The story of SIMBRA

SIMBRA History

Cattle breeding began in the 18th century when Robert Bakewell (1725 – 1795) from England was the first to select animals to breed a desired type (breed).  His students established the foundation of the Shorthorn in the late 1700’s, the first recognised breed of cattle.

According to Lush (949) breeds were established by the identification of a type regarded as more useful than the ordinary, selection of a few superior animals for a limited number of herds who practised inbreeding to establish a uniform type which could be regarded as a breed.  If successful, more herds were established and a breed society formed to keep the herdbook and ensure the purity of the breed.  It is of interest to note that breeds were greatly influenced by a few sires.  For instance, nearly a quarter of the Angus breed is related to one bull namely “Prince of Tillyfour” (Nichols, 1949).  The main sire of the grey Brahman breed is “Manso”.  In the mid seventies 60% of all registered grey Brahman were “Manso” descendants (Perkins, 1987) “Monkey”, born in 1920, a 3/8 Brahman X 5/8 Shorthorn is the foundation sire of the entire Santa Gertrudis breed (Seyfferdt, 1999).


Does the development of breeds in the past differ from today’s Simbra breeding program?  Yes, we do not believe in the closed Herd Book concept, dominance of a few sires, or inbreeding and selection based on visual evaluation alone.

Closed Herd Books restrict the migration of favourable genes.  Due to the large environmental variation under which Simbra breeders farm as well as differing bull buyer preferences, we believe in the maintenance of a sound variation within the breed enabling breeders to develop a type that performs in their environment.  Any form of inbreeding results in the loss of within-breed heterosis and should be avoided.


The evolutionary development of the Simbra’s parent-breeds differs greatly.  The Simmental from central Europe, adapted to long cold winters and used for both milk and beef.  Zebu cattle, the genetic pool from which the Brahman breed derived, originate in India in an environment of heat, humidity, diseases and parasites.

When Simmental semen was imported for the first time into the USA in the 60’s, breeders in Texas used it on the Brahman and the performance of the half-blood cross was without parallel.  (Groomes, 1998).  That was the birth of the Simbrah (with a “h”) and the first animal was registered by the American Simmental Association in 1977.

The outstanding performance of Simmental/Brahman crosses was also the reason why the Simmentaler Association of Southern Africa decided in the 80’s to change their constitution in order to facilitate the Simbra.  The first F1’s were registered in 1986 (bull Nestau 851 and heifer Lichtenstein L135 – both ¾ X ¼ ).

The Simbra, which is classified as a synthetic breed, has shown the highest percentage increase in females of all breeds for a few years already and the annual growth for the last 5 years is 15% p.a.  Its share within the group of nine synthetic breeds (Beefmaster, Bonsmara, Brangus, Braford, Charbray, Huguenot, Sanganer and Santa Gertrudis) has increased from 5% five years ago to almost 15% today.


Registration, performance testing and administration of Simbra in South Africa, Namibia and Botswana are managed by the Simmentaler/Simbra Cattle Breeders’ Society of Southern Africa which is recognized by the World Federation as the sole registering authority for Simbra in South Africa. Simbra did not experience the teething problems of a new organisation since its parent organisation, provided the necessary experience, financial strength as well as an established infrastructure.

The Society’s main objective is to provide its members with a comprehensive service comparable to the best in the world at local-market related prices.  Besides consulting services, annual farm visits, the Society handles its own modern registration and world renowned Breedplan performance testing services.

The Breed Association believes that through its direct involvement in shows (formulating classes, training judges, supplying production data) it has a valuable tool in applying its national breeding aim.   A quarter of a century ago the Society was the first to move away from the subjective method of judging by combining reproduction and appearance in the show ring.  It is the only Society in Southern Africa where judges, in terms of the Constitution, are compelled to consider reproduction data in the placing of cows.  The world known Simbradex system (SIMBRA reproduction inDEX), which combines intercalfing period, age at first calving, number of calvings and even embryo flushings, was established with the origin of the breed.   It was also the first breed to create Blup breeding value show classes in 1999.


Based on performance testing breed averages (Beef Breeding South Africa 1993-98) the Simbra compares favourably with the other important (more than 2 500 tested females p.a.) synthetic Sanga and Zebu breeds.  Averages for Simbra and, in brackets, for Afrikaner, Bonsmara, Beefmaster, Brahman, Drakensberger, Nguni, Santa Gertrudis:

    ■  reproduction index (ICP and age 1st calving):  91 (88);
    ■  weaning weight:  232 kg (206);
    ■  yearling weight heifers on farm:  275 kg (244);
    ■  feedlot growth (intensive bull growth testing) 1594g (1458g).


Flexibility is allowed in breeding Simbra and a wide range of Simmentaler-Brahman crosses are allowed in the first or F1 Register.  A breeder can dictate the optimum combination best suited to his environment, management and customers.  Animals eligible for recording as F1 are:

    ■  the progeny of registered Simmentaler, Brahman or Simbra bulls and registered or foundation Simmentaler, Brahman or “Simbra type” cows;
■  direct F1 entry, the so called “cum system”, of Simmentaler/Brahman cross type females approved by the breed improvement officer.

Stabilisation occurs via the F1 to F4 breeding programme where the animal’s F-grading is always one higher than the lowest grading of its parents (e.g. F3 bull X F1 cow = F2 calf).

Group matings are permissible for the breeding of F1 and F2 calves, whereafter single mating must be applied.  Visual appraisal for functional efficiency by breed improvement officers is a prerequisite for registration as F1 to F4.  Animals that do not meet the requirements, regardless of their ancestors or performance, do not qualify for registration.  The policy adopted by some of the other synthetic breeds, viz. to use any type of cow as a basis to start with, does not apply to the Simbra.  Foundation stock must be Simmentaler, Brahman or a combination of the two breeds.


The environment determines the ideal blood composition.  In temperate regions, where weaner production is important, we will see a higher percentage of Simmentaler and the higher the environmental stress level the “more ear” or Brahman.  In determining the optimum proportion of Brahman we must consider that too high percentage Brahman cattle tend to have a delayed age at puberty (Plasse, 1968 and Cartwright, 1980) decreased growth performance (Holroyd, 1990) and reduced beef quality (Marschall, 1994).

Regarding the colour of the breed, we believe that the most profitable cow on the farm has the desired colour.  In a developing breed, we have too many production-related characteristics to worry about that we cannot waste time on colour.  Eyelid pigmentation is a prerequisite for the registration of F3 and F4 females as well as all bulls.  Dehorning of Simbra is obligatory and some of the breeders are in the process of developing naturally polled lines.


A Breeders’ Association without a defined breeding policy is without purpose.  However, an objective on paper is meaningless if not implemented by compulsory classification for the registration system.  The overall goal we strive for is to breed an animal that is a profitable producer and for which there is a demand in the industry.  The Simbra breeding aim consist of (i) a Standard of Excellence and (ii) a balanced set of BLUP breeding values for the ideal Simbra.

Reproduction (fertility) enjoys the highest priority at all levels and at Simbra it is the best barometer of the correct constitution (appearance of an animal), hardiness (reaction to environmental stressors) and adaptability (to thrive and produce in a certain environment). The cow which calves yearly in her natural environment and weans a heavy calf relative to her weight (>50%), has the correct size.

Seeing that there are good performers with a poor appearance as well as champions with poor performance, Simbra breeders select according to the eye and the scale.  Inspection on the ground of structural correctness (appearance) is compulsory for registration and currently, approximately ¾ of the Simbra population is under BLUP performance testing.

The Simbra’s measurable breeding aims are defined in a set of ideal EBV’s.


Objective performance information of thousands of animals together with extensive pedigree links coupled with modern computer technology has enabled the Society to express performance in a valuable figure called BLUP breeding value (EBV).  Environment (feed) and genes determine the appearance of an animal.  BLUP separates environment from genetics and only the genetic transmissible traits are estimated.  Relationships between animals play a key-role in estimating EBV’s and pedigree record keeping is essential for determination of BLUP EBV’s.

The Society makes use of the world’s most advanced beef cattle genetic evaluation system viz. Breedplan, to estimate breeding values (EBV’s) for a range of important characteristics.  These traits cover areas of vital importance to bull buyers viz. weight, milk, reproduction and carcass.  EBV’s are 5 to 9 times more accurate than performance indices.  Selection according to weights and/or indices is history and no longer recommended.


Failure to read the future correctly with regard to performance testing is the reason why Britain lost its position as major stud farm of the world. BLUP breeding values are published on all five generation pedigrees, sale catalogues and

Since the foundation of the breed, visual appraisal or inspection by highly qualified breed experts is a prerequisite for registration.  In this system emphasis is placed on characteristics with functional merit.  Research has shown that cattle with certain visual observable characteristics don’t perform under extensive ranching regions where heat and parasites are problematic.  Let’s look at a few.  Walking ability is very important in our low carrying capacity grazing areas.  We look at the hooves (large, closed, deep and uniform), pastern (elastic), hocks (broad, dry with correct angle), bone structure (not coarse) and stride (comfortable).  We eliminate woolly or curly coated animals because studies have shown that they perform poor in stressful, hot, dry or wet tropical environment and are more susceptible to ticks and therefore tick borne diseases.

We discriminate against flat rumps and prefer a rump sloping from hip to pin.  Since scrotal circumference is related to semen production and daughter’s puberty age, we have minimum scrotum circumference measurements for registration.  We also check the prepuce and sheath before registration.  The sheath should not extend below an imaginary line from knee to hocks and we do not want a prolapse or so called lazy prepuce.


To continually accomplish genetic improvement in any cow herd, each new sire should be superior to the previous one.  The only way to accomplish this is by looking at the breeding values (EBV’s) because they allow you to compare bulls over years and herds.  EBV’s are published on each certificate, official sale catalogues and the web page because it is the best estimate of the genetics merit that the animal will pass on to its offspring.

Inspection by independent breed experts has been a prerequisite for registration and animals that do not meet the requirements are not issued with a certificate.  The certificate of a Simbra is therefore the proof that the animal as well as its ancestors has been inspected according to stringent standards.

The bull is the most important investment the farmer makes in his herd.  An unapproved bull without EBV’s could cost him dearly.  Utilization of the Simbra EBV’s and pedigree certificate reduces this investment risk.  ALWAYS insist on the certificate.