The origins of the Drakensberger can be related back to the indigenous cattle of the Khoi and other indigenous groups of the Cape and adjacent areas. As early as 2 December 1497, Vasco da Gama mentioned the “fat, black ox” that he obtained in a trade. Only after the arrival of Jan van Riebeeck in 1652, specifically under governor Willem Adriaan van der Stel (around 1700), cattle farming caught on quickly. The influence of the local residents’ cattle certainly also deserves to be mentioned. After the battle of Vegkop in 1837 under guidance of Sarel Celliers, the Voortrekkers lost almost all of their cattle. Neighbouring trekkers of Thaba Nchu provided them with oxen but most animals were obtained by trading with king Mosjesj of the Basotho’s (in the current Lesotho). During the battle of Umfolozi on 26 December 1838, the Trekkers recovered most of their cattle, together with a number of the local Ngunis. The influence of the local black population’s cattle can therefore never be excluded from the history.

The Drakensberger cattle breed was officially founded on 7 November 1947.

Over time, these black cattle became known as “Vaderlanders”. Documentary evidence exist that the Voortrekkers left the Cape borders by 1837 with teams of Vaderlanders in front of their ox wagons. A specific trekker, Jacobus Johannes Uys and his son, Dirk Cornelius Uys (known as Swart Dirk, who left Grahamstown in 1838 for the current KwaZulu/Natal, would later play a significant role in the development of the Drakensbergers. With methodical inbreeding and strong selection within a closed herd, Swart Dirk Uys (1814 – 1910) bred exceptional animals in the district of Wakkerstroom and Utrecht, where he chose to settle. Swart Dirk’s breeding programme was continued by his son, Coenrad, and son-in-law MJ (Joey) Uys. The result thereof was a definitive breed type. These animals were later known as the Uysbees (“Uys-cattle”). Examples of Trekkers who, during the Great Trek exclusively used teams of black oxen, were the Breytenbach, Du Pisanie, Du Plessis, Maritz, Smuts, Potgieter, Spies, Van Rooyen, Engelbrecht, Jordaan, Kemp, Klopper, Koch and Prinsloo families.

Up to the discovery of gold in the Witwatersrand, these cattle were bred as trek animals. The product was an animal with a strong and big fore-quarter, while the hindquarter was predominantly light and smaller. With population growth, technological advancement and mechanisation, the emphasis moved to meat production.

The local cattle industry and developing Drakensberger cattle breed would, however, face various difficulties, of which the most important was:

  • Rinderpest outbreak in 1896, killing about 746,500 head of cattle.
  • The Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902), where roughly 600,000 head of cattle were slaughtered.
  • The Stock Improvement Act of 1934, which did not acknowledge the Uysbeeste (Vaderlanders) as a cattle breed (state subsidy was then only paid for use of bulls from recognised cattle breeds).

Thirteen years later, a commission of the Department of Agriculture recommended in a report that the Uys cattle be acknowledged as a breed in terms of the Stock Improvement Act of 1934. Because the development of the Uysbeeste was mostly based in that area, and could be found in great numbers in the pastures of the Drakensberg mountains, it was recommended to change the name of the breed to Drakensberger.

The so-called “Tin Tin Blacks”, Buys, Kemp, Landman and Brookes cattle should certainly also be mentioned due to their substantial contribution to the gene pool of the Drakensbergers.

The Drakensberger, which started out in the most difficult circumstances, today is a very popular breed and definitely a profit breed which thrives in relationship and harmony with nature. It is often forgotten that the breed dates from a time where animals had to be naturally adapted to survive. Because no dipping fluids or proven medicine were available, they had to be able to withstand flies, mosquitoes, ticks and parasite-borne diseases.

The Drakensberger cattle breed was officially founded with the establishment of the South African Drakensberger Cattle Breeders’ Society on 7 November 1947. With the first inspection in February 1948, 621 animals were recorded. By the end of 1954 this figure increased to 1,723 of which 73 were bulls and by 1961 there were 4,752 recorded animals. In May 1969 the Drakensberger Cattle Breeders’ Society was allowed to the SA Studbook as an Associate Member, and in 1972 as Full Member.

In 1980 the breeders’ society decided to make performance testing compulsory for admission to membership. Ever since, only performance-tested animals became eligible for inspection and registration. Because the whole breed is subject to performance testing, the first analysis according to BLUP (Best Linear Unbiased Prediction) in South Africa was done on the database of the Drakensbergers.

As the emphasis later moved to meat production, animals with a distinctive long and well balanced, well-muscled beef carcass were developed. The modern Drakensberger is the product of such development – brought along by strong selection and based on scientific norms.