A study urns conducted to examine herd structures and cattle disposal patterns of Bunaji herds kept under traditional management at four locations in the subhumid zone of Nigeria. Sale for meat was the single most important disposal reason, accounting for proportionately 0·55 of all disposals. Mean age of cattle sold for meat was 8 years but the age range was wide: animals as old as 17·4 years were involved in such sales. Male animals were sold at a younger age (6·2 years) than females (9·3 years). Sale of calves was an important exit avenue for rural herds with less access to milk market. Calves were sold at a mean age of 1·1 years and male calves accounted for a larger proportion (0·62) of such sales. Animal sales were highest in the early dry season and lowest in the early wet season. The predominantly arable farming location, Ganawuri, had the highest frequency of animal sales and lowest frequency of exits for ‘social functions’ (exchanges, transfers and gifts). Animal transfers, gifts and exchanges were important disposal routes in the traditionally pastoral communities, especially in locations with good grazing (e.g. Abet). Exits involving exchanges, transfers and gifts were more frequent during the dry season and least frequent in the wet season. An average herd had 77 head of cattle composed proportionately of 0·54 adult females (>3 years), 0·13 adult males (>3 years), 0·08 young bulls (1 to 3 years), 0·13 heifers (1 to 3 years) and 0·11 calves (0 to 1 year). There was a tendency toward smaller herds in later years (97 in 1980 to 51 in 1989) and a decrease in the ratio of adult females to males (from 6:1 in 1980 to 3:1 in 1989). Substantial between-location differences existed in herd size ami herd structure, ranging from the ‘beef orientation’ of the arable Ganawuri with a high proportion of immatures and calves, to the pastoral situation in Abet and Kurmin Biri with high proportion of adult animals. The proportions of adults were lowest in the early dry season, reflecting seasonal pattern in disposal and calving. The pattern in disposal reasons over time indicated a decrease in the proportion of animals exiting herds through exchanges, transfers and gifts and signified a possible shift from tradition, probably a response to population pressures and emergence of cash economies.