Meet Kyle Snow, regular steak lover and self-proclaimed meat man. In this issue, he clarifies the types of breeds in the market and what they mean for your meal.
Coming from South Africa, I had been told that the only cows I will find in Kenya were the Shenzis, eating rubbish on the side of the road. That myth has been blown out of the water but allow me to explain a little bit of what seems to be happening with beef breeds in Kenya.
There are many factors that affect the flavour of a good steak, genetics being a major contributor. When choosing a steak, it is very important to know where the beef comes from and from which animal, not only for the ethical side but for flavour as well. Cows’ genetics have been selectively chosen over centuries from flavour results and for survival in different climates. A well bred cow will be able to live comfortably without being too affected by diseases, heat or the cold. So the right cow needs to be farmed in the appropriate climate for optimal results.
Let us first make a distinction between exotic and indigenous breeds. Indigenous breeds ,or Zebu as they are often called, are traditional cows that have existed in Africa for centuries. The climate and selective breeding has lead to breeds which are naturally hardy and resistant to disease. I cannot sing enough praises for the Kenyan indigenous breed ‘Boran’ and I have often called it “one of the most under-rated beef breeds in the world”. The reason for this is firstly that Kenya’s Grassfed Boran have a real beefy flavour and their meat is delicious, as the cow is naturally suited to never getting sick or feeling weak. The animal can relax and grow naturally without ever fighting any illnesses.
Exotic breeds generally originate from Britain and the United States or even Japan. These breeds are better suited to colder climates and less rugged terrain. The cold climate has meant these cows were genetically selected for producing higher amounts of fat within the meat, which we call Marbling. However, the full-blood exotic cows have big difficulties adjusting to tick-born diseases, hot climate and Kenya’s hardy grounds and they often struggle to produce the same results as in their country of origin.
Therefore, we see a lot of cross breeding between the indigenous and exotic breeds to improve the off-spring by mixing the genetics of the cow and bull. Calves are affected by a phenomenon called ‘hybrid vigour’ and have great success if they are correctly selected. The most popular of those cross breeds is called a ‘Brangus’ and is a mixture between Black Angus (exotic) and Brahman (indigenous) to create a great quality beef cow with the resistance to survive on the equator. Kenya’s version of a Brangus is usually Boran crossed with Black Angus, and this breeding achieves great results.
It would be great to see an increase in genetic selection in Kenya. In this 21st century artificial insemination has become very reliable and ‘straw’ can be brought in from anywhere in the world to improve the production of the average small-scale farmers. The ‘straw’ is also not hugely expensive but can lead to huge increases in the profit margins for dairy farmers.
A better distinction must be made between breeds, almost as though they were dogs, understanding that different genetics can be used to better farming productivity, increasing yields and profits for the everyday farmer.
Genetics have always played a part in the farming of livestock, with selective breeding having been used for centuries creating animals for different uses and specific to certain regions. Domesticated animal’s traits have been fiddled with until we arrive at a very diverse range of uses. Different dogs were bred to hunt different animals, or be defence dogs or house dogs. And here we can clearly see how genetics can affect temperament, ability and physical appearance.