Zimbabwe’s gift to the world withstands harsh conditions
Patrick Chitumba, Midlands Bureau Chief
In the early 1940s, on the banks of Tuli River in Gwanda, a government agriculture advisor Len Harvey started work to develop an indigenous cattle breed that could withstand harsh conditions, including recurrent droughts.
His life’s work gave the country the world famous Tuli breed that has become a distinct Zimbabwean breed.
The breed is in demand both at home and in foreign lands, thus it has been exported to countries such as the United States and Canada.
Tuli breed associations are found all over the world.
Prominent Gweru cattle breeder Mr Philip Reed has fallen in love with breeding Tuli.
Even though he is into both Tuli and Brahman breeding, his heart is mostly on the Tuli breed which he says can be exported to bring forex into the country.
While the Tuli are a native Zimbabwean breed, the Brahman was imported from the United Kingdom back in the 1950s.
When Mr Reed relocated from Guburie Farm in Lalapanzi to Mimosa Creek Farm outside Gweru in 2010 he sold all the commercial cattle he had and started specialising in the Tuli and the Brahman breeds.
“I am a cattle breeder and I have a soft spot for Tulis which are proudly Zimbabwean, but I also breed Brahman so that buyers have variety to choose from when I conduct my cattle auction, which I do very year as a way of marketing, especially the Tuli breed, to fellow farmers,” he said.
Pushing the mantra, “Proudly Zimbabwean” Mr Reed is now a popular Tuli and Brahman breeder.
Mr Reed, is a father of two daughters and the owner of the popular Midlands Butchery in Gweru.
Every year, he has 50 Tuli cows, 80 Brahman cows waiting to calve.
Mr Reed said he has a total of 90 registered pedigree Tuli and Brahman cattle made up of 14 bulls, 25 heifers and about 50 mostly pregnant cows going on auction on June 1 at the Gweru Showgrounds.
“What we are giving the farmers are Zimbabwean breeds.
Our own special Zimbabwean breed that can do well across the country.
It is also my goal to see the Tuli being exported and that way we earn foreign currency for the country,” he said.
Mr Reed said cattle farming is a wonderful business to get into as it has high returns and also brings people together from all walks of life.
“But it takes great determination, I tell you,” he said.
He said the Tuli breed is an indigenous breed that was introduced in the 1940s, adding that it should be the Zimbabwean cattle icon.
“In the 1940’s Mr Len Harvey was a lands development officer tasked with developing an indigenous breed of cattle.
While he was in Gwanda, he observed that there was a distinctive type of ‘yellow’ Sanga cattle among the indigenous cattle that were superior and adapted to the local conditions,” he said.
“Mr Harvey then set about buying cattle from the local farmers to see if they could pass on the traits that had caught his eye which made these cattle better adapted to their environment.
In 1946, the Tuli Breeding Station was set up along the banks of the Tuli River.
This was the start of our very own breed of cattle, as we now say, proudly Zimbabwean.”
He said the Tuli breed is a strong testament to the adaptability, early maturing, high fertility and hardiness of this great Zimbabwean breed of cattle.
A study by the Matopos Breed Evaluation was done between 1974 and 1990 and found the Tuli breed to be the most productive cow compared to other cattle breeds.
This is due to the fact that it adapts well to the local environment.
The Tuli breed has the right size cows that can maintain the body condition throughout the year with minimal extra feed.
Tulis are moderate framed cattle and have three basic coat colours — red, yellow and white.
These colours enable them to adapt to intense sunlight.
Their coat is smooth, they have moderate sized ears and dewlap and they can be horned or polled.
Tulis are known for their early maturity, docile nature, good mothering ability and high fertility, and they can withstand intense heat without showing signs of stress.
Due to their unique genotype, Tulis offer the maximum hybrid vigour in a cross-breeding programme.
They are highly disease-resistant, especially to tick-borne diseases.
Tuli cattle produce high quality beef, their meat receives consistently excellent ratings for its flavour, tenderness and marbling, and usually Tuli cattle are large enough to be slaughtered at about 18 months of age.
The Tuli, Mr Reed said, has been exported as far as the United States, Canada and Australia and involved in successful cross breeding programmes.
He said the Tuli cow can cross-breed extremely well with other breeds.
“The Tuli is very adaptable to our different circumstances and conditions, very fertile and early maturing, heifers can conceive at 15 months, and cows tend to calve every year.
They are hardy cattle which are not as severely affected by the everyday challenges of ticks, parasites and other diseases, they make very good use of low-quality grazing and are also able to browse trees and bushes to good advantage, and in drought years, one will find the Tuli in better condition than the other breeds,” he said.
Mr Reed said in Zimbabwe, farmers are encouraged to embrace the Tuli breed because of its low maintenance and other qualities.
“Yes, one might argue that the other breeds of cattle for example are good looking and can grow big, but when it comes to maintenance, the Tuli can do well even in drought conditions.
All these traits are the strong points of the Tuli,” he said.
Mr Reed said a good farmer should be directly involved in cattle management on a day-to-day basis.
“I have a farm manager and security personnel as well.
Every evening, they count the number of cattle at the farm and they do the same in the morning so that we know if we are missing any cattle,” he said.
Mr Reed encouraged farmers to keep a record for all the cattle they have and also collect their DNA.
“DNA provides peace of mind to the farmer as it gives a proper biological history of all cattle at the farm.
DNA confirms the mothers of the heifers, it ensures that the data generated by the herd adds value to national genetic evaluations.
Our breeds are evaluated so that they compete with other breeds from across the world.
We want the Zimbabwean-bred to be number one,” he said.
Mr Reed said he maintains records of cattle and sends the same information to the Zimbabwe Herd Book (ZHB), an association of farmers maintaining records.
He said he has two separate businesses which are cattle breeding at the farm and the butchery in town.
“These two are independent of each other. The farm is making its money and so is the butchery.
Breeding cattle is expensive in the first five years, but when the cows start giving birth each year, that’s money coming in and that is why I have these auctions each year,” said Mr Reed.