Indigenous goat breeds: Matabele and Mashona.

L. Hungwe

Matabele goats in Midlands Province. Pic L. Hungwe.

Today we talk about indigenous goat breeds. Indigenous breeds are those naturalised in an area. These are breeds that are synonymous with certain regions and are to a large extent unimproved.

Research has shown that over 97% of goats found in communal areas under extensive subsistence management systems are either Mashona or Matabele goats breed. However with the help of government, donor agencies, private companies and individual efforts, improved breeds are making their presence felt in communal areas.  The Boer goat by far is been the most popular breed followed by Kalahari Red and others such as the Saanen.  I have seen the Boer and Kalahari Red bucks performing well in places such as Silobela and Chiendambuya communal lands.

Researchers and farmers believe that the pure ‘unimproved’ indigenous goats possess important economic traits such as viability, good mothering ability, disease and tick infestation resistance. This makes it imperative that we talk about these local breeds. Their draw backs include slow growth rate, poor carcass conformation and lack of uniformity.

Matabele goats

The Matabele goats are generally found in Matabeleland South and Southern parts of Masvingo Provinces. They are large framed goats, does weigh between 30-50kg and mature bucks can weigh up to 55kg on average. Coat colour is variable, they can be black, white, brown, and any colour combination. They have long droopy ears. Generally they cross breed very well with Boer goats and the black coated Matabele goats produce very nice progeny which look close to Boer goats. Because of their large frame sizes they are spreading very fast in most regions of the country where they are being cross-bred with the Mashona goat and other imported breeds. They have tasty meat which is preferred in lucrative South African markets.

Informally some farmers have told me that South African breeders once in a while import Matabele goats to improve their breeds. This is not surprising to me because some South African authorities on goats believe that indigenous South African goats have been diluted by cross breeding and rigorous selection to an extent that there is no more ‘indigenous goats’.   So breeders who come here to buy these goats will be looking for purity. 

Mashona goats

The Mashona goats are also known as Small East African goats or Indigenous veld goats. The Small East African goats are found in East Africa, they are found in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Malawi and Zimbabwe.  They are found in Mashonaland Provinces, Masvingo, Midlands and Manicaland Provinces.

Mature does weigh up to 25 – 30 kg and bucks up to 35 – 40kg on average. They can reach a height of 64cm at the shoulders.  Both sexes have horns which range from 2.5 to 20cm and ears average 12 cm and point backwards.

The Matabele and Mashona goats are a rich source of genetic material and are used in many cross breeding programs by farmers. They are cross bred with both the meat type breeds such as the Boer and milk type breed such as the Saanen. A challenge with this practice is difficult in giving birth, especially the Mashona due to its comparatively small frame. When choosing females to cross breed farmers should select females carefully, they must:-

  1. Use mature does at their second or third parity when they are well developed.
  2. Mate does in good conditions with a large frame.
  3. Use a buck with a comparatively small frame or one with a history throwing small kids.

I recommend small scale and rural farmers to continue breeding these goats, they are easily available, affordable and well adapted to our environment. There will always be a market for them. Those new in the game should start with indigenous females which they cross with improved bucks, they then  gradually up-grade to specialized breeds as skill, knowledge and resources are acquired.

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