Saturday, 26 March 2016

The horses in the Lippeaue

With a major delay, I finally do my post on the horses in the Lippeaue reserve, Germany, today. I already covered them in my 2013 post, but on my trip in 2015 I gathered some more material, and the herds changed a bit as well.

As it is the case in so many reserves for landscape conservation, horses and cattle share the area because they complement each other in their grazing activity and both are native species. I don't know the total number of horses in the Lippeaue, perhaps about 40 individuals but that is only a guess.

The horse herd at Disselmersch consists of mostly pure Koniks, plus one Konik x Przewalski hybrid. The herd at Hellinghauser Mersch is, as far as I can see, completely mixed. They had a pure Konik stallion in the herd until at least 2013, but that one seems to be gone now. Now there are 50% Przewalski hybrids, 25% Przewalski and 75% Konik hybrids as much as a pure Przewalski mare. The 50-50 hybrids resemble a pure Przewalski rather close, except that the short mane is semi-erect and their head looks somehow more caballine. The colour of these Konik x Przewalski is phenotypically bay dun with countershading and a white muzzle (which seems, however, to be slightly reduced in these hybrids), which makes sense, since black (a) is recessive under bay (A+), which are the base colours for black dun and bay dun that we see in the Konik and Przewalski, respectively. The colour of the back-crosses with Koniks on the other hand is interesting to me. They should end up as either a//A+ or a//a with a 50% probability, so either the same colour as the first-generation hybrids or a pure Konik, yet at least a number of them has a colour that is somewhat more reddish and sooty than those of the first-generation hybrids. So there might be more than just one locus involved. Countershading and white muzzle are absent or strongly reduced in the Konik-backcrosses. The new dominant stallion seems to be one of those; the new generations will produce some further interesting animals because genetics will cause individuals that show mosaic traits of both horse types.
Mostly pure Koniks in the Disselmersch.
Konik x Przewalski mare in the Disselmersch.
Konik x Przewalski as much as 25% Przewalski 75% Konik crosses plus the pure Przewalski in the background.
Hellinghauser Mersch.
The pure Przewalski mare at the far left.
A 25% Przewalski 75% Konik (?)stallion. Hellinghauser Mersch.
Konik x Przewalski mare. 
The pure Przewalski mare, Hellinghauser Mersch.
One might ask why crossing Konik and Przewalski's horses at all. As far as I understood, it was more of a coincidence that the ABU had the opportunity to use Konik and Przewalski's horses at the same time (I don't know if more than the one pure Przewalski mare were used). So it is kind of an experiment, and since the number of pure P. used is very low, I don't consider it a loss for the conservation of the subspecies. 
It is an open question whether or not Przewalski's horses can or should be introduced into European natural areas - it seems that the common opinion in rewilding projects and organizations is that European domestic horses are to be preferred over the P. horse. There are several reasons in favour of using domestic horses instead of the P. horse for rewilding: 
- The Przewalski's horse is not the western, but Asian subspecies, whereas domestic horses are descendants of the western wild horse subspecies 
- The P. horse is an animal of the steppe and adapted to arid climate, shown also by its standing mane (historic references for the European wild horse describe a short but never a standing mane), whereas native European landraces are adapted to the local climate. 
- Przewalski's horses and caballine horses separated between 120.000 and 240.000 years ago, the P. horse has one more pair of chromosomes and one more thoracic vertebrae (see Wikipedia) - so whether or not you regard both these types of equines separate species or not, they diverged quite some time ago and developed some evident differences. Mixing both types, or introducing one into the range of the other, would eradicate these results of evolution. 

But there are also arguments in favour of using the Przewalski's horse for European rewilding: 
- The P. horse is a wild animal, exhibiting a behaviour that is authentic for a wild horse, including a high intra- and interspecific aggression potential but also shyness towards humans in nature, whereas domestic horses often still remain tame after several generations, with their obtrusive behaviour causing troubles with workers and visitors (see Bunzel-Drüke et al. 2008). 
- With the possible exception of the standing mane as much as the lack of the allele for a black base colour (a), the Przewalski's horse itself matches the morphology and looks of the western European wild horse quite well, as much as a number of primitive landraces do, including the "small" size, sturdy body, robust head et cetera. 
- Although it seems that the P. is a different ecotype than European wild horses and European landraces are, they seemingly do well in the climate of this continent. In grazing projects like the Lippeaue or Döberitzer Heide they show no sign of discomfiture. 
- As long as pure animals are used, wild European populations of the Przewalski's horse would help preserving the subspecies. 

That's why I proposed that a mix of local or suitable landraces combined with influx from Przewalski's horses (by using crossbreeds, not pure individuals) would be a perspective for re-stocking Europe's natural area with authentic horse populations in a 2013 post. Nowadays I am not so convinced of that proposal anymore. As outlined above, the Przewalski's horse and caballine horses developed some recognizable genetic, ecologic (including geographic) and osteologic differences during about 200.000 years of separate evolution. 
Nevertheless, Przewalski's horses have already been introduced in European natural areas such as Tschernobyl or the Puszta in Hortobagy (the latter is especially reminiscent of their natural habitat in Asia), where they do well. 
The stock at the Lippeaue, however, is not supposed to become a large, self-sustaining population in a barely regulated area one day. Neither did someone propose that Konik x Przewalski is the one and only equine model for Europe's natural areas. Instead, they are the "grazing tools" of a conservation project for the Lippeaue reserve, and these experimental hybrids fulfill their job well. 

Whether you are in favour of Przewalski influence in grazing projects or not, it seems that many Koniks might have P. introgression already due to intermixing with Heck horses, which are kind of diluted Koniks with Przewalski influence and also look that way. In the 1970s, Przewalski's horses were crossed in again at the Wildpark Hardehausen, so that about the half of their stock has a standing mane today (see Bunzel-Drüke et al. 2008). Heck horses and Koniks are often mixed indiscriminately with each other, so that they are hard to distinguish at least in German grazing projects today. For a Konik/Heck horse with a standing mane revealing its Przewalski influence, go here for example. 

Bunzel-Drüke, Finck, Kämmer, Luick, Reisinger, Riecken, Riedl, Scharf & Zimball: „Wilde Weiden: Praxisleitfaden für Ganzjahresbeweidung in Naturschutz und Landschaftsentwicklung“ 2008. 

Friday, 11 March 2016

News from NP Hortobagy, Hungary

The National Park Hortobagy, Hungary, is home to the largest Taurus cattle population. I did a post on this herd using information I got from from Claudia Zimmermann and István Sándor in March 2014, also with photos. Now, two years later, this post deserves a little update, so I contacted István Sándor again. I was provided with lots of photos and information, many thanks! All the photos are courtesy of István Sándor, so please do not replicate without permission.

The herd numbers approximately 600 individuals today, a good part of them are calves (about 130 calves get born every year). The population is of course still heterogeneous, but they select strongly. Most frequent undesired traits are insufficient body size, horn curvature or thin horns, I was told. I'd expect colour to be variable as well. 

After calving season, the bulls that are chosen for breeding are allowed to join the cows for mating (two or three bulls per season). They compete with each other for breeding rights. Rimu (a [Sayaguesa x Heck] x [Grey x Watussi] bull) and Anno, a pure Heck bull from Wörth, were used as breeding bulls in 2014, last year Anno and Felipe. The latter one is from the Lippeaue and a son of Lamarck and the Sayaguesa cow Augustina born in 2013. They currently have another bull from the Lippeaue which is too young for breeding yet.
Felipe, born in the Lippeaue
In 2014, I speculated that this bull (called Aramis) has Lidia ancestry. I was wrong, in fact it was a fullblood brother of Zeusz, both of which are the sons of Lasso (75% Heck, 25% Sayaguesa) and Xena, the Grey x Holstein cow. Both the brothers were not used for breeding, and at least Aramis had been slaughtered.

Szepes (12,5% Sayaguesa,  87,5 % Heck) has been excluded from breeding as well now. He was, just like his fullblood brother Toldi, too aggressive as well. Which is a pity, because both brothers were large and had good horns. I don't know if Szepes left descendants and how many. 
Toldi's skull with and without sheaths

They bought three pure Watussi from Germany, which are currently living in the reserve. The Watussi cattle themselves are cold-sensitive and cannot stay outside the whole winter, but first-generation crosses, despite having a shorter coat, do not have these problems. Dewlap and fleshy hump are not inherited that strongly, but usually the horn shape of first-generation Watussi crosses is problematic. But it seems that the great gain of volume is worth it.
Below are photos of three Watussi crosses. The first one is a first generation cross, a son of Anno, the Wörth bull. This combination is especially interesting, because the Wörth lineage already has rather large horns thanks to selection and slight Watussi influence. Szaniszlo, most likely a second generation Watussi-mix, is designed for breeding 2016. 

Anno x Watussi cow

Second generation Watussi cross, slaughtered
Benjamin, a possible breeding bull for 2016; has influence of Heck, Sayaguesa and Grey cattle

Anno is a good Wörth bull. He resembles the popular bull Aretto, who was likely his father – no colour saddle and good, large horns. His descendants are thick-horned as well, without ending up small and dachshund-legged despite being half-Heck. If that’s what we can expect for the products of the Wörth Heck cow Nadia in the Lippeaue, I am much looking forwards to those new large-horned Taurus cattle. Those Anno-descendants have more upright horns, but that is not necessarily because they are half-Heck since the Hungarian herd has had recent influx from Grey cattle.

A little surprise was that Larus (Heck x Lidia), the little half-Lidia bull I mentioned in my previouspost on old and removed cattle from the Lippeaue, went to Hortobagy, where he lived until 2010. He was the only half-Lidia they used in Hortobagy, and very aggressive. I don’t know if he left descendants.
It seems to be true of all half-Lidia bulls that one can barely work with them in extensive grazing projects – see the Lippeaue, where they only kept one in one instance for a few years, Denmark, where they had to slaughter their bull, and Larus.  
Larus, Heck x Lidia, as a grown bull
Now, some good and average cows from the reserve:

Saturday, 5 March 2016

Old or removed Taurus cattle born in the Lippeaue

Since 1996, the crossbreeding in the Lippeaue reserve, North-Rhine Westphalia, produced hundreds of Taurus cattle. The roughly 100 individuals from 2013 and 2015 I presented on this blog so far are not representative for this quantity and gene pool, of course. There are plenty of now-dead or removed individuals that may be interesting for a number of reasons; either they look good and left a strong mark in the population, or, the contrary, they turned out to look unsatisfying or even “weird”, revealing what is present in the gene pool beside the good individuals. Or, they may be interesting just because of their ancestry or the breed combination they represent. In any case, they show the variation that is present in the population. To avoid confusion: Hellinghauser Mersch, Klostermersch-Nord, Klostermersch-Süd and Disselmersch are all sub-herds within the Lippeaue reserve.

I was provided an extensive, qualitative photo archive documenting the Taurus population over more than ten years by Matthias Scharf from the ABU that was a great source for my research on past Lippeaue cattle, additionally to the stock lists. Using those, I am going to present a number of those ex-inhabitants of the reserve here in this post.
Especially interesting to me are the bulls, because the variation spectrum of the cows can be better seen from the current herd than that of the bulls because much fewer bulls are kept to adulthood than cows for obvious reasons. So looking at the bulls is a bit more exciting, while many of the “older” cows still look somewhat familiar.

Mind that I do not know the subsequent fate of each individual I am presenting here. Not all of these were necessarily slaughtered; the good ones tend to be sold alive to other breeding sites where some of them could still be mooing around. But unless I know better, I am going to write in past tense of the single individuals.

Once again you see that the Lippeaue herd is the most familiar and easiest accessible to me. I’d love to do the same work with the Tauros herd in the Netherlands, especially because no herd book was mentioned yet, but I work with the possibilities that I have.

All of the photos were kindly provided by Matthias Scharf, so please do not replicate without permission. 


This bull should be well-known to frequent readers of the blog by now. Luca was born in April 2001 and was the son of a Heck bull and Chianina cow. It was used as a breeding bull in the Hellinghauser Mersch as the successor of Mator, the Dutch Heck bull, until its death in 2011. So far, he was the only half Chianina bull that has been used as a breeding bull in the Lippeaue. Maybe his overall impression was not that overwhelming considering his diluted coat, compact head and other traits, but Luca was a large buddy, and in contrast to most of the other half Chianina bulls his horns were not tiny but medium sized and had an acceptable curvature (just like those of his fullblood sister Ludovica). He produced a lot of good offspring, the beautiful bull Lamarck and many others among them.
As many of you know, I was kindly sent his skull, which is hanging on my wall now – you find an analysis of his skull and that of the bull Latino in this post.


Lucio was born in February 1998 and was one of the first, if not the first, Sayaguesa x Heck crossbreeds. They were never completely sure if he was a indeed crossbreed or a pure bull instead because he was born directly nine months after DonaUrraca’s arrival in the reserve. But it is considered most likely that their Heck bull Nestor was the father, and I definitely see Heck influence in Lucio; the trunk and the shortened face for instance. This bull had strongly inwards-curving horns – a trait that most descendants of Dona Urraca have. His dorsal line was well-curved as well, the hump being a legacy of its Sayaguesa ancestry. He was a really large bull, somewhere between 160-165 cm tall at the withers. Luca, I was told, might have been the same size. When aging, his body grew rather hefty, revealing his Heck influence. He had been used as a breeding bull at Klostermersch-Süd until 2006 (unless I am wrong) and left lots of offspring.


Lombriz was a son of Luca and the Sayaguesa cow Sinnombre, and was born at Hellinghauser Mersch. He had been used as a breeding bull at Klostermersch-Süd from 2007 to 2010 until he died when he accidently broke into the ice during winter in his fifth year of life. Churro, a full-blood Sayaguesa, was his successor as breeding bull at Klostermersch-Süd. Lombriz was larger than his half-blood brother Lamarck, but his body shape was not quite as firm, had a colour saddle in its summer coat and his horns didn’t have the good curvature that those of his brother have – but they were larger, on the other hand (especially considering that he died young and they would still have grown noticeably). Lombriz was one of the more cautious/nervous ones, but not aggressive.


Luxus has been used as a breeding bull at Disselmersch for about two years. He was the son of Lucio and Locusta, so he is a “true F2” Sayaguesa x Heck. His colour was accurate, body shape and proportions also looked good as far as I can tell – his head, however, was slightly short-snouted and the horns were small and weakly curved. I don’t know about his size.


This bull did not live long in the Lippeaue (two years) and didn’t leave any descendants, but I mention him because his ancestry is interesting: he resembles Luca a lot, so I initially thought he was a half-Chianina. But in fact he is the son of Luca and Lucona, therefore he is (Heck x Chianina) x (Heck x Lidia).


Lakritz was the son of Lucio and the well-horned Neandertal cow Norda, consequently 75% Heck and 25% Sayaguesa. He was used as a breeding bull at Disselmersch from 2007 to 2010, where he was followed by Larwin. He has been slaughtered. Being three quarters Heck, he had a comparably heavy body and a short face, and the horn curvature was too weak (coincidently he resembled Larwin a lot, although both bulls were not related). But I saw and photographed his skull in 2013, and I can tell you it made a quite big impression on me, his horn span must have been about 100 cm or more.


I once wondered where all the half-Chianina bulls go – now I know, mainly to the butcher or get sold, mainly because of their colour. They are usually rather diluted, some of them even almost white (as you might know from my report on my recent trip to the Lippeaue, I’d opt for keeping a half Chianina bull if his body shape and size are considerably better than those of the other bulls as long as its horns aren’t too undesirable). One of those that didn’t look that bad in my photo-based opinion was Lacedo, son of Lux (three quarter Heck, one quarter Sayaguesa) and the Chianina Emma. His colour has the typical (probably) Agouti-dilution where there is almost no pheomelanin in the coat except for the forelocks and there is a saddle (that might be there without dilutions as well), the typical colour scheme of Podolian cattle. The body shape and proportions didn’t look that bad and his snout looked a bit elongated, but at this young age it is impossible to judge, it might have became the complete opposite as well.


This bull was the son of Luca and Besucona, therefore half Lidia. He was about two years old when he left the herd. I wonder what its horns would have looked like fully grown, but perhaps not that intensely curved. On the photos, it seems like its trunk would have become slightly longish (though firm and not that heavy), like in many Lidia-influenced bulls. As you see, its colour was slightly diluted.


Lüster looked quite good, he was three quarters Sayaguesa (mother Morena) and one quarter Heck. Pablo, half-Heck half Sayaguesa, was his father. He stayed at Klostermersch-Nord until 2011 and left a number of descendants.


This bull was similar in looks, although not related – father being Lucio, mother Norda, he was three quarters Heck and one quarter Sayaguesa. He left a number of descendants at Klostermersch-Nord and stayed in the herd at least until 2005.

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One of the “not so beautiful ones”, but interesting because of its ancestry. He was the son of Lombriz and Ludovica, and the Chianina dilutions obviously kicked in – he resembles his grandfather/-uncle Luca a lot, also regarding body and head.


Now this bull has an interesting ancestry and good looks at the same time. It is the son of Lucio and Leila, thus the product of a mating of a “true F1” and “true F2” of the same combination (Heck x Sayaguesa). So there is the chance that he was a bit more stable than bulls of more random combinations. Unfortunately, however, I wasn’t able to detect descendants of Lem in the herd. I hope that he was sold alive or even as a breeding bull to another location.

The Lidia cows
Three Lidia cows have been used in the Lippeaue. Two of them, Besucona and Aguaclara, were wild-type coloured, while one, Barbasombra, was ED-black. Since all of her offspring was completely black, it’s safe to assume that she was ED//ED. One of her female offspring was Lieschen, with Luca as the father. Another one is Larus, male, whose father is the Dutch Heck bull Mator. They are E+//ED, but phenotypically black because the latter is dominant. You can see the descendants of the other Lidia cows in this post. Aguaclara was slaughtered, the other two Lidia were sold.
Larus, son of Barbasombra and Mator
Lieschen, daughter of Barbasombra and Luca
Luca with Barbasombra and Aguaclara. Notice the size difference between the Lidia cows and
the half Chianina bull.

Luapula and Lania

Luapula and Lania are mother and daughter. Luapula was a daughter of Lucio and Lucyna, and has a surprisingly good colour considering that her mother was an almost white half Chianina (father Mator; in Dutch Heck cattle, Podolian-type dilutions are more common than in Neandertal Hecks, so maybe Mator passed on such an allele, producing a homozygous white colour). Lania the daughter of Luapula and Lucio. Both those cows are remarkable for their small horns.
00674, a daughter of Lakritz (75% Heck, 25% Sayaguesa) and Ladilla (50% Sayaguesa, 50% Heck), also happened to have small horns. This, together with the good colour of Luapula despite her mother, shows how much genetics work per coincidence.

Half Mator and half Lusitana (Sayaguesa x Heck). Despite being three quarters Heck, she had a good body shape, at least at young age. I like her beautiful chestnut-brown colour that reminds me of a Maronesa cow.


Leier is the daughter of Luca and Lukulla (Heck x Sayaguesa), and looked quite good, although her colour could have been a bit more intense. I was told that she was a nasty one, and she was slaugthered.


Loxia was a fullblood sister of Lamarck (Luca x Dona Urraca [Sayaguesa]). She looked quite good. Together with her father, she produced a number of offspring. And she also produced at least one “true F2” (42 621) with her brother, that, unfortunately, happened to look disappointing (at least in my opinion) – genetics work by coincidence, as I said above.
42 621, daughter of Lamarck and Loxia

Laguna was a daughter of Luca and Lamarck’s full-blood sister Lametta. This cow is another one of those which have this kind of dilution that causes a cream-coloured coat with a dark mouth and grey-pink nose. I suspect this variant gets passed on by Chianina, although it rarely also appears in pure Hecks too. She left no track in the herd as far as I can see.


This cow is a daughter of Leonardo (the Heck x Chianina bull that went to Denmark) and Ladilla, a Sayaguesa x Heck. So she is of the same breed combination as Lale, but there you see how the same combinations can work out differently: Latina has the desired colour but small, weakly curved horns, while Lale has a diluted colour but with larger and better curved horns. Leier was of the same combination too. It seems that Latina left no track in the population.

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Some of you might already know this cow from the VFA’s sale page. She was a daughter of Latino and quarter-Sayaguesa cow Lea. She was short-legged, black and her horns were meagre, so she was selected out; however, she seemingly produced one calf, but I don’t know the fate of that one.

Lulu II

A fullblood sister of Lombriz. She looked quite good, except for her horns.


Lotta was the daughter of Lucio and Elosia, therefore half-Chianina. Surprisingly, her colour was not diluted at all. Unfortunately, she happened to have bad horns.

The Heck cows

The ABU used a number of large-horned Neandertal Heck cows; Norda, for example, had large and well-shaped horns. Lina had more Heck-typical horns (and a typical Heck body too), but they were comparably large. Loreley had even larger ones (despite being half Mator). But interestingly, it seems that there have never been Taurus crossings showing the maximum horn size that Heck cattle brought into the population (as far as I know), but there are a number, as you have seen, that show the minimum horn size (i.e. Chianina horn size). I do not know why this is the case – all of them live in the same environment, so that is not a factor. Maybe the alleles that cause the really large horns are more recessive than those that cause small and all the intermediate shapes and therefore the probability for them being expressed is way lower, but I don’t know.