Breed called 'cattle of kings'
If Goessel resident Vernon Base lived in Africa, where his cattle came from, he’d be considered extremely wealthy. There a man’s worth is measured by how many live animals he has.
Base and his wife, Angela, have raised Watusi for 24 years and the herd is up to 40 animals.
“We saw them at an exotic animal show and liked them,” he said.
With a circumference of 25 to 30”, the Watusi has the largest horns found on any cattle breed. One animal in his herd has a horn span, from tip to tip, of 7’.
Often mistaken as longhorns, the Watusi originated in central Africa and can be traced back 2,000 years.
Base’s herd is mostly for breeding and competitive showing. Their registered cattle are in three shows yearly — Pueblo, Colorado; Tulsa, Oklahoma; and the Kansas State Fair in Hutchinson.
“About 17 years ago we were taking a few to the state fair so people could see them,” Base said. Along with another Watusi owner, they decided to organize a competitive show at the fair.
“For the first few years, we sponsored the whole thing — getting judges, buying trophies, the whole thing,” he said.
After the show numbers increased, the state fair took over running the contest. Numbers reached 70 head from across the U.S. last year.
Now the Bases attend, but as participants.
Traditionally, the cattle were considered sacred and only supplied milk to owners.
“They don’t have large udders,” Base said. “Their calves nurse more often than regular cattle but in much smaller quantities.”
Watusi, like their longhorn cousins, don’t have as big a frame as beef cattle. A good size animal weighs about 900 pounds, while the average beef cow weighs 1,100 to 1,200 pounds.
Because their calves are born at about 30 pounds, bulls are often used on first-time heifers of other breeds, allowing them to have a smaller calf to lower mortality rates of both calf and cow.
The Watusi can be used for meat production but are still mostly for show and breeding.
“The meat is very lean, like bison,” Vernon said.
Watusi are usually good- natured and don’t cause much damage with their extended horns.
“But you don’t want to get between a mother and her calf,” Base said. “She’ll take you right there.”
Like beef cattle, one “auntie” is responsible for baby-sitting calves during the day while mothers eat enough to sustain milk production.
“Tomorrow it will be another one watching the calves,” he said.
At night, like their ancestors from afar, females form a circle with calves in the center, much like wagon trains of yesteryear. All horns face outward to ward off predators.
Because of their extraordinary horns, skulls are often sold.
“People like to paint them,” Base said.
Last modified Feb. 14, 2019