Picture provided by Rachel Williams of Ranch House Designs
Harsh climates and scant grazing are typical of summers in the Southern US. Most cattle breeds are negatively affected by the harsh conditions, decreasing in body mass and reproductive ability. It is in these environments that Brahman cattle and their F1 crosses have flourished and provided an upgrading option for ranchers of the regions.
Perfect examples of survival of the fittest, Brahman cattle were developed in the unforgiving climates of India. Natural selection allowed the hardiest animals to thrive in these regions. Cattle had to be able to walk long distances to find good grazing and water. They had to be able to continue their reproductive cycles in temperatures well above 100oF.
There are more than thirty types of Bos indicus (Indian bred) cattle. Of these, four were used to produce the American Brahman—the Guzerat, Gir, Nellore and Krishna. There are conflicting reports of the Brahman introduction to the Americas. In 1835, there may have been an importation of two Indian bulls and four cows by Dr. Campbell and C. Bryce. If so, they were quickly assimilated into the cattle population. The fact remains, that the first recorded presence of Indian cattle was by South Carolinian, Dr. James Davis in 1849. Richard Barrow was awarded Indian cattle for his works with the British government in 1854; the cattle were known as Barrow grade cattle. When the Hagenbeck circus performed at the World Fair in 1904, several Indian cattle were brought with them. The cattle were sold to Allen McFaddin who may have brought the bull, Prince, to Texas.
As more and more ranchers were discovering the benefits of Indian cattle, AP Borden bought 51 cattle from India. While these were being held under quarantine there was a serious surra outbreak which killed at least 18 head. This sparked a concern by the Department of Agriculture and from this point until 1946, importing cattle from India was forbidden. For the following, forty years most Indian cattle came through Brazil and Canada.
Texas has always been the major breeding center for the cattle. It is not surprising then, that the American Brahman Breeders Association (ABBA) was formed in Houston in 1924. James W Sartwell first proposed the name of Brahman for this breed. Their first officially registered animal was named Sam Houston. With the creation of the breed association, the breed standard was established. A committee was formed for inspection of cattle prior to registration.
In 1922, Mr. Walter Hudgins purchased what would become the most influential bull within the breed. Manso was the ideal of a Brahman bull. He possessed their hardy traits in addition to being a much stockier animal and with a docile temperament. In effect, he was the ideal breeding animal and a sharp contrast to the usual Brahman of the time which were thin and rather unruly. The influence of Manso was a very positive one and can be traced back to about three fourths of all registered Brahman cattle, making them larger and well tempered when adequately handled. Manso bull calves were highly sought after; bringing prices ten times what was typical for a cow and her calf.
Brahman cattle are unrivaled in their adaptability traits. Their dark skin, serves as a filter for the sun and a barrier for harmful sunlight. Their hair color can range from light grey to red or black, with most animals in a light to medium gray shades. The Brahman can boast of having nearly eradicated eye cancer within the breed.
Brahmans have very distinctive physical characteristics. They have large, upward curving horns. They are easily recognized by their large hump over the shoulder and neck, large pendulous ears and excess skin around the throat and underbelly. Brahmans’ loose skin increases surface area available for cooling, making them specifically adapted to heat resistance. Throughout their skin, they have well spread sweat glands. They are able to reproduce, having no harmful effects on their breeding cycle stemming from heat. When the seasons grow colder, the Brahman can grow a thick winter coat protecting them from the extremes in the other range. Under their loose skin, Brahmans have heavy musculature giving them the ability to shake off insects. In addition to this, Brahman cattle secrete an oily substance thought to serve as an insect deterrent.
These traits are clearly inherited by Brahman F1 crosses. The Brahman can serve to produce custom breeding plans in regions of harsh climates and poor grazing. There are many crossbreeding programs that use the Brahman as an improver. F1 hybrids produce a high level of heterosis as they are products of totally unrelated strains. The low birth weight of the Braham partnered with the quick growth rates of English breeds makes for an optimum offspring and one highly marketable.
Some of the more popular crossbreeds are the Santa Gertrudis, Brangus, Beefmaster, Braford, Charbray and Simbrah. Their F1 calves are popular replacement females and feedlot feeders. F1 females are perhaps the premier cow; they are adaptable animals, with increased milk productivity, high fertility levels and are heat and insect resistant.
Though perhaps lankier than some of the British and Continental breeds, the Brahman has allowed the US beef industry access to regions that would otherwise have little productive success. Their ability to create hardy animals is a benefit to ranchers in desert climates, and areas that have inconsistent grazing. Texas ranchers perhaps more than others can credit their success to the grey Indian cattle and their ability to survive and thrive.
National Brahman Associations and Registries
ReferencesAmerican Brahman Breeders Association
Texas Steer Classification Guidelines
Acceptable Breed Characteristics
Must physically exhibit breed characteristics of a 50% purebred Brahman
A prominent hump beginning in the middle of the shoulder going forward
Any color or color pattern
Bos Indicus ear, head, eye and sheath
A crest with the absence of a hump