Last week I visited the Lippeaue reserve again, which is the main Taurus cattle breeding site in Germany. As usual, it was a very enjoyable trip, and it was great to see the animals again and how the herds progressed since 2017.
It has been five years since my last trip to the reserve in 2017. Some of the older individuals have died or had to be slaughtered in the meantime, including Lerida, Dona-Urraca (the Sayaguesa cow with the great horn curvature), Linnet and the huge Laokoon’s brother. Others, like Lamarck, are still in the herd. The other current breeding bulls are new. I counted 98 individuals in the stock list, including the calves. As long-term readers of my blog will know, the Lippeaue population is divided into five herds: Hellinghauser Mersch, Klostermersch-Nord, Klostermersch-Süd, Disselmersch and Kleiberg. There is one breeding bull per herd, selection takes place by picking a breeding bull with desired traits and selecting out individuals.
The current breeding bull at Hellinghauser Mersch is a nameless bull with the number 47 938, which is the son of Laniel and Larissa. Therefore, both its parents are crossbred themselves – this is good, because it’s where the real selective breeding starts. 47 938, as a result of two crossbred individuals that both are very useful, looks good itself. He has a flawless wildtype colour, horns facing forwards in a 60° angle to the snout, the hump is more or less large, and he has a short dewlap. He is three years old, thus not fully grown.
The cow 42 604 is one of my favourite cows. I saw her as a young cow in 2013, and her horns developed considerably since then. Her colour is a flawless aurochs cow colour, and bears striking resemblance to some of the depictions at the Lascaux cave. She is a daughter of Lamarck (Sayaguesa x (Heck x Chianina)), and Julia, a red Sayaguesa cow, thus she is 75% Sayaguesa. In general, Sayaguesa is by far the dominating breed in the Lippeaue gene pool. This is because Sayaguesa simply is a very useful breed that results in good-looking animals.
Another good cow of the same combination but with a different Sayaguesa mother (named Zamora) is 42 630. Like 42 604, she has a perfect wildtype colour and her horns are good as well.
Apart from the wildtype-coloured individuals, there are some other colours as well. There is the cow 55 443, which is one of those with a pink nose and a light coat colour. I think that it is possible that it is the e mutation on the Extension locus, a colour variant that is found in breeds like Highland and Simmental, but I am not sure. This mutation disables the production of black pigment in the mucosa, horn tips and coat colour and is recessive under the wildtype allele. I wonder which breed contributed the colour variant displayed by 55 443, perhaps Heck cattle (Highland is one of the founding breeds of Heck). Basically, it is tried to avoid this colour variant, but 55 443 has good horns and is comparably large, so she is kept in the herd. She is the daughter of Laokoon’s brother (Sayaguesa x (Heck x Chianina)) and Loren, a daughter of Luca and Lirgit.
Another cow with a deviant colour variant is 47 988. Her nose is pink too, therefore she might have the e mutation too, but she also seems to have dilution alleles contributed by Chianina. She will be selected out.
One of the Lidia-influenced individuals is 79 813. She is the daughter of Lamarck and Lepisma, a half-Lidia cow. She is a little bit more nervous than other cows, which is very likely due to the Lidia influence. Her horns are good, the colour is alright as well, and she is from good parents.
Most of the bulls that are born in the Lippeaue are black with a dorsal stripe. Some, however, have a saddle. And a young bull in the Hellinghauser Mersch this year is kind of cow-coloured. He is a son of Laokoon’s brother. I suspect that this is the case because Laokoon’s brother had a saddle, so that the sexual dichromatism is less pronounced in some of the individuals in this herd.
55 444 is another cow with a flawless aurochs cow colour.
Lamarck is an old boy now, he is 15 years old. He still looks good, he did not grow a massive body. I think his horns even grew a little bit. I still consider Lamarck the best Taurus bull to date, and therefore the best “breeding-back” bull that was born yet, although he is not as huge as Laokoon’s brother. Due to his age, he has become slow and tired, often he is found outside the herd. It’s probably his last year.
Linea is of the same combination as Larissa, namely Chianina x (Sayaguesa x (Heck x Chianina)). She is the daughter of the Chianina cow Eloisa and Lombritz. As she came rather close, we tried to measure her withers height, and the result was 156 cm. For a cow that’s a very good size, most aurochs cows were not much larger.
01 896 is a daughter of Laokoon’s brother and Dunja, so it is an F2 of the combination Sayaguesa x (Heck x Chianina). I think true F2 are very interesting, as they have a higher chance to be homozygous than usual crossbreeds.
55 441 is the daughter of Lamarck and Nadia, the Heck cow from the Steinberg/Wörth lineage, so she is half Heck half Sayaguesa x (Heck x Chianina).
Nadia herself is old now and doesn’t calf anymore. She bore two bull calves which were slaughtered and 55 441.
|Most of the individuals on this photo have the right colour for their sex, so there is good dichromatism in the herd|
The breeding bull at Klostermersch-Nord is Laniel. He is the son of the Sayaguesa cow named Augustina and Laokoon’s brother. The horn curvature is really nice and also the hump is comparably large, what compensates the fact that he has a faint saddle.
01 870 is a daughter of Laokoon and Laniana, therefore she has a little bit Lidia in her blood. The colour is flawlessly aurochs-like, and also the horns are good.
|Larissa next to a wildtype coloured cow|
Larissa is the largest cow in the Lippeaue and the same breed combination as Linea, with the Chianina mother Laura.
The breeding bull at Disselmersch is Darth Vader III, who became famous as the “jumping bull” on Youtube. He is the son of Londo, who was an F2 Sayaguesa x (Heck x Chianina) and the son of Lamarck, and the cow Laniana. He is 1/32 Lidia.
Guessing by eye, the body size and horn size of the animals at Disselmersch is slightly smaller than in the other herds.
Linnet was replaced as a breeding bull this year, the new breeding bull is Dominator. He is the son of Laniel and a Sayaguesa cow, therefore mostly Sayaguesa. The horns of this bull are great. The curvature is very aurochs-like, and if they continue growing with this curve they will be perfect. The angle between the horns and snout is rather narrow, but that will be compensated by the horn orientation of other individuals. The horns also have a nice size. He will continue to grow for a couple of years, I am looking forward to see how large he is going to get.
Bionade, the Sayaguesa x Chianina cow, is alive and well. Back in 2017, I measured her at 155 cm at the withers, and she must have grown since then, because she is huge. She came rather close, and I was impressed by how large she is. I am looking forward to the offspring with Dominator, his great horns coupled with her large size surely has a lot of potential.
Another very large cow is Kasmerodia. She has the same deviant colour as 55 443 which might be the recessive e mutation, but her large size and the large horns make her a useful individual. She is the daughter of Loren and Laokoon’s brother, therefore she is more Heck than Sayaguesa yet still she is huge. That shows that genetics work by chance, which is always interesting to see.
Kalandra is a daughter of Linnet and Kalidis, a daughter of Bionade. Her horns are comparably large and the colour is aurochs-like.
The most important question is: did the average quality of the individuals increase over the last few years? I think it did, as cows with inwards-facing horns are now much more common than in 2017, 2015 or 2013. Looking at the horns of most of the individuals, the first impression may be that the tips should face more inwards, but actually the curvature is alright, it is just that they should be oriented a bit more diagonal when viewed in frontal view. To explain what I mean, have a look at the photomanipulation of Lerida. I elevated the horns laterally by a few degrees in the "aurochs picture". Maybe it is best to call this the “lateral horn orientation”, in contrast to the horn orientation relative to the snout. I haven’t realized that this is a factor previously. Once the horns are a bit more laterally elevated, the curvature automatically looks more aurochs-like because the tips face more inwards, although the shape of the horns is actually the same. That way, the horns would resemble those of a lot of aurochs skulls, such as the one from the Gramsberger Museum or that at Asti, Italy. I don’t know how to fix that by breeding in future generations, as many aurochs-like landraces have a horizontal lateral horn orientation. All in all I think the horn curvature of most of the individuals is good and has improved over the last years.
Regarding the sexual dichromatism, most individuals are coloured correctly. Bulls tend to be black with a dorsal stripe, cows tend to be reddish brown. However, there are also black cows and rarely also cow-coloured bulls, so that the dichromatism is often present but not always.
Concerning the general colour, most individuals have the right colour phenotype. Half-Chianina individuals have a diluted colour of course, as Chianina has several dilution alleles, some of which are recessive. Selective breeding has to purge these alleles from the population in the long run, but considering that colour is regulated only by a few genes, that’s not all too difficult.
Regarding the morphology, I think the trunk of the cattle is longer than in the aurochs. This is a general problem for “breeding-back”, no matter which project, as in most taurine cattle the trunk is longer than in the aurochs. Only some zebu landraces have a truly aurochs-like short trunk. This is why I included trunk length in my list of the challenges for “breeding-back”. But in general, Taurus cattle are of course more long-legged than Heck cattle, and also slenderer.
All in all, I think the herds are on a pretty good way. I like all of the current breeding bulls and I am looking forward to see how large they will get and what the horns of Dominator are going to look like when he is fully grown in a few years. I was very impressed by the size of Bionade, Kasmerodia, Linea and Larissa. The horn size of many individuals is within the range of the Holocene European aurochs when skeletons like the Himmelev bull are considered. Of course, hypothetically, crossing-in Watussi for example would increase the horn size but it would also introduce a lot of unwanted traits like a large dewlap, the indicine hump, or a small body size. Backcrossing with Chianina would help to increase the body size, but also increase the frequency of alleles for small horns and colour dilutions – therefore, it is always about finding the right balance and prioritizing certain traits. Otherwise, it would be too easy.
So far, no individual has been born that comprises all of the desired traits (that goes for all the other “breeding-back” projects as well of course). But I think that basically all of the aurochs traits that are achievable with domestic cattle are present in the gene pool, therefore the first of the milestones for “breeding-back” that I have defined years ago has been accomplished in the Lippeaue.
The Lippeaue reserve is also home to the Konik-Przewalski crosses. These are either bay dun with a standing mane as a Przewalski’s horse, bay dun with a falling mane and rarely also black dun with a standing mane. Most individuals are bay dun in colour because they are most likely heterozygous and the a allele on the Agouti locus (resulting in black dun) is recessive under the A allele (resulting in bay dun), therefore bay dun is the dominant phenotype of most of the crosses. So far, no concrete breeding goal for the phenotype of the crossbreeds has been defined. They are wilder in behaviour than Koniks, which are domestic horses, since Przewalski’s horses, being wild horses, are more difficult to handle than the domesticates. The remaining pure Koniks are sometimes sold as riding horses, which is impossible with the Przewalski’s hybrids because of their wild behaviour. Interestingly, I was told that the legal protection status of the Przewalski’s horse in Germany also goes for the hybrids, what surprised me. Some of the hybrids have already been sold to other grazing projects. This could increase the Przewalski’s influence in the Konik in Germany (the Konik already has introgression from the Przewalski’s horse) in the long run, which I consider a good thing. A haplotype typical for Przewalski’s horses has been found in an ancient DNA sample from a European wild horse stallion, what suggests that the range of the two subspecies was continuous. Therefore, Przewalski’s influence in European landraces is not “unnatural”, and also beneficial because the Przewalski’s horse is a genuine wild horse. In the end, the Przewalski’s horse would likely have recolonized Europe from Asia after the extinction of the European wild horse if it had not been for the anthropogenic obstacles.
All in all, I think the Taurus cattle in the Lippeaue represent the top-level of current "breeding-back", and also the Przewalski's hybrids are very interesting and have potential. Therefore, it is always great to visit the herds and see the breeding progress.