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.

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