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. 


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. 


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)


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)
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.

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