Ngunis have what it takes

Meat from Nguni cattle, fresh from the veld, is not only tastier than meat from other breeds but is also ideal for the organic market, say Fort Har University researchers. Roelof Bezuidenhout reports
Issue date : 10 July 2009

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Meat from Nguni cattle, fresh from the veld, is not only tastier than meat from other breeds but is also ideal for the organic market, say Fort Har University researchers. Roelof Bezuidenhout reports

South Africa’s indigenous Nguni cattle can produce high-value, healthy beef under harsh environmental conditions and natural production conditions, according to researchers at the University of Fort Hare (UFH).The Nguni is attracting international interest for its resistance to ticks and tick-borne diseases, high reproductive performance, good walking and foraging ability, and low maintenance requirements, acquired through centuries of natural selection. So says Dr Voster Muchenje, senior researcher and lecturer in meat science at the UFH Department of Livestock and Pasture Science.

He explains the Nguni Cattle Breeders’ Society of South Africa discourages dipping these cattle, because of the breed’s tick immunity. The Nguni can therefore produce high-value beef under certified production conditions, reducing or eliminating chemical parasite control. Its adaptability to tough conditions, such as feed scarcity, also equips it for natural beef production. “A considerable amount of work on tick infestation and meat production has been done on cultivated pasture and in feedlots,” says Dr Muchenje. “But despite a possible relationship between tick loads, growth and meat production, feedlots cover these parameters separately.”

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Over the last five years, the UFH has conducted comprehensive studies into Ngunis’ internal parasites, tick loads, tick tolerance, growth performance, carcass characteristics, stress responsiveness and beef quality. In addition, the study covered nutritionally related metabolites, response to pre-slaughter stress and the effects of pre-slaughter stress on the beef quality of Nguni steers. The studies covered consumer health aspects such as cholesterol levels and different types of fatty acids found in red meat, and a professional sensory evaluation was performed on the beef.
The results have been published in the world’s leading animal production, animal health, and food science journals.E-mail Dr Voster Muchenje at [email protected]     |fw

What the research found

The Nguni can be successfully finished on veld without supplementation.
It had the best growth performance during the dry season without dietary supplementation, compared to other breeds in the same trial. It also maintained relatively high liveweight and body condition scores.It had the lowest tick load among all the breeds
Failure to dip Ngunis led to high tick loads  but didn’t reduce growth rate, liveweight or carcass characteristics.The Nguni had the lowest internal parasite levels of all the breeds.It had relatively high levels of nutritionally related blood metabolites, such as urea, glucose, phosphorus and calcium. These help it adapt to limited grazing conditions.The beef quality (including meat colour, tenderness, cooking loss, water-holding capacity, pH, etc.) of Nguni finished on veld was comparable to the best European beef breeds.

In contrast to general reports, the study found the Nguni to be generally docile, with lower levels of stress hormone at slaughter (see Figure 3). This improved beef quality.
Ngunis finished on veld had low cholesterol levels (41,5mg/100g, far lower than the critical recommended levels that may cause heart problems).Ngunis finished on veld had a healthy fatty acid level within recommended international standards.
Ngunis finished on veld had the highest sensory evaluation scores (for tenderness, flavour, juiciness, aroma, and amount of connective tissue) as established by professional food tasters.