History of the Mashona Cattle Breed
Indigenous cattle of varying types are found across the entire African continent. 
Efforts began in the early 1900s to study and classify them, and piece together their histories.
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Owing to scant availability of records, the history of these breeds is in large part based on theory, presumption and deduction.
Bearing this in mind, Africa’s indigenous cattle have been broadly grouped as follows:
Humpless Longhorn Cattle
Presumed the original cattle of North Africa, and now only found in West Africa, 7000-year-old illustrations of these have been found painted in ancient Egyptian tombs.

Chest-humped Shorthorn Zebu
Now dominant in East and Central Africa, this seems to be the breed arriving in Africa most recently, with evidence that it arrived with Arab and Indian traders  along the East coast in the 7th century AD.

Humpless Shorthorn Cattle
Also depicted in Egyptian tombs from around 2500 BC, these cattle appear to have displaced the longhorns. Cattle in the Mediterranean region today are mainly of this type.

Neck-humped Lateral-horned Zebu
First records of these humped cattle are from ancient civilisations north of the Persian Gulf.  There is later evidence of them in Egypt, around 1500 BC.

They likely came in via the horn of Africa, initially becoming established in Ethiopia, and spreading from there. Today’s Afrikaner breed, developed from the Khoi cattle found in the Cape by early settlers, owes its genetics to these ancient cattle.



Hardy Mashona mothers and calves in the veld

Sanga Cattle
Widespread across South, Central and West Equatorial Africa, and incorporating Zimbabwe's indigenous breeds, the Sanga resulted from crossbreeding between the original humpless cattle and the zebus. Usually neckhumped, horn size and shape varies greatly. Migrating Bantu tribes moved down Africa with their cattle, crossing the Zambezi around 700 AD.

Portuguese explorers found cattle well established in this country in the 16th Century and later, 19th century settlers recorded that local people kept large numbers of these small Sanga cattle, with neck humps and sleek, shiny coats.  National herd size was estimated at 500 000. Most were horned but a few were naturally polled. Colour patterns were many and varied; predominantly black, followed by reds and browns, with yellows and duns being less common. A fair number had white patches or stipples. Black and red were frequently mixed.

In 1896, the Rinderpest swept down from the north, killing cattle and antelope alike, followed a few years later by East Coast Fever from Mozambique. Herds were decimated by these diseases, leaving only around
50 000 head by the time the epidemics were over.

To build up numbers again, cattle were introduced from Zambia, mostly cows, and probably Angoni type shorthorn Zebus. What genetic influence they had on native herds is unknown. 

Government and private players then began importing bulls from South Africa and overseas to upgrade and supposedly improve indigenous stock, a disastrously misguided move which led to indiscriminate cross-breeding, without any focus on maintaining the desirable characteristics of parent stock.

Zimbabwe’s current distinct indigenous breeds, the Mashona, Nkone and Tuli, have been developed from this original stock.  It is presumed that all original genotypes were actually Mashona.

The Nkone breed descended from the cattle of the Mandebele who settled in Matabeleland in 1838. Most Nkone are found in the Gwaai area and surrounds. A small breeding herd was established at Tjolotjo in 1946, with a second at Msengenzi Experiment Farm in the Makwiro district of Mashonaland in 1953.  The Nkone Cattle Club was set up by commercial breeders in the early 1960s.

In 1942, Len Harvey noted a distinct, robust type of indigenous cattle in the Lowveld, south of Gwanda.  These would later be known as the Tuli breed - and under government auspices with Len in charge, the Tuli Breeding Station was born.  The Tuli Cattle Society was created in 1961.

The first written record of the Mashona breed probably dates back to the 1890s, in a letter to Frank Willoughby, which gave a detailed description of the breed, its various different colours, its shiny coat, good milk production, short legs, fine bones and long tail. 

40 years later in 1941, independently, Frank Willoughby and Allie McLeod began building herds of hardy indigenous cattle in Mashonaland. Willoughby bought much of his foundation stock in the Chilimanzi and Buhera areas. One particular polled bull, at just 3 months old, amazingly walked the full 200 miles from Buhera to Ellerton Farm, and would have a tremendous influence on the future Mashona breed.

McLeod bought most of his original animals in the Mhondoro area. He trekked them first to Gokwe, then Essexvale, bought some polled bulls from Ellerton and by careful selection built a fine, hardy, fertile herd of small, docile, black, hornless cattle.

The larger Ellerton herd was predominantly black but also kept most other colours and patterns of the native stock. Selection was again based on the most desirable functional characteristics of the indigenous cattle. In 1950 these two Mashona enthusiasts set up the Indigenous Cattle Society, later renamed the Mashona Cattle Society.

For the History of the Mashona Cattle Society - see Home Page
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