Their most distinctive characteristic is the presence of a prominent
“hump” behind their neck, but there are many other fundamental differences
between the Nelore and the European breeds.
There has never existed in India a breed called Nelore. This name corresponds
to a district of the old Presidency of Madrás, now belonging
to the new State of Andra, by the Bengal Sea. It was in Brazil that
some authors started to use the name Nellore as a synonym to Ongole,
the Indian breed that contributed most to the creation of the Nelore.
The history of the Ongole dates back
2,000 years before Christian times. It was the Aryan people that brought
the ancestors of the Nelore to India, where they were submitted to extreme
weather conditions. The arid lands of Belushistan, the cold winters
of Punjab, the alluvial lands of Ganges and the torrid lands by the
Bengal sea provided the Ongole breed
with the adaptation genes that are now favorably expressed in the modern
Brazil has become the largest breeder of Nelore, and from there the
breed was exported to Argentina, Paraguay, Venezuela, Central America,
Mexico, United States and many other countries. In all those places,
the contribution of the Nelore was remarkable, whether through purebred
selection within the breed or through crosses with local breeds, many
times of European origin.
The Nelore was first acknowledged in Brazil in 1868, when a ship on
its way to England carrying two Ongoles
stopped in Salvador, Bahia, and the animals were there sold. Ten years
later, a breeder from Rio de Janeiro, named Manoel Ubelhart Lemgruber,
bought another couple from the Hamburg Zoo in Germany. Then the Nelore
breed expanded gradually, first in Rio de Janeiro and Bahia, then in
Minas Gerais, having reached Uberaba in 1875.
The creation of the Nelore Herd Book and the definition of the breed
standards in Uberaba, 1938, was of great relevance in the formation
of the Nelore. In 1960, 20 animals were imported, and in 1962, the last
and most relevant purchase of live animals from India authorized by
the Brazilian Government, 84 Ongoles
were imported. These became founders of important breeding lines like
Godahvari, Karvadi and Taj Mahal, and were decisive to the great expansion
of the Brazilian herd in the last 30 years, going from 56 million in
1965 to 160 million in 1995, 100 million of which are Nelore.
It is said that there is no ideal breed, and that every breed has strong
points and none is better for all important economic traits, the Nelore
is certainly the best alternative for economic beef production in the
tropics, which are responsible for 65% of the world’s bovine population.
- Hardiness. The main advantage that the Nelore has over other
breeds of beef cattle is its hardiness. Calves are alert, with an
active behavior, standing up and suckling soon after they are born,
without any need for constant human intervention. The Nelore has notable
physical strength and is unexcelled in its ability to thrive under
harsh climatic, nutritional and sanitary conditions, frequent in the
tropics. Because of their hardiness and rustling ability, Nelores
surpass all other breeds under conditions of poor range and drought.
- Heat and Insect Resistance. The Nelore has a loose skin with
sweat glands that are twice as big and 30% more numerous than those
of the European breeds. The Nelore’s black skin, covered by a white
or light gray coat helps filtering and reflecting harmful sun rays.
Its low level of metabolism also contributes to heat resistance, as
the Nelore feeds less but often, generating less internal heat. Nelores
possess natural resistance to various insects, as its skin has a dense
texture, making it difficult for blood sucking insects to penetrate.
Nelores also have a well developed subcutaneous muscle layer which
enables them to remove insects simply by shaking their coat.
- Metabolic Efficiency. The Nelore can efficiently convert
poor quality forages into beef, and withstand long periods without
water. Due to their habit of feeding lightly but frequently, Nelore
and Nelore hybrid cattle are highly resistant to bloating, and death
losses rarely occur from this cause. Excellent feed conversion ratio
and good disposition allow the Nelore to be early finished in feedlots,
with highly positive results.
- Meat Quality. While the beef of some breeds have excessive
marbling, or intra-muscular fat, beef from Nelore cattle have enough
fat to be highly palatable. The Nelore matches the recent shift in
the beef industry towards a low calorie, leaner meat diet, without
compromising taste. This was demonstrated at the 1991 Houston Livestock
Show and Rodeo, when a purebred Nelore steer won the “Best Overall
in Taste” contest, competing against dozens of hybrid and European
- Reproductive Efficiency. Nelores have long, deep bodies with
clear underlines, keeping vulnerable parts out of the way of infection.
Cows have small udders and short teats, while bulls' sheaths are also
short. These characteristics contribute to the breed’s reproductive
efficiency. Nelore dams have a long and prolific reproductive life,
pronounced mothering ability, and plenty of milk for their calves.
The Nelore cows calve very easily due to their greater frame, wide
pelvic opening and larger birth canal, which reduces the incidence
- Maternal Instinct and Disposition. Nelore dams have highly
developed maternal instinct throughout the whole milking period, which
is of great importance for extensive breeding systems. They lick their
newborn, put them to suckle and look for a safe place to hide them
from predators. The active and vivid disposition of the Nelore is
largely responsible for their unusual thriftiness, hardiness and adaptability
to a wide range of feed and climate. Nelores like affection and quickly
respond to kind handling methods, becoming extremely docile.
A lot of genetic variation exists among all breeds, and the selection
within a breed is almost as important as the choice of the breed itself.
Generation after generation, during thousands of years favoring the
survival of the strongest and better prepared to withstand the intense
heat, the lack of forages, the prolonged dry season and the many diseases
has shaped anatomically and physiologically the ancestors of the modern
Nelore with a common denominator: hardiness, fertility and longevity.
Once in Brazil, this natural selection base was then managed and redirected
for beef production. The result was encouraging. In a few decades, the
Brazilian Nelore became an impressive biotype in terms of uniformity,
conformation and quality, still preserving the attributes of hardiness
and vivid disposition. Once the ethnic purity was consolidated, the
Brazilian Nelore breeders have been selected for body size and muscular
development, as well as skeletal soundness.
Each and every registered Nelore sire is the outcome of a complex process
of selection. Breeders receive assistance from a nationwide association,
the Associação Brasileira dos Criadores de Zebu
or ABCZ. Birth weight, weaning weight, yearling weight, scrotal circumference,
are some of the traits measured. Research centers and universities calculate
EPDs (Expected Progeny Difference) through complex mathematical models
and powerful super-computers, making the results available to breeders
to support their selection decisions.
Genetics and Breeding
Today, the number of purebred registered Nelore is above 5 million.
The challenge faced by selection is to multiply the genetic gains to
a much larger population. To multiply the genetic potential of Nelore
sires, Artificial Insemination is being used in large scale since the
60’s. Sales of Nelore semen represent 65% of the AI market of all beef
breeds in Brazil. The leading Nelore sire there produced and sold 34,000
straws of semen in 1995, followed by another Nelore that sold 30,000,
which means that both sires must have bred more than 20,000 cows.
Effort is also being made to multiply the genetic potential of Nelore
dams through the use of embryo transfer. With more than 50,000 embryos
transferred per year, a great part of which are Nelores, Brazil is already
the 3rd country in this technology, after the United States and France.
Work is also well under way with frozen embryos, embryo splitting and
In Vitro Fertilization of Nelores.
The Polled Nelore
There is a worldwide tendency for the elimination of horns in all cattle
breeds through the use of naturally polled animals. The advent of the
Polled Nelore, some 50 years ago, has presented the beef cattle industry
with an option to avoid the mechanical removal of horns, a common practice,
especially in feedlots. This dehorning method is expensive, time consuming
and painful for the animal, causing stress and weight loss, besides
exposing the steers to various infections. If horns were necessary for
defense purpose in a wild environment, today a naturally polled animal
brings many advantages.
Management of polled herds is easy and friendly, as herds are more
homogeneous and it is possible to gather more animals at one time in
the corral or in a truck for transportation. The polled Nelore also
presents less injuries from fights, preserving their coats for the leather
industry. As a result of these advantages, the number of genetically
polled steers in commercial herds is rapidly increasing.
Since the polled type is genetically dominant over the horned type,
when a horned dam is bred to a polled sire or a polled dam is bred by
a horned sire, approximately 85-90% of the offspring will be genetically
polled. That is of great importance to the polled Nelore selection,
as breeders have access to both the polled and the horned Nelore genetic
banks. It also allows breeders of the horned type to easily start a
polled herd simply by using a polled sire on their dams.
There is a universal trend toward meat production through crossbreeding.
Heterosis, or hybrid vigor, is the biological phenomenon in which the
performance of the offspring is greater than the average of the parents.
The more distantly related the parents are, the greater is the hybrid
vigor response in their progeny. Classic scientists like Linneo and
Darwin supported the idea of Bos Indicus (Nelore) and Bos
Taurus (European) to be considered separate species due to the differences
they presented from the adaptation to environments diametrically opposites
in latitude. In beef cattle, maximum hybrid vigor results from crossbreeding
these two historically unrelated species.
Hybrid vigor in beef cattle is expressed in heavier weaning weights,
increased milk production, greater calf vitality, higher fertility and
increased resistance to disease. In addition to increased weight for
age and greater carcass efficiency, the hybrid animal inherits to a
great extent many economic characteristics of its Nelore parent, such
as drought resistance, heat tolerance, disease resistance and increased
Ina recent research done by the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center in
Nebraska, the Nelore F1s showed the largest percentage of
unassisted calving, the highest weaning percentage, and their offspring
calves were 2nd in 200-day weaning weight of the 11 breeds evaluated.
These results combined placed the Nelore F1s as the most
productive dams, with an impressive 115.0 ratio.
In the United States a common spelling for the breed is Nellore. When
the Ongole breed was first imported
from Andhra Pradesh to Brazil it was called "Nellore" after the district
of origin. Soon the extra "L" was dropped since it is not necessary
in Portuguese. Several authors now give Nellore as a synonym of the
Ongole breed from India.
Correspondence, João Pedro Flecha De Lima, Rua Prof. Alexandre
Correa, 591 - 4 and. 05657-230 Sao Paulo, SP - BRAZIL E-mail: email@example.com
Joshi, N.R., Phillips, R.W. (1953) Zebu Cattle of India and Pakistan,
FAO Agriculture Studies No. 19, Publ. by FAO, Rome, 256 pp.
Mason, I.L. World Dictionary of Livestock Breeds. Third Edition.
C.A.B International. 1988
Correspondence, I.L. Mason, Edinburgh, Scotland
João Pedro Flecha De Lima, São Paulo, SP - Brazil