Bonsmara in Zambia

A Short History Of The Breed:

The majority of breeds in the world have their origin in crossbreeding – the Bonsmara however, is the only breed that had its origin in scientific crossbreeding, based on traits of economic importance.

The Bonsmara breed was developed in South Africa where the need for a beef breed that would do well in the subtropical savannah regions had been identified in the 1930’s.

The breed was named “Bonsmara” after the late Professor Bonsma, who conceived the scientific experiments that led to the development of the breed, and the Mara Research Station. From the earliest crossbreeding results it became evident that the development of the Bonsmara should proceed on a 5/8 Afrikaner and 3/8 Exotic (Shorthorn/Hereford) breeding mixture – The Adaptability of the Afrikaner, the Meat Production of the Hereford and the Milk Production of the Shorthorn breeds were successfully combined. The breed, that today is the forerunner in the stud and commercial beef industries in South Africa, is a functional, productive, well-adapted breed – the Bonsmara.

Bonsmara SA was founded in 1964 and within 20 years has become the biggest of all beef and dual-purpose breeds in South Africa. Strict adherence to minimum breed standards based on functional efficiency and compulsory participation in the National Beef Cattle Performance Testing Scheme (man must measure!) for all animals has ensured that the Bonsmara is one of the most efficient producers of good quality beef off natural veld as well as feedlots.

Because of its adaptability in basically all environmental conditions, growth efficiency, beef and carcass characteristics, the breed has gained much ground and today proliferates throughout South Africa. Bonsmara can also be found in Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia, Mozambique, Uganda, Kenya, Nigeria and Zambia on the African continent, while the breed is also popular in Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, Brazil, Mexico, the USA (Texas), Canada and Australia.

A database of approximately one and a half million performance tested animals recorded since 1937 provides the Bonsmara breed with the largest beef cattle data set to calculate breeding values. The open upgrading system also ensures one of the largest beef cattle gene pools in the world.

Mr. Graham Mulders, (Alexswill farm and Bonsmara stud, Kalomo) was the first farmer from Zambia to import pedigree Bonsmaras from South Africa in 1994.

As the breed was new to Zambia, it took time for the farmers to become familiar with the Bonsmara. Through exhibits at the National Agricultural Show in Lusaka the breed became better known and it is now a popular choice for beef farmers.

Breed Characteristics:

The Bonsmara is a medium framed, smooth coated, heat and tick tolerant beef breed. It is uniform red-brown to light brown in colour and has the typical frame of an efficient sub-tropical breed. A slightly sloping rump ensures that it is also an easy calver.

Over the years the Bonsmara has distinguished itself as an “easy care” breed with the following positive attributes:

  • Very well adapted to most climatic conditions; bushveld, savannah and sourveld environments.
  • Very fertile with short intercalving periods.
  • Early maturity.
  • Low birth weights and therefore easy calving with high re-conception rates.
  • Well developed udders with adequate milk to wean a strong calf.
  • Good growth ability: Bonsmara bulls may thus be used to good effect in a crossbreeding program.
  • Advantageous feed conversion ratio.
  • Excellent carcass and meat qualities: its meat is of high quality – tender, tasty and succulent. In a crossbreeding program the Bonsmara improves the quality of the meat of the breed with which it is crossed, especially as regards tenderness.


Bonsmara Breed Society Regulations:

Some of the most important regulations of the Bonsmara Breed Society are:

  • Animals are registered as Bonsmara only if acceptable performance test results are available, and the animals have passed a visual inspection by breed inspectors.
  • No competitive showing is allowed.
  • A breeder must register a minimum of 20 breeding animals to qualify as a member of the Bonsmara Breed Society – this facilitates proper selection pressure.
  • Animals are inspected with the emphasis on functional efficiency and performance in the relevant environment.

It is extremely important to realize that a calf born of registered Bonsmara parents is not a Bonsmara – it has to be performance tested and then passed by qualified inspectors according to the minimum breed standards before it may be registered as a Bonsmara.

A Bonsmara Bull is therefore:

  1. Registered at SA studbook.
  2. Performance tested by the ARC (Animal Research Council).
  3. Approved by Bonsmara selectors.
  4. Branded with a B on the right shoulder.

One of the most important aspects of the Bonsmara system is the stipulation that Bonsmaras may not compete at shows. The main reason for this is that the Society does not advocate unhealthy competition among the breeders. The basis of performance testing is that the animals in every herd are in constant competition with one another and not the breeders. Furthermore, the Bonsmara claims to be a scientific breed and there is nothing scientific about taking animals out of their contemporary groups to be prepared for shows (halter-training!!), interfering with their reproductive cycle and distorting performance data. This is the reason why you might see Bonsmara animals as an exhibit at the Lusaka show, but not in the show ring itself

Breed Standards:

Please visit for a complete list of minimum breed standards.

Bonsmara In Southern Africa Today:

In South Africa today, the Bonsmara is dominating the feedlot industry and approximately 50% of the animals that end up in the feedlots are purebred**.

Within Zambia the breed is now recognized as an important player in the feedlot industry and it has made a valuable contribution to the improvement of beef herds countrywide.

** ARC Newsletter, nr. 97 2008