Saturday, 2 November 2013

Some "horrible" Heck cattle

Because I was accused to “support” Heck cattle in an “unfair and biased” way over other breeding-back projects recently, which is absurd, I’ll cover the deficiencies of this breed as an effigy breed this time. During the last months I introduced some of the good and aurochs-like Heck herds, today I am going to portray some of those that have to be considered not aurochs-like at all.

Heck cattle is overall a hardy and robust landrace and high in numbers, so we are allowed to nit-pick with the phenotype. Note that when I criticise the cattle as non aurochs-like that it is not my purpose to criticise the breeders at all – far from it. Everybody is free to breed cattle how he wants, and we are all free to chose those cattle we want for projects and so on. And when I call any Heck cow “horrible” I am just talking about its phenotype in relation to what an aurochs would look like, I would never attack the cattle itself, which would be ridiculous. And surely all Hecks, like all domestic cattle, are cute and adorable animals no matter how much they resemble their ancestor.

Because Heck cattle is a rampant crossbreed of several semi-aurochs-like and some non-aurochs-like cattle breeds that was and is selected only by very loose criteria, all possible phenotypes have arisen in that breed. Besides herds that do resemble the aurochs, many only share one or two features with their wild ancestor and have an otherwise very domestic appearance. F.e. many herds have a very bulky, domestic body or a pretty reduced sexual dimorphism. Often the horn shape does not or only remotely resemble the aurochs. Some individuals even developed quite strange combinations of features, what you are going to see here.
No colour dimorphism, short-legged bulky body, short faces, weakly curved horns
So, where do you find the “worst” Heck cattle? (I exclude the population at Oostvaardersplassen here, because they no longer are subject of breeding-back but of dedomestication) Usually zoos show Heck cattle with a somewhat neglected phenotype, which is understandable because zoos have more important things to do than cattle breeding and worrying about horn orientation and fur colour in cows. The German zoos Wildpark Frankfurt (Oder) and Tierpark Neumünster for example have very short-legged and small Hecks that I call “bovine dachshunds”. Their body is bulky, stubby and short-snouted like in Highland cattle, some also have quite weird horns. The Wildpark Rheingönheim (above) is another example of a very bad and non-aurochs-like herd: no colour dimorphism, very short legs and skulls, wrongly shaped and/or too small horns.
Heck cow at Frankfurt/Oder, a bovine dachshund
Tierpark Neumünster; Very Highland-like in body shape, horns,
naked eyelids, fluffy ears and even brindled colour (Photo: © Ulli J. on flickR)
This cow (Rheinauer Wald) has hardly any useful features either...
This cow above from Wildgehege Rheinauer Wald is nothing special as well. It has short legs, a bulky trunk, short skull, large udder and long dewlap. The fur coat dimorphism is absent and the horns are not any more aurochs-like than those of some Highland cattle. A lot of Heck cattle in zoos look like that, and actually don’t give a better impression of the aurochs than slender Braunvieh or any Murnau-Werdenfelser. 

The Hecks at Lainzer Tiergarten near Vienna, a herd I know very well, have “bad” horns and a reduced sexual dimorphism as well, even spotted individuals appear. Although those animals are quite long-legged, their body is still bulky, especially in the cows.
Lainzer Tiergarten, Austria; weakly curved thin horns, weak colour dimorphism, domestic body
Apart from not very aurochs-like Heck cattle in zoos, there are also quite a lot individuals or herds in private farming or grazing projects that do not fit the requirements of a good effigy breed. Here you have a collection of photos and descriptions what is not aurochs-like in those animals:
Heck cow in Devon; horns are thin and upright, skull small, dewlap large,
body bulky, coat to dark, long trunk
Very Highland-like Heck cow (©Helge Schultz)
Longish and small-headed Heck bull, built like a meat bull
Tierpark Neumünster again
Heck cow lacking wildtyp colour allele, having "red" allele (Highland) instead
Short small head, long trunk, wrongly curved horns, colour saddle
Why am I writing all this? Again, it is not my purpose at all to bash the breed or to accuse breeders of having done something wrong. I’m merely comparing the phenotype of the cattle with what should be the breeding objective in an effigy breed of the aurochs. It is always good to point out that many Heck cattle are far from being a phenotypic aurochs and that this breed needs clear breeding objectives if its quality as aurochs effigy is to be improved. Many Heck cattle actually only resemble the aurochs in colour and only roughly in respect to the horns and are not any more aurochs-like than Iberian landraces. Therefore, rigorous selection within the breed and crossing-in of good other primitive cattle is necessary to improve Heck cattle, and pointing out which Heck herds/individuals are useful and which are not is important. In my opinion, Heck cattle should finally start to increase in quality instead of quantity. 

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