Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Aurochs-like cattle breeds: An overview

Of course Heck cattle is not the only aurochs-like cattle breed, not at all. But how many are there? This depends on where you draw the line. Compared with water buffalo, even Austrian Fleckvieh is “aurochs-like”. Therefore, this categorization is purely arbitrary. With the selection down below, I want to present you a list of breeds which have more than just a single aurochs-like feature (like a high-legged slender body in Chianina or huge thick horns in Watussi), but a good representation of several primitive traits. I was also struggling with myself about making a split between “phenotypically aurochs-like”, “ecologically aurochs-like” and “genetically aurochs-like” (also because sometimes I am accused of being too appearance-based), but this turns out to be very complicated. How to define and measure “ecologically aurochs-like”, including traits such as hardiness, heat/cold tolerance and food needs? There are no living aurochs that can be used as a model, and there are certainly regional differences in ecological requirements as well. The same as with genetics: there is simply not enough data (yet) to make such a list. It seems that the appearance of the cattle is the only really quantifiable aspect for such a list. Furthermore, it is questionable if such a split would be useful at all, because most, if not all, of the optically aurochs-like breeds are very hardy and robust and would be on the other list as well.

Curraleiro bull from Brazil

So here it is, my top 32 of the aurochs-like cattle on this world, roughly in alphabetical order (click on the breed if you want to see how they look like):

* I only include advanced Hecks here (like Taurus cattle, the Wörth lineage, or herds at Hellabrunn or Solling-Vogler), because many of the usual Hecks are IMO not really worth mentioning here.

Sykia cattle from Greece
You might be wondering why there are only taurine cattle on the list. Well, I would include zebuine cattle here if I was aware of a breed that bears a good resemblance to the aurochs not only in one aspect like in the miniature zebu (colour) or Watussi (horns).
Very likely there are also some quite aurochs-like cattle in the Near East and North Africa, but those are virtually inaccessible to me except a few photos. Cattle from those regions tend to be small as well. 


  1. Dear Daniel, Thank you very much for such good survey, but I don't see Grey Ukrainian, which is not only "phenotipically auroch-like", but as well "ecologically". Our scientist of the beginning of the century O.O.Brauner compared bones of auroch and Grey Ukrainian and found, that they are very similar, almost identical.

  2. Iberian Fighting cattle or Spanish Fighting cattle is actually just as Portuguese as Spanish (it´s just the Spanish version that gets nearly all the publicity though), so maybe we should say that it comes from Iberia, right?
    I have read also your opinion/post about Lidia and that aspect surfaced once again...
    Actually it´s not even clear from where it first was bred, if in Portugal or in Spain, but some people suggest that they were bred at around the same time in both countries.
    I also noticed that you edited the part on which I think that you directed a interesting suggestion to both Portuguese and Spanish breeders of Lidia/Raça Brava to be aware of conservation of the old types still present in this breed, but now I see that also seemingly disappeared...

    1. Bull bullfighting is an animal obtained by genetic crossings and very artificial selections seeking aggression, not the purity of the breed, so it has no characteristics at all natural and its appearance is not similar to that of the auroch. Initially as fighting bulls bulls were used some bulls that grew in total freedom, practically wild, very aggressive and of small stature, as is Monchina bull. From 1850 until 1930 it was used bulls of great size without similarity to the uro. At the moment it is a totally artificial bull obtained by genetic crossings looking for aggressiveness and selecting only the aggressive specimens, without similarity with the auroch. In Iberia there are several bovine races very similar to auroch, which were used until 1960 for work and currently for meat, such as: Alistano Sanabresa, Limia, Vianesa, Mirandesa, Maronesa, Sayaguesa and Pajunawas selected two artificial breeds obtained by genetic crossings seeking aggressiveness. The current fighting bulls have no physical resemblance to the aurochs. In Iberia if there are several bovine races very similar to uros, which were used for work and currently for meat, such as: Alistano Sanabresa, Limia, Vianesa, Mirandesa, Maronesa, Sayaguesa and Pajuna.
      Of these bovine breeds the closest to the auroch are, perhaps, the Pajuna and the Limia

    2. I'm sorry but this comment seems rather confused or is at least confusing.
      So you're saying Lidia is not "aurochs-like" because it was bred for aggression? Well, those breeds you listed were bred for agreeableness and trainability as draft breeds, for example. They are comparably docile, at least compared to a wild bovine. This is not "natural" either. So either fighting cattle are aurochs-like or no breed is aurochs-like.
      Each domestic breed is artificial, by the way.