Thursday, 16 January 2014

Aurochs-like Italian cattle

I feel I have not appreciated the primitive Italian cattle breeds enough here yet. Two of them are well-known due to their presence in the Tauros Project, but others are not. The borderline that separates aurochs-like from not aurochs-like cattle is actually not existent because it is a continuum and depends on where you draw the line. F.e. I struggled with myself whether I should include Chianina here or not, but decided not to because of their very diluted coat – it’s a bit superficial but let’s be honest, colour is the first impression an animal gives. That is not to say that Chianina does not contribute useful features to breeding-back.


Agerolese is a cross of Italian cattle with Braunvieh, Jersey and Holstein. Although they have large udders and are small, they have a nice aurochs-like colour with black bulls, brownish or saddled cows, forwards-facing (but small) horns and a deep ribcage thanks to Holstein.


Cabannina is a small breed with small horns, but some individuals have an aurochs-like colour. I found nothing on its history, but I assume that they are a cross of Italian cattle with Alpine breeds like Braunvieh.


Maremmana is a quite variable breed, from almost aurochs-coloured herds (though, as steppe-type cattle, lacking red pigment) with thick (but upright) horns and quite longish skulls, legs and a well-developed hump to more heavy, short-legged cattle with short snouts, horns not quite as thick and a light gray colour, resembling the Hungarian Gray. Their size is variable as well; the largest size of this breed I heard of was 182 cm (it was personal communication, I have no reference at hand), smaller lineages are probably not much taller than 150 cm (bulls), the majority should be somewhere in-between. The most primitive herds of Maremmana sometimes are subsumed under the term “Maremmana primitiva”. Maremmana is used by Tauros Project to a large extent.


Pisano is a crossbreed of Chianina, Braunvieh and Tuscan cattle. It’s no large breed either,  bulls measure 150 cm at best. They look similar to Agerolese, but are more-long legged and I also like their colour more. Some Pisano, not surprisingly, look similar to Taurus cattle, especially those on the third photo.


Podolica is, like the name implies, another member of the Steppe-type cattle. It is not to be confused with Podolian Steppe cattle on the Balkan, which is much closer in phenotype to the Hungarian Gray. Like all Steppe-type cattle they are very resistant to cold and dry climates. They are similar to Maremmana, but have smaller horns. Some Podolica bulls grow completely black, except for the dorsal stripe and the muzzle ring. The modern Podolica is influenced by Chianina, Marchaginia, Maremmana and Braunvieh. It is long-legged, has a tight and muscular body and a well-pronounced hump. The head is not too short.


This breed is similar to Cabanina and probably has a similar history; their sexual dimorphism is very reduced, but still present. The horns are small and point upwards or outwards, udders are quite large. They are said to be very hardy.

Rossa siciliana

The Rossa Siciliana has a bit unusual colour, but it seems to be slender, has bigger horns than the other small (up to only 130 cm) breeds of this country. They seem to be adapted to the mountainous landscape and scarcity of food.

Sardo Bruna

Sardo Bruna is a cross of old Braunvieh and Sardinian landraces. It has the same colour as Braunvieh, but a more primitive body conformation and more aurochs-like proportions. The Sarda breed is similar but has a greater colour variability.
 For more details on Italian cattle go here

Italia is not as much of a hotspot of primitive cattle as Iberia is, but as you see, there are some rather nice breeds in this country. But in my opinion, there is yet another region in the world that surely houses a lot of aurochs-like cattle but is yet uncharted land for breeding-back: the near/middle East and North Africa. I guess that a lot of very primitive cattle can be found there, because they might have been largely un-influenced by more derived European breeds for a long time, and the very original type of animal husbandry forced them not to loose their hardiness and knowledge how to defend themselves against predators. It has been well-known for some decades that the Near East, especially Turkey, are home to small landraces of cattle with a perfect aurochs colour. And if you watched the news on the conflicts in the near east, you may have recognized the slender, aurochs-coloured draft cattle that sometimes were randomly shown on the camera. But of course, like all aurochs-like landraces, their primitiveness is under threat. Cattle in this region get increasingly crossed with derived and genetically modified breeds, especially Holstein, to increase their economic value. That means breeding-back has to act fast enough to collect some of these very primitive landraces before they disappear. Unfortunately all breeding-back projects focus on an exclusively European set of breeds, although near Eastern cattle might be more primitive in several respects, possible also genetically because they stayed near the centre of the domestication of the aurochs.

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