Often called Braymer in Texas and Brahma in the Flint Hills, the Brahman goes back to the sacred zebu-derived cattle of India. Nevertheless, it is also believed to be the first cattle breed developed in the United States. How can that be?
For starters, the predecessors of the Brahman were considered sacred in India and therefore not to be sold. However, zebu derivatives scattered throughout other countries were sometimes gifted to Americans. Two bulls and four cows may have come to our shores from Egypt in 1835, although this is not known for certain. More followed in 1849, introduced along with a few Angora goats to South Carolina by Dr. James B. Davis, agricultural adviser to the sultan of Turkey.
These earliest imports had very little impact on the future of the Brahman breed, their whereabouts being forgotten during the turmoil of the Civil War. The real beginning came in 1854, when Britain presented Richard Barrow of Louisiana with two bulls as a reward for his services in teaching Indian officials how to grow cotton and sugar cane. The crossbred animals descended from these bulls were called “Barrow grade cattle” and were evidently considered valuable enough to ship to Texas just before the Civil War broke out.
The incredible heat and insect tolerance of the Barrow grade cattle led to the importation of two more bulls in 1885. Furthermore, circuses appreciated the exotic appearance of zebu-type cattle and managed to import others. The best of these were purchased by ranchers, especially in southeastern Texas, and some ranches undertook their own importations.
In 1906, 18 Brahman cattle waiting in quarantine died of a fatal disease called surra, caused by protozoa infecting the blood. Fearing that the disease would spread to American cattle, the USDA prohibited further importations of cattle from India. But ranchers were not ready to give up their heat-tolerant Brahman genetics. They turned to Brazil and Canada for further importations. By 1926, an estimated 266 bulls and 22 females had come to the United States from various countries (including India), creating a unique blend of four Indian zebu breeds:
- The Gir.
- The Nellore.
- The Krishna Valley.
- The Guzerat, which had the greatest influence on the new American breed.
The Brahman had become the mainstay of the Southern cattle industry. Through careful selection, the breed’s temperament and beef characteristics were improved over the original zebu-type cattle, providing ranchers in the blistering South with a viable beef breed.
The Brahman is a beef breed, although purebreds are rarely slaughtered for meat. Instead, the breed is used to create a number of customized crosses, especially in the South. Furthermore, the Brahman has been used to develop other breeds:
Note that this list is far from exhaustive.
But the versatile Brahman has other uses. It is popular on the rodeo circuit in America, while other countries use it as a milk cow. Worldwide, the Brahman is probably the most common selection for draft purposes.
The Brahman is somewhat shy, but extremely intelligent. Its excellent memory can make it a cattle owner’s best friend or worst nightmare. Which role it assumes generally depends on its prior experience with humans. Few breeds respond with as much docility and loyalty as the Brahman when treated kindly. If handled roughly or infrequently, however, the Brahman will react with either extreme nervousness or aggression.
While kindly treated Brahmans are usually gentle, beginners should beware of the occasional unstable animal. Also, cows with calves can be dangerously protective.
Brahmans are born with natural resistance to many of the problems that plague cattle today, especially various forms of cancer and insect-borne diseases. However, the breed is subject to a few genetic defects and such mysterious problems as “weak calf syndrome,” where the newborn calf is born too weak to stand up and usually dies within three days.
Also, owners of Brahman cattle should be aware that the breed tends to have allergic reactions to chemicals. Most insecticides are unsafe for use on Brahmans.
One final concern with the Brahman breed is its overall bagginess. Loose skin and flesh, particularly with bulls, can easily be stepped on or caught in trees and fences, resulting in some nasty injuries.
- Extreme hardiness.
- Heat tolerance.
- Resistance to intense sunlight.
- Parasite resistance.
- Active foraging nature.
- Ability to cope with poor and inconsistent grazing.
- Willingness to eat cactus, yucca, and other plants many European breeds won’t touch.
- Calving ease.
- Mothering ability.
- Rich milk.
- Rapid growth until weaning.
- Beef free from excess fat.
- Outstanding hybrid vigor when crossed to any other breed.
- Difficult personality for inexperienced owners to handle.
- Tendency to jump fences.
- Late maturity.
- Difficulties rebreeding after each calving.
- Slow growth rate after weaning.
- Tough beef.
- Poor prices in sale barns outside of the South because of these negative characteristics.