Cattle: A custodial heritage of Zimbabwe — Part 16…..need to improve herd calls for crossbreeding


AN Act of Parliament in 1980 established the Zimbabwe Herd Book (ZHB) to oversee the registration of pedigree livestock.
It served all recognised livestock and breed societies as well as clubs which included about 15 beef breeds.
Breed societies were founded for the purpose of establishing breed purity by recording ancestry and defining the standards by which selection should be made.
There were 26 registered breed societies in Zimbabwe, that maintained the breed standards of every breed (a society for every breed).
Currently, the known indigenous breeding societies in Zimbabwe are those of the Afrikander, Mashona and Tuli breeds.
The Mashona Breed Society remains a source of high genetic merit for Mashona animal breeds.
Vast herds of Afrikander cattle were owned by the Hottentots; they were obtained by the colonists who improved them for use as draft animals.
Afrikander oxen drew the Boer wagons which carried the farmers and their families on the Great Trek of 1835 to escape British rule.
A breed defines a closed population of inter-breed animals with similar traits of colour and/or conformation.
The ZHB plays an important role in that it ensures the maintenance of breed standards by providing pedigree information, thus guaranteeing high quality bulls into the agricultural sectors.
Pedigree livestock, also known as ‘stud animals’, are the seed stock of the industry and forms the basis of stud breeding with a long-term endeavour to breed the optimum animal stock that involves the controlled mating of livestock.
Detailed birth notifications are recorded in the ZHB — the sole registering agency for percentage of pedigree and appendix livestock in Zimbabwe.
Stud breeders maintain exact records of fertility, survival and growth performance, as well as pedigree parentage and specific performance data that measures reproduction, survival and growth.
Thus genetic improvement is passed on to the following generations.
By applying modern breeding technologies, stud breeders carefully select animals to be parents of the next generation and thus improve the genetic merit of future generations.
Breeders can also select parent material from outside the country in the form of live imports, semen and embryos.
Recording of cattle performance was begun in the 1960s and was later managed by the Department Of Agricultural Technical Extension Services (AGRITEX).
Due to lack of manpower and computing facilities that delayed AGRITEX sending results back to participating farmers, confidence in the scheme declined and the scheme was discontinued.
The objective of record-keeping is to increase the efficiency of cattle production and hence, the profitability of the cattle herds to the farmer.
There has been large indiscriminate introduction of less adapted exotic stock, particularly in the small holder sector in communal areas where there is need to improve productivity through animal breeding and genetics strategies that can contribute to increased income per animal.
This sector has also been disadvantaged by factors such as single sire herds and small herd sizes that result in minimal selection differentials.
The rebuilding of the national herd has for long been hampered by the shortage of suitable breeds, particularly the indigenous breeds such as the Mashona breed.
In sub-Saharan Africa, where over 90 percent of livestock keepers are smallholders and with 75 percent of the farm animals consisting mainly of indigenous breeds, indigenous cattle breeds such as Nguni, Mashona, Tswana and Tuli are critical components of smallholder beef production, particularly in southern Africa.
Cattle breeds in Zimbabwe can be divided broadly into indigenous, that is those breeds which originated from the region often called bos indicus, and exotic or foreign, which are those that originated from outside the region that are sometimes called the bos taurus.
The original bos indicus evolved through cross-breeding among the ancient cattle of India and Africa. The bos indicus belong to the Sanga-type of African cattle. They are pseudo Zebu, meaning that they are humped. The indigenous breeds which exist in Zimbabwe today are the Mashona, Nkone/Tuli and Afrikander. Other recognised bos indicus are the ‘Kenana’, ‘Boran’ and ‘Angoni’.
The Sanga breeds have small cervico-thoracic humps and medium-to-long horns which characteristically bend forwards.
To this genetic group, the cattle known as the Shona, Nguni and Afrikander breeds now belong.
The bos taurus is a cross-breed between the African bos indicus with breeds from Europe.
The bos taurus (British breeds), can be divided into specialist beef breeds which include the Aberdeen Angus, Hereford as well as Sussex and the dual purpose breeds which mainly include the South Devon breed, that are kept for both milk and meat.
Other examples of large exotics bos taurus breeds are the continental specialist Charolais beef breeds from France and Limousine, again, from Britain.
The Simmentaler and Red Dane breeds from Denmark were both dual purpose cattle breeds.
The Simmental cattle breed cross very well with other breeds to produce an efficient animal.
Cattle breeds grouped into six sub-groups were on offer at National Sales; bulls represented all the groups.
There is no perfect breed for all conditions; cattle producers should consider cross-breeding in order to enhance the national herd and productivity.
A successful beef breeder should bear in mind the key performance characteristics/traits which contribute to profitability.
The main goal of cattle producers’ genetic improvement programmes have been to produce replacement of heifers with the greatest possible genetic capability for making a profit.
This is done by mating genetically superior sires to superior cows using their estimated breeding values (EBVS).
Indigenous breeds that are well adapted to the local tropical conditions are well suited for crossbreeding.
They have a high degree of heat tolerance, are partially resistant to many of the diseases prevailing in the tropics and can survive long periods of feed and water shortages.
The desired breed combination has to be determined on the basis of performance of crosses and heterosis. Some of the successful Zebu/British cross synthetics include: the Beefmaster and Santa Gertrudis breeds. The Santa Gertrudis was developed from a cross of the short horn and Brahman.
It was developed to be adapted to hot humid environment of Texas in the US, but with the growth rate and carcass merit of the British breeds.
Crossbreeding in Zimbabwe has also resulted in new breed development.
In Zimbabwe ‘Brangus’ is Brahman x Aberdeen Angus and ‘Simbra’ is 5/8 Simmentaler x 3/8 Brahman that was originally developed in the hot, humid areas of the Gulf Coast in the US.
These are adapted to Zimbabwean conditions. The ‘Chabray’ is Charolais x Brahman. The Shona cow/cattle have also been crossed with the Hereford breed.
The Simbra breed which comprises the Brahma’s heat resistance, insect tolerance and hardness were combined with the Simmental’s genetics of growth, milking and fertility
Generally docile and fast growing Herefords cattle with good beef quality were the first English cattle to be recognised as a true breed.
Currently, Herefords exist in over 50 countries; from the prairies to the pampas and from the Russian steppes to the South African veld.
Under current different ownership patterns, for Zimbabwe’s herds to be rebuilt and regain the past commercial beef export system, important policy decisions will be required. Successful conservation and lasting management programmes must be devised for indigenous cattle breeds in the smallholder cattle production systems for the changing production environments.
It is essential for stakeholders to prepare strategic long-term plans to accommodate the challenges of limited resources such feed, labour and capital affecting the cattle industry.
It is also essential to devise breeding and conservation programmes for indigenous cattle and strengthen the future position of the indigenous cattle breeds, together with measures to control disease that must be put in place.
Efforts to research and evaluate threats and opportunities of indigenous beef cattle production systems and assessments of the contribution of indigenous cattle to household food security and income must be carried out.
To genetically and phenotypically characterise and conserve indigenous breeds and develop breeding programmes for smallholder beef production are also essential for the future of Zimbabwe’s Command Livestock Programme and the nation at large.
Dr Tony Monda holds a PhD in Art Theory and Philosophy and a DBA (Doctorate in Business Administration) and Post-Colonial Heritage Studies. He is a writer, lecturer, musician, art critic, practising artist and corporate image consultant. He is also a specialist art consultant, post-colonial scholar, Zimbabwean socio-economic analyst and researcher.
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