Beef cattle were introduced to Australia in 1788, with the first herds based on British breeds, particularly the Shorthorn. This breed was associated with the opening up of each new area of pastoral Australia in the early days, and was especially dominant in north-western Queensland, the Northern Territory and the Kimberley region of Western Australia. The Hereford also became dominant, especially in the south-east and south coast areas of Queensland and throughout Australia’s southern states.
During Australia’s early development there were occasional introductions of Zebu type (Bos indicus) cattle from India, but it was not until the introduction of the American Brahman after 1933 that they became well established in areas such as the tropical coastal areas of Queensland. The Brahman and its crosses have since had an important role in overcoming tick and heat problems experienced by the British breeds. Crosses between Bos taurus and Bos indicus also show resistance, or at least tolerance, to both heat and ticks. Eventually this cross-breeding paved the way for the development of new tropical breeds such as Braford, Brangus, Droughtmaster, Belmont Red and Charbray.
Other tropical breeds have adapted as effectively to the northern environment of Australia as the British breeds have to the southern or more temperate areas. Some of the tropical breeds have also adapted to the southern areas of Australia, just as some of the British breeds have adapted to the northern, hotter areas.
In the early 70s the European breeds were introduced to Australia. Initial imports of semen were followed by importation of live part-bred and pure-bred animals and fertilised ova. The first arrival was the Charolais, followed by the Simmental, the Limousin and Chianina. The Maine Anjou, Brown Swiss, Blond d’Aquitaine, Romagnola and Marchigiana were also imported during this period.
Characteristics of some of the main Bos taurus breeds are:
- Angus. Origin: Scotland. Introduced to Australia about 1840. Features are a black coat (recessive red gene also), polled. Suited to vealer, steer and bullock production or maternal/rotational place in cross-breeding.
- Hereford. Origin: England. Introduced to Australia in 1826. Features are redcoat with white face and underline, and horned. Suited to vealer, steer and bullock production or maternal/rotation place in cross-breeding.
- Poll Hereford. Origin: USA. Introduced around 1920. Little difference between Hereford and Poll Hereford apart from Poll factor. Well suited to all markets.
- Murray Grey.Origin: Wodonga, Victoria. Developed in 1905 from Angus Shorthorn. Features are dun grey coat (range from silver grey to dark grey), polled. Suited to vealer, steer and bullock production or maternal/rotational place in cross-breeding.
- Shorthorn. Origin: England. Introduced to Australia in 1825. Features are red, roan or white coat; polled and horned breeds. Contributed to the development of Santa Gertrudis, Belmont Red, Droughtmaster and Murray Grey. Suited to vealer, steer and bullock production or maternal/rotational place in cross-breeding.
- Charolais. Origin: France. Introduced to Australia in 1969. Features are white or cream coat; polled and horned strains. Suited to bullock production or as a terminal sire in cross-breeding programs.
- Limousin. Origin: France. Introduced to Australia in 1973. Light brown in colour and horned. Breed is heavily muscled and known for high meat yield with a minimum of fat. Smaller than other European breeds and earlier in maturity, but later maturing than British breeds. Suitable for cross-breeding programs.
- Simmental. Origin: Western Europe (Switzerland, Germany, Austria, France etc.). Introduced to Australia in 1970. Features are red coat with broken white markings and white face; horned and polled strains. Suited to vealer, steer and bullock production maternal/rotational/terminal place in cross-breeding.
- Belmont Red. Origin: Queensland. Developed in Australia in 1968. 50% Africander,25% Hereford, 25% Shorthorn. Features: red colour; horned.
- Brahman. Origin: USA. Introduced to Australia in 1933. Features are silver-grey coat; horned. Calve easily, milk well and are very protective of their young. Maternal/rotation place in cross-breeding.
- Brangus. Developed from Brahman and Angus. Upgrading of breed between 1950and 1960. Brangus are made up of 37.5% Brahman and 62.5% Angus. Black, polled, reasonable heat and tick tolerance. Medium sized, average to late maturity, yields a carcase without excess fat.
- Braford. Developed in Queensland between 1946 and 1952. 50% Hereford and 50%Brahman, now stabilised. Heat resistant and relatively tick tolerant. Slightly later maturing than the British breeds. Produces good yearling and steer carcases.
- Droughtmaster. Queensland. Established in Australia in 1956. 37.5%-50% Brahman and50%-62.5% Shorthorn, with some mixture of Red Poll and Hereford. Features are red colour: horned or polled.
- Santa Gertrudis. Origin: USA. 37.5% Brahman, 62.5% Shorthorn. Introduced to Australia in 1952. Features are red colour; polled or horned. Maternal/rotational/terminal place in cross-breeding.
These breeds have a Zebu component, which originated in southern Asia. Zebus are distinguished from the European breeds by the presence of a musculo-fatty hump, a pendulous dewlap, a pendulous prepuce in the male, and a short sleek coat. A typical Bos indicus bull is shown in Figure 3. They are better suited to the hot temperate regions of Australia because they are more tolerant of heat and are resistant to tick fever, a common disease in these areas.
Characteristics of the main Bos indicus breeds in Australia are: