Sunday, 23 July 2017

Another aurochs bull reconstruction

Sometimes, photos of living cattle inspire me to do aurochs drawings, often based on some anatomical details, such as when the body shape or skull shape is exactly like I would imagine it for an aurochs. In the case of the photo of this Eringer bull, it was the coat that inspired me. Not its colour, which is probably alright (I assume that the dorsal stripe is not visible in this position), but the curly hair on its face, forehead, neck and shoulders. While historic account confirm the presence of curly hair only on the forehead, I believe that more extensive curly hair could have been a trait for at least some European aurochs bulls. For details, go here: Forelocks and manes

So I decided to to a standard aurochs bull in the same position as the Eringer bull with the same kind of coat. My bull is roughly based on my recent reconstructions of the Braunschweig and Sassenberg bulls, and also has pretty much standard horns. 
I say that like in the Eringer bull, a narrow eel stripe would not be visible from that position. The mealy mouth would be a bit reduced, as it is a mature, perhaps a bit old bull. 

Saturday, 22 July 2017

Alternative breeds for breeding-back? Part III: How I would do it

In the two previous posts, I outlined why it might be advantageous to introduce some useful but not currently used breeds into the “breeding-back” population as a whole. Those breeds would have genetic, morphologic and ecologic benefits and in the first post, I introduced a selection of European and European-descending breeds and in the previous one, the Turano-Mongolian cattle group. I also mentioned that we should get us an overview over the landraces in the Near and Middle East before they disappear.

I presented a long list and it is by far not complete. However, for those who wonder what I breeds I would choose to work with, I decided to write an extra post. Of course, single breeds that have the right combination of traits could be bred into existing projects just to increase genetic diversity. But to me, it would be fun to think of a project that starts completely from a new with these breeds, and to gain a maximum of genetic diversity from within this set.

I would acquire cows from Tudanca, Camargue, Barrosa, Angeln (paying attention on getting such with inwards-facing, aurochs-like horns), Modicana, Avilena (trying to get well-horned cows), Alistana-Sanabresa and slender Wagyu. Then, for the first round, I would inseminate the cows with semen from bulls of Texas Longhorn, Corriente, Florida Cracker (trying to get one from a mother with aurochs-like horns), Chillingham cattle, Maltese, Yakutian cattle and well-built other Turano-Mongolian bulls. The combinations do not matter that much, because in the end all genes will be mixed up. But for breeding bulls, I would prefer three combinations in the second generations: (Tudanca x Maltese) x Corriente, (Texas Longhorn x Modicana) x Corriente, (Barrosa x Maltese) x Maltese. I would also produce individuals for Corriente and Maltese that are at least 75% pure, mixed with breeds that either supply horn volume (for Maltese) or size (for Corriente). Since genetics work by chance, one would have to pick the best individuals of these combinations, and after a sufficient amount of time, all kinds of possible combinations would be produced and many of them can deliver good breeding bulls. In general, I would like two breeds to have a stronger influence in the herd(s), Maltese and Corriente. Maltese because of their large size, long-legged build and long skulls, and Corriente because of their aurochs-like build and horns. Some Corriente look like miniature versions of the best Taurus bulls (f.e. see here) and some even have comparably largehorns.
This mix would be very diverse at the beginning. Not only genetically, but also morphologically and regarding colour. I would worry the least about colour, as it is regulated by the fewest genes (more on that later). Which combinations are best can only be shown by experience, and also if some breeds do not meet the appointments. One would have to try it. I am, of course, aware of the fact that such a project would be very expensive (because of acquiring all the semen alone), and you would have to start with probably at last thirty animals if you want to build up a significantly large population and therefore also need the area size and more money. Apart from that, it would have to be run by patient people, because a lot of combinations would not look good at the beginning but bear potential for later generations.

Sunday, 16 July 2017

Alternativ breeds for breeding-back? Part II: Turano-Mongolian cattle

In the previous post, I outlined that the genetic basis of the “breeding-back” population as a whole, when adding up all projects, might not be that broad considering that many of the projects use the same breeds and also from the same herds. Therefore, I introduced a number of breeds that have not been used in “breeding-back” before but might be of similar value as the breeds currently used. In the previous post, I focused on breeds from Europe. But to gain much more genetic diversity and also some very advantageous phenotypic traits, I am going to look at another cattle group in this post: Turano-Mongolian cattle.

Turano-Mongolian cattle

First of all, many might wonder what are Turano-Mongolian cattle. They are a genetically distinct group of taurine cattle1, once even considered to have been domesticated independently (which is debunked now, all taurine cattle seem to have originated in the Near East2). They are to be found in Asia and have also been slightly influenced by other taurine cattle and zebuine cattle1. Nevertheless, they are probably only very distantly related to the breeds used in breeding-back and probably would boost the genetic diversity dramatically.
But they offer several other advantages as well. I introduce a number of Turano-Mongolian breeds now that I looked up so far.
Unfortunately, as all interesting and unique landraces, they are threatened by dilution with derived breeds.

Yakutian cattle and other Siberian breeds

Siberian Turano-Mongolian cattle, especially Yakutian cattle, are extremely resistant to very low temperatures (probably more so than wild aurochs, which seemingly never lived in regions of -35-50°C). They have adaptions like a very thick winter coat, small udders, short scrota and dewlaps and, which is unique among cattle, show a torpor at low temperatures. Crossbreeding with Yakutian cattle could be very beneficial for breeding-back because of these traits. F.e. Taurus cattle at Hortobagy are reported to be less resistant to the cold and dry winters in the Puszta than the Przewalski’s horses, and Yakutian genes could help them to survive the winters without supplementary feeding. Furthermore, Yakutian cattle would compensate that the fact most of the breeds currently used and those that I proposed before are from the subtropical zone. Yakutian cattle would be the perfect ecological compensation for the African Watussi being used in at least two projects/breeds (Hungarian Taurus cattle, Watussi).
They display several colour variants, wild type colour among it. Mongolian rural cattle might be of similar value.

East-Asian Turano-Mongolian breeds
Mishima cow
Yanbian cow
Bulls of a) Hanwoo, b) Chikso, c) Heugu, d) Jeju
Wagyu bull
another Wagyu bull
Precisely I am talking about the breeds Wagyu, Mishima, Yanbian, Kalmyk (a steppe breed again), Kuchinoshima and some native Korean cattle, and there might be more. They are robust landraces, but mostly very small (bulls below 130cm at the withers). But what strikes me is their aurochs-like build, especially in Yanbian and Mishima. They have a short, deep ribcage with a pronounced hump, horns that are small but sometimes of useful curvature and large skulls that are not paedomorphic. That black Mishima cow alone has a very aurochs-like morphology, actually if it had the right colour and horns it would match up with my conception of an aurochs cow extremely well. Their small size might be problematic, but I think their distant genetics, good anatomy and ecologic capacity are of great value. Crossbreeding them with f.e. Maltese, a very large breed that is superbly built already, might result in some very useful animals.

I think that the advantages of Turano-Mongolian cattle are rather obvious. However, one might argue that their distinct genetics make them “unique” and therefore they should not be crossbred with other taurine cattle in breeding-back. But I think this argument would be a little bit absurd under consideration that it is universally agreed that a rich gene pool is viable for any population and therefore another, parallel goal of breeding-back.  

One major problem however is the geographic distribution of Turano-Mongolian cattle. With the exception of the popular Wagyu, which is also breed in Europe, their distribution is quite far away from Europe. So maybe one would have to rely on semen once again, which is way easier than importing a number of cattle over such large distances.

The introduction of Turano-Mongolian cattle into the “breeding-back” population would probably be very advantageous concerning genetic diversity and also ecologic/morphological traits. Another region that might hide some treasures for “breeding-back” is the Near and Middle East. Actually, that region seems to be uncharted land for “breeding-back”, but I am sure that there are a lot of very un-derived cattle to find. They are probably mostly small-bodied and small-horned, but I am confident that many of them will exhibit aurochs-like colour and morphology. Genetically, the chance is good that they will be comparably diverse, since this is the region where the aurochs was domesticated. Many of them will probably also be influenced by zebuine cattle, but zebuine genes are hardly avoidable. The pictures below show two individuals from Egypt, randomly discovered on some news flash on the web on a totally different subject.

If I was to conduct an expedition to find primitive taurine cattle, I would go there to get an overview over those landraces, especially since they are probably threathened by being diluted by crossbreeding with highly derived breeds as well.


1 Mannen et al.: Independent mitochondrial origin and historical genetic differentiation in North Estern Asian cattle. 2004.
2 Bollongino et al.: Modern taurine cattle descended from small number of Near-Eastern founders. 2012.

Friday, 14 July 2017

First Watussi x Sayaguesa calf born!

Yesterday, the Auerrind project announced that their first Watussi x Sayaguesa calf has been born - it is a male and son of Thando and Agnes. 
I am very happy to read that, especially that it is a bull calf - it will surely be an impressive sight when fully grown. I am very much looking forward to see what it is going to look like - the colour, body shape, size and curvature of the horns. 
I think that a combination like 75% Sayaguesa and 25% Watussi or a good F2 of both breeds might resemble the aurochs quite satisfyingly. Just imagine Sayaguesa with large, thick horns - it might be comparably close to the goal already; not perfect immediately, of course. 
Taking such individuals (either 75% Sayaguesa 25% Watussi or good F2) and crossing them large, well-built F2 Sayaguesa x Chianina has the potential to result in quite superior animals in my opinion. 

Thus, I am also happy to read that the beautiful Chianina bull Bruno has been moved to Bielefeld to cover the three other Sayaguesa cows for this year. That means finally some more Sayaguesa x Chianina crosses - I am so much looking forward to F2 of this combination. When Bruno is back from his "job", he is going to cover at least one of the Watussi cows. 

It is very enjoyable to see how the Auerrindprojekt is getting going. 

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Alternative breeds for breeding-back? Part I: Europe

Genetic diversity is an essential trait a population must have for being fit to be released into the wilderness. A genetically diverse population has a higher chance for adapting against diseases, predators and other obstacles of living in the wild and also enables a higher speed of adaption (Fisher’s fundamental theorem). So it is not only important to breed aurochs-like cattle for aurochs-like traits and ecological suitability, but also to keep the population(s) genetically diverse at the same time.

Now that we have a couple of breeding-back projects and breeds (Taurus cattle and good Heck cattle, the Tauros Project, the Uruz Project*, the Auerrind Project), how broad is the genetic basis?
Sayaguesa is a breed that is used in four of these breeds/projects (Taurus, Tauros, Auerrind and probably Uruz), and at least three of them got their current individuals from the same herd in the Netherlands (owned by Peter van Geneijgen). Taurus and Auerrind both use Chianina, and got their animals from the same herd of Rainer Titzentaler. So the animals are related to some degree. Heck cattle originally had a broad genetic basis because the Hecks gathered breeds from all over Europe in a time when there was less exchange, but went through several genetic bottlenecks so it is questionable if the breed can still be considered genetically diverse despite its large phenotypic variability; especially since one of the best herds that recently had a big influence on many good Heck herds, the former herd of Walter Frisch, is an inbreeding line.
* It has been long ago that the True Nature Foundation gave clear information on this project, and it seems that there has been one more split, so I have to neglect this project here for now.

Although I think that genetic diversity can be overrated as well (look at feral cattle populations that have a long history – many of them have a narrow genetic basis) as long as the animals are genetically healthy and do not carry too many deleterious alleles, and the genetic base that we currently have is probably enough for the sporadic, small-patched possibilities of releasing them into the wild in modern Europe especially if there will be exchange between the different populations in the future (which I hope, more on that in an upcoming post). The easiest way to increase the genetic diversity of the “breeding-back population” as a whole would be to either cross in breeds currently not used or create new herds working with new breeds. This would not imply a decrease in quality since the breeds currently used are not necessarily the best of the best, but there are many other cattle breeds on this world that are just as advantageous. The choice of the current breeds probably depended on availability, coincidence, experience et cetera. With this and the following post, I want to outline a number of breeds that would be just as good as, in some cases even better, than the breeds currently used in order to inspire people working in projects or planning to set up new projects.
But before that, I want to give an overview over the breeds currently used in “breeding-back” and in which project (italics):

Chianina – Taurus, Auerrind
Heck cattle – Taurus, on its own
Highland cattle – Tauros
Limia – Tauros
Lidia – Taurus (formerly)
Maronesa – Tauros
Pajuna – Tauros
Podolian cattle (Maremmana, Grey cattle, Boskarin, Podolica…) – Tauros, Taurus, Auerrind
Rhodopian shorthorn – Tauros
Sayaguesa – Tauros, Taurus, Auerrind
Watussi – Taurus, Auerrind

Additionally to that, there are breeds that are not used in the form of pure individuals but single crossbred animals like Tudanca (Tauros), Holstein (Taurus), Alistana-Sanabresa (some of the Sayaguesa in Taurus, Tauros and Auerrind).
There are plenty of alternatives to the current breeds in Europe alone, and with the set of breeds that I am going to introduce here it would probably be possible to gain all the desired aurochs-like traits to a more or less satisfying extent. There are of course many alternatives from other places of the world as well, but I start with the continent breeding-back is focusing on.

Note that I completely leave aside unpublished claims on alleged genetic proximity to wild aurochs here. Furthermore, of course all of these breeds have their con’s as well, you would have to pick the right breeds to cross them with – so if your first reaction to my proposal of this and that breed is something like “what, this breed, look at its tiny horns”, I am of course aware of that and would therefore propose to use it in a combination with a breed that compensates this deficiency, and so on.

Alternatives in Europe (incl. breeds of European descent)


The presence of this breed on my list might surprise, but there are Angeln cattle that exhibit two precious traits: long snouts, especially in cows, and inwards-curving horns in an aurochs-like manner. Furthermore, they should be well-suited to Central and Northern European climate. One would, of course, have to avoid individuals with huge udders and other derived traits. By the way, Angeln cattle were also among the founding breeds of Heck cattle, which shows in a number of individuals. 


Agerolese is a crossbreed of native Italian cattle with more derived, northern breeds like Frisian, Jersey and Braunvieh. They are very small (bulls only 130-135cm at the shoulders) and so are their horns, but their colour is aurochs-like with some degree of sexual dimorphism and the curvature of the horns often is acceptable as well.


This breed is being used indirectly in the form of Sayaguesa individuals slightly influenced by that breed, but if one needs another breed that is similar in build and horn shape with slightly larger horns and a lighter colour (in both sexes though), this breed is an option.


This breed is rather similar to Sayaguesa too and probably closely related. They are smaller though, and seem a bit more bulky. Many carry the Ed mutation which causes a wholly black colour, but the wildtype allele E+ is present as well.


Just based on their optics, Busha do not really knock me off the socks. However, they are probably suited very well to the climate of the Balkans (and other regions of Europe) and can be a basis for cross herds.


Many Barrosa are small, bulldog-faced and dachshund-legged, and their horns are not that thick. But I am sure that in the variability of the breed individuals can be found that are higher in build with less shortened faces and good, thick horns. Such individuals would be a good option to crossbreed with f.e. Sayaguesa and similar breeds. As for its similar sister breed, Cachena, I consider it a bit too small, stubby and short-faced.


Betizu would be a prime option because of their feral history. Of course they are small, have dilution factors that modify their coat colour and their horns are not good either, but that can be compensated by crossbreeding.


Another breed that is rather similar to Sayaguesa in looks, but smaller (140cm for bulls, ~130cm for cows).


Camargue could be very advantageous because of their high-legged, slender and athletic build. The horns are rather upright (but they curve inwards) and they do not have the wildtype colour allele, but I think this breed would be rather advantageous. They are rather small, but I think their deer-like elegance is precious. Nowadays, they are often crossed with Lidia, so one would have to pay attention on not picking too aggressive and massively built individuals.


The advantage of this breed is that they have been living under rather harsh conditions for centuries and are resistant to a number of diseases like foot-and-mouth disease. Their century-long life in a virtually feral state must have left traces in natural and social instincts and resistance to climate which would be rather beneficial for a breeding-back population. Apart from that, they are not closely related to the mostly Southern European breeds currently used. They have large, sometimes long-snouted heads and single individuals have a remotely aurochs-like horn curvature. This breed is rare, only two herds exist, but maybe the cattle warden would be willing to make one young bull available.


Corriente have a rather aurochs-like, muscular build with a well-pronounced hump. Their legs are slender, some have long snouts as well. The horn curvature is good to very good in single individuals. They display a number of colour variants and an accurate aurochs colour is among them. Corriente would be as beneficial as Lidia, without being overly aggressive or bulls growing heavily massive at high age. The biggest disadvantage is a logistical one: it is an American breed and importing individuals would be very effortful. So maybe they could only be used via semen. For some videos showing Corriente with a good build and horn shapes, go here or here.


The disadvantages of this breed are obvious: small, massive, bulldog-faced and dachshund-legged. However, my proposal of this breed here is based on a discussion on the Carnivora Forum Aurochs thread, where Eringer was discussed being used as a “quantity breed” for building up cross herds, in the same way the Tauros Project is using Highland cattle. As a sole “quantity breed”, Eringer would probably be more advantageous than Highland cattle. Plenty of them have the right colour, a muscular body with a hump, and thick horns slightly curving inwards. They are probably suited to central European climate.  

Florida Cracker

This breed is small, but advantageous because rather hardy and what is very precious: a lot of cows have very aurochs-like, strongly inwards-curving horns (there are no bulls with aurochs-like horns however, but this is a general phenomenon in domestic cattle). They exist in many colour variants, aurochs-like colour among them. Like other American breeds, they would have to be either imported or used via semen.


Maltese cattle would be a rather awesome breed to work with. It is said to be of the same size as Chianina, but expresses mostly an undiluted wildtype colour, is of a magnificent build and has rather long snouts. The problem is their very small population, so their availability would depend on if the owners would be willing to provide a project with semen of a bull or not.


Modicana is an Italian breed that could be very useful. It has a build that is rather similar to Pajuna, some individuals are slender and well-shaped and they are large according to the Domestic Animal Diversity Information System (160cm for bulls, 145 for cows). The horns are not impressive, but I would suggest using that breed at any time if they are that large indeed.


Body shape and size of this breed are not sensational, but some cows seemingly have horn shapes that could be useful for crossbreeding, and they have retained some degree of colour dimorphism (though, as in most cattle breeds, imperfectly).


This Italian breed is comparable to Agerolese, but not as small (140-155 for bulls). It is influenced by Chianina and Braunvieh, has an acceptable body shape and good colour. The horns are tiny.


Rendena is another small Italian breed with a good colour and average body, it is probably the most aurochs-like alpine breed. 


This breed is, like Avilena, comparable to Sayaguesa and probably closely related, but smaller and less long-legged. Good individuals would probably still be a useful basis for crossbreeding, especially since some cows, just like in Sayaguesa, have aurochs-like horns.


Terrena is perhaps comparable to Pajuna or Limia, and small and rare. However, their body shape and colour is fine. The horn curvature mediocre.


Tudanca is used in the form of some half-Tudanca individuals in the Tauros Project. However, I suggest also using it on a larger scale. Regarding its size, the DADIS contradicts itself: it gives a withers height for bulls of 165cm and 160cm for cows and states “small sized with great sexual dimorphism”. Based on most videos I have seen I dare to doubt that they reach large sizes on average. Nevertheless, some Tudanca have a rather good body shape (see the videos here and here), their horns are at the edge of what I would call “large”, skull shape is ok. They have the same dilution allele as Podolian cattle and Grauvieh, but dilution alleles can hardly be avoided. Some bulls are wholly black without a saddle, cows always lightly coloured.

Texas Longhorn

This breed is comparably small, but rather hardy. The big advantage however is that it one of the very few more or less aurochs-like breeds that have really large horns. The only aurochs-like breed that rivals Texas Longhorn in having decently long and thick horns are large-horned Heck cattle. They display many colour variants, including aurochs-coloured individuals. One would have to pick the right individuals.


Vianesa is rather similar to Limia, although the bulls tend to be rather lightly-coloured. Body shape and horns are acceptable. They are not large, comparable to Heck cattle in size.

Now I briefly introduced a lot of breeds (I could have introduced even more), many of them are from the Iberian peninsular and some of them might be closely related to each other and/or some of the breeds already used. The gain of genetic diversity would be much higher when including cattle from the group I am introducing in the next post, and they would also bring some phenotypic advantages.