Discipline: crossbreeding; Keywords: milk production, adaptability, Nguni, veld supplementation, suckling, temperament.

The most popular dairy breed in South Africa is the Holstein. Being of European origin the Holstein is not well adapted to South African veld conditions. Consequently, its milk production on veld is very low, and the animals cannot subsist and produce without some form of supplementary feed. The Nguni breed is an African breed, and is used by communal farmers in KwaZulu-Natal for household milk supply. Though these animals are well adapted to the African veld, and can produce calves yearly with little or no supplemental feed, the milk production potential of Nguni cows is quite low. The goal of the trial discussed by the authors cited below was to utilise a cross between the Nguni and the Holstein to obtain a cow that is expected to be hardy and more adaptable to the prevailing veld conditions in South Africa, yet with a higher milk production potential than pure Nguni cows at very low input costs. 

The trial was started in 2004, utilising Holstein cows at Glen Agricultural farm. Cows were inseminated with a Nguni bull and the resultant heifers were raised on veld with no additional supplementation other than a salt-phosphate lick. Upon sexual maturity the heifers were divided into two groups, synchronised for insemination and half the heifers inseminated with Nguni semen and the other half with Holstein semen. After calving, the cows were milked once a day on site with a mobile milking machine, with the calves only being separated from the cows during milking. Due to the calves having unrestricted access to the cows during the night and separated from the calves during the milking process to facilitate handling of the cows, partial suckling was not used to initiate the milk let-down reflex. The cows were milked for two consecutive years and their milk production recorded. If the cow’s milk production declined to less than 0.3 litres per day, milking was ceased. The temperament of the cows was visually observed during milking. 

The resultant milk production was very variable, with approximately 20% of the cows having a high milk production and able to sustain the production for about 5 months. The cows with the highest production were visibly relaxed, while the majority of the cows with lower production appeared tense and very quickly learned to limit their milk let-down reflex, keeping most of the milk for their calves. These cows were also more protective of their calves, and were more prone to kicking the workers during the milking process. The total production over the period of the trial varied from a high of 2002.5 litres per cow over two lactations to a low of 221 litres per cow during the same period. 

The results of the trial seem to indicate that temperament, and especially the mothering ability (defined for this purpose to be the milk let-down reflex and the resultant milk production, as well as the ease of milking), of the Nguni x Holstein cows, could play a large role in their behaviour and milk production potential.

Comment: The major variable determining milk yield is nutrition. The highest yield achieved is less than 5 litres per day which suggest that irrespective of breeding strategy and breed, the cows need to be supplemented on veld.


L. Metaxas & M. Motsoahae, 2019. The milk production potential and temperament of Nguni x Holstein cows. In: Proc. of the 51st Annual Congress of the SASAS, Bloemfontein, 10-12 June 2019, Abstract 107.