The Boran male and female share breed points, as described in ‘Boran Bull – Characteristics’. The sexes, however, show marked dimorphism – the female being notably small, whilst the male grows to a large size. The cow has a well-carried udder with strong attachments and neat, small teats, in contrast to some Asian Zebu breeds.
The well-developed beef conformation shows up in carcase appraisals. The depth of eye muscle, marbling, even fat cover and ratio of hind to forequarter make the Boran difficult to beat, hence the preference of Kenya butchers for young, well-finished Boran steers.
“While the Boran breeders have greatly improved the beef conformation of their animals, they never lost sight of the important qualities of the indigenous Boran.”
Boran cattle have developed adaptive traits of crucial importance for their survival. Some of these characters are: – “Ability to withstand periodic shortage of water and feed, ability to walk long distances in search of water and feed and ability to digest low quality feeds.” (Haile-Mariam, et al. “Boran – Indigenous Cattle With Potential” 1994).
Ability to walk and survive starts with sound feet and leg conformation. Dark pigmentation and black points protect against sunburn. These are important survival characteristics, which inspectors will not compromise when registering for the Kenya Stud Book.
The herd instinct of the Boran makes it easy to manage and survive in bush country. They will always stay together and can ‘graze on the trot’. The cow’s strong protective instinct deters predators.
In Kenya’s vast northern districts, long distances separate grass from water, and markets are far away. The Boran evolved under these stressful conditions and selection pressure has given the breed its remarkable walking ability, so greatly admired today.
Newborn calves keep up with their mothers and are soon able to walk long distances.
“Animals with Boran genes have a relatively low maintenance requirement. This was substantiated in a recent study at the US Meat Animal Research Centre in Nebraska”. (Haile-Mariam, Sprinkle et al. 1998).
“…young Boran animals can make dramatic recoveries after drought years when pasture conditions improve” (Coppock, 1994.)
Being adapted to hot dry conditions, the Boran, with its lower maintenance requirement has a better chance of surviving droughts than Bos taurus breeds. The Boran cow will cease lactating in adverse conditions, letting her live to conceive again when conditions improve.
The Boran cow is an excellent mother. Not only will she feed her calf so well that high weaning weights are attainable, but she guards against predators, and will never allow her calf to get lost in the bush.
“For it is the mothering ability which determines the pre-weaning growth rate of the calf and the survival rate from birth to weaning.” (FAO Animal Production and Health Paper 34, 1982).
When considering crossing a Bos taurus breed with zebu for the sub tropics, the Boran must surely rank high as the choice of cow. Her well known mothering ability coupled with her prolific traits and small, efficient size makes her the preferred cow for commercial crossbreeding.
Ease of Calving
The Boran cow is renown among breeders for its ease of calving. As illustrated in this photograh of a Boran cow with her crossbred Charolais/Aberdeen Angus weaner calf, the Boran breed can be reliably crossed with the largest of exotic breeds. This becomes especially useful in ranching conditions where calving supervision is difficult.
Boran cattle have a very pronounced herd instinct, making them easily managed in bush country and well suited to cow calf operations.
They always stay together and defend against predators, thus ensuring high calf survival rates.
Borans are generally more docile and tractable than other Zebu cattle. Large numbers of Boran bulls kept in one herd cause little trouble.
Females are easy to handle, although cows with newborn calves can be naturally aggressive when protecting their offspring.
True resistance to disease is a complicated matter. For practical purposes, a smooth coat and motile skin provides the Boran with a useful degree of protection against tick and buffalo fly infestation. Borans recover from Foot & Mouth Disease faster than exotics, and suffer less damaging after effects.
“One genetic feature which seems clear is that cattle of Bos indicus type are naturally more resistant to ECF than Bos taurus type”.
(A. D. Irvin and M.P Cunningham. East Coast Fever, Diseases of Cattle in the Tropics, Ristic & McIntyre).
“The Orma Boran has been shown to have a degree of trypanotolerance.” (R. Dolan, Nairobi 2001)
A survey of eleven commercial ranches in Kenya shows that calf losses are in the order of 3.5 %, while losses from disease in older cattle are as low as 1% of the herd.
As with all Zebus, the Boran has good heat tolerance. “The sweat glands are more numerous and are larger than those of Bos taurus and the skin surface is increased by the presence of extra folds…” (MacFarlane, 1964) Dark skin pigment protects against sunburn.
Trials in Kenya (D. Robertshaw & V. Finch, Nairobi 1973) showed that B. indicus has a relatively lower metabolic rate than B. taurus and under heat stress there is less metabolic heat to be dissipated and the shiny coat reflects a high proportion of solar radiation.
While European cattle stop eating and seek shade during the heat of the day, the Boran continues to graze. Under demanding conditions where cattle have to be penned at night because of stock theft or predators, this is a plus point for the Boran.
For half a century, the improved Boran from Kenya has penetrated into many areas of Eastern Africa, Zambia and the Congo where conditions differ from those prevailing in semi-arid Kenya. Reliable sources of information have shown that the Boran has adapted well to these diverse environments where, according to reports, they are more productive than the local cattle breeds.
“Boran cattle have adapted to stressful tropical environments by maintaining small body size”. (Boran – Indigenous African Cattle with Potential – M.Haile-Mariam et al. 1994.)
Boran cows live long and productive lives and remain sound-mouthed for fifteen years or more. The practical effect of this trait is a low replacement rate of the breeding herd. Bulls are active and fertile until well over ten years of age.
“The length of productive life of a cow is important since the relative cost of raising a calf decreases with the increase in her productive life.” (I.L. Mason & V.Buvanendran. FAO Paper 34 -1982).
The Boran cow is expected to breed regularly and rear well-grown calves for twelve or more years and it is quite normal for fifteen-year-old breeding cows to be sound-mouthed. On record, a sixteen-year-old Boran bull in Kenya is still producing high quality semen for artificial insemination.
The Boran Cattle Breeders Society emphasises selection for the ability of the Boran to wean a calf every year under rangeland conditions. The cows are quick to respond to favourable conditions and can rear weaners of more than 50% of their body weight at nine months and still maintain a 365 days calving interval.