Friday, 11 October 2013

The Spanish Fighting Bull


There is so much I want to write about, and so little time for it. This time, I finally completed my post on one of the most primitive cattle breeds in the world: Toro de lidia, the Spanish fighting bull. Fighting with bulls, as abominable as it is, has a long history in Southern Europe. Back in the antiquary, even wild aurochs bulls were used for arena fights in ancient Rome. It were always the most aggressive bulls that were chosen for bullfighting, and during the 18th century, systematic breeding with domestic bulls from various cattle populations that showed the feistiest behaviour was started in order to breed a cattle race used virtually exclusively for bullfighting. Today these cattle are known as Lidia or Toro de Lidia, the Spanish fighting bull. Because Lidia were selected primarily on their fighting spirit and originate from various cattle populations, it is a variable breed – variable in appearance, size and behaviour – and is divided into several lineages: Miura, Casta Navarra, Cabrera, Galardo and others. These lineages are reproductively isolated from each other, but taking Lidia as a whole, it is a genetically diverse breed. It is likely that the breed also has influence from African cattle [1].
What makes the fighting bull special? First of all, it is the only (non-feral) cattle breed that was not selected for meat or milk production, but for agility and feistiness. It is well-known that they range freely all the year round and the fact that bulls that win fights with other bulls are chosen as breeding bulls – a kind of man-made natural selection – helped to retain primitive traits that are not apparent in many other breeds. Fanciers of the breed claim it is the most aurochs-like cattle around today and also Cis van Vuure, author of themost comprehensive book on the aurochs up-to-date, is very enthusiastic about Lidia.

Lidia - the cattle breed with the most aurochs-like, muscular body
Appearance

Lidia is remarkable for being the only domestic cattle breed in the world that has retained a very aurochs-like body conformation. It is true that the proportions are variable, some bulls are longish while others have a short trunk like in the aurochs, but nearly all of them have a very muscular body with a large shoulder hump. This hump (not to be confused with the fleshy hump of zebus or with the neck crest) is formed by tall processus spinosi at the shoulder area and large muscles like the M. trapezius attach to it. This is a skeletal trait and therefore coded genetically and not influenced by how you raise the cattle. Both bulls and cows have it, and it seems to be as prominent as in the aurochs; this is unique among most domestic cattle and a big plus for the Lidia breed. The waist is usually very slender (though not in all individuals), similar to wild bovines of similar build like Wisents and bison. Most Lidia bulls that we see are subadult, bulls get continuously more massive after their 6th year. Nevertheless, Lidia is still the most athletic cattle breed. The legs in fighting cattle tend to be a little shorter than in the aurochs, but some examples have just perfect proportions.

Well-proportioned athletic Lidia bulls
Lidia cow with correct coat colour and horn curvature

Lidia is one of the few large-headed cattle breeds and many have a really elongated skull shape. The frontals are long, the nasals are long, and the eye sockets are prominent. The head profile is either straight or more or less concave. Also Lidia has prominent curly hair between the horns, giving them the fierce appearance that is described for the aurochs [2]. If you want to know what a living aurochs looked like regarding body shape, proportions and head shape, some Lidia give you a perfectly accurate impression. The horns usually are medium-sized and nearly always direct forwards. The horn shape does either roughly or very closely resemble that of the aurochs, depending on the individual.
Unfortunately, Lidia is very variable concerning the coat colour and has many colour mutations that are undesirable for breeding-back. Many Lidia have the black allele Ed instead of the wild-type colour allele E+, resulting in a totally black colour in bulls, cows and calves (however, this allele is dominant and therefore easy to breed out). Additionally to that, many Lidia also carry genes for white spotting, resulting in a “Holstein colour”. You also find brindle and roan animals. Nevertheless, there are still enough wild-coloured Lidia and since wild-type colour is recessive under black, it should be relatively easy to fix. Then the next task would be to breed for a more-marked colour dimorphism since many wild type coloured Lidia bulls show the reddish colour of cows.

Some examples of domestic-coloured Lidia…

Roan coloured bull
 
Holstein coloured Lidia
Brindled bull (very good body shape though)
… and wild-type coloured Lidia.

Wildtype coloured Lidia cows
Wildtype coloured bull (the saddle shouldn't be present in the aurochs)
Another “problem” concerning the phenotype of Lidia is their small size. Spanish fighting bulls are bred for being small so that they are easier to fight with, and their current shoulder height varies from 110 to 140 cm, depending on the lineage, which is very small even considering that Southern European aurochs likely were slightly smaller than those in central and northern Europe. The relatively large bulls that sometimes do appear in the breed are usually selected out.
The udder size is varying, in some cows it is almost invisible from the side, as in wild bovines. The dewlap is either small or medium-sized.

Behaviour

The behaviour of Lidia is controversial in breeding-back. While the one side appreciates their deer-like shyness and agility, the other side criticises their high aggression when surprised or unable to flee. We know that it is possible to select on behavioural traits and those are laid down in the genome to a certain degree [3]. Both cows and bulls of the Lidia breed have been screened and selected on their fighting spirit for centuries, what certainly augmented their level of aggression and nervousness. But does that mean we have to exclude them categorically from breeding-back? In my opinion, not at all. First of all, if we describe the behaviour of Lidia as “unnatural”, we also have to attribute that to all gentle and docile breeds, because these are certainly no traits of wild bovines. Secondly, if you can select for a trait, you can also select against it. In fact, there are always Lidia bulls that get culled because they do not show enough aggressiveness for bullfighting. Certainly, very shy and aggressive cattle can be very difficult to handle, at least in grazing projects where most of the breeding-back takes place. Therefore, it is also of practical use to chose the less-aggressive Lidia for an aurochs project that is centred around this breed.

Ecology

Of course it’s time for my standard sentence now: Lidia is a very hardy breed that is used to poor foliage, lives freely all the year round and is used to all kinds of weather and so on. Like virtually all primitive Iberian cattle. But what is interesting is what I have been told by the ABU breeders: the only cattle that never seized the supplementary food in the Lippeaue during winter were Lidia cows. Perhaps they are, thanks to their semi-feral history, even more hardy than Sayaguesa or Heck cattle.


Predation

Lidia is one of the very, very few domestic cattle that are known to defend themselves successfully from – no, not just wolves – big cats. Fighting bulls defeated even lions in arena fights of the past [2], which is very impressing.

Correct colour, athletic body
In essence, I think the Spanish fighting bull is a precious breed for breeding-back. Their athletic body and high shoulder spines (“hump”) in combination with their aurochs-like proportions makes less-derived Lidia unique among (non-feral) domestic cattle. Their long snout is certainly very desirable as well. Some good Lidia individuals are more aurochs-like even than very aurochs-like breeds like Maronesa or Sayaguesa (or good Hecks), apart from their size. Since the global Lidia population contains almost all of the desired aurochs features, a project using only Spanish fighting cattle could bring interesting results. The idea for such a project was brought up first by Cis van Vuure in an article from 2003, and proposed by the same author again in 2005 [2]. The high number of aurochs features in Lidia, as much as their unique breeding history, makes it unlikely for me that their primitive phenotype is just a by-product of coincidental crossbreedings, very likely it is truly an ancient breed (I am looking forward until something on the genetic relationship to other cattle breeds and the aurochs is published) and therefore worth to play an important role in another breeding-back attempt. Their behavioural minus point – which is mainly a practical one because we don’t know the aggression level of the wild aurochs – probably can be reduced by selection and/or crossing-in of more docile breeds. Their long history of living nearly feral (ok, this is also true for other primitive breeds) and their ability to defend against predators also makes them very suitable for the creation of a new wild bovine.
For such a project, it would be wise to pick the largest and least-aggressive Lidia with wild colour, good horns and aurochs-like proportions. In order to gain a sufficient genetic diversity, not only dozens of individuals but also of various lineages should be chosen. They should be selected for:

  • Well marked colour dimorphism
  • Wild colour with eel stripe (in bulls) and mealy mouth
  • Short trunk, long legs
  • Elongated skull shape
  • Correctly curved, large-sized horns
  • Large body size
  • Less aggressiveness/nervousness


Perhaps after few generations already, a Lidia strain that looks and behaves almost like the aurochs would be established – but these Lidia primitivo (as I like to call this hypothetic breed, a hint to how Tauros Project calls the most-primitive Maremmana cattle) would still be much too small (probably about as small as Heck cattle) and their horn dimensions would probably not be really satisfying either. Supplementing them with Chianina to add size and leg length and a breed to add good horn dimensions without ruining the curvature (perhaps very large-horned Heck cattle or Watussi with useful horns) would insert these features into the population.

The time for such a project would be right – bullfighting is getting less popular and hopefully it will be prohibited in the near future. But the end of bullfighting also means the end of the fighting bull. Already today many Lidia show clear signs of intermixing with derived breeds to increase their economic productivity, resulting in a loss of aurochs-like features. It would be a big shame if the last primitive Lidia would diminish without being used in breeding-back, since no other breed contributes such an athletic, aurochs-like body shape and overall appearance. Lidia definitely has negative aspects as well (like any breed), but those could be reduced by selection.
A Lidia project would hopefully be fruitful within few years, it would save the most precious examples of that breed and unite their aurochs-like traits. It is also a perspective for animal welfare, because it provides a new future for the fighting bull: buying and collecting several dozens of fighting cattle (such numbers are necessary to build up a sufficient gene pool) and giving them a new and good future living in reserves and dying a natural death must sound appealing!


Literature

[1] Cortes et al. 2011: Y chromosome genetic diversity in the Lidia bovine breed: a highly fragmented population
[3] van Vuure, Cis: Retracing the Aurochs - History, Morphology and Ecology of an extinct wild Ox. 2005.
 [3] Broucek et al. 2008: Genetics of behaviour in cattle.


18 comments:

  1. http://www.texaslonghornsandcorriente.com/cattleforsale.htm

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    1. I have always been interested in breeding back. Here in the United States there are no aurochs breeding back projects or if so they are very limited. I found one game farm in British Columbia Canada that says they have a limited supply of bred back Auroch for people to shoot. It seems we could use North American breeds of Iberian cattle such as Texas Longhorn, Corriente, and Mexican Fighting bulls, plus Scotch Highland Cattle to create a bred back Auroch here. Or simply find a supplier and import semen from Heck, Taurus, and TaurOs cattle breeding projects. It also occurs to me that crossing with the American Bison as is done to produce Bison Hybrids and Beefalo cattle could introduce some wild type traits back into domestic cattle. Has this approach ever been considered? The Gaur, Banteng, Bison, and Wild Yak can all be hybridized with domestic cattle. Why not reintroduce the traits for true sexual maturity from extant wild Bos and Bison species? I have read histories of the Texas Longhorn Cattle breed that claim that some very Auroch like traits were becoming predominant in semiferal herds before modern preservationists and hobbyists began breeding them for flashy colors and extremely long horns. In searching the internet- as the link above, it is difficult but possible to find Texas Longhorn and Corriente cattle with some of the correct coloration identified on this blog.

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    2. Hi,
      Longhorn, Corriente, Fighting bulls, & semen from a good Taurus bull could work. The founding individuals would have to be chosen with care though. I wouldn't use Highland, they contribute too many undesirable traits. Hybridization with existing wild cattle is very tempting, but I fear this would lead to superficial resemblance. Aurochs and all cattle inhabit the same ecologic niche, while the hybrids would be different, and selecting on ecologic traits would make the whole thing more complicated. Furthermore, Oostvaardersplassen cattle, Betizu and other feral cattle populations show that cattle living in the wild do re-develop wild aurochs features that are not achievable with selective breeding.

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    3. Better alternative than highland is Bos Mutus!

      http://cdn1.arkive.org/media/77/77D41F47-6B7E-48E1-8162-ECE458B56CAE/Presentation.Large/Adult-wild-yak.jpg

      http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-OkzCv9AKpMQ/UYBVjPmn-hI/AAAAAAAAABA/jEWFzBh385Q/s1600/yak.jpg

      http://cdn2.arkive.org/media/CA/CA368829-AA71-45D0-8B3B-0E0E3DA061D7/Presentation.Small/Wild-yak---overview.jpg

      This is a peeerfect contribution of height, appearance, cold resistance, hardyness and wilderness adaption.

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  2. In the United States I know of only one wildlife refuge that has a population of Texas Longhorns which they recently chose to change to a more natural ratio of bulls and cows. http://www.fws.gov/refuge/Wichita_Mountains/wildlife/longhorns.html. It only has 59,000 acres though and I am not sure how many cattle and bison. It would be neat if they could be managed as a wildlife species long term, but to be truly successful you would need wolf predation to control the population instead of auctioning off surplus animals. They probably also have the goal of maintaining a variety of horn shapes and color forms rather than allowing wild types.

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    1. Thanks for the link. Are those Longhorns really kept in a feral state, or is their breeding controlled in any way or are they supported with food and medical care of some sort? Do they live in the same enclosure as the bison do, don't they interbreed?

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    2. I don't know for certain, but on many wildlife refuges with Bison the Bison are rounded up regularly and vaccinated. I suspect that this refuge does that with both their Bison and Longhorn Cattle. Supplemental feed may be provided during the winter. I am sure that without predators their treatment is always conducted humanely. I think they are treated not as wildlife but as historic livestock- so not in a feral state. Their breeding is controlled if by nothing more than selection for a certain range of variation through decisions made about which animals to auction off each year. I suspect that they are either kept in separate enclosures or that the herds don't mix. Historic hybridizers would raise Bison calves with their cattle so that the animals grew up together. During the historic period when Texas Longhorns were trailed through the southern Bison herd a few cattle were lost in stampedes and its believed led to some natural hybridization- it is said that C.J. Buffalo Jones got the idea for his first Cattalo experiments from observing such a phenomenon.

      I found these animals for sale within a days drive hopefully the link works http://bozeman.craigslist.org/grd/4174294379.html longhorn cows most with a reasonable solid color and some white around the nose but probably not great horn shape or conformation. I was reading about the early efforts to save the Texas Longhorn breed http://doublehelixranch.com/SevenFamilies.html and it sounds like at that time before serious selection for extremely long horns began it would have been more easily possible to select a more primitive strain. I wonder if the genetics is still there for that?

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    3. In my opinion, Texas Longhorn as a whole surely has some individuals that either have a (nearly) perfect colour or large horns that resemble the aurochs in curvature a bit. When choosing the right individuals and selecting carefully, perhaps a strain of longhorns with correct aurochs colour, large horns with an acceptable curvature and slender overall build.

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  3. is breeding or better "running" aurochslike rebreeds in the americas not on the same level as holding on to the non native mustangs ? Allthough I like the idea and the genes of the TLH and the corriente, i think the mexican and southamerican lidia-bulls are closer to the original european aurochs.

    I don't think crossing to italian Chianinacattle is such a good idea since they allready lost all their color....

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    1. I think breeding aurochs-like cattle in the Americas is no problem as long as they are not introduced into nature. If the results would turn out to be good (breeding them in the same biomic zone, the wet-temperate mixed forests, would be best to achieve climatic adaptions), they could still be used for rewilding in Europe.

      Chianina has the right basic colour allele, but two mutated dilution alleles that cause their white colour. One of that alleles is incompletely dominant and their effect is visible in Chianina crossbreeds of the ABU, the other one is unfortunately recessive. That means that they "just" have to be bred out like any other unwanted trait.
      But using tall, slender and longlegged breeds of the same size of course would be more advantageous. Axarquia and the Maltese ox are said to be as tall as Chianina, but I haven't seen reliable data on that yet.

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  4. I think in 2004 a group of scientists very seriously suggested the introduction of megafauna from abroad as a potentially legitimate conservation effort and tourist attraction here in the United States. They thought such animals might substitute for extinct megafauna. I have often wondered if it would be possible to create something like a Bison longifrons effigy breed by crossing Bison bison with the Texas longhorn breed.

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    1. The introduction of megafauna from abroad is very controversial as we don't know much about the ecology of those extinct species. Just because they look similar it does not mean they work similar. Apart from that, further megafauna species are not really urgently needed in american ecosystems, there's even data that suggests that mustangs have a reducing effect on the plant diversity in their ecosystems.
      It would be possible to breed American bison with long horns, but this similarity would be just superficial, and there surely were other phenotypic differences as well, f.e. size and probably also proportions and colour. Furthermore it's behaviour and ecology would be that of the American bison, while that of B. longifrons is still unknown. Apart from that, that species died out millennia before the arrival of humans, so I don't see a need to mimic that species, at least from the ecologic perspective.

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  5. I did field work last summer in the presence of American mustang in Nevada and though I had gotten glimpses in previous field seasons I got to observe them extensively last year. Their behavior, speed, and presence is remarkable. They seem much more alert and active than ordinary domestic horses. The stallions in particular watch you and seem to track you as a threat. I can see why they have strong advocates. Without predators though they are a menace to the environment and a strain on the resources of federal land management agencies. I am very curious to see what happens if wolves manage to recolonize Nevada's wild horse ranges.

    As far as American uses for bred back Auroch. I could see a few. Cattle breeders who wanted a hardy breed to use in a predator rich environment with wolves and grizzlies, rodeo use, hobbyists, weed control of invasive European weeds, game farms, zoos and roadside menageries, and just commercial cattle breeders interested in some of the traits. A strain of Texas longhorns bred towards a Primitivo standard might also appeal to some hobbyists who wanted to get away from the lateral horns, flashy colors, and beef like conformation that is being promoted heavily possibly to the detriment of the breed's original genetic diversity when certain sires are used for AI to much.

    One of our only feral cattle herds in North America is up for public comment as to its continued existence. The Chirikof Island herd of cattle.

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  6. http://www.youtube.com/watch?annotation_id=annotation_123552&feature=iv&src_vid=tUg-5w0pnmA&v=Fxdw7CCK7Vw

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  7. AFAIK, only very few Lidia herds have a bit of North African taurine genetic input and one of them is Miura.

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  8. If I were to use Texas Longhorns as a breed in a composite, whether I was trying to set in play the ability of nature to further adapt this breed/composite and reverse the domestication of the breed as to have a Bovine that will help and heal the environment instead of hurt it when left alone or If I were to use it as the backbone of a cross-breeding program that focuses more on adaptation to the environment and sustainability rather than just the production of beef for the commercial rancher. Both, I might add, I am planning on doing. If/when I do that, I will use stock for breeders that are registered with the Cattleman's Texas Longhorn Registry. They are actually trying to preserve the true Texas Longhorns that are descendants of the cattle that the Spaniards brought over, they don't only blood type these cattle but they also visually inspect them to make sure they look like the real, true longhorns. I would be careful who I got them from though, just because everyone that breeds cattle has a different program and some might have a program where they are very involved, for example: selecting which cows to breed to what bulls, selecting herd sires on the basis of color instead of the bull that would mate with the females if out in the wild, deworming, giving vaccines and other methods of just propping up the cattle.I think the best option would be to get the cattle form somewhere like the Wichita Wildlife Refuge, I'm not sure if they do vaccinate at times (probably some law where they have too) but I do know that they have been trying to let nature take its course with natural selection. I imagine there are still several things that can and should be done to adapt these animals to the environment fully, for example: more preditors, no vaccines, no feed through winter, and figure out how to watch and remove some of the weak ones to keep the public happy. Also lets face it, we can't just throw these cattle in the wild and see which ones make it, that's not humane. We have bred these animals to be handicapped and to rely on us to survive so its our fault these individuals are like this and we can't just execute them like that. However, we should make sure that the next animals to come into this life have a fighting chance to make it without humans to prop them up, some of them won't make it, that's just how things are, but at least they had a fighting chance. I believe that that we have to have an animal or several animals that fill that environmental niche that the massive herds of grazing animals did before we went and about killed all of them. There are a lot of problems that America and many other countries are facing because of our poor stewardship and the belief that we have to micro manage everything and try to work in the opposite direction of nature.

    ReplyDelete
  9. If I were to use Texas Longhorns as a breed in a composite, whether I was trying to set in play the ability of nature to further adapt this breed/composite and reverse the domestication of the breed as to have a Bovine that will help and heal the environment instead of hurt it when left alone or If I were to use it as the backbone of a cross-breeding program that focuses more on adaptation to the environment and sustainability rather than just the production of beef for the commercial rancher. Both, I might add, I am planning on doing. If/when I do that, I will use stock for breeders that are registered with the Cattleman's Texas Longhorn Registry. They are actually trying to preserve the true Texas Longhorns that are descendants of the cattle that the Spaniards brought over, they don't only blood type these cattle but they also visually inspect them to make sure they look like the real, true longhorns. I would be careful who I got them from though, just because everyone that breeds cattle has a different program and some might have a program where they are very involved, for example: selecting which cows to breed to what bulls, selecting herd sires on the basis of color instead of the bull that would mate with the females if out in the wild, deworming, giving vaccines and other methods of just propping up the cattle.I think the best option would be to get the cattle form somewhere like the Wichita Wildlife Refuge, I'm not sure if they do vaccinate at times (probably some law where they have too) but I do know that they have been trying to let nature take its course with natural selection. I imagine there are still several things that can and should be done to adapt these animals to the environment fully, for example: more preditors, no vaccines, no feed through winter, and figure out how to watch and remove some of the weak ones to keep the public happy. Also lets face it, we can't just throw these cattle in the wild and see which ones make it, that's not humane. We have bred these animals to be handicapped and to rely on us to survive so its our fault these individuals are like this and we can't just execute them like that. However, we should make sure that the next animals to come into this life have a fighting chance to make it without humans to prop them up, some of them won't make it, that's just how things are, but at least they had a fighting chance. I believe that that we have to have an animal or several animals that fill that environmental niche that the massive herds of grazing animals did before we went and about killed all of them. There are a lot of problems that America and many other countries are facing because of our poor stewardship and the belief that we have to micro manage everything and try to work in the opposite direction of nature.

    ReplyDelete