As the name indicates Miniature Zebu (MZ) are small-size humped cattle. Such animals are rampant in rural India but unfortunately we describe them ‘nondescript’. In USA also small-sized Zebu animals are reared and these have been given name ‘Miniature Zebu’. It is interesting to know how these animals ended up in USA and created interest in American farmers leading to floating of ‘International Miniature Zebu Association (IMZA – http://www.imza.name). As per “Texas Importation” a government document in the year 1849 Zebu cattle were introduced into the Gulf Coast and the farmers were surprised to see their climate resilience. MZ then spread out along the Gulf coast because of interest created in the farmers. Bill Buchanan in the 1988 issue of ‘Zooculturist’ described that Miniature or dwarf Zebu were reared by several private breeders and also in children’s zoos. It was on 10th April 1991 that the first step towards organizing MZ farmers was taken led by Lolli Brothers. In this meeting held in Macon Missouri it was agreed to form ‘International Miniature Zebu Association (IMZA)’. Interestingly, Lolli Brothers’ abode was the “Place” in USA where several animal breed associations were conceived and formed.
Was any Miniature Zebu (MZ) genetics imported in USA? The records show that a breeder Bill Georges imported a MZ bull from Brazil on January 1, 1977. James Morgan (past president of IMZA) reported in the Exotic Livestock & Wildlife publication that in 1991 Robert Purtscher of Edelstein, Illinois imported one red and pied bull, two cows and two heifers from a zoo in Sweden. A year later Joel Bridges imported seven MZ from the Dominican Republic. In 1991 James Morgan conducted a survey and reported that there were around 50 private zebu owners which accounted for 118 bulls and 289 cows whereas 23 zoos informed that they exhibited 25 MZ bulls and 42 cows that accounted for 143 bulls, 331 cows, for a total of 474 known zebu in the United States. Formation of the Association was beneficial to the MZ farmers as within a year prices of MZ soared; a cow and her two-month-old bull calf was sold for $6,500 and a seven-year-old cow fetched $5,100.00. In 1992 these prices were quite attractive. The International MZ Association also focused on improving breed quality by selective breeding. But due to non-availability of genomic testing facilities selection was largely on visual evaluation by MZ breeders.
An important activity of the Association is maintaining pedigree record to ensure accurate selective mating. The MZ registry certifies the animals for registration in four different categories:
Foundation Pure: Their registration number would begin with either T or Z.
Native Pure: These are bred from foundation pure from sire side and percentage category on dam side. Once the animal reaches 15/16 for females and 31/32 for males these are categorized as ‘Native Pure’. Their registration number begins with a ‘P’.
Percentage: These are 1/2 to 7/8 but from 1995 50% are animals are not registered. Their registration number starts with ‘P’.
Appearance certified: This category was introduced in 2010. The animals are certified on the basis of appearance and their registration number starts with an ‘H’. If the progeny from the H has either of parent registered as Foundation Pure these can be registered as ‘Foundation Pure’.
Lesson for Indian Farmers: India should learn the lesson from this. It is not understood why we are labelling these animals as ‘non-descript’; we should name them ‘Native Zebu’ or ‘Indian Miniature Zebu’ and start selective breeding to improve milk yield and fertility so that these cows can become affordable to resource-poor farmers. We should also affiliate Indian Association with IMZA.