Raising Watusi cattle
The big horns are attractive and the multicolored hides are interesting, but Bryce Woelk of rural Hillsboro said Watusi were his cattle of choice because of calving ease and survivability.
“The calves are born very small,” Woelk said. “It’s one of the main reasons I like the breed — we seldom have any trouble calving.”
With several calves on the ground and more on the way in his 25-head herd of cattle, Woelk said Monday that he also appreciated the fact that his Watusi were very efficient in making use of low-quality hay and forage.
“The hay quality hasn’t been that good the past two years, but they are a rangier animal and do OK on lesser quality pasture than most breeds of cattle,” Woelk said. “We do offer a little grain when they are home during the colder months, but otherwise they require very little care or extra feed.”
Woelk said Watusi cattle, which originated in Africa, did need shelter from wind and rain during the winter.
“I’ve noticed that our calves being born now have longer hair than their mother’s, so they are adapting somewhat,” he said. “But as a whole, they are a short-haired breed. Heat doesn’t bother them much, but they do better under a roof and out of the wind in winter.”
Woelk and his wife, Kathy, work in the Newton school district, but have raised cattle and horses all their lives. Their adult children, daughter Amanda, and son Mike and his wife, Krysta, help with cattle as often as possible.
“About 10 years ago, when our son was in junior high, we were looking for some calves to get started with,” Woelk said. “I used to chore for Vernon Base by Goessel when he needed to be gone. He raised Watusi and got me turned on to the breed.”
The Woelks purchased three purebred Watusi from a breeder in Missouri, and still have two of those original purchases in the herd.
“One of those heifers has a bit more attitude than the others so you have to be careful around her if she has a calf,” he said. “But if they know you, they really aren’t dangerous, even with those big horns.”
Watusi horns can grow up to eight feet long, from tip to tip. Woelk said genetic lines played a part in determining horn shape and size.
“The different styles of horn shape and size are directly related to their bloodlines,” he said. “Since they originated in Africa, different tribes of people could be distinguished by the different types of horns their cattle had.”
Woelk said blended genetics in the United States created less of a distinguishing factor, but the horns still played a part in herd management.
“I’ve never been on the wrong end of a horn,” he said. “But I have been put over a fence in a hurry once or twice. Just like with any large animal, you have to be careful when working with them in a tight area.”
The Woelk family occasionally exhibits their Watusi at the Kansas State Fair, the Tulsa State Fair, and in Colorado.
“They are judged mostly on regular confirmation but the horns do come into play,” he said. “Some judges put more emphasis on the larger horns, but as a breeder, I prefer to see a well-proportioned animal that fits together with its horns; not one with horns that are way oversized.”
Woelk said, at shows, judges evaluate the Watusi in open pens.
Show officials tag them and put them in pens with similar-aged animals. Then the judge walks around the outside and makes his placings.
Woelk said he enjoys talking to other Watusi breeders at shows and meets potential customers when they get off the farm.
“Most regular cattle breeders aren’t interested in them because the horns are a dominant feature,” he said. “But, at the Kansas State Fair last fall, I met an Angus breeder who wanted to try a Watusi bull on his first-calf heifers for calving ease. That’s something I think is really worth taking a look at.”
While Woelk sends several Watusi to the freezer by way of the locker plant each year, he said they also sell well at exotic breed venues.
“Breeding stock is in demand,” he said. “Regular sale barns don’t like to mess with the horns, but there is a one-day exotic sale in Kansas each year that is well attended. Sometime we go to Macon, Mo., where they have a four-day, four-time yearly exotic animal sale.”
He said the meat of a Watusi was very lean, similar to that of the Texas Longhorn.
“It tastes like regular beef, but is lower in cholesterol and fat,” he said. “I like them because they can do well on weedy pasture grass and have few problems.”
Though the breed provides milk to villages in Africa, Woelk said he did not know of anyone milking Watusi in the United States. Instead, the calves grow quickly on the typically rich and high-butterfat milk.
“The mother’s are very good with their calves,” he said. “I like that because the more they do, the less I have to.”
Woelk, whose registered herd name is Dusty Acres, also operates a small hay production business, growing all his own feed for his cattle and horses.