Tuesday, 28 August 2018

Tauros cattle moved the Auerrind project in Lorsch

It has just been announced on the blog of the Auerrind project that a number of cattle from the Tauros Project have been moved to the Auerrind project in Lorsch, Germany. In total, eight animals have been moved to Lorsch: 
- 1 young Maremmana bull 
- 1 young Pajuna bull + 1 Pajuna cow 
- 5 cross cows 

Maremmana bull © auerrind.wordpress.com
Maremmana bull + Sayaguesa x Watussi cross bull © auerrind.wordpress.com
The Maremmana bull is almost two years old and measures 160cm already. It will surely grow some more centimetres and maybe reach 170cm. The body looks rather elegant, but bulls get more massive after the age of 3. The bull is to cover the three Sayaguesa cows next year. For now, it grazes in an own bull herd at Felix Hohmeyer's farm, together with the young Sayaguesa x Watussi bull. It has a flawless aurochs colour but a rather Watussi-like appearance; I am curious how its horn shape is going to develop and how large they are going to be. But even if it is going to look like a black Watussi, it is not its actual looks but its genetic potential it bears that count; bred into a Sayaguesa cow it could still produce a very good result. 
Pajuna cow © auerrind.wordpress.com
Pajuna bull © auerrind.wordpress.com
The breed Pajuna is going to be incorporated into the Auerrind project. Next year both individuals will be bred to each other in order to have more individuals of the breed. What is interesting is that the bull is black with no saddle - I have not seen this in a Pajuna before. I like the deer-like slenderness of the individuals. They have no plan yet on how to crossbreed Pajuna with. The question is not easy for a two-breed-combination as Pajuna is both a small-sized and small-horned breed. Pajuna x Chianina would probably end up with a good size and well-built body and a correct colour, but it would lack horn size. Pajuna x Watussi would lack body size on the other hand. However, I think they could try the combination Maremmana x Pajuna (a combination already produced by the Tauros Programme, resulting bull here and perhaps also this one). The horn shape could end up unsatisfying as both breeds lack a prominent inwards curve, so Sayaguesa could be added to the mix. 
Pajuna cow (left) plus some Tauros crossbreed heifers © auerrind.wordpress.com
The Auerrind programm also has a new herd of five Tauros crossbreed heifers. Claus Kropp writes they are probably Maronesa-, Sayaguesa- and Maremmana-influenced, but a genetic test shall reveal their exact identy. A plan how to use them will be made when their identity is known. 

Saturday, 25 August 2018

New Auerrind herd arranged

The Auerrind project has gained a new area for breeding and natural grazing, the reserve Hammer Auen in Groß-Rohrheim, Germany. Two heifers, namely Ambra the Watussi x Maremmana and the Sayaguesa x Grey cattle, have been moved to the area recently and another two individuals are about to follow. Here are some recent photos: 
Grey x Sayaguesa right and Watussi x Maremmana left (©Copyright www.auerrind.wordpress.com)
Watussi x Maremmana heifer in close-up (© www.auerrind.wordpress.com)
The Watussi crossbreeds are among the most interesting to me of the Auerrind project so far. I like the somehow tropical appearance of the fur of Ambra (short, shiny and contrast-rich colour). She seems to have a Watussi-like ribcage but the zebuine hump is only very weakly developed to almost invisible and the horns are probably going to be mighty. The colour is perfect (the distribution of the black pigment is slightly zebuine*, but that is nit-picking; it is very interesting to see that this allele(s) seemingly is dominant). I am curious on which bull is going to cover those cows. Thinking about what combination might lead to promising and strategically useful second generation animals, Sayaguesa might be an option. OK, Sayaguesa is always a good option for crosses as the breed has a lot of very useful traits and you can cross almost anything with Sayaguesa and get a more or less good-looking result. The two Sayaguesa bulls of the project are already in use however, so I am curious on what the two individuals that are going to join the heifers are going to be. 

* I noticed that the eumelanin distribution of zebuine breeds slightly differs from that of taurine breeds. In taurine breeds, the fur starts to get darker on the ventral side of the torso (except for the belly) and subsequently becomes darker from bottom to top except for the eel stripe; if that process stops, we see what we call the "colour saddle". In zebuine breeds, it is reverse, the dorsal side of the torso starts to get darker first and in the end a "colour window" becomes encapsulated on the lateral sides of the torso. Compare the colour saddle of a Steppe cattle bull with the lateral colour window of this zebu bull (this is also mentioned in my recent post on the Indian aurochs). You see the latter tendency in Ambra, at least on an older photo, which is not "negative" in any way but interesting. 

I think it is very enjoyable to see that the Auerrind project is gaining areas and expanding their herds that fast; it looks like they are getting enough areas for a lot of interesting crossbreeds quite quickly. 

Sunday, 19 August 2018

A comment to the Tauros Programme's website

The Tauros Programme has a website since 2015 (http://taurosprogramme.com), and recently I had a thorough read through it. I have read it before of course, but it did not present any new information but rather the usual formulas the project is using for press releases. All in all, the website is not completely clear on all aspects, but what I find confusing or perhaps not completely honest is the section on the breeds they are using - which is what I want to comment with this post. 

First of all, the list of breeds they are using is misleading. If you open the "breeds" button it shows you the following breeds: Boskarin, Limia, Maltese Ox, Maronesa, Maremmana, Maronesa, Pajuna and Sayaguesa. Highland cattle is not mentioned, which is morphologically far removed from the aurochs, but Maltese cattle are included as if they would be part of the programme in any sort. The profiles for the individual breeds are not always entirely honest either. For example, they attribute Maremmana "strong aurochs features like the size, colour setting, thick horns, clear difference between males and females". I would not directly call the Agouti-diluted grey coat colour of Maremmana strongly aurochs-like - other breeds of the project like Pajuna, Limia or Maronesa are far better in this respect. Also regarding the colour differences between the sexes, as most Maremmana bulls have a colour saddle, it is more reduced than in Limia or Maronesa for example. Actually, it is the colour setting of Maronesa that I would call almost perfectly aurochs-like. As for the horn dimensions, it might be true that there are Maremmana individuals, especially bulls, that have impressive horns, those of most individuals are shorter and thinner than in aurochs. Actually, those of many cows of the project are not that long and actually thin - such as the Maremmana cow whose photo is used for the breed profile on the page. There are actually a lot of Heck cows that have more impressive horns than that individual. On the Pajuna profile, they write that "bulls can reach up to 165 cm shoulder height". This is the alleged record (160-165 is always the alleged record for certain breeds, also for Heck cattle), but the website does not mention that most Pajuna individuals are far from large in size; Pajuna is more of a small breed, as the photos from Keent and other breeding locations prove - the Pajuna cows of the project are the same size as the Highland cows. 
By the way, where is Highland cattle on the website? They portray a large and rather aurochs-like breed that is not used in the project (Maltese) instead of mentioning the small and morphologically quite derived Highland that is indeed used. Highland cattle are mentioned in one sentence on the "breeds" page (where they also mention that they only hope to include Maltese in the future):"Furthermore we incidentally use some individuals of breeds very good characteristics such as the Scottish highlander". This sentence is really dishonest. First of all, the project does not "incidentally" use "some individuals" of this breed, but instead uses or used it on large-scale. Judging from the photos, and I have seen quite a lot, Highland cattle and its crossbreeds always make or made up about the half of the individuals in the Dutch Tauros herds. The technique of the Tauros Project was to use Highland cattle as a quantitative base and to phase it out in later generations, which is perfectly legitimate. Buying and importing cattle from other countries is very costly and effortful, so why not using the cold-adapted Highland cattle that were already there as a quantitative base? Why not writing exactly that? Simply claiming it is the incidental use of some individuals is not a honest description of what is actually done. Furthermore, I wonder what those "very good traits" are and if it is such a very good breed, why it did not deserve its own profile on the page. Highland cattle is a small-bodied breed with short legs, a massive body, short paedomorphic face, and all kinds of horn shapes (a number of individuals, though, has an aurochs-like horn curvature). They also have an overlong coat which makes them tend to overheat during summer, causing them to take baths in mud and drown (see the Weideleitfaden of the ABU). The only advantageous trait of its morphology and physiology is its cold-resistance. They once claimed Highland cattle to be "genetically close" to the aurochs, which they do not dare anymore (for my comment on the Nei distance chart, see here). I am also not happy with the sentence "we also don't use breeds such as the Italian Chianina, because there are better alternatives, such as in this case the Maremmana". Really? As regards to size, I won't say that Maremmana is a small breed, and it might be true that single bulls reach 170-180cm at the shoulders, but if you want to breed for large size and have to compensate the small size of other breeds, and want to introduce a breed that is very large, you need a one that is reliably this size, and not occasionally, and Chianina is definitely larger on average and more stable in this respect. I have not heard yet that Maremmana cows of a size of 160-165cm are common yet. Furthermore, the Maremmana bulls chosen for the programme, at least judging from photos and videos, are not much taller than the Pajuna or Highland of the project, and therefore certainly not of large Chianina size class. Introducing a breed in order to increase size when not picking the really large animals does not serve much purpose. An advantage of Maremmana is that it does not introduce the genes for the stubby very small-sized horns of Chianina, but the horns of Chianina are often of a useful curvature while those of Maremmana are not, and since the Pajuna used do have rather small horns as well such genes will be in the Tauros pool anyway. Furthermore, Taurus crossbreeds of the ABU have shown that even 50% or 25% Chianina individuals can have formidable horns (bulls like Luca, Lamarck, cows like Ludovica). The colour of Maremmana is less diluted than that of Chianina as the latter has dilution alleles on a locus additionally to the Agouti locus (where the Maremmana has its dilution alleles too), but these additional dilution alleles (on the Dun locus according to Olson 1996) are semi-dominant and therefore easier to breed out than recessive alleles. Regarding body shape and proportions, it is definitely Chianina that have a more long-legged, tight and slender morphology than Maremmana on average and in its best individuals. Actually, many Maremmana, including the individuals of the Tauros project, are not that slender and do have a large udder. And in fact two of its bulls are rather longish. I, personally, would prefer Chianina anytime over the Maremmana of the Tauros project, but perhaps that is personal taste. However, what slightly upsets me is that they literally write their breed is better than the other breed that is used by two other programmes (Taurus, Auerrind, with proven success in one of them and for the other one future will tell). 
Another sentence that is worth discussing is: "We also don't use Heck cattle apart from a very small group of animals for scientific evaluation only [...]. Using Heck cattle would imply that the negative traits would find there[sic] way in the Tauros population as well". 
OK, it is of course legitimate not to use Heck cattle and to start completely from a new. There is no reason why not doing so, the potential of breed combinations other than Heck cattle is endless within modern day cattle. Also, when crossbreeding it is advantageous when the breeds used for crossing are more or less stable. Heck cattle is not stable, not even more or less stabilized lines such as the former herd of Walter Frisch. So if you pick an individual for its good and large horns, chances are that it also inherits small and less good horns. So not using a unstable breed is understandable. But what exactly are those negative Heck cattle traits the Tauros programme does not want to get its gene pool influenced by? The negative traits found in the Heck cattle pool as a whole include (the way I see it): 
- comparably small body size 
- short-legged body with a massive, domestic body and short faces
- small and thin horns 
- large udders
- wrong horn shapes, f.e. upright, straight or lyre-shaped Steppe cattle-like horns
- diluted coat colour variants, incl. Grey cattle-like colour 
- strongly reduced sexual dimorphism in colour 
- white spots 

The bitter truth is that all of these negative traits are actually already present in the Tauros pool. Pajuna and Highland introduce small size, Highlands have the short-legged massive body and skull of domestic cattle (even more so than Heck cattle), small and thin horns are found in the Pajuna chosen (those of Limia cows are not large either, and those of many of the Maremmana and Boskarin cows of the project do not surpass those of Heck cattle), large udders are found in a couple of individuals of different breeds of the project, Maremmana and Highland introduce unwanted horn shapes facing upwards, outwards or having a lyre-shape, Maremmana introduces the recessive Agouti-dilution found in many Heck cattle, Highland introducess the recessive e allele that disables the production of black pigment, Sayaguesa has a very reduced sexual dimorphism in colour (and quite a lot of crossbreed Tauros cows as far as I can tell) and also introduces the genes for white spots on the belly (not all but some Sayaguesa cows have small white spots on the belly, so does at least one Sayaguesa cow and some of the Sayaguesa x Tudanca cows of the project). Actually Highland introduces a lot of these undesired traits, which might be an explanation why some of the Tauros crossbreeds look a bit Heck cattle-like (see here), which is something that I predicted in 2011 already. Apart from that, I wonder what the "scientific evaluation" is supposed to be. 

This post is not meant to bash the Tauros programme itself. Not at all. Actually I wrote in a lot of posts that I appreciate the project and think it has good potential and that many of its crossbred individuals do look good. Something that I wish from the Tauros programme's PR work is information instead of promo, but now after years I learned that we will only get promo, promo and promo (also it is always the same kind of promo forumulars), so now the only thing I wish is honesty. And those sentences that I quote here are far from honest, as well as almost concealing the big part of Highland in the project but including a portray of Maltese as if it was one of the used breeds. What I also dislike is that they are constantly putting down other projects or breeds (see the Chianina example). I know that the Tauros project probably is constantly trying to maximize founding etc. and therefore its web presence is nothing but promo and tries to communicate why their project is flawless, perfect and the best and "most scientific" of all, but that style of communicating is not honest and also not fair. None of the other projects does that and I also bet that the other projects do not feel the need to.