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Inside the Sokoto cattle breeding project

We got to the farm in the Runjin Sambo area of Sokoto in search of the bull the veterinary doctor had spoken of earlier. All…

We got to the farm in the Runjin Sambo area of Sokoto in search of the bull the veterinary doctor had spoken of earlier. All of a sudden, we saw the huge Brangus bull. It is black in colour, has a massive body, and a large head.  When fully grown it weighs an astonishing 2,000 kilogrammes. One source indicated it lives for many years and it is heat and parasite resistant. Also, Brangus can survive in harsh environments. This means the bull is bound to do well in Sokoto and its environs. The Brangus has its origin in South Africa, where there is a society of Brangus farmers.


More milk, meat

There is a considerable number of Brangus bulls in Sokoto State, and they underline the livestock transformation project of the state government. One aim of this project is to improve the indigenous breed of cattle by cross breeding same with exotic cattle. This is a process of genetic modification that will improve the capacity of the cattle to produce more milk and meat. There is the use of modern breeding technology, such as artificial insemination and embryo transfer to upgrade indigenous cattle.

Professor Abdulkadir Junaidu of the Sokoto State Animal Health said, “We have over 3million cattle in the state. We still want to maintain our indigenous breeds, so we want to improve on the potential genetics, but we don’t want our breeds to get extinct. We still maintain our own local breeds. We cannot cover 3million of this, but we can produce genetically improved breeds so that we make it more commercialised.”

Many farmers in Sokoto have received the exotic breeds. One of them, Mahmud Sidi, the farm manager, Sidi Akibu Dairy Farms, Sokoto said, “In 2018/2019 we received 9 cows from the state government. They gave us 6 heifers, jersey breed and Brangus. They also gave us three bulls, Brangus and 2 jersey bulls. The heifers were all pregnant and gave birth three to four months after receiving them. We also received loading facilities, loading ramp. We also have the milking parlour.

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“There is a great development in bringing those exotic breeds from the state government because we are getting 20-25 litres from each cow we received from the state government. Our indigenous cows here, the highest we can get from them are 2-3 litres. As I told you, we have Dalleji, Rahaje and Sokoto Gudali. The highest milk we are getting from them are 2-3 litres, but these exotic breeds we received from the state government, we are getting 20-25 litres from each cow.”

310 days of milking

“When I say we are getting 15 to 20 litres from a cow, that means 10 litres from her in the morning and 5 litres in the evening. That’s a total of 15 litres, that’s N15,000 in a day from one cow. The lactation period of these exotic breeds reaches about 310 days. Unlike local breeds they are not taking much time in milking them, the highest is six months, that’s 180 days,” Sidi said. Later, the harvested milk is taken to the Sokoto Dairy Plant located at Runjin Sambo. Caliphate yoghurt has been produced at the facility.

2,500 litres each day

“The Sokoto dairy plant is a dairy company into the production of homogenised and pasteurised milk that’s been sourced from our cluster farms within Sokoto State. We have 11 cluster farms located here in Sokoto State. Each day we request 1,500 litres of fresh milk from our cluster farms. We have the capacity of processing 2,500 litres in a day. After 8 hours we can go into a second production of another 2,500 litres,” Mohammed Mustapha, manager, Sokoto Dairy Plant explained.

Vast livestock resources

Sokoto State has vast arable land and has been rated as one of the top producers in Nigeria in terms of livestock resources. It has 3.4million cattle, 1.9m sheep, and 2.9m goats. Its geographical location makes it a host to cattle trooping in from Niger Republic and Mali. This has influenced the state government to embark on a livestock transformation project.

Prof Abdulkadir Junaidu said, “We believe that the mainstay of the economy in the state is agriculture of which livestock is a part. Previous governments, including the federal government will always give prominence to the crop sector of the economy, neglecting the livestock subsector, which has been contributing significantly to the gross domestic product of our country.

Secondly, Sokoto State being the largest producer of livestock in the country, stands a very big chance of improving the economy not only of the state but also of the country through various ways. The federal government has already banned the importation of milk and milk products, and therefore, there is the need to for the state to contribute in the scaling up of the milk production, as well as beef production.”

Sokoto Gudali weighs 400 kgs

Sokoto Gudali is one of the indigenous breeds common to Sokoto, a premium breed characterised by high performance in terms of meat and milk yield. It produces 3 litres of milk per cow per milking. A full grown Sokoto Gudali cow weighs about 400 kilogrammes.

Mahmud Sidi revealed, “The highest kilogramme that Sokoto Gudali can reach is 300 to 400 kilogrammes. Brangus can reach 1,000 kilogrammes within a short period of time.” When crossed with the exotic breed of cattle the offspring of Sokoto Gudali produce up to 15 litres of milk per cow, per milking.

Prof Junaidu stated, “The state felt we needed to embark on this programme. We did that taking into cognizance that there is also the need for us to improve the genetic potential of our own breeds, the Sokoto Gudali in particular. Of course, we have the white Fulani and Rahaji. We believe they are also good meat and milk producers, but cannot be compared to the exotic breeds, especially if you look at the issue of milk production, where they only produce 1-3 litres of milk, and maximum of four per cow, per milking, whereas if well arranged and organised, it can produce 10-30 litres of milk per cow per milking, which we are getting now.

“For the beef aspect, our own breed produces between 150 and 300 kilogrammes and a maximum of 350 kilogrammes, but now, we produce between 500 and 1,500 kilogrammes or even more.”

History was made when Sokoto Gudali was crossed with the Brangus bull. This was the first time such happened in Nigeria. Sokoto’s Ministry of Animal Health will soon provide a name for the hybrid that was produced.


Controlled mating

Controlled mating is an important and striking part of the livestock transformation project. Dr Jamilu Abdullahi, farm consultant, AbdulAziz Farm Sokoto said, “Controlled mating is very important when it comes to the issue of production. We have meat purpose cow, then the milk purpose cow. There is no way you allow random mating between the two if you want to go for milk or for meat. For that, you have to control mating in such a way that you allow the desired bull to mate a cow at a particular time. You can only do so when you have a large number of corals that can allow you to take a cow or a bull with three cows to a pen.

“It is a gene that allows a cow to produce more milk. It’s a particular gene that will allow a cow to produce more milk. The Jersey cow has that gene, which is specific for milk production. If you allow a Brangus bull with a gene for meat production to serve that female with a gene for milk production, you are trying to compromise and deteriorate the desired gene for milk production. For that, you have to control mating. A female Jersey will be attached to a male bull, in order to improve milk production because the genes for both sides are purposely for milk production, and that will boost the milk production coming from that animal.”

117 exotic breeds

Exotic breeds were imported from South Africa. Prof Junaidu recalled, “We imported 117 exotic breeds of animals from South Africa in 2018, and this consists of Holstein, Jersey Swiss Red and a combination of Brangus and Jersey. These we distributed to 13 cluster farms, and as criteria you have to be a practising farmer with at least 10-20 local breeds of cows, like Sokoto Gudali, in particular, as well as white Fulani. This is to show the level of seriousness, as well as your own commitment to key into the programme. We started that in 2018 and I am glad to say that we have been reaping the fruit of this programme.”

History of project

There is an interesting background to the livestock transformation project. Prof Junaidu said, “The initial concept was to bring in animals from Argentina, although at that time the consultant advised against bringing it from there. When I came, I realised that the animals are to be brought from Argentina. I said this may not be possible because in Argentina at 20 degrees Celsius, the animals will be panting. They will look like they are going to die. You bring in animals that you have a temperature of 40 degrees Celsius, at times up to 50 degrees Celsius, and you think they will survive. So, we suspended the idea.”

171 hectares in Dogondaji

Pasture development is an important aspect of the livestock transformation project. There is a pasture development site located at Dogon Daji in Sokoto State. Sirajo Abubakar of the Ministry of Animal Health Sokoto explained, “The farm is more or less like a virgin land now. It is forested. We are soliciting for the government to come to our aid here. We need assistance to clear this forest. We have state- of-the-art equipment that can be used to cultivate this land within a short period of time. We have seeders that can cover a large area of land within an hour. We have soya seeders. This is a precision planter that can plant soya seeds of up to 2 hectares per hour. If you plant 2 hectares per hour with a single machine, how many hectares can you cover within a day or up to one week? If we can cultivate the whole 171 hectares we have here with grains and pasture, I believe Sokoto will produce enough feed to satisfy the whole country.”

Other indigenous cattle in Sokoto, which are being crossed with exotic breeds, include white Fulani, Dalleji and Rahaje, the latter is a breed indigenous to Niger Republic.

N1.4m for day-old female calf

A one-day old female calf formed by crossing Sokoto Gudali with Brangus is sold at an impressive sum. Mahmud Sidi said, “The offspring we derive from the exotic Jersey breed we derived from the state government, even if it is a one-day-old female, we are selling her at N1.4million. We have derived more than 100 offspring just from three bulls we received and six heifers.”

Speaking in the same vein, Prof Junaidu revealed, “A small calf can cost up to N1million.”

Laboratory at Runjin Sambo

Initially, the pasture development site was established at Rabah. Rising insecurity in the area encouraged the government to think of an alternative site. This is how Dogon Daji finally hosted the pasture development initiative. In the Runjin Sambo area of Sokoto, there is a laboratory, which is very key to the livestock transformation project. Equipment for artificial insemination and embryo transfer are available at the laboratory, which is part of the Sokoto cattle reproduction centre. Liquid nitrogen, essential to the preservation of semen and embryos, is also available.

Artificial insemination

Prof Junaidu further said, “We have an artificial insemination and embryo transfer centre. The centre is to provide services not only to the cluster farmers, but to the pastoralists and other livestock producers who may not have the capacity to buy a bull. It may cost millions of naira for an animal of exotic origin that may cost exorbitantly high. We decided to introduce artificial insemination and embryo transfer across the 23 local government areas which we have covered. We are still on and the programme has yielded fruitful results. For now, the programme is free.”

Core investor

The new wing at the modern abattoir has state-of-the art facilities which will instantly turn Sokoto into a world class location for meat processing and packaging when fully utilised. The state government is seeking a core investor who will take charge of the new wing of the abbatoir.

Abattoir industry

A huge crowd is drawn to the Sokoto modern abattoir from dawn till sunset. Dr Adamu Abdulkadir, the director, Veterinary Services, Sokoto said, “Abattoir is an industry. This is where you have more than 3,000 people getting their means of livelihood every day, a factory that employs 3,000 to 4,000 people is not a small industry. There are sets of people that go to livestock market to purchase animals.

Another set of people will be responsible for transporting the animals to the abattoir. Another set of people will keep the animals in the lairage for inspection. Another set of people will move the animals to the main abattoir. Another set of animals will be doing the casting to make sure the animals are down. Some people their only work there is to make sure they slaughter these animals.”


A number of challenges have confronted the livestock transformation project. Dr.  Abdulkadir stated, “Some of the challenges we face in the abattoir is the issue of resistance of the butchers. The butchers are used to the old system of processing animals, but with the present agricultural transformation systems, we need to change some of these activities, the old way of processing animals. We have to change it so as to meet international standard.

“If you have to export meat outside the country, there are some norms and cultures you have to be used to. All along, one of the challenges we faced is that of butchers not accepting the new techniques of meat processing. The issue of flaying and processing meat, using electrical or mechanical systems is being resisted. Similarly, transportation of meat in cold vans instead of the normal wheelbarrow, which has public health implications, is one of the things they resist.

“The process of meat processing is a chain. In the old abattoir they were flaying on the floor, but in the new abattoir, it is the rail system. The meat is being processed on the rail, it has no contact with the ground. There is little human intervention. It is done mechanically, and health wise, it is also significant. It has public health significance; and internationally, it is one of the things they need before you export meat outside. They have to know how you process your meat before you export. With this mechanisation you can export your meat because the health status required is there.”

‘We prefer wheelbarrow’

Talking about some of the problems at the abattoir, a butcher, Buda Mohammed said, “We prefer using the wheelbarrow. This is because the vehicle can stop and people will be waiting. If it is a wheelbarrow, butchers will put the meat on it and it goes. If they put the meat in a vehicle people will be contesting the ownership of the meat, but that won’t happen with a wheelbarrow. They will take the meat you bought and put it directly on your table.”

Farmers/herders conflicts

On improved condition around grazing reserves, Prof Junaidu said, “Sokoto State happens to be the least in farmers/herders clashes in the country. This is because of the holistic approach we have taken. We have 19 grazing reserves in the state and what we did was to demarcate them. When we talk about demarcation, we ensure that when we say this is for livestock, we don’t expect any farmer to go and plant his crops there. If you do, we make sure we destroy the crops and make sure that livestock live there. By implication, no herder will be allowed to move out of that area to another place, a farm.

“The issue of pasture production, which is part of this programme, is intended to cut across the three senatorial districts as a pilot before moving to each of the local governments. The essence is that if you provide pasture you provide dams for water, the farmers will settle down, but if you build skyscrapers for them, and you think that they will stay, they will not stay if there is no feed and no water.”

Vet clinic

The Veterinary Clinic, Sokoto is a very busy place and is a plus and boost to the livestock transformation project. Dr Lawali Yahaya Bello, the head of the clinic admitted, “This clinic is one of the busiest in Nigeria. We have records to prove that. Last year, we had about 17,000 cases brought to the clinic and were attended to by our clinicians.”

Ambulatory vehicles

Dr Bello also said, “The ambulatory vehicles that are domiciled in the clinic are the first of its kind in the whole Nigeria. The call duty vehicle is provided for the transporting doctors that are on call and for farm visitations. The call duty vehicle is mainly for doctors while the ambulatory vehicle is for visitation. You take the service to the doorstep of the general public, and then the cluster farms that were designated for cattle breeding project. We also visit them and give them some intervention.”

Speaking on life among nomads in a part of the state, two pastoralists, Danbaba Marafa and Gidan Ruga said, “Our cows cannot go to drink water at the river; we have to walk 20 kilometres to get to a river. Farmers have turned our regular route into a farm and we don’t have access to pasture. We wrote to the local government chairman about this, but the situation remains the same.”

Lagos slaughters 9,000 cattle daily

Given the challenge posed by poverty, insecurity and unemployment in the state, livestock transformation is significant. The opportunity around its livestock resources will help the government to upscale its economic prosperity, as well as internally generated revenue, ensure food security, reduce hunger and malnutrition.

Projecting into the future, Prof Junaidu said, “In Lagos they slaughter more than 9,000 cattle every day, Ss, if we are to process our meat and take it there, we will be in business, but we have to scale up our production as well. By the time you slaughter all your animals, where are you going to keep them. That is why the main foundation is to scale up our production. We will be in business and our internally generated revenue will be able to scale up.”


If a number of challenges can be overcome, such as policy reversals, which sometimes occur when a new administration takes over, insecurity, foreign exchange issues, and resistance of butchers when the project comes on stream, it will earn the state N500billion yearly, which will improve revenue, reduce poverty, hunger and malnutrition and create livelihoods, while reducing farmer/herder conflicts.

In the meantime, there is the continuing process of genetic engineering, which is upgrading most of the indigenous breeds in the state through the specific method of artificial insemination and embryo transfer.

There is the provision of infrastructure, such as laboratories, equipment, modern abattoirs, funding the education of students of veterinary medicine of Sokoto State origin. This is a process that started more than 30 years ago, creating a ready bloc of veterinary doctors for the cattle breeding project.

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