The Boran: God’s Gift to Cattlemen

Boran banner

Quentin breeds with Boran cattle which originate from Kenya. His stud is called Vastrap Boran (VST). The Boran breed developed after the introduction of Bos Indicus cattle to Africa after the Arab invasion of East Africa in about 700 AD. The breed gets its name from the Borana plateau in Southern Ethiopia, a region with harsh high altitude climatic conditions and frequent drought.

Boran are humped medium-framed animals with sound muscling and large capacity for size. They are often confused with Brahman cattle, because they also have a hump, but they are smaller animals and their ears aren’t as large and droopy. They are beefier than other indigenous breeds like the Nguni and Afrikaner.

The Boran is resilient to African conditions and ideally suited for producing high quality meat with low input costs, a crucial attribute in the production of organic grass-fed beef. It can be successfully fattened off the veld thanks to its tremendous rumen capacity, ease of movement over harsh territory and browsing ability. The Boran has been a pure breed for 1300 years, which his gives it greater hybrid vigour in cross-breeding programmes than modern compound breeds. Indigenous Boran have many benefits for commercial farmers: resistance to ticks, biting insects and disease; maintaining condition during drought; protection from predation and theft due to its strong herd instinct; good temperament, strong mothering instinct, high fertility and longevity.

A mother and her calf.

The unique attributes of the Boran were recognised by Kenyan cattleman in the early 1900s with the establishment of the Kenyan Boran Cattle Breeders’ Society (BCBS) to protect and enhance the breed. The Boran breed was introduced to South Africa in 1995 and the Boran Cattle Breeders Society of SA was founded in 2003.

It is not possible to import live animals to South Africa from Kenya. The first Boran calf was born in South Africa in 1995 when embryo technology allowed people to harvest embryos in Kenya and implant them in surrogate cows under strict veterinary protocols. This started the slow process of building the Boran breed in South Africa. After selecting animals in Kenya it can take up to 2 years to get a calf on the ground in South Africa. Even then it’s not guaranteed because the conception rate for frozen embryos is only 30-40% and the strict veterinary protocols can delay the process.

The Boran breed is rapidly becoming more popular in South Africa. There are now 330 breeders and 20 000 registered animals in the country. The 2012 National Boran auction was the biggest yet with 140 animals entered (see How life has changed: weekends at cattle auctions).

Boran cattle have very strong herd instincts.

To really appreciate the Boran one has to see them in their natural environment in Kenya. Quentin visited the main Boran stud farms – Ol Pejeta, Mogwooni, Solio, Suyian and Mutare – in October 2010 and we went back to Kenya on our honeymoon in February 2011.

The Boran have a very strong herd instinct. They always stand together in groups and it can be hard to separate one animal from the herd. This helps their herders to protect them from predators as they usually graze in the veld with other wild animals. At night the herders kraal them to protect them from lion.

The conditions can be very hot and dry in Kenya, but the animals are mostly raised straight from the veld as there are very few feed-lots.  They have a thick, loose and elastic skin with a smooth, glossy, oil rich coat, which makes them resilient to disease and relatively low maintenance. The head is broad and characterised by strong eye banks, a broad nuzzle and relatively small ears. The photos below give a flavour of the Boran in Kenya.

At the equator sign in Nanyuki at the base of Mount Kenya.

With Boran and Ancoli cattle at the Ol Pejeta embryo quarantine center.

Up close with a herd at Ol Pejeta.

Cattle grazing with zebra at Ol Pejeta.

A Famous Ol Pejeta bull – KPO1017

The Boran “hump” at Solio Ranch.

Shelter from the hot sun at Mogwooni.

Lion claw marks on a bull’s bum – only in Africa!

Cattle records at Suyian: “Calf killed by lion 1 day old”.

The cattle herds get penned in at night to protect them from predators.

The cattle co-exist with goats, camels and wildlife.

Elders meeting under a tree in a Samburu village.

11 thoughts on “The Boran: God’s Gift to Cattlemen

  1. The Boran breed is fascinating! I live in the high desert of the American west, and it looks like a lot of the characteristics of the Boran would be well-suited to our dry climate as well. Thanks for the posting all the pics and info 🙂

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    • Thanks for stopping by my blog Jolyn and taking time to read about the Boran. Yes, they would be perfect for the American West and we have had previous enquiries from US-based farmers, but unfortunately the export protocols for embryos and semen are so strict that it would be very difficult to establish the breed in the US. However, I believe there are some Boran in a few countries in South America.

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  2. I have been following your website and I have developed a deep love with your Boran cattle and I intend to start Boran Stud In Bela Bela (warmbad). I will make sure that i am available on your Auction day next year.

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  3. Seeing the beautiful pictures of your borans raves my love of the breed into an obsession.
    I’am a weekend farmer in Zambia building up a herd of this beautiful breed and your link primes my ambition.
    Keep your cattle farming candles burning !

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    • Hi Chimuka, thanks for stopping by! It’s always wonderful to hear from people who are passionate about the breed! Please come and visit us if you’re ever in South Africa. Good luck with your farming venture! Quentin & Marisa

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  4. I am inspired by what I what I have I read. I am passionate about cattle ranching and I have been looking for a good breed on which to base my growing enterprise and I am persuaded to believe that boran is certainly the breed. I do not doubt that the breed would be ideal in Gutu district of Masvingo; ZImbabwe.

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    • Hi Bashi
      Thanks for getting in touch. The number of cattle you can have is determined by how much land you either own, can buy or can rent and the carrying capacity of that land. This is the biggest cost. Secondly, the price of cattle also depends on their quality (stud or commercial), age and whether they are pregnant or open. A cow can give you one calf a year, which is equivalent to R4500-5000 revenue a year. This is before any costs like staff, diesel, medicine, veterinary, licks & feeds. All these factors differ from area to area and farmer to farmer so it really depends on your particular situation.
      Good luck!

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    • Hi there,
      Thank you for getting in touch. There are registered Boran farmers who only have 10 registered cows, everyone has to start somewhere. The more recognized and successful studs probably have between 40-100 Boran. The biggest Boran studs in South Africa have about 250 breeding cows. It really depends on your particular situation, how much land and capital you have.
      There are significant differences between the Boran and Brahman. Physically the Boran is smaller, has small alert ears and is early maturing. They are also hardier, generally have better temperament and better meat quality. The cross between the two breeds, called the Borman, is becoming very popular.

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