Sunday, 24 July 2016

An aurochs-coloured Sayaguesa x Chianina bull

Several Sayaguesa x Chianina cross animals have been born in the Lippeaue so far, when the Sayaguesa bull Churro covered the Chianina cows at Klostermersch. Two cows of that combination are still in the Lippeaue population (Bionade and 79 810). Both cows have a diluted coat colour, which is to be expected since Chianina has mutated alleles on at least two dilution loci (Agouti and Dun, Olson 1999), and at least one of them is semi-dominant. Heck x Chianina cows are diluted as well. 
Heck x Chianina bulls had a diluted fur colour as well, but to varying extent. Leonardo, the half-Chianina bull that was sold to Denmark, had a light colour saddle but had black-coloured areas too. Luca, a half-Chianina bull that was covered here extensively already, was mostly coloured in dark brown with much beige areas (mind that winter coat is always darker than summer coat in cattle). 

So we would expect a Sayaguesa x Chianina bull to have a colour similar to that of Heck x Chianina bulls. In 2014, I was sent a photo of a young bull of that combination by Matthias Scharf. That individual was of a greyish tone and more diluted than the cows of the same combination, and even way more diluted than the half-Heck bulls. This was surprising to me, especially since the colour of Sayaguesa seemed to be more intense and dominant in crossbreeds with Heck. The bull was slaughtered because of its colour and the tiny horn in autumn of the same year. 

Nevertheless, while searching through my Lippeaue photo archive I was provided by Matthias Scharf, I discovered another young Sayaguesa x Chianina bull. Its number was 42 624 (born 2010, dispeared from the stock list after 2012), and like Bionade its parents were Churro and Eloisa, so they where fullblood siblings. Interestingly, this bull's coat colour was not diluted at all, it even had only a very faint saddle that was not visible in its winter coat and might have gotten outgrown if it would have reached full age. 

The photos show him at the age of one  (uppermost) and two years. As you see, the horns of this individuals were still meagre, but that is simply what you get from that combination. It seems that its hump was not that developed as in its grey coloured halfblood brother of the same combination, but it was still high on the legs at this age at least. I don't know whether 42 624 was slaughtered or sold alive, in any way it was not kept in the herd. 

Whether or not this bull might have grown tall or well-shaped, it shows two facts: 1) looking at just one individual of a breed combination is by far not enough to judge the potential in it, especially for F1 individuals, which are, after all, genetically of little relevance; 2) there is potential for accurately coloured Sayaguesa-Chianina crosses even in the first generation. Combining those two breeds might result in very useful animals for further breeding in being large, tall, muscular and well-shaped, with a good skull shape and colour. But of course the whole spectrum from that to disappointing is possible, and most results would be inbetween. In any case, if 42 624 would have been kept for a few years more he might have produced interesting results with his (half-blood-)sisters of the same combination. However, I understand that this animal was removed because of the negative influence on horn shape and size it might have had since its horns are far away from the breeding objective. 

As I recently reported, the Auerrindprojekt is now planning to produce some animals of that combination. Maybe we are going to see some F2 Sayaguesa-Chianina in the future. Of course either large quantity or simply luck is needed to unite the full potential of both breeds within early cross generations. 

Friday, 22 July 2016

Daniel Brühl to play Lutz Heck in a 2017 film

German actor Daniel Brühl is to play Lutz Heck in a war drama film scheduled to be released next year. 
The film, directed by Nici Caro, is named "The Zookeper's Wife" and covers the story of Dr. Jan Żabiński, director of the Warsaw zoo and his wife Antonia, who saved many lives during the German occupation of Poland (see here). Apparently, Lutz Heck's character is to be in this movie too. 

Daniel Brühl recently appeared in movies like Captain America: Civil War (2016), or Rush (2013), where he stars as the Austrian Forumula 1 driver Niki Lauda. 

I guess Lutz Heck never thought that his person is going to appear in a British-American movie production, neither did I. I am looking forward to see Brühl as Heck, since his portrayal of Lauda on screen was awesomely authentic; and maybe one or two times the aurochs might be mentioned as well. 

Thursday, 21 July 2016

New breeding herd at Lorsch, Germany

Although there has been a setback for the project recently, there are good news from the Auerrind project. They just set up a breeding herd composed of Thando, the young Watussi bull, and three young Sayaguesa cows plus two young Maremmana cows at Lorsch. 

The reason behind that is that Thando is still not ready to cover the Chianina cows, as originally planned, but the time can be seized to produce some experimental crosses. I am happy because the combination Watussi x Sayaguesa will be interesting to see; I think that a cross animal with a high portion of Sayaguesa and Watussi influence has the potential to optically resemble the aurochs to a large extent, especially because the Sayaguesa the Auerrindprojekt is working with are from a good herd. Of course the work would not be done with that alone, especially because the sensitivity to cold climate of Watussi needs to be compensated, but without question the results will be very interesting to look at. 
Photo owned by
As I wrote above, these combinations are experimental crosses to get more clues on the heredity of certain traits like horn size or fur colour. The original plan of a Watussi x Chianina strain is still a goal of the project. 

EDIT: I was just informed by Claus Kropp that it is also planned to let the Chianina cows be covered by the young Sayaguesa bull in the meantime - that means more of the combination Sayaguesa x Chianina which we already know from the Lippeaue, and I am happy about that. A "true F2" of that combination has the potential to result in large, well-built animals with an acceptable colour. The horns would be rather small, but since the project is also working with Watussi, I do not worry that much about that aspect.

Sunday, 17 July 2016

A very unusual aurochs skull at Cambridge

This post has been made possible by Peter Stockwell from the UK who addressed me to this specimen and provided me with interesting photos and information – many thanks for all the effort!

The Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences, Cambridge, UK, has several skulls or skull fragments on display labelled as aurochs. But one of them looks really atypical in having upright horns of a comparably weak curvature. The orientation of aurochs horns in relation to the skull usually varies from 70° to 50° according to Van Vuure 2005, some skulls might slightly brake the rule but it is apparent even from that broken frontal bone that the horns of this individuals seem to have an angle of beyond 90°, perhaps even 100°. Actually, these horns are barely like those of any other known aurochs crania but resemble those of many domestic cattle forms.
Some aurochs skulls, such as that of the Vig specimen, have horns that are more upright than the average. And the curvature varies from tight and narrow to more wide-ranging. But this skull definitely is a big leap from the end of the spectrum with no intermediate forms that I know of.
The photos are owned by Peter Stockwell.

The question is, then, if the skull fragment is that of an aurochs at all. The horns are, despite being atypical in orientation and curvature, still large and thick compared to the frontal bone carrying them. Unfortunately, much of the cranium is not preserved so we cannot check it for other diagnostic wild type traits, such as a large braincase, elongated skull (especially nasal bones), comparably small orbitals, straight to slightly convex profile and other features. The frontal bones, however, are obviously broad and well developed and the measurements I was provided with show that the specimen was in the size range of large domestic bulls at least (the distance between the horns on the specimen is 23cm, which is between those I find my two Taurus bull skulls; looking at the skulls and the individuals they are from I expect some variation on this metrical trait and I have no measurements from aurochs at hand) and therefore compatible with the aurochs (not all aurochs were giants, and the skull does not seem to be significantly smaller than the more typical skulls next to it on the photos). The horns are large also in absolute size. The distance between the complete tip and the broken tip is 83 cm, the circumference at the base 43 cm, which is well within the aurochs size range and well larger than in domestic cattle.
But equally as important as physical traits to find out the true nature of the skull fragment are location and age. I was told that the specimen was excavated at Barrington, Cambridgeshire, UK, in the year 1900. The exact age of the material was unfortunately not to be found out. But judging by its state, it is very plausible that it is older, or even way older, than mere two or three millennia, so it is definitely possible that the individual belonged to the predomestic British aurochs population. If the skull fragment is as old or younger than the arrival of domestic cattle on the British isles in the Neolithic, it is possible that the atypical horn shape of this individual is the result of interbreeding with domestic cattle. It has been supported by genetic data recently that local aurochs left a genetic trace in domestic cattle of Europe in several cases, but the reverse is possible as well – domestic genes may on occasion have left a trace in local wild populations, as it also happens between wolves and dogs or pigs and wild boar. It is likely that these domestic alleles are not that successful in the wild gene pool, but may produce variations visible in single animals, and this atypical aurochs skull might be one example if it is geologically possible. Precise dating and/or an aDNA test could resolve that question.

But let us assume this individual was a pure, predomestic aurochs. Should this deviant skull allow a broader range for what is permitted in breeding-back? I would say no: this skull is obviously a unique, atypical one, one of those very rare cases in a wild population. Furthermore, all existing breeding-back strains are rather variable concerning horn curvature and it is apparent from existing breeding projects that removing all those variants from the pool takes a rather long time. Allowing that kind of horns in a herd would make it even more difficult to establish the typical primigenius curvature, especially since we do not know the particular genes that play a role in the development of the shape of the horns. Besides that, undesired traits are going to reappear on occasion anyway, so this kind of upright, not tightly curved horns will be probably among them because of its common presence in domestic cattle.

Saturday, 9 July 2016

News from the Auerrindprojekt, Germany

It has been long ago since my last post. The reason behind that is that I had a busy semester at university, but now the summer has started and I have some time for the blog and artworks. At the moment I am working on two new aurochs models made from polymer clay, since I sold my first ones to the Alpenzoo Innsbruck. I hope that my new models, again male and female and to same scale, will be more artistically refined and more anatomically correct. 

The Auerrind Project has started a new breeding herd in Einhausen, Germany, containing two Hungarian Grey cows plus a young Sayaguesa bull named Johnny. One young H. Grey cow will follow next year, as much the two Maremmana cows. 
It is likely that Johnny will become a very useful breeding bull, since he is from the herd of Peter van Geneijgen which has rather beautiful animals (see this post on the Auerrindprojekt's webpage for pictures), and the other Sayaguesa the Auerrind Project purchased from that herd look very good as well. Unless I am wrong, part of the Sayaguesa stock of the Tauros Project and the Lippeaue are of Peter van Geneijgen's stock too. 
Johnny will probably cover the cows this summer, so the first calves of this combination should be born in spring 2017. 

What can we expect from the combination Sayaguesa x Grey/Maremmana? The results are surely going to be well-suited ecologically with an effective winter fur, because Sayaguesa does well in German winters at least and Grey cattle are adapted to the harsh conditions of the Puszta and other Eastern European landscapes. Sayaguesa is a comparably large breed, and Grey cattle medium-sized, therefore the cross results will be somewhere in between (actually they will vary along this spectrum), so most of the results should become larger than Heck cattle. Stature and body shape should be good as well. The fur colour will probably have the usual spectrum we have in breeding back herds: some individuals show a diluted colour, others do not, some have sexual dichromatism to a varying degree, others do not. I cannot predict what type will be predominant. The horns will probably show a size range between what we see in the pure breeds. Since truly inwards-curving horn tips are rare in Sayaguesa, especially in cows, most cows will probably have more or less outwards-facing horn tips. I am looking forward to see the first cross results of the Auerrind Project. 

A while ago I did some coloured sketches illustrating my thoughts on what early Auerrind crosses might look like. They are just guesses that show the countless combinations of traits that could be possible. 

The uppermost drawing is what I think a 75% Watussi and 25% Chianina bull might look like, or a more progressed animal with a high Watussi portion. I cannot predict how dark bulls of that combinations might get, so I took dark Watussi bulls as a reference. The next drawing is a prognosis for a first generation Watussi x Chianina cow. I used a Grey x Watussi cow from Hortobagy and a half-Chianina bull from the Lippeaue as a reference. Perhaps the horn size is a bit too optimistic. The third picture is my prognosis for a first generation Sayaguesa x Grey cattle bull. I used pure bulls of both breeds as a reference and theorized that Grey cattle would cause a saddle but not completely remove all the red pigment from the fur, but there are many possibilities. I did not illustrate a cow of that combination, because I think that many existing Taurus and Tauros cows are perfect models for what a cross of Grey cattle and Sayaguesa might look like. The lowermost drawing shows what I imagine a more progressed Chianina-Watussi mix would be, or maybe a "true" F2. 
Of course dozens of such prognoses and trait combinations are possible, ranging from superior animals to "oddities", so my sketches purely arbitrary, but maybe some of the future Auerrind animals might resemble one or two of those. 

In any case, I am very much looking forward to seeing how all these combinations will work out.