Watusi bulls are best known for their impressive and fear-provoking horns. They are one of the world’s oldest domestic cattle breeds with African roots and remain popular across the continent, though their population in other continents is numbered due to low importation numbers.
Despite the low numbers in North America and Europe, the Watusi breed still plays an important and curious role in the cattle industry on these continents.
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Where Do Watusi Bulls Come From?
Watusi bulls and their cows are descendants of the Hamiti or Egyptian Longhorn cattle that found their way to Somalia, Ethiopia, and other southern African countries from the Nile Valley region in Egypt.
When the Hamiti Longhorn met with the humped Zebu Longhorns that came to Somalia and Ethiopia from India and Pakistan, they crossbred and gave rise to the Sanga cattle breed.
The Sanga breed spread to Uganda, Kenya, Sudan, and other Eastern African countries, where it became the base breeding stock of several breeds native to these countries.
The many different names for Watusi bulls derive from the African tribes that reared the various strains of the Sanga cattle. The Watusi name borrows from the Tutsi tribe of Burundi and Rwanda, while Ankole borrows from the Ankole tribe of Uganda.
Watusi cattle bulls and cows are also known as the African Longhorns, Ankole-Watusi, Royal Ox, and the Inkuku (in Rwanda). They are also fondly called the Cattle of Kings, especially the giant-horned strain that is now believed to be extinct.
The first importations of Watusi bulls from Africa happened in the late 19th and early 20th century by European zoos in countries like Sweden, Germany, and England.
European zoos initially imported the bulls because of their fascinating appearance before the effects of the second world war forced them to start selling the cattle to private herders for preservation purposes.
The first importations of Watusi cattle to America were from the European zoos when interest was shifting from visual spectacularity to the need to conserve and preserve the breed, especially because further importations from Africa were slow or banned.
The first private herd import of Watusi bulls to the US was in 1960 when two bulls were brought into the country from Scandinavia.
In the US, the Watusi cattle are called the American Watusi or the Ankole-Watusi. This combined name is used because the modern American breed combines the Ankole and Watusi strains of the Sanga cattle of east and central Africa.
The Ankole-Watusi International Registry (AWIR) was established in 1983 by North Americans interested in Ankole-Watusi cattle. However, they had divided emphasis on conservation of the breed, production of low cholesterol beef, and production of crossbreeds.
The registry agreed on breeding Watusi bulls with emphasis on lateral horn placement with greater tip-to-tip length as it happens with Texas Longhorns, rather than the characteristic upswept shape of the Watusi horns.
The Watusi cattle were sacred in most parts of Africa and used mainly for:
- Milk production (not beef)
- Raw drinking blood (in some tribes)
- Dowry payments
- Wealth and social class determination
- By-products like hides and ornamental horns.
Today, the Watusi are used for milk production (Watusi cows), meat (not very prevalent due to their sacredness) and ornamental horns.
Watusi bulls are also used for crossbreeding and backcrossing. For example, breeding is done with first-calf-heifers of other breeds to propagate Watusi’s low birth weight trait and enhance butterfat content levels in the other breeds of cattle.
Watusi Bulls Characteristics
Watusi bulls have the following attributes:
- Medium-sized bovines with fairly long legs
- Spotted or solid color, which can be brindled, black, brown, white, dun, dark red, or gray
- Straight top line. Some have a slight neck hump.
- Long, symmetrical horns, usually hollow and with a wide circumference base
- Lyre, crescent, V-, or U-shaped horns that grow inward and taper towards the tips
- Horn weight: up to 100 pounds in mature bulls
- Horn circumference: 26-28 inches. (40.7 inches entered in the Guinness World Records for the bull called CT Woodie).
- Large muscle over the shoulder to support the massive horn weight
- Demonstrated horn awareness (the bulls know where their horns are at any time, meaning they rarely snug on things).
- Long, rope-like tail for whacking insects
- Mature bull weight: 1,000-1,600 pounds
- Mature bull height: 66-79 inches at the shoulder
- Expected lifespan: 20 years
- Docile and calm farm animals but highly protective of their herd members and offspring
- Poor performance in cold weather and cold climates
- Thicker hides than other Bos taurus breeds (needle breakages are common during treatment and vaccinations).
- Adaptability to hot climates.
What Is So Special About Watusi Bulls?
Besides the phenomenal large-circumference horns, Watusi bulls are known for their drought resistance, heat tolerance, parasite resistance, and exceptional digestive system that is able to utilize poor forage efficiently.
The bulls can survive for long durations with little water and food supplies.
Watusi bulls can also tolerate high temperatures because their large horns have blood vessels that help dissipate heat. Hot blood flows into the horns, which have a large surface area exposed to the atmosphere, and is cooled down before flowing back into the main body.
Why Should I Raise Watusi Bulls On My Farm?
Even as the Watusi bulls and cows struggle to break even outside of Africa, you can raise your own small herd and reap various benefits as a breeder.
Watusi bulls guarantee lower treatment expenses because they are highly resistant to parasites and diseases, thanks to their rough environments in Eastern Africa’s arid and semi-arid areas.
Rearing Watusi cattle means you’ll take pride in being part of the people involved in advancing the African breed in areas outside its native continent.
You can use Watusi bulls to improve the genetics of other cattle breeds, especially by tapping the high butterfat content trait to harness it to other dairy breeds.
You can make money from the sale of horns of harvested bulls. Or you could keep them as ornaments in your home.
As the breed advances, you could make money from selling Watusi bulls. The price of the bulls depends on their age, horns, color, and registration.