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The Sahiwal originated in the dry Punjab region which lies along the Indian-Pakistani border. They were once kept in large herds by professional herdsmen called "Junglies". With the introduction of irrigation systems to the region they began to be kept in smaller numbers by the farmers of the region, who used them as draft and dairy animals.

Their colour can range from reddish brown through to the more predominant red, with varying amounts of white on the neck, and the underline. In males the colour darkens towards the extremities, such as the head, legs and tail.

It is tick-resistant, heat-tolerant and noted for its high resistance to parasites, both internal and external. Cows average 2270kg of milk during a lactation while suckling a calf and much higher milk yields have been recorded. They are generally docile and lethargic, making them more useful for slow work.

The Sahiwal is the heaviest milker of all Zebu breeds and display a well developed udder. Sahiwals demonstrate the ability to sire small, fast-growing calves and are noted for their hardiness under unfavorable climatic conditions.