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A product of Rhodesia's cattle improvement scheme

by Staff reporter
21 Feb 2021 at 22:42hrs | Views
In the early 1940's in Southern Rhodesia (present-day Zimbabwe) the Government was promoting a cattle improvement scheme whereby bulls from imported European breeds were made available to the indigenous people.

The idea was to "improve" the indigenous cattle stock. Mr Len Harvey, a South African born agricultural advisor working for the Government, had severe reservations about the whole idea. He was convinced that the imported animals and their progeny would probably never survive the very hostile environment. Harvey had previously noticed that among the Tswana type cattle, in the southwestern corner of Zimbabwe where he was posted, there was a particular yellow type of sanga, consistently in good condition and seemingly better adapted to the environment.

It took him four years to sell his idea to the powers that be but in 1945, 3000 acre of ground in the Tribal Trust area 40km south west of Gwanda was set aside for a cattle breeding program with the "revolutionary" aim to improve the indigenous cattle through a process of selection instead of crossbreeding. The necessary infrastructure was laid on and in 1946/47 the first group of 20 cows and a bull was bought from the locals and established on the farm.

Within months new arrivals brought the numbers up to 60 cows and two bulls. In time the farm on the Guyu Creek, a tributary of the Tuli River, became known as the T.B.S (Tuli Breeding Station). In 1950 the T.B.S was enlarged to 20000 acre and Len Harvey became the permanent Officer in Charge. Originally the selection focus was on fertility and constitution of the cow as well as her calf with special attention given to feet and udders.

Numbers had to be increased as quickly as possible but phenotype and weight per age was deemed to be of prime importance because improved meat production was the whole aim of the Tuli Project.

In 1954 Tulis were entered on the Matabeleland Show for the first time and special information days were held on the T.B.S. In 1955 the Tuli was registered as an indigenous Rhodesian Breed. Although non-performing animals were ruthlessly culled Tuli numbers on the T.B.S. reached 1000 in 1961. In this year too, strings of Tuli steer won all carcass competitions at the countries three most important Agricultural Shows thereby earning the coveted 'Triple Crown' Trophy for the T.B.S - much to everyone's amazement.

Although the idea was to breed better animals and to distribute these among the local tribal farmers, small numbers of animals were made available to interested commercial farmers on a sort of usufructuary system and in 1961 the Tuli Breeders Association was formed and their constitution and regulations drawn up.

In 1962 Len Harvey's important contribution to agriculture in Zimbabwe was acknowledged when an M.B.E. was awarded him by the Queen. A highlight in the early history of the Tuli happened in 1969 when the Freedom of the City of Bulawayo was granted them. Six grand bulls headed the Tuli parade through the centre of town, preceded by pipers. On the steps of City Hall the Mayor awaited them and a magnificent bull 'Sergeant' was ceremoniously presented to the city and renamed "Si Ye Pambile" which is the City motto and means 'we go forward' in the local Ndebele language. At the first public auction of Tulis in 1965 the complete offer of 39 bulls, 117 heifers and 49 cows were snapped up by enthusiastic buyers.

The 'mother herd' of 300 cows went from strength to strength. In the meantime the T.B.S Herd had been renamed the Guyu Herd and thereby hangs a tale. On 21 April 1951 the first polled bull (son of the Base Sire, Mahuke, who was scurred) was born in the dry riverbed of the Guyu Creek. He was named GUYU. Guyu's influence on the Herd was so enormous that it was later decided to name the Herd after him. Today on historical Pedigrees he features as GUYUGUYU.

In 1978 Len Harvey retired after 40 years in service. The War of Liberation which had been going on for years had reached new levels of intensity. One night in 1979 all the workers at the T.B.S were abducted. It was feared that the Tulis were in grave danger and a huge rescue action was launched by Ian Smith's Government. Convoys of Government trucks were commissioned and within 48 hours all the Tulis at the T.B.S were moved to the Matopos Research Station outside Bulawayo. Although Harvey still acted as advisor for a while the focus of action in respect of Tuli Breeding in Zimbabwe now moved to the private Breeders who had already been involved since the middle sixties.

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