By Matt Styslinger
The genetic diversity of African livestock is increasingly threatened as indigenous breeds are replaced or cross-bred with larger, exotic commercial breeds that produce more meat or milk. These exotic breeds, however, are not usually as well-adapted to African environmental and climate conditions, and farmers often have to spend money on medicines and provide supplemental food and water. But even though the indigenous herds are shrinking, many traditional livestock varieties are still being raised by small-scale farmers.
Pastoralists in drought-prone regions rely on the Ankole cattle to weather the harsh climate. (Photo Credit: Bernard Pollack)
Ankole cattle, for example, are a hardy indigenous breed of cattle found in East Africa. These animals have a bold, regal appearance because of their striking long, large-diameter horns. The cattle themselves are medium-sized and have a barely visible hump—a result of their relationship to South Asian zebu cattle that were bred with African cattle some 4,000 years ago. Ankole were brought to East Africa by nomadic pastoralists from the north sometime between the 13th and 15th centuries.
The breed is more often utilized for its milk, rather than its meat, and they are sometimes used to plough fields and carry loads. Traditionally, some East African pastoral cultures drink the Ankole blood mixed with milk. The blood can be harvested from the animal once a month without harm. This practice is usually reserved for rituals, but the mixture is sometimes given to the sick for nourishment. The milk itself has a high content of butterfat, making Ankoles ideal for the production of butter—a value added dairy product—for farmers to earn extra income. The meat of the Ankole is very low in fat and has less cholesterol than commercial beef. This makes the meat a healthier source of protein and could make Ankole beef marketable as a specialty meat.