That is a Brahman…Or Is it?

Understanding and identifying Bos indicus breeds of cattle

By Rachel Cutrer

Has this ever happened to you: while scrolling through Facebook, you see a picture of a beef animal, and just because it has a hump someone has identified it as a Brahman. Google ‘Brahman’ on Google Images and see what images appear. Misidentification of breeds may be an honest mistake to a novice cattle enthusiast, but all professional Brahman breeders should be able to identify different Zebu breeds and understand their function, management, and use. Quite simply, just because it has a hump doesn’t mean it is a Brahman.

Genetic Classifications and Breeds

All cattle can be divided into two basic classifications: Bos Taurus (non-humped) and Bos indicus (humped), according to Dr. Stephen P. Hammack of Texas Agri-Life Extension.

“Bos indicus breeds can also be called Zebu or Indian cattle,” says Hammack. “They were developed in south Asia and are generally used for beef production in hot climates.”

The Oklahoma State University Breeds of Livestock website (OSU) lists more than 40 different breeds of Zebu cattle. In 1986, Dr. Jim Sanders of Texas A&M University published an outstanding report of the “History and Development of Zebu Cattle in the United States” which appeared in the Journal of Animal Science 50: 118-1200. Let’s take a look at some of the more common Bos indicus breeds of cattle and their characteristics:

The Guzerat breed is often said to be as old as civilization itself, being identified in prehistoric Pakistan cave drawings as far back as 3,000 B.C., according to Joe Ackerman, author of American Brahman. From 1835 to 1906, Guzerat were the most popular Indian breed being imported to the United States and South America, he explains. This breed is recognized by its large horns, stocky face, broad chest, and upward pointing horns. A Guzerat is typically light grey to black at maturity, according to OSU. The barrel of the Guzerat is generally lighter in color than the rest of the body, they explain. Photo courtesy of Sexing Technologies

The Guzerat breed played an important role in the development of the American Brahman. In fact, when studying advertisements from the Brahman Breeder-Feeder from the 1940s, some breeders advertised their cattle as “Guzerat type” Brahmans. Aristocrata (sire of Manso), Imperator (sire of King of Kaplan), Quinca (sire of Quinca the Great) were believed to be of the Guzerat breed, says Ackerman. Guzerat cattle are maintained as a pure breed in India and Brazil with large numbers, however there are few in the United States.


Gir or Gyr

The easiest way to recognize a Gir animal is by their very prominent, rounded head, downward-sweeping horns, and long, often curled ears. Gir cattle can be red, white, or speckled. Arauto, a Gir bull imported from Brazil in 1946, is considered the base of many of today’s American Red Brahmans. Today, when breeders discuss ‘red Brahman features’ they are often referring to a slight roll to the forehead and shape to the ears, traits derived from Gir ancestors. OSU spells the breed Gir, however the American Brahman Breeders Association spells it Gyr in their herd book. Photo courtesy of Sexing Technologies

Nelore cattle are beautiful, majestic animals with a light grey haircoat, upward pointing horns, and a much shorter ear compared to the American Brahman. As one of the base breeds to the American Brahman, the Nelore breed has the greatest number of cattle registered in Brazil, according to Sanders. In India, this breed is also called Ongole.

In the United States, the common spelling for the breed is Nellore. OSU explains when the Ongole breed was first imported to Brazil, it was called “Nellore” after the breed’s district of origin. Soon the extra “L” was dropped since it is not necessary in Portuguese. Photo courtesy of ABCZ, Brazilian Cattle


American Brahman
The American Brahman is a breed of Bos indicus cattle developed in the United States from Indian and Brazilian cattle, says Sanders. The breed was designed to improve the beef industry of the southern U.S. Thus, muscling, good udders, hardiness and productivity were important criteria in the breeds development. The ABBA Standard of Excellence describes the American Brahman as being grey or red in color with varying shades, along with dark horns and a black nose, hooves and tail switch. Brahman cattle have a moderate size face with dark lips, and are primarily horned. Photo courtesy of J.D. Hudgins, Inc. 

induIndu Brazil
Indu Brazil cattle, developed in Brazil, are ½ Guzerat and ½ Gir, says Ackerman. This breed was imported to the United States in 1946. Indu Brazil cattle are known for their large frame and large ears, and typically have a grey color. According to OSU, Indu Brazil have the largest ears of any of the beef cattle breeds, and generally taller and lighter muscled than the American Brahman. Because of their parents, Indu Brazil cattle also have a slight roll to their head, and can be red, grey, or speckled. Photo courtesy of AMCC

Registering These Breeds

While all of the above breeds are distinct breeds of cattle with their own characteristics, heritage, and traits, paper identification becomes slightly more interesting when you consider the breed’s registration process. The ABBA serves as the official breed registry for all of the above mentioned breeds in the United States.

The initial ABBA registry started in 1924, and closed in 1939. It opened thereafter for a small number of 1946 imports and later allowed reciprocity for individuals registered in other recognized international Bos indicus breed registries, according to Hammack.

In the fall of 1991, the ABBA board of directors voted to separate the ABBA’s pedigree registry into separate herd books for individual breeds. According to the ABBA Constitution, the “ABBA preserves the full and complete records known as the American Gyr Herd Book, American Nelore Herd Book, American Indu Brazil Herd Book, American Guzerat Herd Book, American Tabapua Herd Book and American Red and Grey Brahman Herd Book.”

At the time of the herd book split, breeders had the option to move their cattle to a specific herd book, or to remain in the American Brahman herd book, at the breeder’s discretion. Many Gyr breeders chose to remain in the American Brahman herd book. In fact, there are very few cattle registered in any of the separate herd books other than the American Brahman book.

Today’s registration process for animals of the Gyr, Indu Brazil, Guzerat, Nellore or Tabapua herd books are dependent on the sire and dam of the animal to be registered, explains Chris Shivers of the American Brahman Breeders Association.

For example, if the sire of the animal is listed in the American Brahman herd book, the offspring of the first cross will be registered in the American Brahman herd book. If crossing occurs between animals in different herd books, the papers will reflect the percentage of each breed in the resulting offspring. Once the second cross occurs the offspring will be registered in the herd book of the dominant breed.

Education Key To Understanding Breeds
Genetics and breeds of cattle intrigue most cattleman. To successfully use breeds, producers should match the breed’s function to the environment, management and marketing conditions, says Hammack. “Choose genetic types, breeds within types, and individuals within breeds that are compatible with the performance level needed and breeding system,” he says. Correctly identifying these breeds is an important step in understanding their function and use. And always remember…just because it has a hump, doesn’t mean it is a Brahman.

to view article as published in The Brahman Journal click here