The Long Horned Kitara Cows (LHKC)

Kitara Longhorns are one of the oldest indigenous cattle breeds of Uganda. They have striking, long, large-diameter horns, which assist their blood circulation and help keep them cool during hot temperatures. They are renowned for their hardiness, which allows them to forage on poor quality vegetation and live off limited amounts of water.

The LHKC keepers, the Bahima, are an ethnic pastoral group of the Kitara people who reside in an area stretching from the South West to the North East of Uganda. However, now even non-bahima group is keeping cows as a way of poverty alleviation from their households and community.

Kitara Longhorn cattle can survive in extremely harsh, dry conditions such as those in sub-Saharan Africa – which is becoming drier and hotter. In a context where herders are strongly encouraged to keep exotic and hybrid cattle, the innovative approach led Ugandan herders to revalue the Longhorns for their economic and cultural value.

The importance of the LHKC to the people of Uganda, the values associated with it, nutritional values, and cultural practices are some of the reasons why we promote their keeping among the rural poor communities of Uganda.

Many people are unaware of the fundamental principles of cattle keeping practices carried out by the people of Kitara for centuries because the people of Kitara did not write. When they started to write it was about the politics of kingships and nothing more. Therefore, some people think that the protection of the long horned Kitara cattle (LHKC) we promote is no more than fancying with customary beliefs, of which they claim have no relevance in the present time.

But every time we drink milk or take tea made of milk or eat other dairy products, we enter an intimate relationship with the natural world. Traditional keepers of the LHKC know this very well. Indeed, they appreciate this relationship.

The LHKC is important to all the people inhabiting oburabo bw’ente (the cattle corridor) in many ways, a few of which are explained below;


Socio-cultural uses: People’s status is rated by the number and beauty of the cattle they possess. The Longhorn cattle function as dowry, are used to strengthen friendship and resolve conflicts and for cleansing sins. Their hides are used for making clothes, mats and beddings, their horns are used for making beads, trumpets and violins. Their urine is used for cleaning containers for churning milk and keeping yogurt. Their tasty milk has a high fat content and the tender meat is low in cholesterol. Ghee is served as a special sauce and the traditional cattle keepers used to make bread and gravy from its blood.

Economic uses: LHKC live long lives and rarely fall ill. They are resistant to hunger and drought and are a source of income as they produce good dung for biogas. Their maintenance costs are little: they survive on only grass and water under any conditions and can be owned and managed even by poor herders. Income from selling cattle allows us to pay for our children’s school fees.

Agricultural uses: Dung is used as manure for grass and plantations. In growing of other crops, cows are source of labour in cultivating the land.

Medicinal uses: A mixture of Ankole Longhorn milk and urine is used to treat stomach pains, fever and coughs. Dung is used for making casts for broken bones, for treating measles and stopping the lactation of women who have lost a baby. The horns are used to make a medicine for reducing pain and for giving enemas. The boiled hooves are a source of calcium and can be used to reduce joint pains.

The cattle keepers here enjoy a large vocabulary that is based on their close relationship with the LHKC and nature. It includes phrases they commonly use, they carry great meaning, defining the intimate relationship existing between herdsmen, the cows and land (the entire environmental resources). Following are few of numerous examples.

1. Enimi: This is the name for any male cow. If an ox has been identified for a sire, the name enimi automatically changes to enimi y’okubiikira or embiikire literary, breeding bull. When it has started to sire, enimi is then called engundu. The rest of the male calves or oxen maintain the name, enimi or nimi.

2. Amaizi g’ente, obunyatsi bw’ente, ekyanya ky’enyana.

The cow was treated as bona fide owner of the most important natural resources for the survival of it and people, and sustainable use of the water, pastures, and the homestead, eka y’ente. The water in the well from which the people get their own water for home use is to-date known as amaizi g’ente, literally cows’ water, among this cattle-keeping people.

Similarly the pastures are called obunyatsi bw’ente, literally cows’ grasses. You will commonly hear someone warn you that otaita amaizi g’ente! “Do not play with the cows’ water! That is to say, if you only just stepped into the well without the purpose of watering cows or drawing water for domestic consumption. You will also hear someone say for example that, “hariho oyokize obunyatsi bw’ente zangye!” meaning, “someone scotched my cows’ grasses!” Bush burning is a practice that happens more often in the cattle corridor during the dry season.

The recognition of cow as bona fide owner of these two important resources dictated to our ancestors that both the grass and water had to be conserved. Now whether that was done knowingly or unknowingly is another subject all together.

Furthermore, the calves too are declared bona fide owners of the pasture area near the farmstead or kraal; a place named after them and called ekyanya ky’enyana, literary, place for the calves.

Another example is the protection of such organisms as the termites. The soil from active anthills, itaka ry’ekikungu, is still used to mend earthen watering troughs called obwato (amaato, plural). Called itaka ry’okukora obwato, soil for working the watering trough, it is used to maintain the trough but also to add scent to cows’ water in a daily practice called okweshera ente, watering cattle. This accords automatic protection to the termites which could never be interfered with or destroyed for any reason. Research is yet to prove that anthill soil is filled with particular minerals that the termites mine from deep in the soil, being the reason as to why this particular soil is used in the watering of cows. Besides using it in the watering process, the anthills are commonly constructed in such a way as to contain the salt that is served to the cows, and called ebigugiro (plural), ekigugiro (singular). The alternative ebinimba or ekinimba which is the wooden version of ekigugiro, are made of a selected type of trees, a particularly careful culture of selective harvesting and usage of plant life for sustainability for the long lasting future use.

3. Ebyanzi: The ebyanzi are wooden milk containers exclusively used by the Bahima and a few other neighboring cattle keeping peoples of the cattle corridor such as the Banyarwanda. The Bahima have their milk containers made from a very limited number of trees. Omussa, omurama, and omurema-mpango, three types of trees: another practical way of conservational exploitation of natural resources among this cattle corridor people.

They limit the selection and use by attributing metaphysical properties to their special selection, thus: omus’sa, suggests that which “makes one attain healthful looks (okushsha); omurama, that which infers long life (okuramaara); and omurema-mpango, that which makes people overcome hardships even when those hardships are as tough as an axe.

This means that one can never cut any other tree to use for making ekyanzi outside the authorized types. For what would such a tree infer metaphysically? It would thus, require another generation of “naturalists” to suggest other types. Furthermore, the sticks they hold, the slender branches of shrubbery they use to construct their mitomansi (spherical or bulbous huts) and the bihongore by’enyana (huts for the calves) they build, etc are of a limited selection from a whole lot of plant variety, implying avoidance of extensive harvests of vegetal life. This is reliable science for everlasting sustainability.

4. Milking: Milking is done on a daily basis, evenings and mornings. The calf is allowed to suckle its mother until it is mature enough, six to eight months. During the daily milking practice, the calf is allowed to suckle its mother first before the milker (omukami) draws out some in ekikamiso (milking container). Milking is done under very scrutinizing supervision and observation by the herd’s owner, who must see to it that enough milk is left for the calf. Thereafter, the calf is allowed to suckle again, under close observation to make sure it only takes enough.

This process is thus regulated on a daily basis. The milking process is taken very seriously to the extent the women are not allowed to access the ikamiro (milking place). This ensures that a possible conflict of interest is avoided since the women, as mothers, have their own children to feed with the cows’ milk. The women are entrusted with all the milk, which they garnish in different forms and serve it according to energy requirements of different age groups of their family members.

5. Ishaazi: Every kraal has an adjoining open ground called ishaazi (cow’s morning resting place). The cows are encouraged to rest in the ishaazi every morning between 6:30 and 8:00 am. The cows are driven from their ekibuga (enclosed ground for night rest) to the ishaazi. This is the place where to observe the cows, how they spent the night (each one of them), treating the sick, and carrying out general managerial and administrative requirements of both the animal and the human members of the family.

Ishaazi is the common room for every male member of the eka (cowstead or homestead). It is a school and class for the young herdsmen but also of every cow. Furthermore, ishaazi is a boardroom of every cattle keeping family, an outpatient department for every sick cow, and at times the persons, and a common ground for every neighbor, visitor and the community person; also, a courtroom where conflicts are resolved. Ishaazi is the parliament of every cattle keeping family.

6. Some other anecdotes

Emizaano (games). The games cattle keepers play are a form of physical exercises. These games are calculated physical drills or exercises meant to equip one with the best skills there could be for the protection, management and the physical handling of the cows. For example, kuchumita enziga (spearing through a running wheel) is meant to equip one with accuracy of the shooting skill so that one will be able to hit at a target if a wild carnivore attacks him or his cow.

Okufukaana (wrestling) is meant to equip one with the skills of outmaneuvering either other herdsmen, in case of a physical fight, or to tame a strong cow, for example, in case of administering medication (kugaburira ente) or relocation (kufunya ente).

Okwikiriza ente (talking to cows) formally, “replying to a cow” is done when a herdsman replies a cow when it moos. This lovingly emotional conversation makes a milking cow (or a cow with a young calf) happy. “Okwikiriza ente nikugigabisa.” Talking to or replying a cow as she moos stimulates her to giving more milk, happy-milk for that matter. If you didn’t kwikiriza ente before you milked it, it is called okugiiba amate gayo (obtaining its milk thievishly).

Ebizaano (the arts). Singing and recitations about the cows in particular are composed to sing the glories and good looks of the cows, the loveliness of ensi nungi (a good countryside) and the courage and goodness of the best cattle caretaker.

Okutakinga enju; keeping the huts open day and night. A cattle keeper does not close his mitomansi (globular) hut, so that one could easily dart outside as fast as possible to defend cows from an attacker.

Okubajwaara. The dress code also suggests preparedness: okubaasa kubakuka aho-na-ho, hagira eky’abaho, to respond as fast as possible in case of any emergency.

Okuhembera ente. Smoking the kraal to chase away the flies; mosquitoes and other insects so that they don’t sting or disturb the cows; the cattle keepers, even with such great love for cows, do not seek to use any methods such as insecticides to utterly kill the insects. This cannot be unintentional. Chasing the insects away with smoke is good enough, based probably on their knowledge of the usefulness of these insects to the rest of nature. Even for the ticks, the Bahima reared enkoko (chicken) to pick them, while during a grazing day allowed enyangi (cattle egrets) to keep with the cows to feed on flies and ticks.

Okubiikira, keeping and or grooming a bull for breeding needs for the future. Ente igana igira engundu emwe, every herd of one hundred cows has only one sire (engundu) who is not allowed to mate with the daughters to avoid obutembane (in-breeding).

Engundu (the herd bull) is allowed to mate with enyemebwa (selected cows for breeding). A second sire (engundu y’akabiri) is found from other herds for the heifers, which promotes good co-operation and care for one another’s herds because you never know who you approach next for your next sire.

Other anecdotes are okwevuga (saying affirmation in form of recitations), okutera omubanda (sounding a flute for cows while grazing or resting them), okuzagiza empimba (selecting and playing with beautifully colored bean seeds as toy cows by young children) and okutezya ente z’ebiti (shaping tender twigs of trees as white horn-toys of cows by young children).

It should also be made clear here that the cattle keeping community of Ankole did not hunt (kuhiiga) the wild animals, not even for their meat. Sport hunting is a strange idea, unimaginable. The only wild animal they ever could kill was killed in the event it attacked a cow or a person. Many of the farms and ranches surrounding national parks still have wild animals on them with no one hunting to kill them.

We want to assert that the LHKC is so important to the peoples of East Africa and the world at large. Its long white horns function as thermostats and help it to regulate extremes of temperatures which should make it the most favored of breeds all over the world.

A tripartite of pleasant friendship

The culture that was forged around the LHKC which is called oburiisa (pastoralism) or okuriisa (pasturing, cow keeping or cow caring), or obunyante (cattle husbandry) or okukunda-ente (cow loving) . . . is the best representation of an agricultural practice

It is not exaggerated for us to say therefore that, the culture that sustained the LHKC is the highest welfare friendly farming ever known to be practiced anywhere. It is with this farming system that one discovers total commitment to make top priority the welfare of the animals and the environment we all inhabits. At the peak of practice of this system Ankole as a country was named kaaro-karungi (good village), which depicts the attitude people had toward their general surroundings. The cows lived out their full lives dyeing only of natural causes. Their keepers lovingly cared for them for all their lives.

Conclusively considered, we have two different systems of farming based on cattle: the traditional cattle keeping, the welfare-to-all-nature friendly farming, which is also foundational, and on the other hand, the modern intensive farming which is subdivided into the beef and the dairy subcategories.

With cow-keeping animal husbandry, the animals are happy and contented and so are the people who depend on them for their daily dietary needs. Aided by the rich pastures the LHKC produces safe and very rich high fat content happy milk, which satisfies the energy need requirements of the herdsmen, the extended community, visitors such as you, and all the none cattle communities neighboring the cattle keeping areas. On the other hand, the two modern intensive farming systems based on cattle also are injurious to nature particularly by their dependence on non-natural inputs and the violent method they embody.

Are exotic cows really better?

In the short term, there seem to be many benefits to exotic and hybrid cows: they need less land to graze on, produce a lot of milk and meat and thus bring in more income. However, this is only the case when conditions are favorable, for these exotics and hybrids have poor resistance to harsh environments and climatic stresses such as those that Uganda has experienced in recent years.

For example, they are prone to going blind when bushes and sharp grasses prick their eyes as they graze, and muddy and flooded land easily makes them ill. They get weak and stressed when temperatures increase above 33° C and walking during droughts tires them easily. During a long dry spell from August 2010 to March 2011 and during floods at the end of 2011, many Frisian and hybrid cattle died – while the Ankole Longhorn cattle endured.

Herders who switched to Frisian cows had to cut down trees and bushes to create grazing land, started using a lot of antibiotics and acaricides and sprayed the foreign breeds with dangerous chemicals. This makes the exotic cattle an expensive herd to manage, and has resulted in the loss of much habitat for biodiversity.

In comparison, the sustainable grazing practices of the Longhorn actually increase species diversity and maintain the ecosystem structure. They keep vegetation cover, which contributes to the reduction of fires, drought and flooding. In addition, scientists have proven that Ankole milk and meat are healthier and more nutritious than the products from the exotic and hybrid breeds. The local population prefers their taste. In the long term, exotic breeds have caused great financial stress to relatively poor herders and are threatening biodiversity.