The Senepol is a two breed composite that was developed on the island of St. Croix, the southernmost and largest of the Virgin Islands.
In the 1800s N’Dama Cattle were imported to the Caribbean Island of St. Croix from Senegal, West Africa. The St. Croix island environment encompasses both wet tropics with high humidity and rainfall and hot, dry savanna areas. Tropical parasites and cattle tick are abundant and the native vegetation is low in quality. The N’Dama, a Bos Taurus breed native to Senegal, was well suited for the Caribbean because of its heat tolerance, insect and disease resistance, and its ability to thrive on poor quality forage.
By 1889 Henry C. Nelthropp’s Grenard Estates was one of the largest N’Dama breeders, with over 250 head of cattle, which he maintained as purebreds.
After attempts to import higher producing cattle from temperate regions had failed, the cattle having broken down quickly from heat and nutritional stress, Nelthropp’s son, Bromley, had a vision to develop a breed of cattle that would flourish in their tropical environment and combine the traits needed for superior levels of production.
In 1918, Red Poll bulls were introduced to the Nelthropp’s N’Dama herd to improve milking ability, fertility and remove the horns. The British Red Poll is known for its natural poll, red colour, early maturity, milking and mothering ability, ease of calving and docile temperament. This blending of genetics proved very successful, and formed the foundation of the Senepol breed. As the Red Poll influence became more apparent, strict selection was applied for the following characteristics:
- Red color;
- Good conformation;
- Early maturity;
- Natural poll (no horns);
- Gentle disposition; and
- Heat tolerance.
Later the Nelthropp herd was dispersed to local breeders and the development of the Senepol breed on St. Croix has since been continued by four primary herds. From their beginnings, the island herds maintained genetic records that grew into the Senepol breed registry, as it is known today.
On-farm performance testing began in the mid 1970’s with the establishment of the Virgin Islands BCIA (Beef Cattle Improvement Association). In 1977 the first 22 Senepol cattle were imported to the United States mainland from where the breed has become extremely popular, grown and spread to numerous U.S. states and various countries across the globe.
South African Senepol History
The S.A. Senepol Club, under the auspices of the Red Poll Cattle Breeders’ Society of South Africa, was established on the 10th August 2000 with nine founding members during an open meeting held in Bloemfontein.
After making enquiries, a visit to Zimbabwe was arranged by 2 members during October/November 2000. There they looked at and selected live animals for import to South Africa. The process was set in motion and a permit for the import of 27 live animals from Zimbabwe was issued. In Zimbabwe the arrangements for the quarantine and export of the animals did not go very smoothly and led to several delays. This necessitated another visit to Zimbabwe in late June 2001 to sort out the problems and the cattle were able to enter quarantine in Zimbabwe on 26th July 2001. Once in quarantine, some of the animals tested positive for the disease T.Parva and were not allowed to continue. One cow and two claves also died in quarantine. A week before the cattle were due to be released to come to South Africa there was an outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease in Zimbabwe and all borders were closed for the movement of live animals. The cattle remained in quarantine in Harare until special permission was obtained from the South African National Department of Agriculture to bring them in. Finally, after many challenges the animals were allowed to set off on the long journey to the quarantine facility in Kempton Park, South Africa. The cattle were released from quarantine on Friday 21st December 2001 to start their new life here and form the basis upon which the Senepol breed was established in South Africa.
Two of the cattle originally imported from Zimbabwe
Since then the popularity of the Senepol breed has grown immensely and, with the use of imported semen and embryos and a solid upgrading system, the numbers have grown accordingly. Today breeders can be found in most provinces of South Africa and also in the neighbouring countries Botswana and Namibia.