic soda from burning the skin of calves. Caustic soda is then applied on horn. Caustic soda should not be applied during the rainy season because the caustic soda can be washed into the calves’ eyes and cause the calves to become blind. Care should be taken when applying caustic soda on horn buds because if it gets in contact with the skin, it can burn the skin.

Use of a tight rubber ring

A tight rubber ring is put around the horn buds at the base of the head’s skin. The tight rubber ring has the effect of stopping blood flow to horn buds and this causes the horn buds to fall off.

Use of guillotine

Cattle, sheep or goats with horn buds or horns which have grown long can be dehorned by cutting the horns using a guillotine. A guillotine looks like a pair of scissors and has sharp blades. When the handles are pressed, it can cut the horns of the animal. The disadvantage of a guillotine is that it leaves dehorned animals bleeding seriously and the wounds on horns may become infected with bacteria and become septic.

Supplementary feeding

Supplementary feeding should be done in winter when grazing is poor and when cattle condition starts to deteriorate. In winter, grasses would have translocated nutrients to the roots, therefore, as a feed it would have lost nutrients. Supplementary feeding can be for proteins or minerals.