Thursday, 28 November 2019

An overview over the F1 Auerrind cattle

The website of the Auerrind project just posted an overview over the F1 Auerrind crosses so far. It is very nice to see them all in a row, and as recently announced, the first second generation crosses of the project are under way as well. As Claus Kropp correctly writes, it is not that important what the F1 look like but what genetic potential they have. Nevertheless I want to shortly describe the F1 here in this post. 

The Auerrind project has five Sayaguesa x Chianina so far. The cows are noticeably lighter in colour than the bulls. The bulls have slight greyish tone because Chianina has a semi-dominant dilution allele that removes the black pigment, additionally to recessive dilution alleles that remove the red pigment. Therefore, F2 Sayaguesa x Chianina have a chance of 1:4 for having the phenotypically right colour, 1:2 for looking the same as the F1, and 1:4 for being completely diluted concerning this allele. That's not so dramatic for breeding, as colour is the easiest to breed for. I like the body shape of the older F1 bull, it seems to develop quite good. 

In the Sayaguesa x Grey cattle crosses you see that the cow is much lighter in colour than the bull. The colour of the cow is slightly diluted, while the bull is completely black. All in all, the bull looks a bit like an aurochs-coloured Grey cattle bull to me, it is interesting that the Grey cattle influence is that strongly visible in this individual, whereas you see the Sayaguesa influence in the Sayaguesa x Maremmana very clearly. Good breeding partners for both combinations might be Sayaguesa x Chianina, which would have the potential for good size, body shape, horn shape and skull shape, whereas there is a chance that they would have some greyish dilution in the fur colour.

The Maremmana x Watussi look interesting as well. The colour of the cow is very beautiful. Hard to say what would be the ideal breeding combination for these two, perhaps Sayaguesa x Chianina or something 3/4 Sayaguesa. 

There also is another photo of Alvarez, the Sayaguesa x Watussi bull. It seems to grow very impressive horns that also face forward, and its face is rather Sayaguesa-like. The colour is perfect. As I wrote in another post, I think Sayaguesa x Chianina would be the perfect combination for this guy, and such crosses are about to be produced soon. 

It also has a photo of the first Chianina x Watussi individual. It is a cow, and the colour is very reminiscent of that of the Sayaguesa x Chianina cows. It will be very interesting to see how large its body size and horn size will be, since it is a mix of a large but small-horned and a small but large-horned breed. If bred to a Sayaguesa bull, the results could be pretty similar to the Sayaguesa x (Heck x Chianina) individuals from the Taurus cattle, which turned out to be a very successful combination, perhaps with even larger horns. Another option would be Sayaguesa x Chianina (this combination is good in almost each combination as it has a lot of the important traits except for horns size). 

Sunday, 24 November 2019

New photo of Alvarez the Auerrind bull

The Sayaguesa x Watussi bull is now subadult and Claus Kropp presented a recent photo:
© Auerrindprojekt
As you see, it has a flawless colour, the horns seem to start to curve forwards and not as upwards as in Watussi, and the body shape is a bit better than in Watussi. It is as large or a little larger than its father and still growing. It will be very interesting what the final horn shape and size is going to be. 

Maybe the ideal breeding partner for this bull is Sayaguesa x Chianina (the bull will be moved to the herd with the cows of this combination soon). It is, of course, playing with luck how good the second-generation individual will look like. Alvarez might either pass on either the flawless colour, Sayaguesa-type body and large horns, or Watussi traits and Sayaguesa-type horn size et cetera, while the Sayaguesa x Chianina might either pass on the right colour or dilutions, small horns or the right horn curvature and colour and so on. Breeding works with luck. 
One method to reduce the amount of luck necessary would be to produce good F2 of the respective generations first. An F2 for Sayaguesa x Watussi should have many Sayaguesa traits but have large and thick horns, a F2 for Sayaguesa x China should have the right colour, right horn shape and be large, long-legged and slender. F2 would also be more stable on these traits than F1, which are not stable at all for genetic reasons. These good F2 could then be bred to each other in order to seize the maximum potential in this combination. This would, however, add one additional generation to the breeding, but I think it would be worth the effort. 

Anyway, a (Sayaguesa x Chianina) x (Sayaguesa x Watussi) has a high potential for uniting many aurochs traits, and if a sufficient number of individuals of this combination is produced, some might look superb. 

Friday, 15 November 2019

Superficial similarity vs. the original genes

This is a though post today, but it addresses an important issue. It covers the question whether the aurochs-likeness of cattle resulting from “breeding-back” attempt is only superficial as a result of breeding or if it is true alikeness as a result of the original genes producing the original traits inherited from the aurochs. Or more precisely, if a trait is physically identical to that of an aurochs (f.e. horn shape, leg length etc.) in a “breeding-back” result, is it indeed produced by the same genes as in aurochs, and thus true originality, or produced by novel, domestic mutations and thus the resulting phenotype is just a mimic? 

As long-term readers and all those with a basic biologic knowledge will know, the “one gene one trait” scheme is too simplified. There are two categories of phenotypic traits: qualitative traits and quantitative traits. It is necessary for this post to look into the differences of these two categories. 

Qualitative traits are such that are regulated by only one or very few loci (genes) and thus are easily discernable and show a typical Mendelian heritage. Colour (or colour aspects) are a classic example for qualitative traits. 
Quantitative traits, on the other hand, are controlled by a large to very large number of loci and thus their inheritance and genetic background is less easy to determine. Body size in mammals, for example, might be controlled by hundreds or even thousands of loci, with a couple of dozens at least that have a more or less big influence. For more on the genetic background of visible traits go here. 

Taking colour as an example, we know that in canines the nucleotid sequence of the Agouti allele causing the wildtype canine colour scheme is identical in coyotes, jackals, wolves and wildtype-coloured dogs. These four canines therefore all have the same allele for the same colour scheme. Thus, we can assume that when cattle have a “flawless” wildtype colour scheme, the alleles responsible for this colour is probably identical to the alleles the aurochs had, and thus the similarity is authentic and not just superficial (except for the chance that some mutated new alleles might have exactly the same function as the wildtype alleles, f.e. red pigment production). This goes for breeds with an authentic wildtype colour scheme, such as Maronesa or some Lidia, Heck and Corriente populations. A check for the alleles on the original loci in these breeds and comparison with aDNA from aurochs might confirm this if executed. 

For quantitative traits, the situation is much more difficult, also because the loci responsible for traits such as body size, horn size, horn curvature and others have not been determined yet, let alone the individual alleles with their individual effects. For example, let us assume that horn size is affected by loci that, with their wildtype alleles, produce oversized horns that are compensated by alleles that shrink the horns down again, so that in combination all the loci result in the horn size we see in the aurochs. Some domestic cattle might have mutations that produce oversized horns (such as Watussi, for example), others have mutations that shrank their size down (for example in Angeln or Murnau-Werdenfelser). Now we have a Heck cow, Erni, here with mighty horns the matching those of large-horned aurochs specimen. 

The phenotypic size matches, but do the genes? Do all the loci have wildtype alleles producing the wildtype size or do the loci have domestic mutations that coincidentally produce the same phenotypic size? It happens that this cow is a mix of breeds like Angeln, Murnau-Werdenfelser and Watussi (I did not pick those breeds as examples for nothing). It is very likely that domestication produced quite a mess on those manifold loci regulating this quantitative trait, and that crossbreeding and the subsequent phenotypic selection resulted in a coincidental mix of both wildtype and domestic alleles that happen to produce the same phenotypic horn size as in the aurochs. This is, in my opinion, the most likely scenario. It is also possible that Erni’s horn size alleles are exclusively wildtype or exclusively domestic, although less likely. The same goes for body size. Taking Chianina, for example, we know that European mainland cattle were on average smaller than cattle today. Chianina is a breed whose trademark is its large size and it is actively selected for it, and it has an aurochs-like body size – it might have never lost its large size from its aurochs ancestors, or secondarily developed it due to selective breeding. If its size is indeed re-gained it might be the result of a cumulative effect for selection for large size that favoured wildtype size alleles, or the result of new mutations. We cannot know.

Additionally to that, we face the problem that incredibly many aspects of the morphology of an individual have a developmental background. These include skull shape, proportions, full size, soft tissue such as muscling and intestines, and probably also aspects of the skeleton such as height of the processus spinosi (“hump”) and many other factors. Development is the result of the timing and amount of signal molecules (hormones and transcription factors) which are itself regulated by regulator genes. Also here the question old vs. new allele with a coincidentally identical effect is not solvable. It might be the case that a new mutation on a regulator locus produces the same level of, f.e., corticosteroids, and thus the same phenotype as the wildtype allele. However, taking into account that development is a complicated fine-tuned process I do not consider such a coincidence that likely. 

However, looking at the body size and horn size example we get to the point where I personally say: I do not care that much about the answer to this question. It is not relevant for the work of “breeding-back” whether the alleles of quantitative loci are all wildtype or all mutated or a mix with a coincidentally phenotypically identical result. Whether or not a optic/phenotypic match with the aurochs is authentic or just superficial can probably be ascertained only for qualitative traits such as colour (actually, currently only colour), but that does not affect what “breeding-back” can achieve in the least. 

Monday, 11 November 2019

The Cuxhavener Küstenheiden

The Cuxhavener Küstenheiden in Niedersachsen,Germany, is a Taurus cattle breeding site that has not been covered here in the past, but has some really good animals. They started about 15 years ago with 24 animals, two of them being the cow Lusitania and the bull Lehmann. Both were Sayaguesa x Heck and both were from the Lippeaue. Lehman was used as a breeding bull until recently and was rather slender with long legs. 
You can see the herd in these three videos: 

Video 1 Here you can see Lehmann at 1:48, and 3:35, just see the good body shape of both individuals

In the third video you see them being handled from 34:00 onwards. I think those are very beautiful shots. The colour of the herd is comparably uniform, the horn shapes are OK to very good, and most of the individuals are slender and long-legged. Their colour and their coat that starts to turn into a winter coat are especially beautiful in these foggy autumn shots, with the forest and the grassland in the background. It looks very natural, you can easily believe that these animals are indeed autochthonous wild game also because of their almost uniform appearance. Here you see some more individuals from the herd. Some cows have small white spots on the belly, but the extraordinary slenderness of many of the individuals, the cows in particular, compensates that in any case. 

I would say that right after the Lippeaue, the Cuxhavener Küstenheide is the second-best Taurus cattle breeding site in Germany. 

Friday, 8 November 2019

A Chianina-Sayaguesa breed?

Claus Kropp recently sent me a video of the Chianina cows and one of the Sayaguesa bulls of the Auerrind project running next to each other which was pretty impressive. Not only have the Chianina cows a very useful horn curvature, but also was the bull noticeably larger than the cows, which have a withers height of 165cm. This in turn must mean that the bull is at least 170cm tall. Both are tall and slender breeds; Chianina is larger on average and has a good horn shape, Sayaguesa has the right colour and larger horns but is not always that long-legged as Chianina, and so far all Chianina x Sayaguesa crosses looked good. So I had the idea: why not making a breed that is a mix of exclusively Chianina and Sayaguesa? If well-selected such a herd would have the perfect colour, horns with a very good curvature (albeit not very large) and excellent body size and morphology with long slender faces after a couple of generations. Such a strain would be of great use for any project, be it Tauros, Taurus or the Auerrind project itself. 
What is missing in a Chianina-Sayaguesa mix is a breed that adds the long and thick winter coat, as the winter coat of Chianina is not very long and dense and that of Sayaguesa is not as good as that of f.e. Heck cattle either, additional to the small horn size. A Maremmana x Watussi that would be cautiously bred into the herd might fix that in one shot. The Auerrind project currently has a bull of that combination of which they do not know yet what to breed it to, I would suggest to breed it to some good F2 Sayaguesa x Chianina individuals. 
A Chianina x Sayaguesa bull born in the Lippeaue (© Matthias Scharf)

Wednesday, 6 November 2019

Heck bull with Watussi traits in Baden-Württemberg

The video down below shows a Heck bull which undoubtedly shows traits inherited from Watussi, see here:

The video is from a grazing project near the river Sechta in Baden-Württemberg, Germany. You can clearly see the Watussi influence in its horns, the body shape, and fur. Some Heck cattle breeders deny the influence from Watussi in Heck cattle and claim that the individual marked with "Watussi" was just a Heck bull named "Watussi", but with individuals like the bull above it is impossible to deny the Watussi ancestry of large-horned Heck cattle. 

I am pretty sure that the cow at 2:12 is Loxia, a Sayaguesa x (Heck x Chianina) cow from the Lippeaue. That means this herd has both very large-horned Heck cattle as much as a good Taurus individual, what means that there is potential for very interesting offspring. 

Tuesday, 5 November 2019

Video of very interesting Heck bulls

Recently I found a video of two very interesting Heck bulls on youtube:

The horns of those critters are astonishing, especially those of the bull at 0:50. Unfortunately the video gives no information on where it was shot, and has comments disabled. But not only the horns but also the body shape (sloping back, sloping pelvis) and the looks of the face makes it very likely that those bulls have Watussi ancestry. Furthermore, the shoulder hump and the solid black colour reveals influence of Taurus/Sayaguesa, which makes it very likely that they are Hungarian Taurus cattle and that the video shows one of the young bull groups of Hortobagy. 
Not only are they very interesting to look at but they also give a foretaste for what the Watussi crosses of the Auerrind project are going to look like. 

Sunday, 3 November 2019

New videos from the Lippeaue

I just found some recent or more or less recent videos taken in the Lippeaue that I want to share here:
The videos shows one of the new breeding bulls (I think at Klostermersch-Nord but I'm not sure), which is half Sayaguesa and half a third generation cross if I am remembering correctly. I think it is an extremely beautiful individual.
Aerial shots from Klostermersch-Süd with Larissa and other cows with a new breeding bull. Just look at how slender and athletic the cows look and move. Larissa is the greyish-coloured cow right at the beginning, she is the biggest cow in the herd with at least 160cm, the young breeding bull is noticeably larger. If the colouring of the individuals was a little more uniform, one could easily believe aurochs are back on this shot. 

I think the Lippeaue really represents the top level of modern breeding-back. I feel like I have to visit the herds once again some time.