The Brahmans are coming: from Texas to southern Africa - Namibia Safari and Lodges - Gondwana Collection

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The Brahmans are coming: from Texas to southern Africa

Avatar of inke inke - 10. February 2017 - Economics, Discover Namibia

Brahman cows have a mass varying between 500 and 750 kilograms. Bulls reach 1.5 m to the withers and have a body mass of more than one ton. (Source: Namibia Brahman Breeders Society)

When a Namibian farmer proudly offers to show his Brahmans to his guest he certainly does not have Hindu philosophers in mind. He means his prize cattle. Brahmans and Brahman crossbreeds are among the most popular beef cattle breeds in southern Africa. Originally they hail from India. Brahman is a Hindu philosophy, a Brahman is a member of the highest Indian caste and Brahmans are a familiar sight grazing the veld in Namibia. But how did Brahman cattle make their way to southern Africa?  

It was more than a honeymoon trip when Jürgen and Vera Cranz travelled to the United States of America in 1953. They also wanted to gather information about a new cattle breed, the Santa Gertrudis, a cross between the American Brahman and other breeds. Jürgen Cranz and his father had read about Santa Gertrudis in the Readers Digest and were convinced that they would be suitable for southern Africa. The Cranz’s farm, Isabis, is in the Khomashochland some 130 kilometres southwest of Windhoek. 

Intercontinental air travel was time-consuming and adventurous in the 1950s. A flight to Europe took three days and crossing the Atlantic from Amsterdam to New York was another 17 hours. From there the newlyweds proceeded to the Ministry of Agriculture in Washington DC to obtain first-hand information about the cattle as well as breeders’ addresses. An official persuaded them to opt for Brahman cattle instead. He pointed out that Brahmans would be better suited to cross with cattle adapted to southwestern Africa, and they were far less expensive than Santa Gertrudis cattle.

Jürgen and Vera Cranz also learnt that Brahmans were known to be more resistant to heat and sickness than other breeds, their lifespan was longer and they remained productive for longer. Cows still calved when they were 15-20 years old. Furthermore they were able to adapt surprisingly well to changes in their environment, including drought. 

The story of Brahman breeding actually does not start in America but in India, with the zebu, the oldest domesticated cattle breed on earth. Dr James Bolton Davis brought the first zebus to the US in 1849. They thrived, and more of them were imported. The first breeders association was founded in Houston, Texas, in 1924 and “Brahman” was chosen as the breed’s name. 

Thirty years later the Cranz couple were on their way to the headquarters of ABBA (American Brahman Breeders Association) in Houston. They arrived unannounced but were received with open arms. By now the proud owners of a second-hand car, they then visited various ABBA members who gladly shared their knowledge of Brahman breeding. 

The couple’s intention to export Brahmans to South West Africa caused quite a stir at the State Fair of Texas. “Romance at the Fair - Newlyweds here to buy Texas Cows,” the Daily Times of Dallas reported. Jürgen and Vera Cranz bought 10 cows and 10 bulls from two different breeders. But never before had cattle been shipped from New Orleans to Cape Town. Guidelines on tariffs did not exist. After tough bargaining the go-ahead was finally obtained from the authorities. 

Wooden partitions were built on the freighter Velma Lyke and fodder and straw were loaded. Jürgen Cranz became the cowboy and looked after his animals himself, which was not an easy job because the Brahmans were not used to head collars. And when clearing away the dung he was bumped back and forth by the lumbering cattle. But eventually the beasts started to trust their new owner. They had a rough passage, with both the cowboy and the Brahmans suffering from bouts of seasickness. 

The Velma Lyke docked in Cape Town on 31 January 1954. The following day “all hell broke loose”, as Vera Cranz wrote in a letter. “Two state veterinarians in their white coats busily boarded the ship and started to examine the animals’ tongues for foot and mouth disease. Unfortunately they happened to grab our number one troublemaker by the head and after a brief struggle there was tremendous banging and crashing and a huge bull emerged from the broken boards of the partition and rushed onto the deck. Everybody dashed off: the vets, the crew, the dockworkers and us, too. Luckily the bull immediately got stuck between two iron pillars and Jürgen tied him down. (...) But all this drama, the excitement and the crowd of people made the cattle freak out with fear (...).”

It took hours to offload the animals and transfer them to the quarantine station. The arrival of the new breed caused a sensation. Regrettably the cameraman for the weekly African Mirror show happened to capture those animals that were completely beside themselves. After four weeks of quarantine the journey to South West Africa continued by train. Jürgen Cranz slept close to his Brahmans on bales of lucerne. He and his wife had spent six months travelling and learning by the time they finally arrived back at Isabis in February 1954. By now however the Brahmans had become tame. 

On the farm the animals proved to be a success story from the start. They sold so well that Jürgen Cranz was barely able to keep up with the demand. Meat production, however, yielded the best returns. 

Other farmers also imported Brahman cattle during the same year. They founded the South West Brahman Club which in 1957 joined the Brahman Cattle Breeders Society of South Africa. The Namibian Brahman Breeders Society (NBBS) was established after Namibia gained independence. Looking back, Jürgen Cranz said at the Windhoek Show in 1989 that importing American Brahmans in 1954 had been the most significant decision in his career as a farmer. 

Today, more than sixty years later, it is indeed hard to imagine stock farming without Brahmans and Brahman crossbreeds. According to NBBS statistics they account for some 70 percent of the national beef cattle stock, and counting. While 83 breeders and 11,361 animals were registered in 2006, their numbers had risen to 123 breeders and 17,331 Brahmans in November 2013. 

This is indeed a story of success. 

Inke Stoldt
When a Namibian farmer proudly offers to show his Brahmans to his guest he certainly does not have Hindu philosophers in mind. He means his prize cattle. Brahmans and Brahman crossbreeds are among the most popular beef cattle breeds in southern Africa. Originally they hail from India. Brahman is a Hindu philosophy, a Brahman is a member of the highest Indian caste and Brahmans are a familiar sight grazing the veld in Namibia. But how did Brahman cattle make their way to southern Africa?  

It was more than a honeymoon trip when Jürgen and Vera Cranz travelled to the United States of America in 1953. They also wanted to gather information about a new cattle breed, the Santa Gertrudis, a cross between the American Brahman and other breeds. Jürgen Cranz and his father had read about Santa Gertrudis in the Readers Digest and were convinced that they would be suitable for southern Africa. The Cranz’s farm, Isabis, is in the Khomashochland some 130 kilometres southwest of Windhoek. 

Intercontinental air travel was time-consuming and adventurous in the 1950s. A flight to Europe took three days and crossing the Atlantic from Amsterdam to New York was another 17 hours. From there the newlyweds proceeded to the Ministry of Agriculture in Washington DC to obtain first-hand information about the cattle as well as breeders’ addresses. An official persuaded them to opt for Brahman cattle instead. He pointed out that Brahmans would be better suited to cross with cattle adapted to southwestern Africa, and they were far less expensive than Santa Gertrudis cattle.

Jürgen and Vera Cranz also learnt that Brahmans were known to be more resistant to heat and sickness than other breeds, their lifespan was longer and they remained productive for longer. Cows still calved when they were 15-20 years old. Furthermore they were able to adapt surprisingly well to changes in their environment, including drought. 

The story of Brahman breeding actually does not start in America but in India, with the zebu, the oldest domesticated cattle breed on earth. Dr James Bolton Davis brought the first zebus to the US in 1849. They thrived, and more of them were imported. The first breeders association was founded in Houston, Texas, in 1924 and “Brahman” was chosen as the breed’s name. 

Thirty years later the Cranz couple were on their way to the headquarters of ABBA (American Brahman Breeders Association) in Houston. They arrived unannounced but were received with open arms. By now the proud owners of a second-hand car, they then visited various ABBA members who gladly shared their knowledge of Brahman breeding. 

The couple’s intention to export Brahmans to South West Africa caused quite a stir at the State Fair of Texas. “Romance at the Fair - Newlyweds here to buy Texas Cows,” the Daily Times of Dallas reported. Jürgen and Vera Cranz bought 10 cows and 10 bulls from two different breeders. But never before had cattle been shipped from New Orleans to Cape Town. Guidelines on tariffs did not exist. After tough bargaining the go-ahead was finally obtained from the authorities. 

Wooden partitions were built on the freighter Velma Lyke and fodder and straw were loaded. Jürgen Cranz became the cowboy and looked after his animals himself, which was not an easy job because the Brahmans were not used to head collars. And when clearing away the dung he was bumped back and forth by the lumbering cattle. But eventually the beasts started to trust their new owner. They had a rough passage, with both the cowboy and the Brahmans suffering from bouts of seasickness. 

The Velma Lyke docked in Cape Town on 31 January 1954. The following day “all hell broke loose”, as Vera Cranz wrote in a letter. “Two state veterinarians in their white coats busily boarded the ship and started to examine the animals’ tongues for foot and mouth disease. Unfortunately they happened to grab our number one troublemaker by the head and after a brief struggle there was tremendous banging and crashing and a huge bull emerged from the broken boards of the partition and rushed onto the deck. Everybody dashed off: the vets, the crew, the dockworkers and us, too. Luckily the bull immediately got stuck between two iron pillars and Jürgen tied him down. (...) But all this drama, the excitement and the crowd of people made the cattle freak out with fear (...).”

It took hours to offload the animals and transfer them to the quarantine station. The arrival of the new breed caused a sensation. Regrettably the cameraman for the weekly African Mirror show happened to capture those animals that were completely beside themselves. After four weeks of quarantine the journey to South West Africa continued by train. Jürgen Cranz slept close to his Brahmans on bales of lucerne. He and his wife had spent six months travelling and learning by the time they finally arrived back at Isabis in February 1954. By now however the Brahmans had become tame. 

On the farm the animals proved to be a success story from the start. They sold so well that Jürgen Cranz was barely able to keep up with the demand. Meat production, however, yielded the best returns. 

Other farmers also imported Brahman cattle during the same year. They founded the South West Brahman Club which in 1957 joined the Brahman Cattle Breeders Society of South Africa. The Namibian Brahman Breeders Society (NBBS) was established after Namibia gained independence. Looking back, Jürgen Cranz said at the Windhoek Show in 1989 that importing American Brahmans in 1954 had been the most significant decision in his career as a farmer. 

Today, more than sixty years later, it is indeed hard to imagine stock farming without Brahmans and Brahman crossbreeds. According to NBBS statistics they account for some 70 percent of the national beef cattle stock, and counting. While 83 breeders and 11,361 animals were registered in 2006, their numbers had risen to 123 breeders and 17,331 Brahmans in November 2013. 

This is indeed a story of success. 

Inke Stoldt

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