O Level Notes : Agriculture - Ruminants : Cattle Management

Proper management skills of indigenous and exotic breeds of cattle, sheep and goats is important. The farmer should be able to select breeds of animals that are suitable for his / her environmental conditions basing on the traits of breeds of the animal.

Proper management skills of indigenous and exotic breeds of cattle, sheep and goats is important. The farmer should be able to select breeds of animals that are suitable for his / her environmental conditions basing on the traits of breeds of the animal.


Most  of  the  farmers  in  Zimbabwe  keep  exotic  and  indigenous  breeds  of  cattle. Indigenous breeds of cattle fulfil multiple roles in the communal area that includes the provision of meat, milk and draught power. They also serve as an indication of wealth status. Indigenous cattle are more adaptable to harsh climatic conditions and are more tolerant to diseases and parasites as compared to exotic breeds.


Indigenous breeds of cattle in Zimbabwe

The  Zimbabwean  indigenous  cattle  breeds  are  called  Bos  Indicus  in  scientific classification. Examples of indigenous breeds are Mashona,Africander, Tuli and Nguni.

Mashona cattle

Characteristic features of Mashona cattle

  • They are very docile and are easy to handle.
  • They are tolerant to diseases.
  • Mashona cattle are tolerant to harsh climatic conditions.
  • Hardy Mashona cattle have a small stature.
  • Bulls weigh up to 400 kg and cows up to 300 kg.
  • They have good fertility rate.
  • They do not have problems of dystocia during calving.
  • The have skin colours can be black, red or a mixture of all those colours..


Characteristic features of an Afrikander

  • Afrikander is a muscled  breed with a shallow body.
  • The breed have long lateral horns that turn backwards.
  • Their legs are slightly sickle shaped.
  • Most of the Afrikander breed have a hump.
  • Afrikander can survive on poor grazing conditions since they are good grazers.
  • They are resistant to diseases and parasites.
  • The cows can give birth to large calves without difficulties.
  • Afrikanders are common in the southern part of Africa.

Tuli cattle breed

Characteristic features of Tuli cattle breed

  • They have short haired smooth colour which varies from silver through golden brown to red. These colours enable them to adapt to intense heat.
  • The Tuli cattle are resistant to diseases and parasites.
  • The breed is adaptable to hot and harsh conditions.
  • They are highly fertile with less complications during calving.

Nguni cattle breed

Characteristic features of Nguni cattle

  • Nguni cattle have a docile behavior and good temperament.
  • They are less prone to dystocia during calving.
  • The Nguni cattle breed are tolerant to heat and light and are well adapted to hot temperatures common in the lowveld.
  • They have a wide variety of mixed colour patterns.
  • They are resistant to diseases and parasites.

Exotic breeds of cattle

These are cattle breeds from European countries. Exotic cattle breeds have a fast growth rate, high food conversion rate, very large and they produce larger calves. They are called Bos Taurus in scientific classification. Examples of exotic breeds are Brahman, Sussex, AberdeenAngus, Hereford and Simmental.


Simmental breed

Characteristic features of a Simmental breed.

  • White faces are common in most Simmental cattle breed.
  • This breed have a lot of white on their belly and legs.
  • Bulls and cows have shot horns that point out and upwards.
  • Simmental is a large breed.
  • Bulls have a pendulous dewlap.
  • Bulls are noticeably blockish in shape.
  • Cows have high milk production as compared to some other breeds.


Characteristic features of Brahman

  • Brahman cattle can adapt well to a variety of feed and climate.
  • They are characterized by a hump above the shoulders,
  • They have floppy ears.
  • Brahman cattle have a longer dewlap compared to other breeds.
  • They have a poor temperament not docile.
  • Most of the cattle are horned, with the horns up and out.
  • Their colour range from white to grey, and red.


Characteristics features of a Sussex

  • They have a relatively long body.
  • Sussex cattle are medium sized animals.
  • Sussex cattle breeds have a smooth dark red to brown coats with creamy white tail switches.
  • The breed has good calving ability.
  • They are tolerant to high temperature.
  • Sussex cattle are docile.
  • They are highly fertile.

Aberdeen Angus

Originated from Scotland in the country of Aberdeen.


Characteristic features Aberdeen Angus

  • The cow has a good mothering ability.
  • They are resistant to harsh weather.
  • Aberdeen Angus have a black dominant colour but can be red. White colour may appear on the udder.
  • The breed is one of the highly fertile in the world.
  • Easy of calving have also become associated with this breed especially with heifers.
  • The breed does well in high rainfall regions.

Dairy cattle breeds

Dairy cattle are kept by farmers only for commercial milk production. Most of the dairy cattle  are  exotic  breeds  which  includes  jersey, Ayrshire  and  Friesian/Holstein. Management requirements of dairy cattle such as nutritional management, record keeping and calf management are higher than that of beef cattle.


Holstein or Friesian cattle breed

The breed originated from Netherlands and Holland.


Characteristic features of Holstein breed

  • Animals are black and white in colour.
  • They are the largest cattle breed.
  • The average weight for cows is 681 kg and 908kg to 999kg for bulls.
  • It is the largest milk producing breed with 4% butter fat content
  • They have a good temperament.
  • The bulls have carving horns inclining forward.
  • Milk quality is best than any other breeds.

Ayrshire dairy cattle breed

This breed originated fromAyrshire country in Scotland.


Characteristic features ofAyrshire breed

  • The breed is medium sized.
  • Bulls weigh between 499 to 726kg and the cows weigh 470 to 635kg.
  • Milk quality is good.
  • Butter fat content is about 4.2 percent.
  • They have a fair temperament.
  • Milk yields are medium.


The breed originated from Jersey Island channel.


Characteristic features of the Jersey cattle breed

  • They are the smallest of the European breeds.
  • Bulls have an average weight of 450 kg and the cows have an average weight of 409 kg.
  • The breed have low milk yield.
  • They are easy to keep because they do not require much forage.
  • They mature early.
  • Colour is a fawn shade.
  • Milk has high fat content, of about 5.3 percent.
  • The breed produces high quality milk.

Management practices for dairy cattle

Dairy cattle breeds are not easy to keep as compared to beef cattle. The management practices for dairy cattle breeds include selection, breeding, calf rearing, cow management,  milking  management,  record  keeping  and  disease  control.  This management require more skilled labour. The farmer should have a full understanding of each and every individual animal. This will help the farmer to identify critical periods in the cattle such as heat period.

Calf rearing

After delivery, the calf should be weighed to find out its birth weight. Then, the calf must be fed with colostrum (the first milk of the cow) for the first four days after birth. This colostrum contains antibodies which boost the immune system. Other managements such as castration, dehorning, identification and deworming are done at an early stage. The calves require a housing which is so hygienic and properly ventilated. Most of the time the calves are housed in individual crates outside the shade if there is good weather.


A farmer can choose the method of feeding to use. There are two methods of feeding calves namely bucket feeding and the fostering mother system. The bucket system allows the calf to suckle its mother to get colostrum for the first four days and after that, it is feed from the bucket.   In multiple suckling or the foster- mother system, the calf suckles milk from its mother to get colostrum and is thereafter fed on another cow's milk. The calves are then given whole milk, milk equivalents, and milk substitutes. Later on, they are given early weaning concentrates.

Selection and breeding management

Selection is done on calves with good economic traits and they are allowed to mate. The farmer usually select the heifers basing on the appearance of the udder.


(a)   Agood udder have four quarters (mammary glands).

(b)  Main veins should be prominent and tortuous (full of twists and bends). (c)  The udder should not be pendulous.

(d) A good udder should be large enough to accommodate much milk and it should not extend forward or sag excessively.


This selection is done so that the farmer will have larger volumes of milk production at the farm.

Cow management

Dairy cows are mostly fed with supplementary fresh feeds and concentrates. The farmer should know the history of each individual animal. This enables designing of appropriate feeding programme to meet nutritional demands and production targets of each individual animal. The farmer gives more feed to cows that are at peak lactation and those that produce good quality milk. Less feed is given to cows that are at early lactation and those with declining milk production.



If the farmer have a small herd of cattle, hand milking method will be used. However, if the herd is large milking can be done by machines in a milking parlour.

Disease control

The most terrible disease in dairy farming is mastitis (the inflammation of the udder).

Mastitis is a bacterial disease which causes the inflammation of the udder and it can be controlled by:

  • Treating and recording all clinical cases.
  • Dipping teats in disinfectant after every milking.
  • Dry cow therapy at the end of lactation.
  • Culling chronic mastitis cases.
  • Regular milking machine maintenance.
  • Following required milking procedures.
  • Observing hygiene.


Detection of mastitis

The farmer can identify mastitis from an infected cow by;

(a) Noticing a change in appearance of the milk. (b) Change in colour of the udder.

(c)  Inflammation of the udder.

(d) The temperature of the udder will be high.


Cattle management practices

Cattle management is the key to your herd`s health. Management practices done on cattle include mating, identification, dehorning, castration, weaning, supplementary feeding, dosing, disease control and calving management



In beef cattle, mating need to be controlled so that calves are all born during the rainy season when grass is growing. This will allow the cow to produce more milk for the calf. The calf can also benefit when it starts grazing. Animals can be made to mate naturally or the farmer can do artificial insemination. All methods can be successful if done when signs of heat are noticed. Some of the signs of heat are;

  • Cow on heat usually mounts other cows or allow other cows to mount her.
  • There is a mucous or slimy discharge from the valva.
  • The cow usually have frequent urinations.
  • The cow gets excited which causes it to run from one place to another.


When the farmer noticed some of the above heat signs, artificial insemination (A.I) can be done. It is a method of serving in which an inseminating syringe is pushed through the vulva and vagina and semen is deposited in the lower part of the uterus.


Pregnancy diagnosis

This is done to find out pregnant and non-pregnant cows. A veterinary or experienced farmer put his/her arm in the rectum and feel if a fetus is developing in the uterus. This is important for feed management because if a cow is pregnant steaming up ration is given to the pregnant cow. Steaming up ration is extra feed given to a cow or heifer during the last weeks before calving to keep the cow in good condition, to develop the udder and improve the milk yield.

Animal identification

It is advisable for a farmer to be able to identify his/ her animals at the farm. The common methods of identification include ear tagging, branding and ear notching.

(i) Ear tagging

Plastic tags with a number are placed on the ear so that they hang down below the ear. 

(ii) Brands

Cattle are branded using a hot iron so that it burns the hair and skin. However, it should not cause a deep wound. If it is done correctly, no hair will grow on the branding place leaving a clear mark or number which is specific for the farm. In rural areas most farmers identify their cattle by brands or by giving them names. Use of tags is not very common with most farmers.


It is a practice of removing horns from cattle's heads so that injuries from fighting are reduced. There is no danger to stockman when handling cattle. Cattle can occupy little space during feeding in feeding troughs and transportation of cattle will become easy.


Methods of dehorning

i) Hot iron

This is the common method used to dehorn calves when they are 1-3 weeks of age. A special disbudding iron with a circular depression at the center is heated until it is red hot. It is placed over the horn bud, it burns a ring round the bud and prevents it growing. Calves should be injected with 2ml of an aesthetic (a substance that induces insensitivity to pain) for each horn to prevent pain and Stockholm tar is applied to prevent infection.

ii) Caustic soda

Use of caustic soda - caustic soda is rubbed in to the horn bud and petroleum jelly is applied on the base of the horn buds near skin to prevent burning of skin of calves. The caustic soda prevents the bud from growing. Care should be taken so that the caustic soda does not get in to eyes or skin as it causes burning. This means this method should not be applied in rain season. Calves should be separated from mothers for a day to prevent the chemical being rubbed off.


Castration is the removal of essential sex organs of a male animal and thus render it incapable of fertilizing a female animal. Thus a castrated bull will no longer be producing sexual hormones and sperms. Castration is done to bulls not wanted for breeding. The other reasons for castrating is to make males more docile and easier to train as oxen for draught power.


Castration methods

There are three main methods of castration namely; surgical, rubber ring and use of buddizzo.

(i) Surgical method or knife method - This method involves the use of a knife to cut the scrotum. Each testicle is taken out and the cord is cut. However this method causes bleeding and has a danger of infection. The knife method can be used when the calves are 3-4 weeks of age. The equipment and the scrotum must be sterilized before the operation to reduce chances of the wound getting infected.

(ii) Rubber ring method - A rubber ring is placed around the scrotum above the testicles, using an elastrator. The ring works by cutting off the testicular tissue. Within a few weeks the scrotum and the testicles fall off. This method is quick but it causes pain to the calf for several weeks, so it should be done during the first week of birth.

(iii) Budizzo - A budizzo is an instrument used to crush the spermatic cord causing the testicles to slowly die. When using this method the farmer has to locate the spermatic code first by filling with the hand. The spermatic code is pushed to the outside edge of the scrotum. The burdizzo is then placed and clamped down for at list 10 seconds over the spermatic code, about 1,5cmto 2cm above the testicles. This should be done for each testicles. Burdizzo method have the advantages that there is no bleeding and calves can be castrated at any age.

Record keeping

Cattle records at a farm are so special as they guide the farmer in planning and making sound decisions. Farm records can facilitate pedigree selection in livestock. Through the use of records, the farmer will know the life history and performance of the ancestors of sires and dams therefore one can make the best choice in selection. Common records kept at a farm are stock registers which shows the total number of livestock, type of animal, sales and purchases.