Bonsmara System

Not all cattle thrive in sub-tropical or arid climates, but Bonsmara cattle do. This highly efficient breed is suitable for warm regions, because it was bred in South Africa. Due to its adaptability and beef characteristics, the breed has gained much recognition today. In fact, it is desirable in other parts of the world, including the United States.

The reason for developing the Bonsmara breed was to establish an efficient beef breed suitable for the warm bushveld and sub-tropical areas of South Africa. However, because of its adaptability, efficiency, beef- and carcass characteristics, the breed has gained much ground and today proliferates throughout South Africa. Because of its virtues, Bonsmara is also much sought after in other parts of the world, including the United States.

Four Important Components to the Breeding System

Bonsmara cattle are the only cattle in the world that was created through a well-documented crossbreeding program. In addition, it is aided by objectively recorded performance data, as well as visual evaluation according to norms for functional efficiency. In fact, the development and implementation of the Bonsmara system throughout the years has scientifically molded the breed to become the standard in breeding. The system relies on four factors:

  • Genetic Material – A Large Gene Pool
  • Efficient Machinery – For High-Quality Genetic Material Selection
  • Competent Marketing – For Efficient Marketing Strategy
  • Dedicated Manpower – Coordinating All Aspects of Breeding

Bonsmara has become a highly respected breed because of the following attributes:

  • Excellent fertility with short inter-calving conditions
  • Early maturity
  • Low birth weights therefore easier calving
  • Better re-conception rates
  • Well-developed udders with adequate milk
  • Adaptable to most climates
  • Better temperaments
  • Excellent carcass and meat qualities
  • Good growth ability
  • Advantageous feed conversion ratio



Manage your herd with by producing an even-tempered cattle breed. Bonsmara are easy to manage under most management systems. They thrive in arid climates and can also tolerate humidity and insects. With their excellent breeding abilities, hardiness, and docility, this cattle breed is excellent for subtropical and global environments.

Strict Breeding Standards

When you enjoy beef from Bonsmara cattle, you know you are getting the healthiest and most tender beef in the industry. That’s because the standards for breeding Bonsmara are very strict. If the animals have certain faults, they are not bred. However, even though faults are noted, they do not necessarily disqualify that particular animal from breeding. Some of the issues that could prevent breeding include:

Lone Bonsmara cow

  • Skew Faces or Muzzles
  • Under or Over Shot Jaws
  • Outward-Growing or Inward-Curling Hooves
  • Congenital Kinking of the Upper Third of the Tail
  • Scoliosis
  • Hypoplasia of the Testes
  • Cryptorchidism
  • Torsion of the Scrotum
  • Long, Fleshy Sheaths or Sheaths with Large Openings
  • Summer Coats That Are Wooly or Frizzy in Appearance and Texture
  • Cattle with Bad or Wild Temperaments

History of the Bonsmara

Smith Bonsmara LLCAny breed of cattle can survive and produce under ideal conditions. It is only when the summer heat appears or drought strikes when fertility and growth is influenced. This is only one stress that puts an animal under pressure. Along with our typical climate, parasite-related illnesses and diseases are another risk for cattle ranchers. The Bonsmara was bred to excel even under these harsh conditions and rough climates

Bonsmara was created in South Africa at the Mara and Messina Research stations from 1937 to 1963 by scientists under the watchful eye of Professor Jan Bonsma. No other individual has contributed so much to cattle breeding as Professor Jan Bonsma, the father of the Bonsmara breed. In short, the outcome of this scientific experiment is a cattle breed that incorporates the hardy Afrikaner, crossed with a European breed (Hereford x Shorthorn), called Bonsmara.

The name Bonsmara was derived from Professor Bonsma’s surname and Mara, where the first crossbred calves were born. Professor Bonsma and his colleagues constantly exercised crossbreed experiments in about 20 commercial herds in different parts of South Africa, to finally come across the best performing crossbreed sample, 5/8 Afrikaner and 3/8 Exotic Hereford/Shorthorn.

The main problem of livestock production in South Africa, as well as the world over, was what became known as the degeneration syndrome among the Bos taurus breeds of cattle. The British beef breeds, namely the Shorthorn, Hereford, Angus and to a lesser extent, Sussex and Red Poll, did not thrive under the warm to hot conditions of the ranching areas of South Africa.

Smith Bonsmara LLCBecause poor nutrition was considered to be the cause of tropical degeneration, a large-scale nutritional experiment was launched at the Messina Livestock Research Station in 1937, using a large group of heifers of different British beef breeds. This brought Bonsma to the realization that malnutrition was not the culprit. Among the heifers were individuals that thrived appreciably better than others. Careful observation proved that those, which showed the least climatic stress, thrived best. Those animals that showed signs of stress on hot days had a very high respiratory rate, they panted, and their tongues hung out and dribbled profusely.

Because Bonsma wanted to MEASURE every aspect of the livestock that he worked with, he made numerous observations on his experimental animals. These included regular weighing, 14 different body measurements, body temperature, pulse- and respiratory rates, hair count per square centimeter and tick counts. Hair diameters were measured and complete hair coats of different types of cattle were shorn off, weighed and put through a felting machine.

These elaborate tests proved beyond doubt that the hide and coat of cattle played a tremendous role in the process of heat dissipation, which is of the utmost importance for the animal to maintain its thermal equilibrium in the environment. Animals that suffer from hyperthermia have increased respiratory and pulse rates with concomitant metabolic, physiological and endocrinological disturbances.

Animals with a respiratory type of body conformation, a wide forehead and convex facial Profile are much better adapted to the tropics and sub-tropics than those with a digestive type of body conformation and a dished forehead and Profile. At this early stage of the breed creation project it was not possible to decide which of the British beef breeds would give the best results when cross-bred to Afrikaner cows. After many crisscross matings, the 5/8 Afrikaner, 3/16 Hereford, and 3/16 Shorthorn animals seemed the most satisfactory and became the new breed now known as the Bonsmara.

Only after the climatologically data on the various types of cattle were submitted to the late Professor A. M. Bosman, could Bonsma convince him that the proportion of blood in the new breed to be established, should be the opposite of the Santa Gertrudis, namely, 5/8 Afrikaner and 3/8 British beef breed (the Santa Gertrudis consisted of 5/8 British beef breed and 3/8 Bos indicus). The South African research showed conclusively that as soon as the British beef breed content of the Afrikaner/Bos taurus cross went beyond 50%, signs of distress were encountered on hot days.

Shortly thereafter, Bonsmara were widely spread across South Africa and the rest of the world. This led to the formation of the society in 1964. Other African countries which promptly accepted Bonsmara are Namibia, Uganda and Zambia and the beef cattle industries of Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Paraguay, Colombia, USA, and Uruguay.
Strict selection for economic factors such as fertility, milk production, growth and adaptability are still applied and are a contributing factor to the reality that Bonsmara proudly succeeded in becoming the strongest and most profusely administrated beef breed in South Africa in less than 25 years. Bonsmara, the most prominent of beef cattle in South Africa, currently have more than 120 000 registered Bonsmara cattle.

Thanks to Bonsmaras unique method of scale photography, the Bonsmara is the only breed in the world that can boast a pictorial genealogy from the very beginning of the breeding work until the new breed was established.

It is also unique in that every mating was based on scientific data, where the concept MAN MUST MEASURE was always taken into consideration.

Now, Bonsmara cattle are available in the United States without restrictions. So, welcome to the new world of Bonsmara where we are devoted to improving the functional efficiency of all beef cattle in the United States!

Genesis of the Bonsmara

By the late Professor. Jan C. Bonsma

The main problem of Livestock production in the tropics and sub-tropics the world over was what was known as the tropical degeneration syndrome amongst the Bos Taurus breeds of cattle. The British breeds of cattle namely the Shorthorn, Hereford, Aberdeen Angus and to a lesser extent the Sussex, could not thrive under the sub-tropical conditions of the ranching areas of South Africa where the average isotherm is above 20° C.

Before 1940 is was considered that tropical degeneration of the British breeds was caused by malnutrition. The protein content of the natural pastures in the Southern hemisphere is low and during late summer and early winter it drops to a critical low level.
As a result of that fact that poor nutritional conditions were considered to be the cause of tropical degeneration, a large scale nutritional experiment was launched at the Messina Livestock Research Station in 1937.

Eighty-four head of beef cattle of the British beef breeds were divided into three groups of 28 heifers each. The first group (H) received a protein supplement of 24 percent digestible protein, the second group (L) received a 12 percent digestible protein supplement, both supplements had exactly the same energy value. The third group (K) received no supplement at all.
At the end of the first supplementary feeding period, which lasted from July 1 until December 1, there was no significant difference in weight among the three groups.

Each group consisted of 16 Herefords, 8 Shorthorn and 4 Aberdeen Angus heifers.

At that time Bonsma became well aware of the fact that tropical degeneration of the British breeds of livestock was not due to a nutritional deficiency.

In each group of heifers were individuals that thrived appreciably better than others. With the work Albert Rhaod did with livestock at Jeanerette Research Station, Louisiana, U.S.A. on mind, the author decided to do climatological tests on the 84 British breed heifers. Twelve Afrikaner heifers were included in this project.

Careful observation proved that the heifers, which showed least climatic stress thrived the best. Those animals which showed symptoms of stress on hot days had a very high respiration rate, they panted and their tongues hung out and they dribbled profusely.

From December 1937 onwards body temperatures were taken and respiration and pulse rates were counted once a week on various heifers, every two hours of the day from 06h00 to 18h00 and occasionally from 06h00 to 60h00 the next day. All animals in the experiment at Mara and Messina Research Stations were weighed at least once a month, and fourteen body measurements were taken on each animal, from birth throughout its productive life at the Research Station.

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Beef Quality of Bonsmara Cattle

As experienced Bonsmara breeders, we adhere to strict Bonsmara breeding standards that ensure high-quality, tender, and healthy beef. We pay close attention to a variety of factors, such as fertility, milk production, growth, and adaptability. Even today, the breeding process is highly regulated, making Bonsmara the most professionally administrated beef breed in the world. Some of the excellent attributes of the Bonsmara breed include:

Bonsmara Breeding Standards

  • Excellent Fertility
  • Short Inter-Calving Conditions
  • Early Maturity
  • Low Birth Weights
  • Easier Calving
  • Better Re-Conception Rates
  • Good Udders with Adequate Milk
  • Adaptable to Many Climates
  • Better Temperaments
  • Excellent Carcass & Meat Qualities
  • First-Rate Growth Ability
  • Better Feed Conversion Ratio

For more detailed information, read the Texas A&M Research & Extension Center at Uvalde article