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Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Did the Heck brothers good work or not?

Heck cattle is not a revived aurochs, that’s no secret to those who are familiar with this subject. It is also far from being a perfect optic copy. In the past, I heavily criticised the work of the Heck brothers because of that – but how bad or good was their work really? Did they do their best their possibilities allowed back then, or where sloppiness, a lack of knowledge and care the reason why Heck cattle “failed” the goal to mirror the aurochs in optical sense? In this post, I try to evaluate if the Heck brothers could have done better considering their time and abilities, if they made some crucial mistakes and what is positive from modern perspective.  

First of all, we have to define what the Heck brothers had to do executing their project, and then analyse how well they did it and if they could have done better.
For the ideas, thoughts, statements and actions of the Heck brothers given in this text, see Cis van Vuure 2005 and Walter Frisch 2010. The latter source also includes original texts written by the Heck brothers in German, if you want to have a look at direct quotes.

1) Getting a clear idea of the morphology and external appearance of the aurochs. That is its size, bodily build, horns, coat and colour of the coat, and differences between male and female.
2) Researching on which cattle breeds have those traits and getting their hands on them for breeding.
3) Doing efficient breeding to unite those traits desired in order to create a complete picture of the aurochs. #2, getting the right breeds, is essential for that of course.
 
Painting based on a photo of "Nordland", a third-generation crossbull of Heinz Heck. All rights reserved. With highest probability, all living Heck and Taurus cattle have this bull in their ancestry. For more illustrations of historic Heck cattle, go here
One of Lutz Hecks' stock. Photo found somewhere on the web, with no copyright or owner mentioned.
The Hecks original goal was to truly revive the aurochs. They thought this would be possible by just uniting all optical traits this wild animal possessed, under the assumption that all morphological/optical traits of the aurochs are still present in modern day cattle. Other biological aspects like habitat preference, food choice and behavioural aspects were not of interest for the Heck brothers. Most likely they either assumed these factors were identical in cattle and aurochs, or that would re-appear correctly once optical match has been achieved, or they simply did not care. So their goal was an optical match, what they considered sufficient for a revival of the wild type.

What kind of sources and material did the Hecks have to go on in order to get an accurate impression of what the aurochs looked and was like during the 1920s and 1930s? Well, actually everything that we have today. Although the quantity of skeletal remains increased, probably multiplied, they did have more or less complete skeletons, crania, horn cores and preserved horn sheaths. Also, the cave paintings (except for Chauvet), stone engravings, Charles Hamilton Smiths painting, Schneebergers and von Herbersteins reports all were known back this time. So the Heck brothers had the possibility do know as much about the aurochs’ morphology and external appearance as we do today. How well did they do their homework?

Heinz Heck noticed correctly that the size of the aurochs varied from region to region and he was aware of the fact that the aurochs was considerably larger than most cattle today, and considered its maximum size to be 2m at the shoulders. His brother Lutz, however, seemingly totally underestimated the size of the aurochs and postulated a size of only around 350kg (!) for bulls. I do not know how this is possible, especially because I assume that he had seen aurochs remains himself, which unambiguously tell you that the aurochs was a fairly large bovine (he did, however, realize his obvious mistake in 1952, when his breeding project was already over).
Regarding body build, Heinz describes the aurochs as elegant and high on the legs in 1980. I do not know whether he was aware of that when he did his breeding attempts in the 1920s-30s or not. Lutz Heck must have been aware of the aurochs’ “elegant” and athletic build, as he appreciated that trait very much in Lidia, Camargue and Corsicana. However, both brothers seemed to have worried about the exact weight more than body shape, so they maybe assumed that bodily build does not play an important role.
Heinz Heck claimed the aurochs did not have a hump formed by high processus spinosi as the Wisent does, which is evidently wrong as each more or less complete skeleton shows. He also believed the aurochs had a slightly raised pelvis, for reasons unknown to me.
The distinction between female aurochs and male aurochs in the subfossil record back then might have been not as precise as today (and I do not think that we can tell both sexes apart for sure in each case as well today), but the Heck brothers should have known that there was considerable size dimorphism alone because it is mentioned in Schneeberger’s report. How much attention the brothers paid to it is another aspect.

Concerning the horns, Heinz Heck described them curving sideways, then forwards, then up and therefore did not recognize the very clear inwards-curve that all aurochs horns had. He claims that there was considerable variation regarding horns, which is not true of the general curvature and orientation relative to the skull. Lutz’s description is more vague, he merely compares them to those of breeds such as Lidia, Camargue, Watussi, Longhorn, English Park cattle and others – a set that also includes horn shapes that were not present in the wild animal. Despite the fact that the basic curvature of the horns of the aurochs was recognized and described in the scientific literature and numerous well-preserved crania were known back then already, the brothers also used the various and imprecisely illustrated horn types of the paintings in the Abrigo de los Toros cave – a source that is highly unreliable for traits like horn shape.

As regards to colour, both Heinz and Lutz Heck knew the basic traits of the aurochs’ wild type colour: very dark brown to black bulls, light-coloured muzzle ring, reddish-brown cows, dorsal stripe. Heinz Heck assumed this stripe could have also been broad (historic evidence only speaks of a narrow stripe), while Lutz believed it was of red colour (historic and artistic evidence suggest a light or greyish colour instead). Lutz also believed in a reddish colour saddle for bulls, for which there is no evidence in Europe at least. Heinz Heck considered brown or blond forelocks a wild type character, a trait that is widespread in aurochs-like coloured cattle but for which there is no evidence in the Central European aurochs. Heinz further states that their breeding-back attempt revealed the “previously unknown” fact that aurochs were born being of a brown colour and subsequently grew a darker coat. He seemingly overlooked that Schneeberger in Gesner 1602 reports exactly this, and that it is a general characteristic of wild type-coloured cattle, i.e. those that show an E+ expression. He further states that the head of cows was lightly coloured, which is contradicted by artistic evidence (cave paintings) and the colour scheme of extant E+ coloured cattle. Heinz Heck also believed that both sexes had white eye rings as adults, for which there is no clear evidence for, as well as for Lutz’s baseless statement that there also were cows with of a lighter, greyish tone. Lutz also assumed the presence of black cows, which is confirmed by cave paintings and Schneeberger’s report on the other hand.
They both presumed that the winter coat was longer than the summer coat and dense. This was undoubtedly the case. The fact that aurochs had, like other wild bovines, a barely visible udder must have been apparent to the Heck brothers as well.

As you see, the Heck brothers did their homework, but it could have been more in-dept. It also seems that they barely studied the scientific literature that had already existed back then. They did have an idea what the aurochs’ morphology and appearance were like, but it included inaccuracies, imprecisions and misconceptions as I outlined, and they made some more or less baseless speculations. Also, they completely forgot about the cranial morphology that differed from most domestic cattle, at least I do not know of any notes on that. Therefore an animal that would end up exactly like they described would necessarily not be entirely authentic and might also have some definitive flaws.

The next step for the Heck brothers was to locate and get their hands on the most suitable cattle breeds for crossbreeding. The Heck brothers’ father, who had been director of the Berlin Zoo as well, build up a large cattle breed collection during his time. But this collection did not include cattle with all the traits the brothers wanted, so they had to start a quest for particularly aurochs-like cattle.
This was during a time when it was not only uncertain where the aurochs was domesticated and how many times, but there was also no internet, barely any breeding associations to contact, and rural cattle populations very often had not been categorized in distinct breeds yet and consequently there was no compelling literature either. So, where to start? Scandinavia, Iberia, the alps, Balkan, Near East? The Heck brothers researched in the literature and went on field trips in other countries to locate suitable cattle – besides their jobs as zoo directors. I think that’s laudable. And those cattle that they found to be suitable also had to be purchased and imported. So if two men alone did not find the absolutely most aurochs-like cattle in whole Europe, sloppiness is probably an unfair explanation – it simply was not nearly as easy as it is these days.

Lutz Heck discovered that there are a lot of Southern European cattle that bear striking similarity to the aurochs. He was particularly impressed by Lidia, which he considered the most aurochs-like cattle of all, as well as Camargue and Corsicana. During the first years, he bred exclusively with those three breeds because of their aurochs-like colour, elegance, horn shape and “wild character” that he considered fitting. From the modern perspective, this combination would lack body size and horn size, which both were traits that were not of much importance for Lutz Heck. Later on, he incorporated also crossbreeds containing Highland, Norwegian Fjäll, Hungarian Grey and English Park cattle; but he was not impressed – Highland cattle contribute horns protruding sideward, Park cattle ad Fjäll cattle both have a “wrong” colour that causes spots in heterozygous state (we would classify that pattern as “colour-sided” today). Furthermore, the latter has a dominant lack of horns, which Lutz did not like (dominant traits, however, are easy to breed out).
Heinz Heck used a Southern European breed as well, Corsicana. But he included a wider set of breeds than his brother. Additionally to Corsican cattle with their aurochs-like colour and forwards-facing horns and Grey cattle with their good horn size and shaggy winter coat, he also included more derived and often large-uddered Murnau-Werdenfelser, Angeln, Highland, black-pied lowland cattle (original German: Schwarzbunte. Similar to Holstein-Frisian but smaller and not as high-legged) and Braunvieh. Murnau-Werdenfelser have a typical domestic body shape and their horns are not aurochs-like either, but some of them have a useful colour. Angeln have, at least today, more or less long snouts (and in some cases also useful horns and colour), but since neither of the Hecks ever made a remark on that trait of the aurochs, it is probably not the reason why Heinz included it. Braunvieh was used because of its comparably slender build and is E+//E+ as well. Paradoxically, Highland, black-pied and maybe also English park were included to “add mass”, on the other hand. Heinz Heck was aware of the fact that a number of the breeds he chose barely contributed anything if nothing in terms of optical similarity. But he regarded them as necessary to get as much aurochs traits as possible, because he believed these breeds could add “invisible traits” of the wild form that would surface from alone when the breeds and their “old genes” are combined. A suspicion that, considering the state of the art knowledge on heritage and genetics in the 1920s to 1930s, might have been legitimate back this time.

After the war, Heinz Heck noted that their experiments told them that a “bred-back aurochs” is achieved at fastest by using Podolian cattle, Highland cattle, Southern European cattle and Texas Longhorn (the mention of the latter is curious because neither of the two used this breed). Speaking of the cattle’s optics only, the inclusion of the derived breeds was a mistake – Heinz’ hope for hidden ancient traits surfacing did not fulfil. But, retrospective, it created a wider genetic base for the new breed than it would have been possible using the primitive breeds they chose only.
Counting the brother’s breed choices as one, the set up contained many aurochs traits, with the exception of a truly elongated, not paedomorphic skull shape and body size at least. For the latter trait, the Chianina could have been an option back then – this breed was probably not an enigmatic one in the time between the two world wars, as it has a long breeding history and is remarkable for its size. So the Heck brothers should have, or at least could have, known about it. And even if not, Heinz Heck noted that some Podolian bulls get very large (he exaggerated it to up to 2m) – so either he was not able to get his hands on the very large ones, or he did not consider it that important and was confident with what he had. In 1980, he responded to the criticism that their cattle are too small by calling this criticism false because the breeding-back attempt is or was working against this size dimorphism – which is incorrect, because it is evident that large size was not one of the goals of the Heck brothers experiments, and it was not until 1996 that someone actively bred for large size by crossing in larger breeds (Taurus cattle).

The Heck brothers did not keep track of their crossbreeding precisely, at least there are no such documents known and many of their reports are only vague. As an example, Heinz Heck example stated in 1934 that he intended to further cross-in English Park and to exchange bulls with his brother. Whether it happened or not is unknown. Because of the lack of precise records, the exact descent of Heck cattle post 1945 is nebulous. This was certainly sloppy, and one can consider it another mistake. But technically it makes no difference, because it is about the traits that are present in the population.

Nevertheless there are other things to criticise. First of all, it starts with the often  imprecise, sometimes speculative and partly inaccurate idea of the aurochs the brothers had, that also neglected certain traits (f.e. body size, build, udder size) or not even recognized (f.e. skull morphology), as outlined above. With that as a base, their breeding products just had to have flaws. Cis van Vuure, in his 2005 book, diagnoses “a lack of basic knowledge, broad selection criteria and complacency”. There were numerous such undesirable traits because of the diverse set of breeds they used. Due to their very loose selection criteria, the Heck brothers seemingly permitted non-aurochs-like traits such as all kinds of horn shapes and sizes, a greyish tone in the coat colour of cows at least, colour saddle in bulls, and other traits that are either incorrect or not supported by evidence. These “wrong” traits accompanied with the neglected traits body size, build and skull shape. Furthermore, it is not clear how much they cared about sexual dimorphism. Also it seems that udder size plaid no role in their experiments as well.

Taking the year 1945 as the benchmark to compare with, the result was not an optically reconstructed aurochs, but ended up being a population of cattle that contained a number of aurochs-like traits, but also a number of undesirable ones, and traits such as horns, body size or build never were present in a satisfying way. Therefore, the Heck brothers’ results were criticised early on in scientific circles based on exactly these reasons. The Heck brothers, on the other hand, seemingly were immune to criticism and failed to recognize deficiencies. Partly because they did not know better (as outlined above), but perhaps also because they did not want to see. They also wanted to see things that were not there, such as the alleged optical match between the Berlin stock and the Munich stock that should proof the success of their project – albeit there were obvious differences between both stocks. They failed to scrutinize. On the contrary, they were very confident, even euphoric, about their work and claimed almost full success, what further contributed to ridicule made by more down-to-earth colleagues. They certainly were not frauds, but perhaps victims of self-deception to a certain degree. Their experiments were a lot of work, surely also exciting and fun – so maybe their enthusiasm hindered them to see and correct deficiencies. It was also this enthusiasm and complacency that caused ridicule in zoological circles. And I think this is understandable, since their basic idea (recreating a true aurochs by breeding with domestic cattle, solely on optical grounds) is a gross oversimplification and impossibility in the first place in any case.

So, how well did the Heck brothers do their work?  
- Their idea of the aurochs was half correct; it was partly imprecise, took some needless speculations for granted and contained some flaws. This would not have been the case if they had researched more in-debt, (they had all the contemporaneous literature and most of the contemporaneous art we have today, plus the scientific literature on the aurochs that had existed back then) and if they had taken a closer look at the skeletal material that was sufficient back then already.  
- A number of traits were simply neglected, such as body size and build, udder size, or the elongated skull shape that they failed to recognize. Consequently, these traits were also neglected in their breed choice and selective breeding.
- As a consequence, their selection criteria were too loose regarding a number of traits. For example, they tolerated a way too large range of horn types – looking at the bones would have told them. Another example is their conceptions about fur colour, which included needlessly speculative variants. It also seems that they did not worry about udder size as much as they did not worry about body size, build and skull shape.
- Within their possibilities, the set of breeds they collected was not that bad. It had aurochs traits such as a correct fur colour, sufficient horn size and an acceptable curvature. Lutz Heck’s breed choice also included slender and elegant cattle – a trait that his brother did not care that much about. What was generally lacking was a breed that would have contributed large size. Either such breeds/individuals were not available for them, or they (i.e. Heinz, since Lutz was assuming a way too small size for the aurochs) did not care enough. Based on their statements and confidence, large size was definitely neither a priority nor goal in their experiments.
The breeds chosen by Heinz Heck, which are most likely the sole basis of the modern Heck cattle population (except the brothers did exchange some individuals), included such with many less than desirable traits; he chose them for reasons outlined above, and back these days his assumption of invisible traits that might surface again was probably not unjustified. It did not come true however, and introduced a lot of undesirable traits.
- The lack of precise notions on the crosses carried out, as well as if they exchanged individuals, was sloppy and leaves open question on the cattle’s exact descent. But, on the other hand, this does not alter the traits that were and are present in the population. - Due to their lack of will to scrutinize their work as much as their immunity to fact-based criticism, they did not see or accept the deficiencies pointed out by other contemporaneous zoologists and therefore made no efforts to correct them.

All in all, the Heck brothers could have done their work better given the time and possibilities they had. More careful research would have resulted in an idea of the aurochs’ morphology and appearance that is identical to other modern one. Stricter selection criteria would have limited the number of undesired traits, and they also should not have ignored or neglected certain traits and taken a closer look at the bones. With that as a base, their results probably would have been better. On the other hand and to be fair, even if they had an ideal set of breeds, the fifteen to twenty years of time they had would have probably been not sufficient stabilize an aurochs-like appearance in a fully satisfying way (as we know from breeding today).

Although the Hecks did make mistakes and did some tasks not thoroughly enough, their effort of looking for suitable breeds, purchasing and importing them on their own is laudable. And however unsatisfying the end result was, it was the Heck brothers’ project that started the whole breeding-back idea. I wonder if, hadn’t there been the Hecks’ experiments, there would be the modern aurochs-projects at all – only if someone else came up with that idea.
In spite of their failure to create an optical aurochs, the Hecks reached one of their goals: to rescue the aurochs from oblivion and get it into the mind of people again. Probably a lot less people would know about this animal today if not zoo visitors from the 1930s onwards were seeing those cattle wrongly tagged as “aurochs”. I was also surprised how many non-scientific animal guides include this animal.
Their cattle (again, taking 1945 as a benchmark) were actually useful animals to work on. Despite of all its deficiencies, the population did contain a number of aurochs traits and had potential. All the optically useless breeds that Heinz Heck included added genetic diversity: His set of breeds included cattle from southern Europe, Northern Europe and Central Europe. This genetic diversity was apparently enough to allow a population growth from less than 50 in 1945 to more between 3000-2000 animals nowadays without having any signs of inbreeding depression. In fact, thanks to their genetic diversity and the use of hardy, healthy and cold-resisting breeds Heck cattle turned out to be a very useful breed for natural grazing, and these traits are also very useful for further “aurochs” breeding. No matter how much one might dislike that breed for its general lack of traits like size, inwards-curving horns, and their small, stubby body with their short, calf-like heads, one cannot alter this fact.

In the end, we, in 2015, might even have to be thankful to the Heck brothers and their experiment, even though they could have done their work better.


Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Londo as an aurochs

There is an experience that I had made several times already; when I look at an individual and think "well, it does look quite aurochs-like", but when I visualize it in direct comparison with what an aurochs would look like, some noticeable differences become evident. That was the case when I attempted another aurochs reconstruction by manipulating a photo of Londo, a Taurus bull introduced here. Londo is the son of Lamarck, one of the best Taurus bulls to date, and does not look that bad (photo courtesy of Margret Bunzel-Drüke): 
I used this photo and increased the leg length until aurochs-like proportions are reached, changed the body shape to a slender-waisted one as in other wild bovines, and created the shoulder hump the aurochs had. Subsequently, I replaced Londo's head with that of a Lidia bull, which I slightly blurred in length. Then, I painted aurochs-like horn tips plus a white muzzle ring that the Lidia's head originally lacked. I think the result is pretty accurate. 
And now, see how much Londo actually differs from what we think a bull aurochs looked like (plus the size difference, which is not visible on this pic): 
(Please mind that I used the Lidia bull's head without permission of the owner because I was unable to find that photo on google again. So please do not replicate it. If the owner of the photo is seeing this, I'd be grateful to know whether it is ok that I used it or not, many thanks.)

This fact inspired me to do some sketches using photos of aurochs-like cattle showing what an aurochs in the same stance and position would look like. I did not have the time for that yet, but it is about to come. 

Monday, 23 November 2015

New Tauros photos by Geer vanne Smeed

Okey, not all that new, but a few weeks old at least. But I haven't had the time yet to post them here because I was busy with my Lippeaue report and university. I only cover the photos here and make no guesses or research on the origin of those animals, because this work has already been done by Roberta on the Carnivora Forum thread
All of the photos presented here are copyright of Geer vanne Smeed, used with his permission. 

Kempen~Broek 

The photos here show us mostly bulls, and also the Tudanca x Highland cow that is familiar to us already, plus some young cows that might be Limia or similar-looking crossbreeds. Those He...ah.. Tauros bulls confirm what I guessed back in 2012 already - namely that Highland crosses bred into Southern European breeds will resemble Heck cattle in the early generations. Of course this is no bad thing as such and was to be expected, but Taurus cattle shows us that they will need at least one or two generations more to overcome this heckish bodyshape, and only if they are backcrossed with slender Southern breeds. 



Loozerheide

This herd seemingly has pure Maremmana, probably pure Limia as well, some undefinable cross bulls that resemble those at Kempen~Broek and one Maronesa bull (it should be that one but I am not 100% sure). 


Saturday, 21 November 2015

A second trip to the Lippeaue Pt.III: Conclusion

Regarding the quality of the current population: Overall, the herds are very nice. To better compare the Lippeaue cattle presented on the two previous posts (#1, #2) with the aurochs, here are some of my own artistic interpretations of the wild animal: 
Sassenberg cow - mind that the horns only look that small because they are
viewed from the side. They might have been more curved than in my drawing.
Bull based on the Braunschweig, Sassenberg and Lund specimen
The size of Heck cattle has definitely been surpassed with cows having an average size of between 150-155 (which is larger than virtually all Heck bulls and 20 cm taller than Heck cows). I know that three individuals are an insufficient sample size, but these particular animals neither appeared to be considerably smaller or larger than the other ones. The fact that the tallest individual in the herd is a cow and that most bulls are probably between 150-160cm tall does not necessarily imply that Taurus cattle has little size dimorphism. As I mentioned already, all the large cows have a high portion of Chianina, whereas the breeding bulls are 25% Chianina at maximum or less. If largely Chianina-influenced bulls (such as 01 885) would be allowed to stay in the herd, I am sure they would surpass the large cows. Only if the population was allowed to breed naturally, an average mean for the degree of sexual size dimorphism could be valued. But considering the genetic diversity of this young breed it would probably be pointless because it is not genetically fixed anyway.
Many bulls have a shoulder hump (probably smaller than in aurochs, but that is true for most cattle), whereas many cows barely have one (another general domestic cattle trait with few exceptions). Of course Taurus cattle are slenderer and better proportioned then Heck cattle. Many cows, and also a number of bulls, have the desired squarely-built trunk with a shoulder height that is as long as the trunk length. Some bulls, however, violate that rule and also some cows are not as high-legged as we would like them to be. Regarding the slenderness, a truly athletic body with a slender waist as in wild bovines is found only in a rare number of cattle breeds today, such as – not surprisingly – Lidia and Corriente. And it is not easy to breed for this trait, so it is not a big malus that average Taurus cattle are not as athletic as the two aforementioned breeds. For such a body shape to evolve, perhaps there must be intraspecific competition, what is difficult on small size. But nonetheless, Taurus cattle, especially some of the cows, are on the better side among the aurochs-like cattle regarding body shape/proportions – with exceptions.  
The skull shape is variable. Some bulls and cows (f.e. Linnet and 79 842) have a short, paedomorphic face. Others, however, have a nicely elongated skull just like a pure Sayaguesa (f.e. 42 604). Most are somewhere in between.

The horn shape of course is more aurochs-like and forwards-pointing than in Heck cattle. However, a decent inwards-curve has not been achieved yet, because it is rarely present in any of the founding breeds (but also a lot of other aurochs-like breeds, actually). The curvature of Chianina usually is weak, Sayaguesa often have horn tips winding outwards (with the exception of Dona-Urraca, she produced a lot of well-horned offspring), Lidia often are not better in this respect and Heck cattle barely have a useful inwards-curve to begin with. Maronesa is one of the few breeds that is really good in this respect in many cases, but that breed is not useful for Taurus cattle: it would reduce the size again, as much as the skull length and slenderness that has been achieved already (ok, many Maronesa cows are slender, some may be better than the slenderest Taurus cows in that respect, but many bulls are rather hefty). Regarding horn size, there is the expected variation. Due to the Chianina influence, there are individuals that happen to have rather small horns, others (like Linnet) have a satisfying horn diameter, most animals have medium-sized horns. I would say that in this respect the average of Taurus cattle is of medium quality compared to other aurochs-like breeds, with individual variation. The Wörth cow might bring a certain increase of horn size. Using a Watussi might be an idea, but the problem is that there are no Watussi with a useful horn curvature in Germany and importing such from other countries is too impractical. However, I think stabilizing the maximum horn size that is present in the population now will be satisfying. By the way, the Taurus cattle population at Hortobagy, Hungary, has Watussi-influenced individuals, so let us see how that works out.

Lidia did not meet the early expectation. It was thought that they would bring a more athletic body shape while the size would be compensated when choosing the right crosses, but it did not work out like that. The Lidia crosses were always small and not necessarily more athletic or better-horned than the other animals. Furthermore, their behaviour caused a lot of trouble – in bulls as much as in cows. Most of them, as far as I know, where either slaughtered or sold (and so was the half-Lidia bull that was sold to Denmark, because of its behaviour). So working with Lidia was not at all that successful as hoped – Matthias likes to call the Lidia crossbreeds “small, ugly and mean”.  

The colour of Taurus cattle, being a young cross-breed, is variable as well. Many individuals, including all bulls that are kept in the herd and probably half of the cows, do not show an expression of the undesired colour dilution genes transferred by Chianina and possibly Heck. But considering that these alleles are either recessive or semi-dominant, they should be widespread in the population’s genetic make-up. Chianina alone has at least two dilution loci (Agouti and Dun) and perhaps more. But neither I nor the ABU worry all too much about the colour since it is controlled by only few loci and relatively “easy” to breed compared to other aspects. And the majority of cows with an un-diluted colour has the desired colour shades, with varying intensity. There is also variation regarding traits such as light areas on the inside of the legs or white eye rings (see Lena), for which we have no clue based on artistic or written evidence, so we cannot say much about that.
Regarding sexual dimorphism: it is often present, but not always. As I wrote above, the intensity is varying: there are completely black cows, but also those with a reddish saddle, or a red/brown part that is that large that only the side of the belly and legs, neck and head are black, or those that are completely brown in various shades. I cannot tell how large the portion of black cows is, I can only guess, perhaps somewhere between 30-50%. Margret and I agree that black cows can be permitted (there is written and artistic evidence), but should definitely number below 50%, perhaps around 10% for appropriate colour dimorphism. Another sign of reduced dimorphism is a colour saddle in bulls. The colour dimorphism of Linnet is as reduced as in a black cow. Therefore I always plea for selecting against bulls with that trait, but the fact that only one in ten or eight bulls has one makes it less dramatic than it looks like when a breeding bull has a saddle (I still would not choose such a bull for breeding, but that’s up the preference of the breeder).  

Most, if not all, cattle on this world have udders that are larger than in the aurochs, and so do Taurus cattle. I think that regarding udder size they are comparable to other aurochs-like breeds (they are hairy in all cows as they should be, to reduce heat loss), and the size varies to a similar extent as in Heck cattle, with the exception that no Taurus cow has udders that large as those of Hecks with maximum udder size. The dewlap in both sexes is of medium size as far as I can tell, and smaller than in many Hecks – I was told that individuals with large ones might pop out on occasion, but they are the exception rather than the rule. Chianina has the smallest udders and dewlaps of the founding breeds, so it might be thanks to that breed.

There is no reason to think that Taurus cattle do worse during winter than Heck cattle or those aurochs-like breeds that have been imported from Southern Europe. They do not have problems in harsh winters, not even pure Chianina that have a shorter winter coat than the other breeds. The fact that they get supplementary feeding during winter is because the area is not sufficient to support the whole herd during winter, especially because it gets partially flooded during that season. So it is not because Taurus cattle would be “less hardy”, as critics might claim. Heck cattle calves, and also other breeds like Hungarian Grey, have a long and dense winter coat that gives them a cute teddy bear-like look during winter. Sayaguesa and Chianina (and maybe Lidia too, I don’t know) not so much, but yet I do not know of a Taurus calf that had problems during winter (by the way, I had the opportunity to stroke a narcotised calf, its coat felt nice, like that of a cat). 

So where lies the quality of Taurus cattle on the scale of aurochs-likeness compared to other breeds? I think it is hard to say because it is a heterogeneous crossbreed yet so they are not directly comparable to primitive breeds that are more or less stable and therefore always have or lack certain traits.
The combination of Heck, Chianina and Sayaguesa basically contains all the desired aurochs traits to a certain extent, but also a bunch of undesired ones you see in the "not-so-beautiful ones" (if the proportions are not right or the body is too bulky, small horns or deviant horn shapes, diluted coat colours, large udders and dewlaps, or short faces) that need to be purged out. Other traits, like size or sexual dichromatism, have to be taken to a larger extent. As I described above, many Taurus cattle are very good in sum. Actually, some individuals are among the most beautiful I have seen so far, f.e. Lamarck, Lerida, 42 406 and others. But the qualitative difference to other breeds (those that are not the result of “breeding-back”) always is: heterogeneity with nearly all desired traits but also many undesired ones vs. homogeneity with a lack of certain desired traits but also the presence of (fewer) undesired ones.

The animals in a herd that is artificially selected usually are not representative for the gene pool of the population/breed because the “bad ones” are taken from the herd. Consequently a herd always looks better than its genotype is. And the less individuals there are, the less representative they are. For example, the approximately twenty animals in the former Heck herd on Wörth are certainly not enough to say much.
So a large (more than hundred), freely-reproducing herd of Taurus cattle, would give us an idea of their actual gene pool and potential. All possible combinations of the traits of the founding breeds would show up, including some really nice and qualitative individuals, but also “ugly” or even strange-looking ones (f.e. see Oostvaardersplassen), and most would be somewhere in between. It would be highly interesting.



Friday, 20 November 2015

A second trip to the Lippeaue Pt.II: The herds #2

The previous post covered three of the two current herds in the Lippeaue from my 2015 trip. This post is on the remaining two, Klostermersch-Südseite and Hellinghauser Mersch. 
(I claim copyright for my photos, please do not use without permission)

Klostermersch-Südseite

In 2013, I hoped that this son of Lamarck would become a breeding bull, since he looked quite promising to me. Well, he is now, and his name is Londo. He looks a lot like his father, his horns are even a bit thicker. His deficiency compared to Lamarck are his shorter legs and the longer trunk, and he is comparably small. But he is a “true F2” because both his parents were of the same cross combination (his mother 84 024 is a fullblood sister of his father), and so he should be more genetically stable (Lamarck should actually be not stable at all). Might this be more important than his undesirable traits? I think we cannot know. But he will be used until a better bull will be available. Maybe the bull calf he produced with Larissa will be better. Larissa is the largest animal in the whole Lippeaue, also larger than the bulls. Larissa is half Chianina and half Lombriz (Sayaguesa x (Heck x Chianina)), therefore about 62% Chianina. Larissa has a three years old daughter, 79 824, whose father was Churro. She is called Lena now, on my suggestion (the name of my deceased Golden retriever). Her colour is interesting. Lerida, one of the oldest cows, is still present. She is a Heck x Sayaguesa and has always been one of my favourite cows of the early Taurus cattle. Together with Churro, Lerida gave birth to a beautiful cow (79 846) that looks good despite her wholly black colour. I also like Laniana because of her authentic colour, although the horns are not that good. She is a daughter of Lombriz and one eighth Lidia. In this herd, there are two new Sayaguesa cows. One has nicely curved horns, the other one rather-Chianina like ones, but both are long-snouted.
Lale is daughter of Lucio and Ludovica, therefore (Heck x Sayaguesa) x (Heck x Chianina). Except for some traits in the head and her larger size, she could almost be mistaken for a normal Heck cow, but gave rise to nice offspring (f.e. here, not present in the herd anymore).
Speaking of size, we managed to measure two cows in this herd as well: Liberta, and a Chianina (Larissa’s mother). Both were measured with about 153cm at the shoulders, but considering that they were feeding at the moment they might be one or two centimetres larger. Considering that Bionade is the same size, and that Larissa, being the larges individual in the Lippeaue, is larger than all three, Larissa might be 160cm tall at the shoulders. That, of course, means that all the current bulls are below this mark. Liberta is a daughter of Lombritz plus a (Sayaguesa x Heck) x (Sayaguesa x Heck) cow Lissy, so a total mix. 
One explanation for that might be that all the breeding bulls chosen have and had not that much Chianina in their ancestry (25% or below, with the exception of Luca). So my hope for big bulls (for bulls, only a size of at least 160cm is ok for me, and everything above satisfying) are those with much Chianina. There is one young bull that is the same combination as Larissa (but with Laokoon as father instead of Lombriz) that made a good impression to me (01 885). Slightly more than a year old, and was walking with grace on long legs when I saw him. The body looks tight and the back is well-shaped. Being half-Chianina, the colour is diluted and the horns do not look as if they are going to grow large. But I plead for giving that bull a chance to see how he works out. Of course, a lightly coloured bull is considered unsatisfying, but colour is regulated by only few loci so it will change easy, the genes for those dilutions must be widely distributed in the population anyway, and a lot of diluted cows are permitted in the Lippeaue. So I, personally, would use a bull with that colour if he is large and well-shaped. Whether a bull is going to grow large or not is not easy to say by that age. I was told that one indicator for how large cattle grow are leg proportions at young age. If a young bull has rather long legs like on stilts, it might grow large (allometrically, this makes sense). There was a second half-Chianina bull as well, a son of Londo, but that one did not work out well, it is going to be removed.
By the way, there was another cow with a dark mouth, again with no Lidia but nearly evenly distributed portions of the three other breeds. Since it never appears (as far as I know) in Sayaguesa, and is that rare in Heck cattle that it would be a pretty large coincidence if it shows up in these crossbreeds, I think Chianina might be responsible for that trait, masked by the dilution factors as speculated above. 
Londo, son of Lamarck (photo © Margret Bunzel-Drüke)
Londo with a cow that is nonidentifiable to me
Lena, Larissa's half-Sayaguesa daughter
01 885, a Sayaguesa, Lena, Laniana
Laura, pure Chianina and mother of Larissa and Lombriz
55 392, Londo x Chianina
Lale, (Heck x Sayaguesa) x (Heck x Chianina)
Liberta, more than 153cm tall.
Young cow, non identifiable to me
79 846, one quarter Heck, three quarter Sayaguesa (Lerida + Churro)
01 885, half Chianina.
Cow in the foreground is a daughter of Laokoon and Liberta


Hellinghauser Mersch

This herd is the largest (it is actually that large that they have to remove some more animals this year). The new breeding bull there is 42 623, simply called “Laokoons brother”, moved from Klostermersch-Süd (where he was in 2013) to Hellinghauser Mersch early this year (video). All in all, it is a nice bull despite its a bit massive body and the colour saddle. The face is not that long and its horns should have a stronger inwards-curve, but he has a prominent shoulder hump and it turned out he grew quite big. He is four and a half years old now. Dona Urraca looks small compared to him, although she is actually a large cow (in 2013, I was standing directly beside her. But I will not guess what size she is and therefore not about 42 623 either). With an age of 19 years, D. Urraca is the oldest individual in the Lippeaue today and still calving. Most of the animals with good, inwards-curving horns descend from her. There are two cows in this herd I like the most: 42 604 and 79 289. Both are fullblood sisters (parents are Lamarck and Julia, the red Sayaguesa), look good and astonishingly similar. I saw the former as a 2 year old in 2013 and thought she was very promising, and she turned into a really nice animal (and has born three calfs by now). Just look at how the horn shape changed. Another nice cow is 79 813, daughter of Lamarck and Lepisma, the Luca x Lidia cow. Horns and stature of that young cow are good. She is a cautious one, but I hope she will be kept in the herd. Lepisma has a young bull to date, that has Lamarck as father. It will not be kept, which is understandable: greyish saddle, longish body at this age already, and a somewhat compressed face. Loren, the large greyish one, is mostly Heck and Chianina with only few Sayaguesa in her. She did not impress me at all when I saw her in 2013, and when I saw that she is still in the herd earlier this year I was surprised. But I was told that she is a stabilizing element in the social structure of the herd, a kind of alpha cow. However, she has a greyish daughter with meagre horns that will be removed. Loren’s mother is Lirgit. Lirgit herself is a daughter of Luca and Lola, which was a daughter of the Dutch Heck bull Mator and a Heck x Sayaguesa cow. Yes, they also used a bull from Slikken van Flakee for some time some years ago and therefore not exclusively Neandertal Hecks. Some more cows need to be removed from the herd, I suggested to remove Laola ( Sayaguesa x (Heck x Chianina) ) because of the massive Heck-like body with the large udder (her head and horns somehow remind me of Maronesa), but they want to keep her, probably because of her good colour. An interesting example for how a cow might gain weight with time is 84 028, mother of Londo. Compare the photos from 2013 and 2015. 42 617 is going to be removed (too nervous), looking at her aspect it is perhaps not that much of a loss.
The herd has three Sayaguesa cows. The red one, Julia, was mentioned already. Another one has a reddish saddle but outwards-facing horn tips. The third cow also has this horn shape, is completely black but has a good skull shape. By the way, the red colour of Julia is because she is from a herd with influence from Alistana-Sanabresa. The Sayaguesa in the Lippeaue and in the Tauros Project are from the same herds (except the old ones).
Hellinghauser Mersch also has a number of young bulls with an age of at least one and two years. They have to remove some of them, and we discussed which one should be chosen to be shot the next day. It was not easy because the quality is hard to guess at that age, especially regarding horns and body shape. All of them had a flawless colour, and I am focusing a lot on body shape (see the bull I described as my favourite). I suggested to take the bull with the blond forelocks, which had the bulkiest trunk and the least promising horns. It was shot the next day. The bull I called my favourite looks good now, but mind that its trunk will become heavier and longer. I cannot say what the horns might going to be like, but it has a good hump already.
"Laokoon's brother" and Dona-Urraca. Notice the size difference.
Julia, the red Sayaguesa, on the left side in the foreground
79 289
42 604
Loren (middle)
Lirgit
79 813, quarter Lidia, daughter of Lamarck
Young cow, 42 289, and 42 617
Laola, Sayaguesa x (Heck x Chianina)
Lepisma and her quarter Lidia bull calf
Daugther of Lamarck and 604
42 604
84 028, Londo's mother today
Loren's daughter that will be removed at far right; Julia in front of 623
One of the Sayaguesa cows from the Netherlands
A "saddled" Sayaguesa
Young cow, I don't know the identity
The "blond" bull that was chosen to be selected out (father Lamarck, mother Lepisma)
My "favourite" young bull at H. Mersch, father Lamarck, mother Julia
Don't know the identity
Another young bull


One of the young bulls in the herd has a large white spot on its belly. Spots are seemingly passed on by cows only, and spotted individuals always have at least one spotted parent. So they are not sure if they should keep a good cow with spots or not (one example was 92 580, she was removed because of her white spots despite being quite good). In general there are several types of white spots (excluding colour-sided and roan-pattern now): those on the belly, “socks” on the hind legs and an elongated spot in the middle of the face. Only those on the belly occur in the Lippeaue. All four breeds might have brought that trait into the population.


For the next post, go here