Tuli Cattle Society website banner

Tuli-Society-Cows3 The History of the Tuli Breed

Cattle were first domesticated in the Middle East nearly 10 000 years ago. Our much admired Tuli Breed owes its origins to the Sanga breed, the present forms of which have existed in Africa for over 5 000 years. Sanga is the collective name for the current indigenous cattle of sub-Saharan Africa. The Sanga group of breeds are believed to have resulted from naturally occurring cross-breeding between indigenous African cattle with Zebu cattle.

The Zebu breed originated in India, and evolved from the precursor of all domesticated cattle, the ancient wild cattle species, the Auroch. Zebus were originally herded into and through our continent by Arab nomads who migrated into Africa following the Arab invasion of North Africa, back in the 7th century AD. The Zebu after arrival in North Africa in turn bred with Africa's own indigenous Aurochs - like all the Aurochs, long since extinct. The North African Auroch is thought to have died out during the Middle Ages. The Zebu and the resulting Sanga group of breeds, spread down Africa with many and various other migrants from multiple places over the millennia, including the Bantu who moved relentlessly south from West Africa.

Under the Sanga umbrella is the hardy Tswana cattle breed which moved southwards and into Zimbabwe, where they adapted to the harsh climate and developed the fortitude and robustness that characterises the Tuli breed. They became heat and drought tolerant, and adapted to unfamiliar new food sources when conditions got really tough. They had to become scavengers, and developed strong, thick legs and hard hooves, as they walked long distances to track down food and water.

They had to contend with parasites, disease, heat, drought and famine. This extremely harsh evolution might have led to extinction - but instead, it created an incredibly tough, hardy, adaptable breed of cattle! Matabele chiefs selectively bred the most docile Tswana cattle, enhancing the breed and refining its evolution, setting the stage for the foundation of the Tuli breed as we know it today, which dates back to the 1940s in this country, making it an all-Zimbabwean breed.

In the early 1940s, near Tuli, Matabeleland, in the far south west of our country with its challengingly harsh climate, South African Len Harvey began to establish an indigenous domestic breed of cattle that could withstand the tough regional conditions and still provide quality food and dairy attributes for local communal farmers.

After observing the many variations of cattle native to the region, he chose the healthiest, heartiest, most fertile specimens from the Sanga breed; and so began the foundations of today's Tuli. He worked for the then Agricultural Department so was able to set up a government breeding programme in Gwanda on a 3000 acre farm he aptly named Tuli Breeding Station.

By 1948, his cattle were competing at block shows throughout the country, winning year after year, and beating European breed contenders with over 300 years of formal breeding management behind them.

The Tuli had the toughness wrought by thousands of years of evolution in our region. Yet they maintained beef and dairy quality that could rival the high standards of long established breeds.

Tuli-Society-magnificent-red-Bull Commercial farmers soon began to get excited about Harvey's breed. Many farmers wanted to call them Harvey's Cattle. However, he disagreed.

As the breed had originated in Tuli, Matabeleland, and many of the resultant animals were the colour of the red silt of the Tuli River, Harvey thought that Tuli was the most fitting name for the breed, with its origins in the local Sanga cattle, and in the southern African region.

In 1955, the Tuli was registered in this country as an indigenous breed. In 1962 Len Harvey's important contribution to agriculture in Zimbabwe was acknowledged when he was awarded the prestigious MBE by the Queen.

In 1969, an exciting highlight in the early history of the Tuli took place in Bulawayo. The Freedom of the City of Bulawayo was granted to the Tuli Breed. Six magnificent bulls headed the Tuli Parade through the centre of town, led 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'. This is the City motto, meaning 'We Go Forward' in Ndebele.

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.

Towards the end of 1976 the first Tulis, a group of thirty pregnant females and three bulls, were imported into South Africa from the original Tuli Breeding Station in Zimbabwe set up by Harvey.

This hardy, unique Zimbabwean breed, has since then, so far, also been exported to Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and as far as Australia, the USA, Canada, Argentina and Mexico.

The natural traits of this breed; its early maturity, good mothering ability, high fertility, hardiness, resistance to ticks, adaptability, docility, and natural ability to handle intense heat without stress, have made the Tuli a natural choice for many top breeders.

And due to their unique genotype, Tulis also offer the maximum hybrid vigour in a crossbreeding programme.

Tuli-Society-white-Bull Tuli-Society-Cows-herd-2