Were exotic cattle in Uganda the brainchild of John Babiiha?
Former vice president of Uganda and also minister for Animal Husbandry, Game and Fisheries in the Uganda Peoples Congress (UPC) regime in the 1960’s, Babiiha is credited for the introduction of exotic cattle in Uganda.
In the book published by the Vision Group in 2012 titled: Uganda: Building of a Nation, it was reported that it was Babiiha who introduced exotic cattle in Uganda. On Page 144, the book reads: “He is credited for the introduction of Friesian cattle and Nile Perch in Uganda”.
So how true is this?
Earliest exotic cattle in Uganda
From the records available, Governor Sir Hesketh Bell was the first recorded person to bring exotic cattle in Uganda. In Governor Bell’s biography: Glimpses of a Governor’s Life and the Uganda Memories, the autobiography of Dr Albert Cook, there is mention of how Bell imported two Friesian cows for milk hoping they would multiply and spread in the country. Unfortunately, both died shortly after they were bitten by the tsetse flies near Port Alice, (Entebbe) as was called by Europeans. Bell had also imported two transport elephants from India but they too died shortly.
Bell had arrived in Uganda in 1905 as the commissioner to replace Col J. Hayes-Sadler and was on November 20, 1907, sworn in at Entebbe as the first Governor of Uganda at a function witnessed by the British Under Secretary for Colonies, and later Prime Minister Winston Churchhill who was a tourist in Uganda. The Uganda Notes newspaper of December 1, 1907, reported as so. Dr Cook arrived in Uganda in February 1897 with others riding on donkeys from Mombasa, Kenya.
Earliest attempt to import exotic cattle
The second recorded attempt to import exotic cows was in 1924 when the Uganda Protectorate government passed a policy to import exotic cattle into the country. Small experimental stock farms were established in the four regions of Uganda. One was at Koja in Buganda, Ankole, then in Teso and Sukulu in Budama, eastern Uganda. “The aim of these centres was to demonstrate the advantages to be obtained from intelligent animal management in addition to constituting small farms for breeding cattle, sheep, goats, donkeys and poultry”. The 1925 colonial report by veterinary department indicates.
Thereafter, demonstration and experimental farms grew and spread further throughout the country. For instance, the 1932 annual Veterinary and Animal Industry report about hybrid cattle reads in part: “At Koja farm, cross-bred calves at birth on weight average was 43lbs while those at Boro-Boro in Lango was 39 lbs.; while the pure Ayrshire weight was 43lbs”. An Ibs is a unit of weight of about 453.6 grammes.
By this time, a similar farm had been established in Kabale in south western Uganda. The report also mentions a comparison between the ‘Kigezi breed’ milk quantity and quality with the exotic cows.
On the Friesian cows, the report said: “The pure-bred Ayrshires recorded 15 lbs. of milk per diem for the first three months of lactation but the amount fell after that period until at the end of six months and the daily return was 10lbs. and at nine months was only a little over 5 lbs.”
The 1935 annual veterinary report, among other issues, indicated the death of an Ayrshire bull imported from Kenya put at Koja farm in August which died of a mixed infection of ‘Theileria’, red water and ‘anaplasmosis’ a month later.
First artificial insemination
Artificial insemination was introduced in Uganda in 1954 at Entebbe livestock demonstration farm where experiments were for the first time conducted on indigenous cattle. The Entebbe livestock farm incharge, D.H.L. Rollinson, in his annual report for the year ending December 31, 1954, wrote: “Preliminary trial has confirmed that electrical stimulation of the bull can be applied in Uganda. Semen collections have been made regularly and the keeping qualities of the semen in egg york-citrate-sulphanilamide and the egg york-phosphate-sulphanilamide have proved satisfactory”.
He added: “The heat periods of cows and heifers have been detected using vasectomised bulls with marking ointment. Five animals have been inseminated; three are now known to be in-calf and two are probably in-calf. Field trials are about to be conducted”.
The1959 annual veterinary and animal industry report authored by H.J.S Marples Livestock Improvement officer at Entebbe livestock experimental station also talks about cross-breeding.
In part it reads: “The Entebbe Nganda herd is to play a part in the protectorate; Jersey/Nganda cross-breeding scheme. The principle function of the Entebbe herd is to produce a limited number of half bred bulls and during 1959, 14 of the highest yielding Nganda cows were put in calf to Jersey semen imported from Britain. The conception rate was very high and the first half bred calf, a bull was born in December . The report further recorded: “The bank of deep frozen semen had been established at Entebbe with 514 doses of Nganda semen and 58 doses of exotic semen of the Jersey and Guernsey breed”.
By the end of 1960, artificial insemination stations in Uganda had also been established at Kabete, Namulonge, Bukalasa, Kawanda, Namalere and Kyembogo farms in Fort-Portal.
In the 1961 annual report of the development of veterinary services and animal industry indicated that after the livestock census there were 3,385,000 head of cattle in all of which, 1,300 were exotic dairy cattle mainly Jersey, or Guernsey breeds which were on approved farms or government stations in Buganda alone.