Wednesday, 4 January 2017

True F-crosses (Mendelian terminology)

The genetic terminology of filial generations (F) has been a bit misused on the web concerning breeding-back, and I am guilty of it as well. While I used an “F” for any crossbred generation, no matter which genotypic combination, it should only be used when F1, F2, F3… individuals are mated to each other respectively if you want to use that terminology in a genetically correct sense.
True F-cross products are interesting for breeding strategies because they are the most efficient way to fixate alleles in a more or less controlled way (while rampant cross combinations end up in genetic chaos) and to watch the Mendelian rules of inheritance (yes, most of the traits of a living organism are polygenetic, let us assume that for each of the single loci the Mendelian rules do apply). An F1 cross has one full set of chromosomes from one parental breed and one from the other. It has maximum heterozygosity that is possible between the two breeds, and is only homozygous for traits that are shared by the two breeds anyway. No matter how good the animal looks, how often you back-cross its offspring to it, it will not be able to increase the amount of homozygosity in the herd. Using an F1 bull for a long time can only spread the desired alleles in the population, but does not stabilize it. An individual that is half-pure does not have a chance of being homozygous for any of the desired traits except for those that are already shared by the parental breeds, no matter how good it looks.

Mating two F1 individuals to each other (they do not necessarily have to be siblings, but just be of the same genotype) would theoretically result in a continuum between the pure versions of the two breeds (how much offspring is necessary to see the full range of possible trait combinations depends on combinatorics).  
A true F2 individual has the chance to be homozygous for desired traits of both breeds, whereas a back-cross (B, in genetic nomenclature) with one of the founding breeds, no matter how good it works out, does not – a back-cross will be homozygous for many traits of the one breed, but for none of the desired ones of the other. Therefore, a back-cross is not a step forward, while using a true F2 for the next generations is more efficient than those of any combination, no matter how good they look.
In a postfrom 2015, I proposed the creation of a stable line using a breeding plan based on true F-matings. This concept has its practical challenges, and of course provokes inbreeding. Before I am going to cover the “true F” individuals I was able to find in the Lippeaue Taurus herd, I want to outline another topic where I think siblings matings played a role.

Large-horned Heck cattle

Heck cattle is extremely variable regarding horn size. I define horn size via two factors: a) horn length and b) thickness. Both factors vary from rather meagre to very large in this breed. Some Heck cattle actually have extremely large horns compared to most other breeds – in effect, looking only at the one end of the spectrum we see in Heck cattle, one would say this breed is one of the largest-horned breeds in the world. Just look at individuals like this, this or this. Why do some Heck cattle have that large horns? Readers familiar with this topic will know that the Wildgehege Neandertal, one of the most important Heck cattle breeding sites after World War II, used a half-Heck cattle half-Watussi cow in the 1950s for breeding. Because it was only one individual half a century ago, you barely recognize Watussi influence in modern Heck cattle (except for individuals like that for example, if you have an eye for it). But they kept on selecting for large horns, and therefore many of the Heck cattle of the Neandertal lineage have respectable horns. Still not that huge, however.
Walter Frisch, who had been breeding Heck cattle for more than two decades, probably created the Heck cattle lineage with the best horns in terms of aurochs-likeness (go here for more on this lineage). He consciously used inbreeding in order to stabilize desired traits (I assume that the focus was mainly on horns), including parent-offspring matings but of course also siblings matings.
Horn size, as a quantitative trait, is very likely based on many different gene loci that complement and/or summarize each other. The aurochs had a set of wildtype alleles on these loci that produced the horn dimensions it had. Domestic cattle most likely have mutations on these loci (some breeds perhaps only on some of them, others maybe on all) that either shrink horn size down in most cases, or in rare cases, augment it. I am not aware of any work on the genetic background of horn size, so my assumptions are just based on general basics – I’d be very grateful if someone discovered material on this topic and would direct it to me.
In any case, very large-horned breeds such as Watussi must have at least one or two alleles that cause those super-large horns. I cannot say whether these are wild type or not (the fact that their horns are larger than in the aurochs does not rule out that these alleles are wild type, f.e. if there were other loci whose wild type alleles normally counteract the super-growth of those horns that are mutated in the very large horned breeds). The fact that there are occasionally very large-horned Heck cattle with horns as thick as in Watussi implies to me that the alleles for such dimensions are probably recessive or incompletely dominant, otherwise there would be sequences of individuals which constantly display and pass on huge horns. Those alleles are probably floating around in the Neandertal and Wörth lineage heterozygously. Inbreeding, and especially siblings matings, probably lead to the more or less fixation of alleles for rather large horns in the Wörth lineage (though not completely, please read on) and occasionally even those that cause a very large-horned phenotype in Watussi become fixed homozygous in an individual. There are two examples in the former Wörth lineage that I know of: the bull Arturo and the cow Erni. Both are the result of siblings matings. In 2013, there was a Heck cow on the island which had rather small and thin horns, quite unlike the rest of the herd. Walter Frisch told me such individuals still pop out on occasion just like those with the oversized horns. It would be interesting to know if those very small horned members of the lineage are the result of siblings matings as well.

“True F” individuals in the Lippeaue population

Once again I take the Lippeaue population as my study subject. It is the herd I know best by far; I can trace down the identity and descent of almost all animals, and know what they look(ed) like thanks to stock lists and a photo archive I was provided by Margret Bunzel-Drüke and Matthias Scharf from the ABU. They use(d) only three to four breeds, what makes it comparably easy to comprehend the diversity of breed combinations and phenotypes. They have been breeding for more than twenty years now, what makes it the longest-lasting active cross-breeding project at the moment and therefore their herd has many of the possible combinations of the four founding breeds and some rather progressed individuals (the youngest individuals should be of the sixth cross generation by now). This alone makes the herd very insightful. And, furthermore, it is a very enjoyable fact that many of the Lippeaue Taurus cattle indeed look very satisfying.  
I would love to have the same opportunities with the TaurOs herds, especially as ever more and more cross combinations and grown crossbreed animals appear on the scene, but I have no personal contact to the TaurOs Project and therefore have limited possibilities on this project.

Using the material I have I searched for “true F” individuals of various genotypes in the Lippeaue population, also including animals that have been selected out or sold to other locations.

With the exception of Londo's, all photos are courtesy of Matthias Scharf, so please do not replicate without permission. 

Heck x Sayaguesa

A rather good Heck x Sayaguesa bull (Lucio) was used as a breeding bull on several sub-herds in the Lippeaue for many years, grazing alongside good cows like Lerida of the same combination. Consequently, there were a number of true F2 animals of that combination.

Leila, a daughter of Lucio and Locusta, was one of these. She seemingly looked quite good overall, although her horns were not satisfying in terms of curvature and volume. She left a number of descendants in the herd that are still present in the current population.
Lippe, a daughter of Lucio and Lerida, was quite good in terms of body and skull shape. She had (or has, she did not stay for long in the herd and I do not know her fate) a powerful shiny black coat colour, which is – although rather aesthetic to me – of course not desirable for a cow. What would be excusable if she had good horns, but for some reason she happened to have tiny horns that resemble those of Chianina a lot. This is surprising, as neither their founding Heck cattle nor Sayaguesa nor F1 crosses of that combination have such small horns. One explanation might be that both breeds have alleles that shrink down horn size but on different loci, and only F2 and subsequent combinations can be homozygous for both loci and display that small horn size. It is just a theoretic assumption as the genetic background of horn size apparently is not studied.
She did not leave descendants that I know of.
Loreley II was a fullblood sister of Lippe, but did not look that convincing (based on the photos I have), that is why I found her among the individuals that where selected out too. Her horns were not that good and she has no sexual dichromatism either, plus a white spot on the belly. The body shape and proportions look good, but she is rather young on the photos. She did not leave a track in the Lippeaue population.
Loreley II
Luxus was a fullblood brother of Leila. His trunk looks rather elongated on the photos, the head was short and the horns comparably small and not much inwards-curving. But his overall impression was not that bad as his colour was accurate, the body slim and the backline curved, so he was used as a breeding bull at Disselmersch (one of the sub-herds) for some time, and produced four descendants, of which none were kept for long.
Luxus; the other photos don't show this saddle
Lumumba was a son of Lucio and Lerida. It seems like he looked average, although his rump was rather heavy at the age of 2 already.

Heck x Chianina

I was unable to find true F2 for this combination. The reason for that is that the ABU only used one half-Chianina bull for breeding, Luca, at Hellinghauser Mersch, where there were no half-Chianina cows. A pity, it would have been interesting to see F2 of this combination.

(Heck x Chianina) x Sayaguesa

This combination seems to be the right mix to me – all three breeds are contained, and in an advantageous quantitative relation. This combination also includes all important aurochs traits. Note that counting this three-breed-combination as a genotype requires that these F1 are actually second-generation crosses, not first-generation. Lamarck, for example, is a second-generation cross bull but F1 for this genotype.

Londo is the best one of the true F2 I found for this combination. He is the son of Lamarck and 84 024, fullblood siblings. He resembles his father (which I is still one of my favourite Taurus bulls of all) a lot, has a curved back line, thick horns of an acceptable curvature and a correct colour. In contrast to his father, he has a chance of being homozygous for all these good traits, but unfortunately that also goes for the undesirable traits – he is smaller than his father and has a comparably longish trunk. Nevertheless, I still think this bull is qualitative because of its descent and looks, and it is currently used as a breeding bull at Klostermersch-Süd. Recently a male calf he produced with Larissa, the largest Taurus cow at the Lippeaue (more than 62% Chianina), was born – it has the potential to become a very useful future breeding bull.
42 621 is the daughter of Lamarck and Loxia. Loxia is/was a very good-looking cow, a full-blood sister of Lamarck. 42 621, however, did not work out well – diluted coat, short snout, horns that did not look promising. Genetics work by coincidence. Personally, I would have kept Loxia in the population, and in the same herd with Lamarck. This siblings couple had the potential for really good F2 individuals. I don’t know why Loxia was removed from the herd as she looked really good, perhaps her behaviour was un-suited or other reasons.
42 621
42 634 was the daughter of Lamarck and Laola, another quite good cow. 42 632 however, could have been better, as the horns were meagre, the colour had a slight greyish tint and the hips where higher than the shoulders. She was slaughtered because she was rather aggressive as well.
42 634
Her fullblood sister 79 808 worked out better in terms of body shape and also horns. Her colour is very faint as well, but in another way than in 42 621. While the coat of the latter was rather greyish, i.e. the amount of red pigment was reduced, 79 808 seems to have a reduced amount of black pigment, hence the beige colour like in Luca. So we are probably dealing with two different loci here. She was removed this year and left no descendants as she was (or is) quite young. Interestingly, her horns show the same kind of minor asymmetry that is also seen in Lamarck and some Heck cattle of the Wörth lineage.
79 808
79 844 is the only other F2 bull of this combination that I know of. Another son of Lamarck and Laola. He has a light colour saddle, but that saddle is not of such a faint colour that I would say it is the result of a dilution factor, it can also be a sign of lessened sexual dichromatism. But its face shows light markings that are typical for Chianina-influenced animals that show diluted colour variants. His body and head shape was not different from that of the other young bulls at Hellinghauser Mersch at this time (as far as I can tell), and its horns might have even become good or at least large, but its colour was obviously unsatisfying so he was removed in 2014 or 2015.
79 844
I have to conclude that Londo is the only really satisfying true F2 of that combination (despite its size) – well, genetics work by chance and five individuals are a small sample size. But these five individuals tell us interesting things about the parents. With the exception of Londo, all of Lamarcks’ F2 offspring have a more or less diluted coat. Lamarck himself is not diluted; it might be that his red pigmentation is reduced but it is not visible due to his solid black colour, but his eel stripe and forelocks show a powerful yellow-red colour, so I do not think so. Laola, 84 024 and Loxia definitely have a non-diluted wild type colour phenotype. So those factors that caused a faint or diluted colour in the F2 offspring must be recessive, and furthermore must be present heterozygously in both parents of the diluted offspring. And since the quality of the dilution is different between some of the animals, as outlined above, we might be dealing with two loci instead of one. While the cows must not necessarily have one allele for each of those two, Lamarck probably has one dilution allele on both of these two loci. That’s bad luck considering that the chance of him having one dilution allele from its Chianina grandparent is only 25% and that he is one of the phenotypically best Taurus bulls of all. But I think that does not dramatically decrease his value as a breeding bull at this stage, considering that those dilution alleles are probably widely distributed in the population anyway.

Lamarck has been moved from Hellinghauser Mersch to Klostermersch-Nord, where there are no cows of the same combination. But the new breeding bull at Hellinghauser Mersch, the huge 42 623, is of the same combination as Lamarck and so he can produce some more true F2 together with Laola and 84 024. From a genetic point of view, using more good F2 bulls should help progressing the herd – continuing to use half-pure bulls as breeding bulls will not effectively stabilize the population on long-term sight while a F2 as a chance of being homozygous for several desired loci of different founding breeds at the same time. The subsequent goal should be to achieve a good F3 bull by placing the F2 with cows of the same F-generation and genotype, which then is at least as or even more stable than its father, and to use this as a new breeding bull and so further. I think this could help to speed up the breeding process in a crossbreeding herd as progressed as the Lippeaue population currently is, more so than using half-pure bulls or than bulls of random combinations.

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Good news from the Auerrindprojekt #2!

Finally, after a long waiting time and also some practical challenges, the first cross calf of the Auerrind project has been born! 

It is a female Sayaguesa x Hungarian Grey calf, and perhaps the only one of its combination yet worldwide. The mother is the Hungarian Grey cow Domka, the father the deceased Sayaguesa bull Johnny. 
It will be interesting to see what the horn shape is going to be like, and how dominant the red portion in its coat colour will be. Perhaps it might resemble some already existing Taurus and Tauros cows in overall looks. 
The cross calf with its mother (© www.auerrind.com)


Good news from Kloster Lorsch, Germany

Unfortunately, the Sayaguesa bull Johnny purchased by the Auerrind-Projekt, which was about to produce Sayaguesa x Chianina crosses, had an unfortunate death by the end of this sommer.
But the project announced on their webpage last week that two new young Sayaguesa bulls from the same herd have been purchased and imported last week. Currently, they are in an acclimatization area with the Maremmana cows.

The older one of the two, Leo, has a colour saddle on its back - a trait that is probably due to the Alistana-Sanabresa influence of its mother (10,15%).

I hope that one of this bulls is going to be used for a Sayaguesa-Chianina cross herd as it was planned with Johnny, as I still think this combination has potential for rather interesting animals.

Currently both bulls are grazing with the Maremmana cows for acclimatization. No information has been given so far for what kind of cross combination(s) they are going to use the bulls. I hope that at least one of them will be used to cover the Chianina cows as originally planned with Johnny, because I still think such a combination has great potential. 

Monday, 12 December 2016

Teaser: "True Fs" plus the wisent's hybrid origin

I have been rather busy with university lately, therefore the lack of activity here. I did not miss the news regarding the wisent's phylogenetic origin, but I just did not have the time to cover it properly here. Currently there is another article in preparation, on "true F" individuals from the Lippeaue which might be interesting for breeding strategies. 
Now, holidays are comming, and I hope to find the time to finish those posts. And also to do some work on my new aurochs models made from polymer clay. 
So please stay tuned! 

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Water buffaloes released in Danube Delta, Odessa, Ukraine

Recently, the True Nature Foundation has announced that Carpathian water buffaloes have been released in the Danube delta of the Odessa region, Ukraine. 
See here, here and here

I already mentioned the water buffalo project of the TNF in a 2015 article. Back then, it was the intention to crossbreed domestic, locally adapted water buffalo with wild Asiatic water buffalo to achieve a mix of locally adapted and wild type traits. Seemingly this idea has been rejected, perhaps for practical reasons, since the project has announced that the recently released herd is composed of Carpathian water buffalos. Therefore they are domestic descendants of the wild Asiatic buffalo, Bubalus arnee. This species is not native in the area, but Europe once was home to Bubalus murrensis, the European water buffalo. So when domestic water buffaloes are released in Europe, it based on the assumption that both species are ecologically similar and that domestic water buffaloes can fulfill a niche that has been left vacant when the European water buffalo disappeared (for anthropogenic reasons or not). And indeed water buffaloes do have a positive effect on biodiversity in reserves of a certain type (for more details, see the 2015 article and literature cited). However, there is no evidence for Bubalus on the area of the former USSR except for one possible horn element from the Taman island, Russia [1]. 
Nevertheless, I do think that water buffaloes can have a positive effect on biodiversity in the Danube delta of the Ukraine. I assume that studies will be conducted documenting the effect of this megaherbivore species being introduced in this area. 


[1] Diana Pushkina: The pleistocene easternmost distribution in Eurasia of the species associated with the Eemian Palaeoloxodon antiquus assemblage. Mammal Review 37 (3), 2007

Friday, 25 November 2016

Some new photos from the Auerrind project

The cattle of the Auerrind project, Germany, have recently been moved to winter pastures because the current size of their summer areas is not yet large enough to support the whole herd during winter. In their recent post, the project released new photos of some of their stock. All of the photos are owned by Auerrind.wordpress.com.
© www.auerrind.wordpress.com
The a little more than two years old Chianina bull Bruno, which is to cover the two new Watussi cows next year. He is taller than grown Watussi cows already and seems to have a firm body. At this young age he is elegantly proportioned like deer, let's see what he is going to look like when he is fully grown. 
© www.auerrind.wordpress.com
Maua, one of the new Watussi cows from Zoo Neuwied. 
© www.auerrind.wordpress.com
Speranza, one of the Chianina cows. She has reached her sister's shoulder height of 165 cm now and has a great morphology - actually, only the correct colour (we are talking about very few genes here) and horns would be needed and this would be a marvelously aurochs-like animal. 
© www.auerrind.wordpress.com
Elena and Edda, two of the Maremmana cows, which placed in a herd among the Sayaguesa cows and Thando. 
© www.auerrind.wordpress.com
Thando, the now three-year old Watussi breeding bull at Lorsch. His coat colour seems to be darker than that of the cows (Watussi occasionally seem to retain a reduced sexual dichromatism). I am very much looking forward to seeing cross results with Watussi, we can expect Watussi x Sayaguesa and Watussi x Grey in the near future. Thando seems to be quite muscular and has impressive horns. 

I think that the animals of the Auerrind project are developing very well, now I am looking forward to seeing their genes mixed up. 

Friday, 28 October 2016

Impressive Tauros bull at Maashorst

In April of this year, Tauros cattle have been introduced into the Dutch reserve Maashorst. The breeding bull seems to be quite impressive, although its' size is not apparent from the photos. Some examples:
© Wilma Heuvel
© Rene van der Lee
© Caroline van der Lee
Based on its looks, I am pretty sure it is a Maremmana x Pajuna cross. It looks exactly like an intermediate between the two breeds and also resembles the widely publicized bull Manolo Uno of the same combination. I like the looks of this bull, especially as a first-generation cross. Compared to Manolo Uno, it has larger horns, a slenderer body and also a quite impressive hump/neck bulge. Therefore, I like the looks of this individual more than those of Manolo Uno (anyway, a first-generation cross is too early to judge anything). This bull must be of similar age, so I wonder where they have been hiding him all the time - Manolo Uno is the only grown crossbred bull they have been widely promoting so far. 

It would be interesting to know the nature of the cows he is grazing with. I have been thinking about which combination of Tauros breeds would be ideal for this bull to produce potentially very good-looking animals. Maronesa would be very beneficial for the horn shape (inwards curve, orientation), but would also reduce the size and skull length and I don't know if there are any grown Maronesa F1 crosses so far. Another Maremmana x Pajuna as mating partner for this bull has potential, but probably also the best of such "true F2" would probably lack a satisfying inwards curve of the horns and would still have a large dewlap. Also, the risk of the offspring showing diluted coat colours is 1:2 respectively 3:1 (depending on how dominant/recessive the diluting factors are). A Highland crossbreed would add horn volume and density of the winter coat, but the negative traits of Highland are obvious as well. 
But I think it is most likely that this bull was placed among cows of various combinations (like in other herds), therefore I am looking forwards to see the offspring of this bull. 

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

News from the Auerrindprojekt

After the depressing news of Johnny's death in August, there are some good news of the Auerrind Project again.
Domka, one of the three Hungarian Steppe cows of the project, is highly pregnant from Johnny the young Sayaguesa bull. This calf will be the first one of this combination in breeding back (and perhaps world wide) and I am curious on its looks. In sum, it will probably resemble some Taurus and Tauros cows a lot, but it will be interesting to see the amount of dilution in its coat, sexual dichromatism, horn orientation and so on. Of course one individual alone is not representative for the mean average of a certain breed combination.
Pregnant Domka
Currently, the Steppe cows are also grazing with a Cachena x Steppe cross calf. Its father is of Felix Hohmeyer's black Cachena variant and it is not going to be used for the Auerrindprojekt. 
Cachena x Hungarian Steppe
Another interesting photo was recently presented on auerrind.wordpress.com. It shows the breeding bull of Lorsch, Thando, a young Watussi bull. Thando is going to cover the young Sayaguesa and Grey cattle cows and the new photo reveals his impressive horn volume. I am especially looking forward to see the combination of Sayaguesa and Watussi; I think that a 25% Watussi and 75% Sayaguesa or a good "true F2" has the potential to look very impressive already. The winter coat would probably be sufficient, but might need a boost by Grey cattle genes subsequent generations. 
Thando, the young Watussi bull at Lorsch

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 auerrind.wordpress.com
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.