Saturday, 5 July 2014

The Taurus cattle at Lille Vildmose

Denmark was the second country after Germany to breed a herd of Taurus cattle. They started in 2003 with a number of individuals from the Lippeaue. Since you find a precise description of the history of that herd and the selection criteria at Vildmose on this thread (post #1051 and following), I am not going to go over it in great detail here.

The early breeding bull in this herd was a Chianina x Heck named Leonardo, now slaughtered and half-blood brother of Luca and also one of the earliest, if not the first, Chianina-cross at the Lippeaue. As an F1, he had a full set of Chianina chromosomes and a full set of Heck chromosomes to pass on to his offspring. As a consequence, many of those cattle are rather Chianina-influenced, which is a) good for achieving long legs, a slender body and large size, b) results in many individuals with a diluted fur colour. However, the influence of Sayaguesa is not totally absent, some of them have nice elongate snouts, and there are in fact individuals with an authentic aurochs colour. They also imported Lidia cows, but did not continue using them or their offspring because of their temperament. 
Here are some photos of those cattle that I took from their status reports (see the Carnivora thread):




























The cows on #1 and #2 are obviously Sayaguesa-influenced. #3 probably shows one of Leonardo’s sons, and #4 shows Leonardo with the rest of the herd. The cows on #7-2, #11 and #14 have a nice slender and long-legged body, although they have – the exception of the latter one – a rather diluted colour. #29 shows a part of the herd, along with a bull that is very likely another son of Leonardo (the same as the one on #21?). While the bull on #13 seemingly looks like usual Heck bull, those on #21 and #24 look cool to me because of their 1:1 trunk length/withers height relation – and so is the cow on #23. Rather awesome in my opinion. Surely, their diluted colour is not desirable, but colour is regulated by only a few loci so I do not worry that much about it. I simply consider proportions, body size and body shape more important at this stage. When you look at the bull on #12 and remember the photos I took at the Lippeaue, you might realize that this bull has the same colour as “Larissa” (see here), a Chianina x 25% Chianina cow. If my knowledge on cattle coat colour genetics is correct, both individuals should be heterozygous for the Dun dilution allele, which results in a tan colouration (see Leonardo, or Luca linked above), homozygous for the Agouti dilution which causes the whitish base colour.
None of the individuals we see in the status reports have remarkable horns – neither in regards to dimensions nor curvature.

To sum it up, the herd at Lille Vildmose, mostly composed of individuals descending from Heck and Chianina but also Sayaguesa influence, has the potential to give rise to large and well-proportioned animals, and some also have elongated snouts. But the Chianina influence produces many individuals with diluted fur colour, and the horns are not good. They use 3 Sayaguesa bulls as new breeding bulls now. This should help to clear of all the dilution alleles and increase the snout length. It also must be expected that more individuals with forwards-facing horns have been born thanks to the new bulls (although the horns probably will not get perfect yet, Sayaguesa only rarely have inwards-facing horns and the dimensions are still insufficient).
We should mind that this post and those in the forum are based on status reports from several years ago, so that we do not know the most recent breeding results and the current state of the herd. I hope they are not going to use the Sayaguesa bulls for too long, otherwise the herd gets “Sayaguesa-ized” and becomes more and more like that breed, while the chance for achieving individuals exceeding a size of 165 cm gets ever smaller. A 170 cm Taurus bull is outstanding yet, in Denmark as much as in Germany and Hungary.

What worries me as well are the selection criteria (see the thread). For example, they accept saddles for bulls and wholly black cows, what means that no selection for colour dimorphism takes place.  


  1. In your opinion what is the most important quality of aurochs that should be achieved in the back-breeding? Is it the size, colour or the shape and size of horns or skull length?

    Isn't the size the most important if you think about the ecological role of aurochs? Long legs and relatively slender body would probably enable them to utilize wetlands more effectively and thus shape the vegetation differently than shortlegged heavily-built domestic cows.

    1. IMO all traits are important and have a function. Colour is probably least influential but is important for authenticity, aesthetics and communicating these animals as wild and not domestic animals.