Friday, 26 December 2014

News from the Uruz Project

For those who haven't read it on their Facebook page already. 

The True Nature Foundation has now granted rights to set up breeding herds in all the nature reserves of the Dutch municipality of Boxmer along the river Maas, which means a considerable expansion for the project. The Uruz Project now also has access to more Chianina from a large herd in the Netherlands.

One or two bulls of those Chianina will be put on their Watussi cows near Breda. The Watussi at Kloster Lorsch, Germany, is still not mature. Meanwhile the Chianina there will be inseminated with the semen of Lidia bulls. Lidia-Chianina is a interesting combination, and in my opinion could result in really nice individuals in the second or third generation. And Watussi will compensate the small horns.
To make it easer, crossbred embryos will produced and implanted to local cattle in their sites in Romania and the Ukraine. As far as I understand, this saves them the efforts of importing cattle there.

They will move the cattle in early spring, and Exmoor ponies will be introduced into the reserves as well. In Spain, the TNF also plans to build up pure Lidia herds and select them for the desired traits. I am really happy about that, I always considered that a good ideal - imagine a Lidia herd that regularly has the right colour with the right dimorphism and good, aurochs-like horns.

One of their Chianina cows

UPDATE: It's not the Chianina at Kloster Lorsch that will be insemited by Lidia, but those in the Netherlands. 

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Skeletons, Skulls and horn sheaths: Photos by Markus Bühler

Markus Bühler from the Bestiarium (I highly recommend you this blog - you'll find a loads of info and photos on various fields of zoology there, and also on some extinct animals) kindly provided me with a lot of photos of aurochs material from a number of museums that he visited. Perhaps some of you already know some of these, because a few of them have been published either on the web or Walter Frisch's "Der Auerochs - das europäische Rind". The material includes complete skeletons, (partial) skulls and also horn sheaths. 

One particular interesting skull is this one from museum of natural history of Stuttgart: 

(Before anyone gets confused, the two lower photos show Bison schoetensacki, Bubalus murrensis and once again, I presume, Bison schoetensacki) As you see the horns of this skull are remarkable in their curvature, i.e. because their tips do not really face inwards and they are rather wide-ranging. Their shape resembles that of many Heck and Highland cattle, but do not forget that this is only the bony core - with the keratinous sheath, their curvature would certainly be more pronounced. Because of the comparably gracile eye sockets and preorbital skull I suppose that this aurochs was a female. 
This skull below is located at Stuttgart as well and shows a curvature that is more typical of the aurochs: 
These two skulls are displayed in the Vivarium Karlsruhe: 
The - in my opinion - coolest horns those of that partial cranium that is displayed at the natural history museum of Mainz: 
These horns remind me of those of some individuals of the Wörth/Steinberg lineage and their relatives (f.e. this and this cow). I can't say with certainity whether this individual was a female or a male aurochs, but I think the massiveness of the horns and the frontal portion suggest it was a bull. 
This partial skull from the palaeontological museum of Tübingen: 
I suspect this one was a female, because of the gracile frontal and eye sockets. 

The next photo shows two different specimen. The upper left skull with the darker colour is, according to the sign next to it (not visible) the oldest and largest aurochs skull found in Scandinavia. The other individual is that skeleton that was found on Prejlerup and is displayed at the Zoological Museum of Kopenhagen and, in my opinion, resembles a fighting bull with its strong, energetic stature: 

The knees are flexioned slightly too much, but it is apparent that the processi spinosi are rather long and the "hump" therefore pretty large. Probably the maximum of what is seen in Lidia, or perhaps even a bit more. The skull is more compact overall than is the dark one, and also its horns are smaller and curve more stringently inwards. Both individuals are very likely to be bulls, as the broad frontals, prominent eye-sockets, small eyes and, in the case of the dark one, very elongated snout show. 

These two skulls are on display in the Museum for Hunt in Hørsholm, Denmark. I cannot say much on the upper skull, but the other one is interesting for me because of its - by bull standards, and that one is very likely a male - rather elevated horns. I am sure this one was the reference for this life-sized reconstruction, located at the same Museum:
This reconstruction is awesome. The hump could be more pronounced, but still awesome. Its coat is longer and rougher than in typical domestic cattle, the forelocks are prominent, the proportions as much as head and horns are correct. Maybe not easily visible, it has a reddish dorsal stripe. And the posture is dynamic and lively. Someone has done a really, really good job here! I'd love to see this great piece of work in real, it would give a good impression of what an aurochs would look like if you'd encounter it on a forest edge during fall. 

The last skeleton I present here is the famous Vig specimen: 
Markus took more than those four shots of course, and some of them already are on the internet. This specimen is remarkable for 1) its size, 2) the visible spear-caused damages (the Prejlerup bull has such as well). More on that specimen in a later post. I only want to give away that Markus provided me with a photo that enabled me to calculate the size of this specimen by using the platform from which I extrapolated the projection point and used a person with a known size of 192 cm as reference. It resulted that the skeleton should be 182 cm tall at the end of the processi spinosi. 

The last photo shows a number of ornamented horn sheaths at the Livrustkammaren in Stockholm: 
Each royal family in Europe has drinking horns, and some colleges, universities and museums do so as well. Ornamented horns are not necessarily of the aurochs - bison horns were used as well, or those of domestic cattle -, but I think that these horns or at least most of them are of aurochs for sure. Curvature, thickness, size and colour fit. I was told that they are not extremely large, but late aurochs had ever smaller horns due to anthropogenic influence such as environment limitation or trophy hunt. But of course it is possible that some drinking horns out there may actually be from domestic cattle with a very similar horn shape. 

Ecoland cattle

Ecolanders or Ecoland cattle are crossbreeds of Heck cattle and Scottish Highland, or actually Heck cattle with Highland influx. According to the ABU's guide "Wilde Weiden" it was the idea by the Dutch conservation group Ecoplan Natuurontwikkeling to cross Heck and Highland cattle in order to create a breed that is as calm and relaxed as Highland cattle, but with a shorter and wild type-coloured coat, to use them in reserves that are open to visitors and educational courses. 
You can see some of the results, from a herd at Kempen~Broek, on Geer vanne Smeed's blog
...and flickR stream: 15765434216_8915f58a0d_o.jpg
And there is another interesting photo taken by Stefan Verhees:

As you see, many of those Ecoland cattle are hardly distinguishable from usual Heck cattle, for the simple reason that Highland cattle is one of the important founding breeds. Just look at the photo of the bull in the second link. But in some of the cows, you see the traces of the recent Highland influx. For example, the trunk is heavier than it already is, some have a rather short snout and small head (third link), their coat is shaggier than usual and some also have a shiny red base colour. Why I think this shiny red is a Highland legacy, although Highlands have a completely different colour? The colour is actually not as different as it seems: Highland cattle have many different colour variants, and those with that shiny, uniform red/orangish coat do, of course, not display wild-type colour - but thats merely due to the fact that they have the e-allele on their extension locus, which disables the expression of eumelanin (black and dark brown pigment) in their coat and mucous membranes. Therefore I think that if you combined that allele that causes the rich production of phaeomelanin (red pigment), perhaps the agouti locus that otherwise causes grayish shades, with the E+ of Heck cattle, you'd achieve that shiny wildtype colour displayed by these Ecolanders. Maybe some future Tauros cattle will do as well. 

EDIT: I just was told by Henri Kerkdijk-Otten that these cattle called Ecolanders at Kempen~Broek are in fact usual Heck cattle, what should explain their similarity to usual Heck cattle that I described above (*oops*). 

Happy Holidays!

And me of course! Relax and enjoy the holidays, my dear readers! I'll use the leisure to do some more posts and update this blog a bit. Next posts will include a lot of photos of original aurochs material, the "Ecolanders" with their crappy name and other topics. 

Monday, 22 December 2014

Magnificent Sayaguesa in the Veluwe

There is a herd of Sayaguesa grazing in the Planken Wambuis, part of the Veluwe in Gelderland, Netherlands, that I mentioned on this times several times already. It is a really beautiful herd, and their looks are particularly good. 
In the comment sections of an earlier post, I was provided with a link to a video showing the herd. I really enjoyed it - their proportions are aurochs-like, the heads are elongated and the bulls are well-built. The horns are not bad, in some cows they actually face slightly inwards. 
The ABU got their latest Sayaguesa from there. What is also nice is that their sexual dichromatism is not as reduced as in many other Sayaguesa herds - as you see, many of the cows have brown shades on their trunk and do not have the sold black of the bulls. At 0:39 you see a cow with a light-brown coat, but I don't it is a pure Sayaguesa. It actually looks like a young Limia to me. 

I like the bulls in particular. They resemble the Taurus bull Lamarck from the Lippeaue a lot (which is not surprising since that one is half-Sayaguesa). If those cattle were the product of a "breeding-back" program, I'd probably yell joyfully how aurochs-like they are. The Sayaguesa at the Veluwe once again confirm my view that this breed is probably the most useful one currently used in "breeding-back" attempts. You get good proportions, size , skull, body shape and acceptable horns all in one. If their sexual dichromatism had the desired level, they would look really a lot like the aurochs already (and there are still red Sayaguesa cows). 

As far as I know the managers of the Veluwe herd do not have intentions to breed them for a more aurochs-like apparence. But it would be well-suited. Adding larger horns with a slightly better curvature and more size and slenderness would result in pretty complete aurochs imitations. I would use Chianina and well-horned Heck cattle, therefore creating something like "Taurus cattle 2.0". Why? Both are easily available, and Chianina is certainly the best choice for adding size and slenderness (and some of them even have good horn shapes). The only breed that has as large and useful horns as well-horned Heck cattle are Watussi, and Heck cattle are certainly better adapted to cold climate and they have a way better colour and no fleshy hump and that huge dewlap. 

Next post: A collection of photos of a lot of aurochs material by Markus Bühler. 

Friday, 19 December 2014

I am not so optimistic anymore

When I just got into researching on the Tauros Project, I was really optimistic, almost euphoric, of what might be expected from the breeding results of the projects on a short- and middle-term scale. One of the reasons was that there were only few photos of their animals available, showing only a small number of their cattle, and these individuals usually were quite good. My expectation was that the Tauros Project would surpass the best Heck cattle within a few generations, also because their first crosses looked promising at young age.
But now, having seen photos of a larger number of Tauros-owned cattle, I am not so optimistic anymore about the herds in Keent and Kempen~Broek. The reason for that is that many of the animals did not prove as aurochs-like as I wished them to be: not all the Maremmana, especially the bulls, are as long-legged, long-snouted and well-built as I hoped, and even their horns are sometimes smaller than the goal, making it hard to compensate the small horns of other breeds used; the horn shape of many of the Sayaguesa, Limia and Pajuna is not very useful (in some other individuals however it is); some of the Sayaguesa x Tudanca and at least one Sayaguesa bear white spots at the ventral side of their body; in general the size of the cattle is disappointing – I neither know metric data nor did I see them in real, but photos and videos showing them next to Highland cattle tell me that most of them can’t be that big. The two crossbred bulls they presented so far, Manolo Uno (Maremmana x Pajuna) and Rocky (Maremmana x Limia), did not develop as aurochs-like as they promised when younger as well, but a first-generation animal is not very important to be fair.
For photos of the cattle, go here:

In general there is too much Highland cattle, in my opinion. Their small size, the stubby and short-legged body and the compressed head are very problematic features, as they are not as easy to breed against as are coat colours, which are controlled by only few genes. Especially when the other breeds, as outlined above, are not as tall, well-proportioned, long-snouted and large as hoped. The current Highland cross animals look like old Heck cattle, which is what I expected and I fear that won’t be that easy to breed away.
It does not sound fair when a breeding program is judged by their very first animals. But we should not forget that it is the traits that are present in the population that matter, and their frequency, and therefore I do not think that the Dutch Tauros herd will have superiour animals in the near future. But of course they have some very nice animals as well, such as a number of good Sayaguesa cows and a beautiful Limia bull. I expect that Tauros cattle to be very similar to Taurus cattle overall.

Geer vanne Smeed's Photos

In a number of posts I used Geer vanne Smeed's photos (visit his blog at of Dutch Tauros and Heck cattle, and forgot to give him credits - so I make good for that now. For an overview of his blogposts on the Tauros herd and neighbouring Heck cattle at Kempen~Broek go here: and for the flickR stream here:
Quite frankly I am jealous that I don't live there and can't visit those cattle to take such good photos as often. 

I used his photos in the following posts:

I have to thank Geer vanne Smeed for being the only person who provides us with an extensive collection of qualitative photos of the Tauros cattle, as the project itself does not have the time for that. Also, thanks to him I know photos of the so-called "Ecolanders" (what a shitty name), which are Heck cattle with recent Highland-influx. More on those on a later post.