a miniature Watusi bull bred by Jeff Hatch
a miniature Watusi (composite) bred by Mr. Jeff Hatch, Springdale Washington

The Lightning, or Swede Pattern is a recognizable, heritable pattern found in cattle. It is a novel mutation (single, or are there more??) that causes a unique white spotting pattern, that was first recognized as a unique genetic white pattern in a family of fullblood Watusi cattle from Rwanda, Africa. It has been referred to as white lightning, lightning-strike, white sided, paint-drip, or the Swede marking.

The white lightning pattern was first noticed and documented as a genetic phenomenon by Darol Dickinson of Dickinson Cattle Company. He researched this unique pattern and traced it back to the first Watusi bull ever collected, Jimmy the Swede. The phenotype expressed by this genetic pattern is basically opposite to the color side marking found in British, Celtic breeds. When you see an animal with this unmistakable pattern, it is the genetic signature of either Sanga or Zebu breeds, somewhere in its pedigree.

Jimmy the Swede (JTS)
Jimmy the Swede, fullblood African Watusi, imported from Sweden
Pictured age 3 on Dickinson Ranch, 1980. He appears in more Watusi pedigrees than any other sire.

Jimmy the Swede (JTS) was a fullblood (100% pure) 1977 Watusi bull imported to the USA from the Stockholm Zoo in Sweden, by Jimmy Tarbox of Oklahoma. Darol Dickinson traced this unique white lightening spot pattern through cattle breeds in Africa and found only one African source of this pattern. Some call it the "paint drip" pattern. Jimmy The Swede, a bull from that family of African cattle, was the first Watusi available in North America in frozen semen, the first to sire a Watusi embryo transfer and appears in more pedigrees than any other Watusi sire this side of Africa. JTS was a the Swedish import. Reliable sources say other Watusi from the Swede bloodline (not just JTS), also had some genetic influence perpetuating this color pattern in the U.S. But Jimmy the Swede was credited as the first example of this genetic white marking in North American cattle.

Watusi History: 42 head, 14 bulls and 28 cows, were shipped by the Schulz family from Rwanda Africa to Germany in 1929 & 1930, and 6 more in 1939. Since then (as of 1990), these Watusi, were the entire, only genealogical ancestors of all foundation pure Watusi cattle that existed in Europe, England, Sweden, Australia, Canada, U.S. or anywhere else outside of Africa. Those original exported African Watusi were purchased near Kampala, north of Nairobi. From there they were trucked to the eastern coast of Africa, and departed by cargo ship from Kenya. They unloaded in Germany and went to the Leipzig Zoo. From Leipzig, a few fullblood Watusi herds exported to other countries over time. They first arrived in the U.S. at the Catskill Game Farm, NY., in the 1960s. From there, herds split off to Mexico, Oregon, Canada, Florida, New York, Colorado, etc.

the White Lightening or Swede pattern**After much research, Darol Dickonson concluded: "Of all wild cattle colors of a zillion different tones and patterns the Swede Pattern is unmistakable. It has never been identified on any critter that did not trace back to JTS. It is African in origin, a genetic minority color carried by a tiny family of cattle who rode out of Africa in crates nearly 100 years ago, came across the Atlantic and now can be seen in 3 North American countries. When you see it you will know it."

**We do know now, that this pattern existed long before JTS lived. From what country and breed of cattle it originated from, or if there is more than one mutation that causes this pattern, is still unclear.

There are photos of old Indian breeds of Zebu cattle from the late 1800s that also display this unique pattern. Whether all cattle today carry one or more mutation for it, or whether they all go back to one original mutation long ago, is unclear. But today we see this marking in Watusi, miniature Watusi (bred by Mr. Jeff Hatch), miniature Zebu, and some Texas Longhorn cattle (traced to Watusi infusion, added for more horn growth). Since many miniature cattle are colorful crossbreds that are bred from using a base of Dexter and the miniature Zebu, the Swede lightening pattern is also seen in many little cattle that after enough generations, today, look nothing like miniature Zebu, Watusi or Longhorns.

Miniature Zebu: The River Ranch Zebu Farm in Sanford, Florida outlines some history they have gathered about the "Swede Pattern" occasionally seen in Miniature Zebu. Here is what they have put together: Most Miniature Zebu with the Swede pattern originate from Hatch Farms or Twister, which was a breeding experiment when Miniature Zebu were crossed with some Longhorn & Watusi in order to add fancy colors. Orignally, getting those flashy spotted patterns in miniature Zebu, involved old bloodlines like “Swede” or “Komoko.” According to the River Ranch's miniature Zebu history webpage, Judy Rohner, one of the original breeders in the U.S. is credited with producing some of the early miniature Zebu carrying this pattern. Those old lines are registered today by IMZA as "Foundation Pure" miniature Zebu cattle.

"Swede"? old miniature Zebu

Does anyone know more about the history of this white marking pattern in Miniature Zebu, or have photos of the earliest known mini Zebu of the Swede and Komoko line? Are there other old lines of Miniature Zebu that carry this color pattern? I am curious if there is any evidence whether either line inherited the lightning marking from old Nadudana cattle, or if they likely carried Watusi blood.

2023 update: I have it on good authority that the white lightning pattern in today's Miniature Zebu was first introduced some years ago with the influence of some of Mr. Jeff Hatch's miniature Watusi cattle. That would indicate that in the case of miniature Zebu in North America, the white lightning pattern was introduced by Watusi bloodlines.

** Today with the internet, when we watch for this unique lightning pattern, we do see that it existed before JTS, and in cattle other than African Watusis during the 1900s. When researching the history of the original Nadudana Miniature Zebus in India, I ran across the pdf of a book written in 1895 called Breeds of Indian Cattle, that shows several breeds of Indian cattle with unmistakable evidence of the lightning mark pattern:

lightning-India 1895 Karadahalli Hallikar bull

I don't know whether the white lightning pattern mutation most likely traces back to African or Indian cattle. Further research would be needed to help figure that out. If anyone pursues that research, please let me know what you find (miniature.cattle.directory@gmail.com).

sources & resources:

» see also » Genetics of Coat Color (CC) in Cattle page 1 ~ the Basics of Bovine MC1R Black & Red
» see also » Genetics of Coat Color (CC) in Cattle pg 2 ~ the Color Genetics of Galloway (representative of Bos taurus breeds)
» see also » Genetics of Coat Color (CC) in Cattle pg 3 ~ the unique Dexter Dun
» you are here » Genetics of Coat Color (CC) in Cattle pg 4 ~ Lightning spotting

Breeds of Indian Cattle, The Cattle of Mysore 1895 (pdf) from the Rare Book Society of India.
River Ranch Zebu Farm, Sanford, Florida
Watusi History by Cindi Darling -- Also known as the Cattle of Kings, Ankole cattle and Royal Ox, this breed originated in eastern Africa. Foundation Pure animals are those of 100% Watusi blood. Native Pure Watusi (less than 100%) are bred up females at least 7/8 Watusi and males at least 15/16 pure. Foundation Pure are fullblood Watusi animals--they are only the result of breeding Foundation Pure to Foundation Pure Watusi.
Saga of the Watusi Cattle -- The history and the tale of shipping the first Watusi cattle ever exported off of the African continent, as told from memory, an audio tape of Walter Schulz, transcribed by Maureen Neidhardt. (Watusi World Newsletter, Spring 1987).
The Swede Pattern -- Famous Ancient Watusi Color Pattern by: Darol Dickinson
Watusi For Beginners -- Marlin Neidhardt
Livestock Conservancy reports that although the Watusi is still rare here, there are recent reports by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) that estimate the Ugandan population to be roughly 2.9 million head. The Ankole-Watusi breed is part of the Sanga family of African cattle breeds, which originated over 2,000 years ago from a combination of the Egyptian Longhorn cattle of Africa and Zebu Longhorn cattle originally from India. In Uganda, the Nkole tribe's variety is called the Ankole, while in Rwanda and Burundi, the Tutsi tribe's variety is called the Watusi.
World Watusi Association (WWA), Texas
Ankole Watusi International Registry (AWIR), Kansas


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