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.


  1. Hello Daniel, thank you for your interesting post.
    There is a number of breeds that as far as I know were never used or even mentioned in this kind of programs. If you want I can send you some information and pictures if you would be so kind to send me an email to the following address: joaocarlosferro@gmail.com

  2. Another good article. Do you think the yakutian cattle's tendency to store extra fat in preparation for lean months could be problematic for the breeding programs that would have more temperate climates? Also have you heard of a Wagyu sub breed called Akaushi? Would they be at all useful or are they as bit too heavily built? They just seem to be the easiest sub breed I could see available where I'm located, which piqued my curiosity.

    1. I think Yakutian cattle's ability to store fat would be advantageous for herds in temperate climate as well. It would probably help domestic cattle not to be outcompeted by horses or deer.