Watusi Cattle

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Watusi Cattle

Watusi cattle, also known as Ankole or Ankole-Watusi cattle in other areas, are a breed of cattle originally native to Africa. There are two main strains in Rwanda: the common strain, called Inkuku, and the giant-horned strain, called Inyambo. The cattle’s large, distinctive horns can reach up to 2.4 m from tip to tip in length and are used for defense. They also help keep the cattle cool, due to the presence of a honeycombed network of blood vessels. The cattle are mainly red, but also may have patches of white. Cows weigh between 410 and 540 kg, with bulls weighing 540-730 kg. Newborns weigh just 14-23 kg at birth, and remain small for several months.   Living in savannas and open grasslands, their diet consists mainly of grass and leaves, and the cattle can survive with poor quality forage and limited quantities of food and water. The breed is also raised for meat, but more commonly for its milk. A few groups also use the animals for work, and some also engage in bloodletting (collecting blood as a nutrient from the live animals). Under traditional management, the cattle would graze all day, and be returned to their calves at night. The calves would suckle briefly, then milk would be collected, and the calf would be allowed to suckle again. This procedure would be repeated in the mornings. Milk production is low (averaging around 1 liter a day for human consumption, but occasionally up to 3.5), but of high quality. Some of the high fat content milk is used to prepare ikivuguto and beurre ikimuri, type of butter that is considered sacred.   In Rwandan culture, the cow is a sign of partnership, collaboration and togetherness. Cattle are a sign of riches and friendship, used in dowries and referenced in traditional dances where Rwandans dance with the whole body and stretch their arms upward as if they are horns of the cattle. This dance is also called Inyambo. References to cattle appear often in the language, with greetings such as girinka (“have a cow”), amashyo (“have thousands of cows”), in children’s names such as Zaninka (“brings cows”), Kanyana (“calf”), and Gapfizi (“small bull”). Cattle were offered in trades at family gatherings as conflict resolution.   This breed has been a part of the local culture for thousands of years. Ancient rock paintings and Egyptian arts depicted this large-horned breed, which also shares many characteristics with the native Zebu (a pendulous dewlap, upturned horns and neck hump). They are distributed throughout the Rift Valley, found from Lake Albert on the border of Rwanda and Uganda south to Lake Tanganyika in Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.   Watusi survived the Rwandan Civil War in 1959 when Tutsi refugees brought them across the border to Uganda. However, today, the breed’s pure genetics are under heavy stress from crossbreeding programs with Holsteins or Friesians, insofar that the breed may disappear altogether locally. These foreign breeds need medical support and are prone to disease. The indigenous Watusi are fully adapted to the region’s climatic conditions are much more able to cope with drought.

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Breeds and animal husbandry

Indigenous community:Tutsi, Ankole, Bahima, Bashi, Bakiga, and Kivu