This study was conducted in 2008 as a collaborative project between the International Livestock Research Institute and Terra Nuova with the main objective of evaluating the Somali breeds of livestock both phenotypically and genetically. It focuses on all major livestock breeds found in Somalia namely the Somali Boran, Dauara, Gasara, Surqo and the North Somali Zebu cattle breeds, the Somali Blackhead sheep and the Somali Long-eared and Somali Short-eared goat breeds.
Livestock keeping households (numbering 277, and from six administrative districts located in northern,
central and southern Somalia) keeping the different breeds were interviewed on a number of issues related to livestock keeping, representatives of selected breeds (26 to 52 animals per breed) were characterized morphometrically through measurement of five traits (heart girth, body length, height at withers, rump height and pin bone width), and the breeds were genetically characterized by analysis of autosomal, Y-chromosomal and mitochondrial markers (40 animals per breed, but excluding the North Somali Zebu cattle were DNA sampling was not allowed).
All the livestock producers involved in the study practised a pastoral livestock production system. The primary reasons for keeping livestock were as a source of food and cash, whilst a secondary reason was cultural. It was also noted that while the numbers of cattle kept were relatively small with 75% of the producers owning less than 30 head, the sheep and goat flock sizes were much larger with 50% of the producers owning more than 100 head. The largest herd/flock sizes were mainly observed in the nomadic pastoral areas. The main feed source for the livestock was natural pasture. However about 30% of the producers indicated they purchased supplementary fodder. The producers had various options available to obtain breeding stock including obtaining animals from their relatives, neighbours, friends and a few purchased the animals from traders and markets.
In terms of basic morphometric characterization of the cattle breeds, the Boran breed had significantly larger heart
girth and height at wither measurements compared to the Dauara and North Somali Zebu breeds while the pin bone
width measurements of the Boran and North Somali Zebu were larger than the Dauara breed. However, there were no significant differences between the body length measurements of the Boran, Dauara and North Somali Zebu breeds. For the goats, the Long-eared goats were found to be longer, higher at withers and rump and with a wider pin bone than the Short-eared goats. The two breeds however had similar heart girth measurements.
The genetic diversity for the Somali livestock was determined through calculation of observed heterozygosities using 15 microsatellite markers for each of the cattle, sheep and goat breeds. The average heterozygosities for the cattle, goat and sheep were high. The mean genetic differentiation of the Somali cattle was moderate, while that for goat was low with. Low FST values were observed between the Somali Boran and the Kenyan Boran suggesting common recent ancestry. Principal component analysis of the microsatellite allele frequencies indicate close clustering of the two Somali goat breeds which may therefore also share a common recent ancestry.
Overall, the genetic characterization of the breeds showed that the breeds contain a wide genetic base with no inbreeding issues.
Muigai, A., Matete, G., Aden, H.H., Tapio, M., Mwai, O. and Marshall, K. 2016. The indigenous farm genetic resources of Somalia: Preliminary phenotypic and genotypic characterization of cattle, sheep and goats. ILRI Project Report. Nairobi, Kenya: ILRI.