Livestock production: How to evaluate beef cattle

How does one determine if an Angus bull and cow are really top-notch? A leading member of the Angus Society of South Africa explains what one should look for when selecting cattle.

For years there has been speculation as to whether Angus cattle can cope with the dry, almost arid conditions of the West Coast of South Africa. However, Klasie Loubser, a third-generation farmer on the family farm Holvlei near Vredenburg in the Western Cape province of SA, says his cattle have adapted and have proven the critics wrong a long time ago.

Klasie is an ex-officio member of the Angus Society of South Africa, one of the largest breeders’ societies in the country. He is one of South Africa’s leading Angus breeders whose animals are highly sought after throughout the country.

Angus cattle always eat hay and can survive almost entirely on it – a factor that makes them ideal for this dry, hot part of the world, says this former dairy farmer who farmed with Holsteins in the eighties and nineties.

One of Klasie’s breeding bulls on Holvlei. This bull is clearly displaying masculinity and has a good, full balance at the front.

After he closed his dairy farm, his love for beef cattle led him to the Angus breed about 13 years ago.

Klasie believes that meat production and reproduction are the most important characteristics of the Angus breed. But he says longevity is also very important because it ensures that more calves are produced by the same cows over a greater number of years. The only way to achieve this is to breed animals that are structurally sound.

A chain is, after all, only as strong as its weakest link. The requirements for functionally efficient animals is firstly that they are able to feed and thrive, secondly they must be able to move comfortably, thirdly they must reproduce and fourthly they must produce meat,” says Klasie, who is also a renowned beef cattle judge at shows. I like to look at an animal from a distance from the side in order to assess its balance.

At a beef cattle information day near Stellenbosch, hosted by the Agricultural Research Council’s Institute for Animal Production, Klasie explained what he looks for when evaluating good beef cattle (see infographic below).


What to look for 

In a Bull:

  1. A bull must have a well-developed scrotum with a clean sheath attached close to the stomach floor to prevent injuries, especially in tough shrublands. Strong legs are essential in order for this much larger animal to move comfortably.
  2. A bull must be masculine and display better balance at the front. A strong, masculine head with prominent eyebrows and alert eyes shows vitality and libido.
  3. The bull must be wide at the front but be aware of too much width at the shoulders. If it is too excessive in terms of the bull’s balance, it can give rise to difficult births for cows. Depth is proof of capacity, and length always ensures more meat. Width on the withers, with sufficient spring of rib over an even, strong topline towards the back, shows good conformation and durability.
  4. Angus cattle must be strong and have straight front legs, with strong pasterns that show just enough resilience and don’t step through.

In Female animals


  1. A female animal should have a feminine head with alert eyes, with a neck that connects evenly and smoothly to the shoulders. The chest must not be too prominent and the centre line must be well-attached behind the shoulders.
  2. A well-attached, well-formed, and correct udder with even teat placement of medium thickness is very important because it is the calf’s food factory. A calf should get enough colostrum within 12 hours after birth, because that’s when it takes on the antibodies from its mother in its gut. If the calf struggles on overly thick teats for too long, it will not survive – a problem that is highly underestimated.
  3. Sufficient spring of ribs ensures good female capacity with a strong, even topline, which stretches from the front of the withers over the loin and the rump to the pin bones at the back. The longer the distance from the hip joints to the pelvic bones, the more shoulder capacity there is on both sides.
  4. Femininity in beef cattle is reflected in the distinctive deep wedge shape at the back – ie, width downward and sideways to the back – which is enhanced by wide outer thighs and full inner thighs at the back.
  5. Weak hind legs, such as cow-hocked legs (much like X-bones, but at the pasterns) and sickle-hocked legs, are, however, counterproductive. Cull these animals, because you’re not going to get much out of them.


Beware of this!

Prepotency in beef cattle can be used to a cattle farmer’s advantage, but if poor animals are not culled, the opposite may be true, warns Klasie Loubser.

A good example of prepotency is if an Angus bull – a breed without horns – is used with Nguni cows – a breed with horns. This will result in up to 90% of the first progeny being polled.”

But, warns Klasie, prepotency is like gravity.

Apply it incorrectly and it can be detrimental.

Highly heritable traits that can be detrimental to a herd’s functional efficiency are:

  •  Weak pasterns
  • Weak fetlocks
  • Constriction behind the shoulders (devil’s grip)
  • Poor leg
  • Over- or under-shot jaw
  • Weak loins

This article was written by Johan Coetsee.


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