Rhodesian Indigenous, Zimbabwe Indigenous
By Julie Havercroft
Chris “Beefy” Grant has been farming small livestock in Matabeleland for some years now. What makes his enterprise, and indeed his approach, to this aspect of commercial farming in Zimbabwe unique is that he is actively selecting and promoting the adoption of lesser-known, indigenous species of goats (Kalahari Reds) and pigs (Mukotas). He hopes that other small livestock producers can learn from his experience, and here, he shares his story with ZiMunda Farming. Beefy started this project four years ago, in February 2016, with 10 sows and two boars. Research on indigenous pigs had led him to Mukotas.
Beefy’s vision and passion for using indigenous breeds is driven by his conviction that they have an important part to play in Zimbabwe’s livestock industry
THRIVING IN HARSH CONDITIONS
Question; Why should potential Mukota breeders choose to raise a lesser-known indigenous domestic pig variety over the more well-known Duroc, Landrace and Large White breeds?
To this question Beefy gave a metaphoric answer; “Use a screwdriver as a screwdriver, not as a chisel.” Meaning, Mukota pigs are hardy and disease resistant and well suited for regional climate conditions. They cope well with heat stress and the wide range of temperatures, from cold winters to extremely hot in summer with temperatures. Beefy’s pigs do not get heating during winter. They are outside in the open and we have extremely cold winters in Matabeleland. We have not had one death from exposure to the cold. He went on to give an example that they had instances of sows giving birth at the beginning of July and neither the sow nor piglet have died. It goes without saying that it is very dry and very hot during the summer days. So, a question on how do these pigs fare in this environment arises. To this, he answered, “They do well in the heat as long as there is a shade for them and “wallows” for them to cool off and cover themselves with mud.” Despite the vegetation landscape, the pigs find some shed. The vegetation on the property where Beefy rears the Mukota pigs is dense thorn scrub bushes and medium-size acacia trees.
On the health of the pigs, Beefy commented that they do not use any modern medicine on the Mukotas. “We regularly do faecal samples to control the internal parasites and dose accordingly, but no antibiotics are used. They do not have lice, ticks or fleas. Wallowing in mud baths helps combat those skin parasites” he said. Unfortunately, most of the stock Beefy has is interbred with other species and he is actively trying to breed them back to their former glory as pure Mukotas and has introduced new genetics to his existing herd from the communal setup. They are initially penned in an electric fence hold pen for a week, before being introduced slowly to their new family. The pigs are free-range and do thrive in terrible conditions. They convert feed to meat well but do grow slowly. “That’s an advantage of indigenous livestock and they have low mortality rates. They are suited to the environment,” Beefy says. They feed mainly on grasses and have the ability to convert very low protein grasses into pork, and they can survive in extremely poor conditions. This species of pig thrives in any habitat in Zimbabwe, and only needs six liters of drinking water a week to survive. They occur naturally in the less hospitable, more marginal areas of the country, from Binga and Hwange stretching up to most of the Zambezi valley and the northeastern parts of Zimbabwe. On Beefy’s farm setup, he admits that planted pastures, especially Lucerne, would be an advantage. But water and terrain do not permit. Fortunately, it does not stop the pigs from thriving. Feed supplements for the boars and sows are given during the harsh dry months to maintain condition. “Once the rains start and the grass is green, a transformation occurs and nature at its finest shows why indigenous animals have evolved over time, and are far superior to introduced exotics,” Beefy says.
This is a formally recognised domestic pig breed and it is said to have come into the country with Chinese traders over 300 years ago and has since survived and thrived in Zimbabwe.The characteristics of the breed include a long snout and pot belly. The pigs have black skin which helps prevent them from skin cancer caused by the sun’s ultraviolet rays. There must be no white, or spots on the skin. They have razor backs – a distinctive ridge of coarse hair along their spines. In terms of handling, they have a lively disposition, but as they are a domestic breed, they do have a calm temperament. Boars do tend to be a bit wilder. The sows are good mothers with a strong maternal instinct and are very protective of their young. Breeding is seasonal, with the sows producing two litters a year, one at the end of the year and one in April.
THE FUTURE FOR MUKOTAS
Beefy strongly believes that the Mukota breed has a place in commercial small livestock farming in Zimbabwe. However, he is not aware of any plans to regularise or promote this breed for commercial production; it is a hugely wasted potential resource. In his words Beefy says that he believes that Mukotas can have a very large impact on the commercially pig industry, especially if promoted as free-range feeding into the growing global free-range markets.
Images provided by Chris Grant
First published on ZiMunda Farming Magazine issue 4.