Saturday, 8 September 2018

New video of the Tauros cattle in Milovice, Czech Republic

The EuropeanWildlife video channel on youtube released a new video of the Tauros herd in Milovice, Czech Republic. Back in 2015, when the herd was released there, the cattle looked like that

This is what they look like now: 
I like the bull. At first glance, when I discovered the thumbnail of the video, I thought it was a Texas longhorn bull. Colour, face and horn shape somehow fit, and the horns are quite large, about the size of that of a Maremmana bull. It was already recognizable when the bull was young that its horns are going to be large because it had massive horn bases. The body is, in my opinion, similar to some Taurus bulls and absolutely OK, and I like the skull shape - it is elongate, with a slightly convex profile and thus quite aurochs-like. It has a faint saddle, but I won't nitpick on that. All in all, the bull reminds me of Taurus bulls except for the "Texan" horn shape. 
The cow at 0:35 has mighty horns as well. It has a silvery tint in its coat colour and white spots on the belly, so I suspect it could be influenced from the Sayaguesa x Tudanca crossbreeds the Tauros Programme has. There is another cow visible in the video, f.e. 5:30, that looks very Sayaguesa-like and is thus quite good in my opinion. 

Saturday, 1 September 2018

Auerrind update #3

The Auerrind project is really progressing quickly at the moment; now, Claus Kropp has announced that three young bulls have been moved to another new conservation area named Senne und Teutoburger Wald in Germany. The three young bulls are the Sayaguesa x Chianina and the two young Sayaguesa x Hungarian Grey bulls. 
Sayaguesa x Chianina (left) plus two Sayaguesa x Hungarian Grey young bulls (© www.auerrind.wordpress.com)
The half-Chianina bull is already recognizably larger than the half-Hungarian Grey bulls - this can also mean that it just grows faster, but considering that Chianina are a few decimeters larger than Hungarian Grey on average it is likely that it will remain taller than the others. I think its coat looks like it is about to show its final colour. What is interesting is that Sayaguesa x Chianina bulls can show the full spectrum of an almost white colour to a perfect aurochs colour (this bull seems to be somewhere in between), what is unexpected since both breeds are stable in colour alleles so that F1 cross should actually be more or less uniform. I expect the Sayaguesa x Chianina to grow pretty large and have a long-legged, well-shaped body. It is interesting that the half-Hungarian Grey bulls have a perfect or nearly perfect aurochs colour expressed. I am curious on what their horns will be like as regards to shape and size. 

If someone would ask me what I would breed the Sayaguesa x Chianina to, my answer is clear: females of the same combination, as true F2 Sayaguesa x Chianina has the potential for really large, well-shaped and well-proportioned animals with the right colour and a good horn curvature (so almost the complete package) that is at least a bit stable. Another interesting option would be (Sayaguesa x Chianina) x (Sayaguesa x Watussi), but there is no cow of the latter combination yet. 

I will keep you updated with the recent developments of the Auerrind project. 

Tuesday, 28 August 2018

Tauros cattle moved the Auerrind project in Lorsch

It has just been announced on the blog of the Auerrind project that a number of cattle from the Tauros Project have been moved to the Auerrind project in Lorsch, Germany. In total, eight animals have been moved to Lorsch: 
- 1 young Maremmana bull 
- 1 young Pajuna bull + 1 Pajuna cow 
- 5 cross cows 

Maremmana bull © auerrind.wordpress.com
Maremmana bull + Sayaguesa x Watussi cross bull © auerrind.wordpress.com
The Maremmana bull is almost two years old and measures 160cm already. It will surely grow some more centimetres and maybe reach 170cm. The body looks rather elegant, but bulls get more massive after the age of 3. The bull is to cover the three Sayaguesa cows next year. For now, it grazes in an own bull herd at Felix Hohmeyer's farm, together with the young Sayaguesa x Watussi bull. It has a flawless aurochs colour but a rather Watussi-like appearance; I am curious how its horn shape is going to develop and how large they are going to be. But even if it is going to look like a black Watussi, it is not its actual looks but its genetic potential it bears that count; bred into a Sayaguesa cow it could still produce a very good result. 
Pajuna cow © auerrind.wordpress.com
Pajuna bull © auerrind.wordpress.com
The breed Pajuna is going to be incorporated into the Auerrind project. Next year both individuals will be bred to each other in order to have more individuals of the breed. What is interesting is that the bull is black with no saddle - I have not seen this in a Pajuna before. I like the deer-like slenderness of the individuals. They have no plan yet on how to crossbreed Pajuna with. The question is not easy for a two-breed-combination as Pajuna is both a small-sized and small-horned breed. Pajuna x Chianina would probably end up with a good size and well-built body and a correct colour, but it would lack horn size. Pajuna x Watussi would lack body size on the other hand. However, I think they could try the combination Maremmana x Pajuna (a combination already produced by the Tauros Programme, resulting bull here and perhaps also this one). The horn shape could end up unsatisfying as both breeds lack a prominent inwards curve, so Sayaguesa could be added to the mix. 
Pajuna cow (left) plus some Tauros crossbreed heifers © auerrind.wordpress.com
The Auerrind programm also has a new herd of five Tauros crossbreed heifers. Claus Kropp writes they are probably Maronesa-, Sayaguesa- and Maremmana-influenced, but a genetic test shall reveal their exact identy. A plan how to use them will be made when their identity is known. 






Saturday, 25 August 2018

New Auerrind herd arranged

The Auerrind project has gained a new area for breeding and natural grazing, the reserve Hammer Auen in Groß-Rohrheim, Germany. Two heifers, namely Ambra the Watussi x Maremmana and the Sayaguesa x Grey cattle, have been moved to the area recently and another two individuals are about to follow. Here are some recent photos: 
Grey x Sayaguesa right and Watussi x Maremmana left (©Copyright www.auerrind.wordpress.com)
Watussi x Maremmana heifer in close-up (© www.auerrind.wordpress.com)
The Watussi crossbreeds are among the most interesting to me of the Auerrind project so far. I like the somehow tropical appearance of the fur of Ambra (short, shiny and contrast-rich colour). She seems to have a Watussi-like ribcage but the zebuine hump is only very weakly developed to almost invisible and the horns are probably going to be mighty. The colour is perfect (the distribution of the black pigment is slightly zebuine*, but that is nit-picking; it is very interesting to see that this allele(s) seemingly is dominant). I am curious on which bull is going to cover those cows. Thinking about what combination might lead to promising and strategically useful second generation animals, Sayaguesa might be an option. OK, Sayaguesa is always a good option for crosses as the breed has a lot of very useful traits and you can cross almost anything with Sayaguesa and get a more or less good-looking result. The two Sayaguesa bulls of the project are already in use however, so I am curious on what the two individuals that are going to join the heifers are going to be. 

* I noticed that the eumelanin distribution of zebuine breeds slightly differs from that of taurine breeds. In taurine breeds, the fur starts to get darker on the ventral side of the torso (except for the belly) and subsequently becomes darker from bottom to top except for the eel stripe; if that process stops, we see what we call the "colour saddle". In zebuine breeds, it is reverse, the dorsal side of the torso starts to get darker first and in the end a "colour window" becomes encapsulated on the lateral sides of the torso. Compare the colour saddle of a Steppe cattle bull with the lateral colour window of this zebu bull (this is also mentioned in my recent post on the Indian aurochs). You see the latter tendency in Ambra, at least on an older photo, which is not "negative" in any way but interesting. 

I think it is very enjoyable to see that the Auerrind project is gaining areas and expanding their herds that fast; it looks like they are getting enough areas for a lot of interesting crossbreeds quite quickly. 

Sunday, 19 August 2018

A comment to the Tauros Programme's website

The Tauros Programme has a website since 2015 (http://taurosprogramme.com), and recently I had a thorough read through it. I have read it before of course, but it did not present any new information but rather the usual formulas the project is using for press releases. All in all, the website is not completely clear on all aspects, but what I find confusing or perhaps not completely honest is the section on the breeds they are using - which is what I want to comment with this post. 

First of all, the list of breeds they are using is misleading. If you open the "breeds" button it shows you the following breeds: Boskarin, Limia, Maltese Ox, Maronesa, Maremmana, Maronesa, Pajuna and Sayaguesa. Highland cattle is not mentioned, which is morphologically far removed from the aurochs, but Maltese cattle are included as if they would be part of the programme in any sort. The profiles for the individual breeds are not always entirely honest either. For example, they attribute Maremmana "strong aurochs features like the size, colour setting, thick horns, clear difference between males and females". I would not directly call the Agouti-diluted grey coat colour of Maremmana strongly aurochs-like - other breeds of the project like Pajuna, Limia or Maronesa are far better in this respect. Also regarding the colour differences between the sexes, as most Maremmana bulls have a colour saddle, it is more reduced than in Limia or Maronesa for example. Actually, it is the colour setting of Maronesa that I would call almost perfectly aurochs-like. As for the horn dimensions, it might be true that there are Maremmana individuals, especially bulls, that have impressive horns, those of most individuals are shorter and thinner than in aurochs. Actually, those of many cows of the project are not that long and actually thin - such as the Maremmana cow whose photo is used for the breed profile on the page. There are actually a lot of Heck cows that have more impressive horns than that individual. On the Pajuna profile, they write that "bulls can reach up to 165 cm shoulder height". This is the alleged record (160-165 is always the alleged record for certain breeds, also for Heck cattle), but the website does not mention that most Pajuna individuals are far from large in size; Pajuna is more of a small breed, as the photos from Keent and other breeding locations prove - the Pajuna cows of the project are the same size as the Highland cows. 
By the way, where is Highland cattle on the website? They portray a large and rather aurochs-like breed that is not used in the project (Maltese) instead of mentioning the small and morphologically quite derived Highland that is indeed used. Highland cattle are mentioned in one sentence on the "breeds" page (where they also mention that they only hope to include Maltese in the future):"Furthermore we incidentally use some individuals of breeds very good characteristics such as the Scottish highlander". This sentence is really dishonest. First of all, the project does not "incidentally" use "some individuals" of this breed, but instead uses or used it on large-scale. Judging from the photos, and I have seen quite a lot, Highland cattle and its crossbreeds always make or made up about the half of the individuals in the Dutch Tauros herds. The technique of the Tauros Project was to use Highland cattle as a quantitative base and to phase it out in later generations, which is perfectly legitimate. Buying and importing cattle from other countries is very costly and effortful, so why not using the cold-adapted Highland cattle that were already there as a quantitative base? Why not writing exactly that? Simply claiming it is the incidental use of some individuals is not a honest description of what is actually done. Furthermore, I wonder what those "very good traits" are and if it is such a very good breed, why it did not deserve its own profile on the page. Highland cattle is a small-bodied breed with short legs, a massive body, short paedomorphic face, and all kinds of horn shapes (a number of individuals, though, has an aurochs-like horn curvature). They also have an overlong coat which makes them tend to overheat during summer, causing them to take baths in mud and drown (see the Weideleitfaden of the ABU). The only advantageous trait of its morphology and physiology is its cold-resistance. They once claimed Highland cattle to be "genetically close" to the aurochs, which they do not dare anymore (for my comment on the Nei distance chart, see here). I am also not happy with the sentence "we also don't use breeds such as the Italian Chianina, because there are better alternatives, such as in this case the Maremmana". Really? As regards to size, I won't say that Maremmana is a small breed, and it might be true that single bulls reach 170-180cm at the shoulders, but if you want to breed for large size and have to compensate the small size of other breeds, and want to introduce a breed that is very large, you need a one that is reliably this size, and not occasionally, and Chianina is definitely larger on average and more stable in this respect. I have not heard yet that Maremmana cows of a size of 160-165cm are common yet. Furthermore, the Maremmana bulls chosen for the programme, at least judging from photos and videos, are not much taller than the Pajuna or Highland of the project, and therefore certainly not of large Chianina size class. Introducing a breed in order to increase size when not picking the really large animals does not serve much purpose. An advantage of Maremmana is that it does not introduce the genes for the stubby very small-sized horns of Chianina, but the horns of Chianina are often of a useful curvature while those of Maremmana are not, and since the Pajuna used do have rather small horns as well such genes will be in the Tauros pool anyway. Furthermore, Taurus crossbreeds of the ABU have shown that even 50% or 25% Chianina individuals can have formidable horns (bulls like Luca, Lamarck, cows like Ludovica). The colour of Maremmana is less diluted than that of Chianina as the latter has dilution alleles on a locus additionally to the Agouti locus (where the Maremmana has its dilution alleles too), but these additional dilution alleles (on the Dun locus according to Olson 1996) are semi-dominant and therefore easier to breed out than recessive alleles. Regarding body shape and proportions, it is definitely Chianina that have a more long-legged, tight and slender morphology than Maremmana on average and in its best individuals. Actually, many Maremmana, including the individuals of the Tauros project, are not that slender and do have a large udder. And in fact two of its bulls are rather longish. I, personally, would prefer Chianina anytime over the Maremmana of the Tauros project, but perhaps that is personal taste. However, what slightly upsets me is that they literally write their breed is better than the other breed that is used by two other programmes (Taurus, Auerrind, with proven success in one of them and for the other one future will tell). 
Another sentence that is worth discussing is: "We also don't use Heck cattle apart from a very small group of animals for scientific evaluation only [...]. Using Heck cattle would imply that the negative traits would find there[sic] way in the Tauros population as well". 
OK, it is of course legitimate not to use Heck cattle and to start completely from a new. There is no reason why not doing so, the potential of breed combinations other than Heck cattle is endless within modern day cattle. Also, when crossbreeding it is advantageous when the breeds used for crossing are more or less stable. Heck cattle is not stable, not even more or less stabilized lines such as the former herd of Walter Frisch. So if you pick an individual for its good and large horns, chances are that it also inherits small and less good horns. So not using a unstable breed is understandable. But what exactly are those negative Heck cattle traits the Tauros programme does not want to get its gene pool influenced by? The negative traits found in the Heck cattle pool as a whole include (the way I see it): 
- comparably small body size 
- short-legged body with a massive, domestic body and short faces
- small and thin horns 
- large udders
- wrong horn shapes, f.e. upright, straight or lyre-shaped Steppe cattle-like horns
- diluted coat colour variants, incl. Grey cattle-like colour 
- strongly reduced sexual dimorphism in colour 
- white spots 

The bitter truth is that all of these negative traits are actually already present in the Tauros pool. Pajuna and Highland introduce small size, Highlands have the short-legged massive body and skull of domestic cattle (even more so than Heck cattle), small and thin horns are found in the Pajuna chosen (those of Limia cows are not large either, and those of many of the Maremmana and Boskarin cows of the project do not surpass those of Heck cattle), large udders are found in a couple of individuals of different breeds of the project, Maremmana and Highland introduce unwanted horn shapes facing upwards, outwards or having a lyre-shape, Maremmana introduces the recessive Agouti-dilution found in many Heck cattle, Highland introducess the recessive e allele that disables the production of black pigment, Sayaguesa has a very reduced sexual dimorphism in colour (and quite a lot of crossbreed Tauros cows as far as I can tell) and also introduces the genes for white spots on the belly (not all but some Sayaguesa cows have small white spots on the belly, so does at least one Sayaguesa cow and some of the Sayaguesa x Tudanca cows of the project). Actually Highland introduces a lot of these undesired traits, which might be an explanation why some of the Tauros crossbreeds look a bit Heck cattle-like (see here), which is something that I predicted in 2011 already. Apart from that, I wonder what the "scientific evaluation" is supposed to be. 

This post is not meant to bash the Tauros programme itself. Not at all. Actually I wrote in a lot of posts that I appreciate the project and think it has good potential and that many of its crossbred individuals do look good. Something that I wish from the Tauros programme's PR work is information instead of promo, but now after years I learned that we will only get promo, promo and promo (also it is always the same kind of promo forumulars), so now the only thing I wish is honesty. And those sentences that I quote here are far from honest, as well as almost concealing the big part of Highland in the project but including a portray of Maltese as if it was one of the used breeds. What I also dislike is that they are constantly putting down other projects or breeds (see the Chianina example). I know that the Tauros project probably is constantly trying to maximize founding etc. and therefore its web presence is nothing but promo and tries to communicate why their project is flawless, perfect and the best and "most scientific" of all, but that style of communicating is not honest and also not fair. None of the other projects does that and I also bet that the other projects do not feel the need to. 

Friday, 13 July 2018

Transforming Leo into an aurochs

Some weeks ago, Claus Kropp published a photo of the young Sayaguesa bull Leo on facebook:
Sayaguesa bull Leo © Claus Kropp

Leo is from one of the best, if not the best, Sayaguesa herds that I have seen so far owned by Peter van Genejgen. Body shape, horn shape and skull shape are superb, the colour is good as well. The herd is slightly influenced by Alistana-Sanabresa, resulting in some reddish cows, giving the illusion of improved sexual dichromatism but bulls from the herd may happen to have a colour saddle (see here). For the European aurochs, there is only evidence for solidly black bulls. Leo has a colour saddle too, however, it still is a very beautiful bull and I think among the best Sayaguesa bulls I have seen. See his elongated head on this photo by Claus Kropp. When judging the body shape, keep in mind that it is still a young bull, it continue to gain weight while its skeleton will finish growing at the age of six years.

The beauty of the bull and the photo inspired me to do another photo manipulation. I took the photo and edited it using GIMP, trying to transform it into what I imagine a European aurochs bull to have looked like. Here is the result (as it is based on a photo by Claus Kropp, I asked if it was ok to present it here):
I changed nothing about the proportions, head size or head shape. I think they are pretty aurochs-like in the original already. I enhanced the morphology of the trunk: the hump had to be enlarged, and I gave it a more slender waist in order to achieve a more wild cattle-like morpology. Also I removed the colour saddle, as there is only evidence for black bulls in Europe and I am not convinced that there were European aurochs bulls with a colour saddle (see here). I removed the original horns and painted aurochs horns. I could have also reduced the length of the dewlap, but I was not sure. For comparison, here is an animated GIF composed of the original Sayaguesa bull and the "aurochs":

As you see, Leo is not that far removed from the goal. I am sure that many of his offspring will resemble the aurochs to a large extent by domestic cattle standards.

Thursday, 12 July 2018

Auerrind cattle are taking shape

Claus Kropp from the Auerrind project just published some new current photos of the first-generation Auerrind crosses at Kloster Lorsch, Germany, on facebook. It looks like they are becoming little bulls and cows now, not calves anymore, and start to take their final shape and colouration. All of them are copyright by Claus Kropp, so please do not replicate without permission. 

Maremmana x Watussi 
© Claus Kropp
© Claus Kropp
In the bull, it looks like Maremmana has absorbed almost all of the zebuine traits (at least those not present in Podolian cattle anyway, which are already influenced by zebus), only a slight hint of the zebuine hump seems to have remained. Watussi contributed dominant alleles for the expression of red pigment in the coat. So in the end, the bull might look like a red Maremmana bull with large horns, which would be a pretty interesting sight. A (Maremmana x Watussi) x Sayaguesa might be a combination worth considering, it might end up similar as Sayaguesa x Watussi but with less zebuine influence and a better winter coat. 

Sayaguesa x Chianina 
© Claus Kropp
© Claus Kropp
Both the Auerrind project and the Lippeaue have produced a couple of Sayaguesa x Chianina in sum by now, and it seems that about 50% of the bulls of this combination have a wildtype colouration and 50% have a diluted coat colour. I do not know why. However, it does not matter at all what the phenotype of these F1 look like since both the phenotypically wildtype and the colour-diluted individuals will have both alleles and pass on one of these with a 50/50 probability. So I think that this bull should be used for further breeding in any case. Its offspring will have the potential for a correct, un-diluted wildtype colour, even in a homozygous state (although it not the statistically most likely case). 

Sayaguesa x Hungarian Grey 
This cow seems to develop a slender body, the colour is diluted and the horns will probably end up Steppe cattle-like. Together with a bull of the same combination, a Sayaguesa x Chianina or a pure Sayaguesa it might produce interesting results. 

It also seems that they are giving the combination Chianina x Watussi a try again, which I am very much looking forward to: 
© Claus Kropp
They also published a promo video on a new youtube channel: 


I have to say it is very exciting to watch the Auerrind project progress. They have very, very good founding individuals and are trying interesting and promising combinations. I think they have the potential to produce very aurochs-like individuals in perhaps the second and very likely the third generation already. 

Wednesday, 11 July 2018

B.p. namadicus: bone material + new artworks

I already did a couple of posts on the Indian aurochs, Bos primigenius namadicus, the most comprehensive and up-to-date being this one. At the time of writing that post, the only picture of original material of this enigmatic subspecies I knew was a drawing of one skull. Thanks to a Carnivora Forum member I finally came across photo material of a few specimen. The two upper photos show bulls for certain, I am not sure about the last one.

The skull material



The crania show some very interesting morphological differences to the European subspecies, B. p. primigenius. First of all, the skulls are definitely narrower than European skulls (the upper one might still be within the variation range, though) and most zebus tend to have a very slender face as well. The horns of the known specimen are, as given in the literature, wide-ranging and considerably longer in proportion than the average for European skulls (which had, though, regional and chronological variation).  Considering that many zebuine or zebuine-influenced breeds tend to have large to very large horns, this might be a basal trait – although the huge horns of, for example, Watussi and similar breeds have certainly been enhanced by domestication.
There is also a more precise drawing of the Lydekker skull available on the web, which also shows it in lateral view. At least this skull seems to have the same 60° horn orientation as in the average European aurochs.


New Indian aurochs art

Seeing these photos of original bone material of the Indian aurochs has inspired me to do some new life illustration of this interesting subclade. As explained in the post linked above, there are a few traits that can be said with certainty, some that can be inferred by parsimony and some traits displayed by zebuine cattle might actually be wildtype traits of the Indian aurochs.

Directly proven traits:
- smaller body size, perhaps between 150-160cm for bulls
- proportionally longer, wide-ranging horns

Traits inferred by parsimony:
- a more slanted pelvis than in taurine cattle
- basic aurochs and wild cattle morphology (long legs, athletic body)
- E+ base colour

Zebuine traits that might in fact be wildtype traits:
- longer dewlap than in the European aurochs (functional purpose: thermoregulation)
- zebuine colour modifiers

Putting everything together, here is the result:

The head and horn shape was drawn to match the skull material. I tried to give the face a kind of zebuine appearance. The body shape is the classic aurochs body shape (I do not assume any differences in proportions, hump size or other morphological traits as long there is evidence for). As for the colour, here is were intuition comes into play. Many zebus show white areas between the forelegs, on the dewlap and also the underbelly, which is said to be caused by a “zebuine tipping gene” (it is not specified whether it is an extra locus or just an allele) and also displayed by other bovine species. I like to illustrate my namadicus with this trait. Also, zebus tend to have another form of colour saddle, different from taurine cattle. It is not a true saddle that covers the upper middle part of the torso, but the sides and often merges fluently into the “zebu tipping area”. Many zebuine bulls show this trait, and it might just be a consequence of reduced sexual dimorphism as in taurine bulls, but for this drawing I assumed it to be a wildtype trait. It is pure speculation, but intuitively I think it is not an improbable colouration for a tropical bovine, which tend to be more colourful than boreal ones.
I also did not give it any curly forelocks. Forelocks are well-proven for the European subspecies and the wide majority of taurine bulls and also cows have them, yet no zebuine cattle show curly forelocks. Tropical bovines tend to have skin flaps and long dewlaps for display, while those in temperate climates tend to have hairy ornamentation for thermoregulatory reasons, thus I think it is plausible that Indian aurochs did not posses forelocks but an elongated dewlap instead. In previous posts I ruled out that the zebuine hump has any function, and therefore did not assume its presence for Indian aurochs. However, a Carnivora Forum member pointed out it might have had a display function in the wildtype, just as the enlarged processus spinosi have in Gaur and Banteng. This is very speculative, however, and probably only prehistoric art could provide a clue.

Being motivated by my new Indian aurochs bull portrait, I could not hesitate to do a table of bulls of all three aurochs subspecies along with their domestic descendants.

As there is only evidence for black aurochs bulls in Europe, I gave the primigenius bull a solid black back. However, for the African aurochs, there is evidence from at least two artworks that at least some bulls of this subspecies had a colour saddle (see here). So the colouration of the African bull is not as speculative as that of the Indian bull. It might as well be possible that all three geographical variants had a solid black colour like the European one. As there are no morphological differences between the African and European aurochs noted in the literature, the African and the European aurochs are actually the same drawing, only the colouration is different. The subspecies that sticks out is the Indian one, which is not surprising considering that the lineages of taurine cattle and zebuine cattle, and thus B.p. primigenius and B.p. namadicus, separated 1,7-2 million years ago[1], which is considerably longer than between Przewalski’s and domestic horses, for example. Here is a close-up for the Indian aurochs alone:
I think the drawing does look plausible for the wildtype of a bull like this one down below.


Something interesting that I noticed is that the size difference between all five bovines is not that huge, especially not between the wildtypes and their domestic derivatives. I drew them to the same scale. For the European aurochs, I chose a size of 170cm at the withers, for the African 160cm and for the Indian aurochs 150cm (which is, by the way, the lower size limit for European mainland bulls). The taurine bull has a height of 140cm, the zebu about 135cm. But the size difference does not appear that large. I think the reason for that is that withers height is not the most reliable measure for this comparison, as it is dependent on the size of the hump i.e. the length of the processus spinosi, actually. In very derived taurine bulls and most zebu the height of the spine does not surpass that of the shoulder blade, thus a domestic bull with a withers height of 150cm would have a larger body than an aurochs of the same withers height, especially considering that they are more elongated in build. So what is actually better comparable is the height of the shoulder blade. The question is, how much higher is the actual height of the shoulder blade of aurochs compared to cattle? Is it due to scaling or is the size difference between aurochs and cattle not that large in the end? The best way to evaluate that would be to compare a skeleton of a grown aurochs bull to that of a domestic bull in real next to each other. But considering that heavy bulls of domestic breeds can easily exceed 1000kg living weight while estimations for aurochs bulls are about 700kg  (by Cis van Vuure, I have reasons to believe they might have been actually 100-200kg heavier, but more on that in an upcoming post) it might not be that improbable. Surely, some aurochs individuals truly were huge by cattle standards as there are skulls of European aurochs with a length of more than 90cm.

In any way, I did an animated GIF of a the European aurochs and the taurine bull at the same withers height – it is obvious that the taurine bull has a way larger body due to the low processus spinosi and the elongated trunk. Even the head would have the same size. A taurine bull with a shoulder height of 170cm would have a weight of about 1700-1800kg, which is twice as much as what is estimated for an aurochs bull of that size.
“Breeding-back” with zebus, once again

In all my previous posts on the Indian aurochs, I introduced the idea of “breeding-back” with zebus. India is full of zebu landraces that are not well-known elsewhere but would be suitable for such a project as they have a slender, squarely-built body with long legs and long snouts. These include Kenkatha, Malvi, Ponwar, Haryana, Khilari or the large-horned Gudjerat. Such indigeneous zebus could be crossed with Watussi for the horn size and curvature and miniature zebus for the aurochs-like colour and dichromatism. Both Watussi and miniature zebu have taurine introgression, but as we know from “breeding-back” with taurine cattle, it is impossible to keep the taurus and indicus lineage 100% separated and it is the contributed traits that count, not pedigree. While the morphology and external appearance of the European aurochs is well-known and breeding with its descendants can approach most of its traits rather well, the life appearance of the Indian subspecies is far less well-known and zebus seem to be a bit more removed from their ancestor than taurine cattle. At least, there are no truly overall primitive zebuine breeds. However, breeding with the zebuine cattle listed above can produce a population that resembles namadicus in horn shape and size, proportions, skull shape and probably also colour. Most interesting would be to release them in a reserve and let them live for themselves for a number of generations. Heck cattle in Oostvaardersplassen underwent morphological changes after a mere 30 years of natural reproduction (see here, here or here) and it is likely that these zebu would experience something similar. These changes would be functional and evolutionary advantageous as they are the result of natural selection. Therefore, it would be interesting what happens to the shoulder- and neck region of the cattle. In Oostvaardersplassen, Heck cattle developed a tendency to have a stronger shoulder region including the typical hump of wild bovines with elongated shoulder spines that support larger neck- and shoulder muscles which are needed during combat. In zebuine bulls, the neck muscles seem somewhat weaker which might be a consequence of the fleshy zebuine hump which is caused by a hypertrophied M. rhomboideus. Thus, a bull with a zebuine hump might be in disadvantage compared to such with a wild cattle-like shoulder morphology. If, after a couple of generations, the zebuine hump would indeed disappear and they would develop a wild cattle-like hump like Heck cattle at OVP, it would be a strong hint that the fleshy zebuine hump is an artefact of domestication and was not present in namadicus as it is not functional. If, however, zebus do indeed use it for display, head-to-head combat might play a lesser role in their social life than in taurine cattle, and it might remain. This can only be demonstrated by executing such a zebu dedomestication experiment.

Other posts on the Indian aurochs: 

Literature

1 Hiendleder, Lewalski, Janke: Complete mitochondrial genomes of Bos taurus and Bos indicus provide new insights into intraspecies variation, taxonomy and domestication.2008.

Further, for the description of namadicus and africanus in the Literature:
Van Vuure: Retracing the aurochs: history, morphology and ecology of an extinct wild ox. 2005.



Thursday, 21 June 2018

New photo of some Tauros bulls

Geer vanne Smeed published a new photo of four Tauros bulls at Kempen~Broek on columbusmagazine.nl
Tauros bulls in Kempen~Broek © Geer vanne Smeed
Anyone can guess what kind of breeds or crossbreeds these bulls are and it is probably impossible to find out with the information given in the web, but I speculate that the lying bull at the right might be a pure Maronesa, the bull left to it a Maronesa crossbreed, the bull right in the back a Maremmana crossbreed and no idea on the last one. 

EDIT: Geer vanne Smeed told me that according to his opinion the crossbred bulls might be Limia x Maremmana, Maremmana x Maronesa and Maronesa x Limia as those were the breeds present in the herd during the last years 

As to the looks of the bulls, the colour is flawless in all individuals. The body shape of the bulls in the foreground cannot be determined as they are lying on the ground, but all of them seem to have a hump and are not that bulky. They might not be quite as large and long-legged as average Taurus bulls, but it is clear from the photos that they are more aurochs-like than classic Heck bulls (such as this one in Vielank, for comparison). As the Tauros Programme and the Auerrind project are cooperating now, future generations might obtain the genes for really large-sized and large-horned animals thanks to Chianina and Watussi-influence. 
I especially love the head and horns of the putative Maronesa bull in the front. The horn curvature is identical to some European aurochs skulls (mind that those only show the horn cores, so that the horn sheath would make them longer and more pronounced in life, i.e. the horns of the bulls are still a little shorter and less curved than in an aurochs), and the snout is not as shortened as usual in Maronesa and still longer than in many Heck bulls. 

Wednesday, 20 June 2018

Auerrind update

It has been long ago that I published my last post, and a lot happened. Especially the Auerrind project had some important achievements in the meantime: 

Cooperation between the Auerrind project and the Stichting Taurus 

Claus Kropp announced in April 2018 that the Auerrind project and the Stichting Taurus, which is responsible for the Tauros programme, are going to cooperate. The cooperation will include: 
- Exchange of suitable crossbred individuals 
- Sharing of research results 
- Conservation of the founding breeds 

Especially the exchange of suitable crossbred individuals sounds promising and it could result in a mutual benefit for both projects. The Tauros Project could finally get genes for truly large body size or horn size by acquiring Chianina or Watussi influenced Auerrind individuals, and the Auerrind project could get genes for decently inwards-facing horns via Maronesa-influenced Tauros individuals. 
I see the exchange of individuals as a middle-term perspective, as both projects are in a comparably early phase of crossbreeding yet. 

Incorporation of the Auerrind project into Rewilding Europe 

In May 2018 it was announced that the Auerrind project is going to join the network of Rewilding Europe. This will probably greatly help the project to acquire more suitable areas for their herds and increase volume of the project. 

New photos of the first-generation offspring 


Sayaguesa x Chianina calves (Photo © G. Pfirsching, published on auerrind.wordpress.com)
The herd in Lorsch has three healthy Sayaguesa x Chianina calves, two cows and one male. I think this is magnificent; as both the Chianina and Sayaguesa of the Auerrind project are of excellent physique and have good horn shapes, true F2 of this combination have the potential to result in very large, well-shaped and correctly coloured animals with good (albeit not very large) horns. 
Sayaguesa x Maremmana bull calf © auerrind.wordpress.com
The Sayaguesa x Maremmana bull calf seems to develop a wildtype colouration, it will be interesting to see how its horns are going to get. 


Maremmana x Watussi cow published by © Claus Kropp on Facebook
The young Maremmana x Watussi cow has a perfect, shiny reddish aurochs colouration. The horns will probably end up in an upright position because of the breed combination, but that can be fixed in future generations. It is interesting how the combination of the allele(s) for the wildtype distribution of the black pigment, contributed by Maremmana, and those for the production of red pigment, contributed from Watussi, resulted in a perfect wildtype colour phenotype. 
Sayaguesa x Hungarian Grey cow published by © Claus Kropp on Facebook
The young Sayaguesa x Hungarian Grey cow is now old enough to show its final colouration and also how its horns will get. All in all it resembles me of some Tauros and Taurus cows, which is what I predicted because of the breed combination. It is interesting that the alleles for red pigmentation of Sayaguesa are seemingly less dominant than those of Watussi, as also the grown Sayaguesa x Chianina cows show a reduced red pigmentation. 
Sayaguesa x Watussi next to a young Cachena bull © Claus Kropp
The Sayaguesa x Watussi bull now shows its final coloration and it is perfectly aurochs-like. Body and head shape seem to reveal the Watussi influence but it has no fleshy hump and the dewlap is not that long. It will be very interesting to see it fully grown, especially because of the horns. Actually, this is the offspring that I was most excited on because I have the suspicion that this bull bred to the three Sayaguesa again might result, with a bit of luck, in one of the best breeding-back individuals born yet in terms of overall impression. This is for the simple fact that the Sayaguesa of the project are very, very good and a considerable increase of horn volume would turn them into animals pretty close to the goal. Thus I really hope the project gives 75% Sayaguesa 25% Watussi a try.