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Different breeds of indigenous cattle in Nigeria and their characteristics

According to research, over 150 breeds of cattle have been recognized in Sub-Saharan African. These indigenous cattle breeds have special morphological features that distinguish them. For example, the colour, horn shape and size of cattle vary from one breed to another.

They are also known to possess genetic traits (such as disease resistance and climatic change resistance), and adaptive attributes. African indigenous cattle, for instance, show more resistance to trypanosomiasis, whereas, non-African cattle breed show higher susceptibility to trypanosome infection. Several indigenous cattle breeds exist, which include, Kuri, wadara, N’dama, Bunaji, Muturu, Sokoto gadali.

Origin of cattle rearing in Nigeria

Credit: Agriculture Nigeria

As of 2008, Nigeria was ranked among the top leading countries in cattle production in sub-Saharan Africa.

Though there is no clear history of cattle rearing in Nigeria, it has been reported that there was a total of 10 to 11 million cattle in the early 1970s. However, in the late 1970s, the number reduced to about 8.5million as a result of the severe drought that occurred between 1972 and 1973.  Subsequently, the rinderpest endemic killed over a million cattle in 1983.

Before the 1990s, cattle-raising was limited to the northern region of the country that was free of the tsetse fly, which was a threat to cattle-raising in other regions. Much of the cattle at this time were majorly zebu-type cattle, tended by Fulani pastoralists.

Occasionally, during the dry season, the Fulani herdsmen moved their herds to pasture in the moister Guinea savanna, and return northward when the rains begin or when danger from the tsetse fly increased. By early 1980, the Nigerian government improved cattle-raising by importing cattle breeds of disease-resistant strain from Gambia. These breeds possessed resistance to trypanosomiasis thus, solving the problem of cattle infections by tsetse-infested humid forest zone.

 Dairy cattle breeds and beef cattle breeds

A breed is described as animals of common origin which possess certain distinguishing features that are passed from parents to offspring,. These characteristics often result from natural selection. Diary cattle are cows that are raised for the purpose of milk production. Beef cattle, on the other hand, refer to cattle that are peculiarly raised for the sole aim of meat production. The meat of mature cattle is called beef, thus the name beef cattle.

Dairy cows may be found in dairy farms or herds possessed by dairy farmers. For optimum milk production, dairy cows must be carefully bred and produce calves. Different cattle belong to one of these groups. Below are some characteristics features of the dairy cattle breeds:

  1. Dairy cows possess small thin horns.
  2. They have forked withers.
  3. Good milking potential; this refers to their capability to produce milk, usually genetically.
  4. They have extended light head.
  5. Mid body is barrel-shaped as seen below.
  6. Large bellies, thin and strong bones, weak muscles, thus indicating a well-developed lung and digestive system.
  7. High grass dry mass intake.
  8. Wide chest.
  9. Strong legs.
  10. Wedge-shaped body.
  11. Large teats.

Beef cattle also have special features:

  1. They have greater weights.
  2. Early maturity and longevity.
  3. Fleshing ability, that is, the capacity of the body to fatten and retain fat.
  4. They have thick hides and thick hairs.
  5. Hot climate adaptability.
  6. They have good muscles with suitable bone structure.

Generally, cattle are classified into two, bos taurus and bos indicus. The bos taurus are non-humped while the bos indicus are the humped variety. A higher percentage of the bos indicus are used for beef production

Aside from its usefulness in providing meat and milk, cattle-raising also provide important benefits such as the production of materials like clothing and foot-wears. This is because of the elastic nature and strength of the skin.

Types of cattle


Wadara cattle are the indigenous cattle of Borno. They are often referred to as “our” by the Koyam and related pastoralists. They are designed for the purpose of milk production. These breed of cattle possess the following characteristics:

  • These cattle are medium-sized.
  • They are light.
  • Common breeds are dark red, pied, black, or brown in colour.
  • They have short horns.
  • Their humps are small and erect.

Kuri cattle

Kuri cattle are one of the largest breeds of African cattle. They are multi-functional; they can be used for meat, milk and work.

Their several features are:

  • Heat and sunlight intolerant.
  • They are good swimmers.
  • They have brown noses.
  • They have white or light coats.
  • Inflated and spongy horns.
  • They have a mean height of 1.5 m.
  • This breed weighs about 550 kg.
  • Adaptability to semi-aquatic conditions.

N’dama cattle

  1. Historically, it is believed that the N’dama breed is the first breed of cattle to be introduced to Africa via land connection with Asia.

This breed performs a dual function in that they produce milk and meat. Their characteristics are:

  • They have a small size with compact body
  • No hump.
  • They have sand or black colour.
  • Broad back.
  • Broad muzzle.
  • Short and head.
  • Poorly developed dewlap and umbilical folds.
  • Well adapted to dry and humid regions.
  • High resistance to tick-borne infections.
  • Good milk producers, they can produce about 2-3 litres of milk a day.
  • Meat has good flavor with less fat.

Shorthorn cattle:

  1. They are usually found in Britain and Ireland. There exist two kinds of species, dairy shorthorn and beef shorthorn. Both have similar characteristics.
  • They are usually red, roan and white in colour.
  • Medium sized.
  • They can survive harsh weather condition.
  • Long life span, hence very profitable to livestock farmers.
  • The dairy shorthorns are easy to milk.
  • They are known to reproduce with little or no assistance
  • Short horn cattle have good disease resistance and immune system which make them resistant to diseases.
  • They are natural grazers. They do not require expensive foods.
  • They produce milk in little time.

Muturu breed cattle:

Early reports showed that the muturu cattle breed were once widely distributed across the continent from Liberia, West African sub-region and Ethiopia. However, due to the expansion of the zebu species, the small-bodied animal gradually became unpopular. At present, the major concentrations of muturu are in the south-east, in the Cross River area, among the Tiv people and around Makurdi. The Muturu breeds are kept throughout the Igbo areas but in very low densities.

  • They are usually short, fine-boned limbs.
  • These breeds have no hump and a straight back.
  • They have broad heads.
  • They have small bodies.
  • They have very short horns.
  • They are totally black, or black and white.

Zebu cattle breed

  1. This is commonly known as humped cattle. It is the most popular indigenous cattle in the state. It originated from South Asia. It is a special breed of cattle because of its various functions it performs as well as being used as a dairy or beef cattle. In India, they are sacred.

Aside from its shoulder humps, other of its numerous characteristics include:

  • Large dewlap.
  • They usually have Drooping ears.
  • Easily adapted to dry and host environment.
  • Adaptation to drought conditions.
  • Loose skin.
  • Red or grey in colour.

Bunaji or White Fulani cattle

They are the most numerous and widespread of all Nigerian cattle breeds.  The White Fulani can perform three functions; it may be kept for milk production, fattened for beef or used as draught animal. They provide a high percentage of beef consumed throughout Nigeria. They are found in Lagos, Sokoto, Kano and Katsina States and across the Nigerian Middle Belt.

Its characteristics are:

  • Well-developed hump.
  • It is white in colour.
  • They are medium-horned breed.
  • Heat-tolerant.
  • Large-sized.
  • Adults have a height of about 130 cm,
  • Small navel flab.
  • Medium-sized horns.

Sokoto Gudali

There are two distinct types of Gudali in Nigeria; the Sokoto Gudali, also known as the Bokolooji and the Adamawa Gudali. They both produce milk and production. The Sokoto Gudali has the following characteristics:

  • Uniform cream, light grey coat.
  • They have a well-developed dewlap and skin folds.
  • Their horns are almost absent.
  • Thick and pigmented skin.

The Red Bororo (Rahaji)

The Red Bororo is the third most numerous breed of cattle in Nigeria with a percentage of 22% of the national herd. They are largely seen in Kaduna state. It has the following features;

  • They are well-adapted to arid and semi-arid regions.
  • Deep burgundy-coloured coat.
  • Pendulous ears.
  • Long and thick horns.
  • Adaptability to poor nutrition.
  • They can tolerate neither humidity-related disease.

Adamawa Gudali

As its name implies, this cattle is restricted to Adamawa state in Nigeria. They are similar to the Bunaji cattle.  Reports state that the Adamawa Gudali represents 2% of the national herd. Two local types of this breed have been identified, the Banyo and the Yola.

The characteristic features of the Adamawa Gudali are:

  • It is medium to large sized.
  • It has medium-length horns.
  • Its coat is usually pied, or with a white, red, black or brown coat.
  • Its horns are thick and crescent-shaped.
  • It has a pendulous hump. This feature distinguishes it from the Bunaji
  • They possess a short head and short muzzle.


In selecting a suitable cattle breed for personal or commercial purposes, it is important that these characteristics be considered for effective breeding.

Precious Uka

Precious Oka writes for Naijadazz.