Other common names: Boenca, Boyenca, Fouta Jallon, Fouta Longhorn, Fouta Malinke, Futa, Malinke, Mandingo, N'Dama Petite
It is believed that the N'Dama Cattle originated in the Fouta-Djallon highlands of Guinea (Conakry). The cattle are almost unique in that they are trypanotolarent (ie resistant to the disease trypanosomiasis spread by tetse flies). As a result the breed spread quickly from its homeland and through the tropical zones of Senegal, The Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Côte d'Ivoire (where they are classed as a native breed). Their resistance to trypanosomiasis also means that they have been imported for large-scale grazing in the Congo basin, Central African Republic, Gabon and Nigeria. It is estimated that in West Africa alone there are almost 7,000,000 head of N'Dama cattle.
N'Dama cattle are a very hardy and is typically grown for meat (it should be noted that most West Africans are lactose intolerant and the drinking of milk is uncommon). Where they are milked, N'Dama cattle tend to produce, at most, only 3 litres of milk daily during the 7 months where they would normally be suckling their calves. There has been a concerted breeding effort in the Democratic Republic of Congo and this has improved the breed's conformation and increased live weight by almost 50kg.
On the island of St Croy in the Caribbean, original N'Dama cattle introduced in the 1800s have been selectively bred into a larger, red-coated local breed known as the Senepol, which were introduced into the USA in the 1970s.
Appearance / health:
N'Dama cattle are extremely healthy and hardy. Indeed, the success of this breed is mainly due to their disease resistance. They can survive and thrive in areas where other cattle breeds would die of disease. They are raised in urban, semi-rural, rural and rainforest environments. Like all cattle they need plenty of water though.
Behavior / temperament:
This is an extremely docile breed of cow. They can often be seen on roadsides even in major cities and never bat an eyelid no matter what passes them. Even the bulls are extremely docile. They are very social animals and the herds are close-knit, which is partly a predator defence. The cows are good mothers but still allow humans close access. Part of the docility of the breed is down to their relatively low activity, which both defends them against heat and means they can survive on less fodder than other similarly-sized cows.
Housing / diet:
The N'Dama cattle thrive in a wide range of environments from the semi-arid Sahel to rich and verdant rainforest areas. They are never housed indoors, but are typically raised close to people and may often be penned over night to protect them from predators.
A hardy breed, N'Dama cattle can digest just about any cellulose-based foodstuff. They will also browse as well as graze. Indeed, in Dakar, Senegal they are often fed on a diet that is exclusively composed of paper pulp. But given their own choice they will graze grass and occasionally supplement this with browsed leaves. Their lack of selectivity in grazing means that they gain weight rapidly in the richer environments of West Africa's tropical zones.
Written by Dyfed Lloyd Evans