Wednesday, 22 April 2009

The Aurochs are Coming!

This is a googled auroch - the ones in Devon are dark brown and their horns are much more "straight up" - think of Lascaux cave paintings.


No, they are not creatures from outer space (that's the Daleks). And yes you may well have seen them before - that is if you have ever been to - or seen pictures of - the caves at Lascaux in South West France.
Apparently a farmer in Devon has imported a herd of Heck cattle from the Netherlands. These cattle are the nearest thing we shall ever get to the extinct aurochs. Although they are similar, the main difference is that the auroch was two metres tall at the shoulder and so stood as tall, or taller than man. It was the wild ancestor of all today's domestic cattle and even the mighty Julius Caesar was afraid of them.
The farmer intends to breed from these to create a large herd and he will use back breeding techniques in order to try and make them more like their ancestors. When they lived in the Netherlands they had absolutely no contact with humans so they are very wild. According to Mr Gow, the farmer, two of the cows are particularly fierce although they are beginning to quieten down as they get to know him.
His ultimate aim is to supply them to nature reserves for grazing.
The last survivor of the original auroch died in the forest in Poland in 1627!

39 comments:

EB said...

My dog has asked me to say she thinks this is very, bad idea! (she's too busy hiding)

Teresa said...

Hmmmm.... reminds me of some guy over here who wants to reintroduce lions to the plains states of mid-USA, claiming that they lived there many years ago. Bet the current inhabitants of those states aren't too enthusiastic about the idea!

Leenie said...

Yeah, kinda like wolves in Yellowstone Park. Cattle ranchers REEEAAALY have a problem going back in time when it comes to preditors. Now huge bovines might be a different thing altogether.

Heather said...

My husband would think this a good idea if auroch meat is as good as beef!!

Arija said...

It takes a lot of courage to take on a projejt like that. We have a flock of Leicester long wool sheep to help preserve the breed and I know how expensive that can be even though they are neither aggressive nor the size of small elephants.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

I think your farmer ought to come over here and stare a head-high bison (American buffalo) in the eye before he embarks on the notion of raising bovine that are also head-high. Afterwards, for a further good dose of cow attitude, he might amble down to Texas and look a longhorn in its malicious eye—which won't be head high, but then God's plan was for man to rule the world, not cows.

I do think you're going to have some interesting blogging days ahead.

Coastcard said...

I am wondering whether they are at all like the Chillingham cattle, which I suspect you may have seen? I heard (thinking of rock art/cave paintings in the UK) that Cresswell Crags in Derbyshire - a wonderful site - is due to have a new museum.

Dominic Rivron said...

An interesting story lies behind these aurochs. They owe their existence to Herman Goering and the Nazis, who were keen to "back breed" these primitive animals as part of a drive to recreate a primeval Aryan wilderness in Eatern Europe. As the Times put it: "Most geneticists now believe that it is impossible to recover a lost species by back breeding, but few dispute that Heck cattle resemble the ancient aurochs, at least superfically".

Kayla coo said...

I'm not sure I like this idea, only because I would be scared if I came across a field of them!
I love dandelions in bloom and in seed.x

Mad Bush Farm said...

Weaver I was reading about this yesterday on the NZ Herald site. Fascinating about the Nazi connection with the Hecks Cattle. I think part of the article termed the Nazi obssession with 'Aryan Cattle' as Pseudo Science. I'll put this down to another rare novelty breed. I'll stick to my dairy types for now

Take care
Liz

BT said...

what a fantastic story. I have to say I have never heard of them. What a super thing to do. I wish Mr Gow every success in his venture.

Raph G. Neckmann said...

They won't be as tall as me, will they, Weaver?!

Red Clover said...

Wow. I had no idea. We know so little of this supposedly "small world", and there were Aurochs dying off in the 1600's and I never knew it. Pics?

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

Jeepers. They sound impressive. Photos?

Jo said...

I'd never heard of these cattle until I heard a programme on Radio 4 last year which investigated the link with the Third Reich. AS there was no mention of this in the current news item I thought I'd imagined it, but thanks to Dominic I hadn't !

Crafty Green Poet said...

Ah yes I'd read about this too, intriguing sounding animals...

The Weaver of Grass said...

EB - expect my dog would be the same - she is all bark and very little bite.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Teresa - am not sure about the reintroduction of lions - sounds a bit scary to me. Someone is interested in reintroducing wolves to our highlands - not sure about that either. The farmer who has the aurochs is also campaigning for the return of the beaver, which we no longer have here.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Leenie - there was a wonderful programme on BBC TV earlier this year about Yellowstone - it was amazing.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Heather - we have a highland cattle herd round here and they sell their meat from the farm - it is wonderful. Because it is marbles with fat, which melts during the cooking, it is so very tender. Tell you husband about that and watch his mouth water.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Interesting Arija - we have blue-faced Leicesters round here but I have never heard of the longwool.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Scribe - we have several buffalo herds round here on farms where they have diversified. Our farmers' market sells buffaloburgers!
We were in Texas last year and saw quite a lot of longhorn cattle - the ones at Fort Worth, which are driven down the road every afternoon for the benefit of the tourists (!) were very gentle and tame.
When my husband was a boy this farm kept shorthorn cattle, which were the forerunners for dairy farmers before Freisians.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Coastcard - I am ashamed to say that I have never seen the Chillingham cattle except in photographs - it is not an area we have visited much, although I would like to. They are certainly wild and have more or less no contact with humans at all - if a cow has a difficult birth she is still left to get on with it.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Thanks for the info Dominic - don't tell me you have gone over from The Guardian to The Times!!?? I always knew you would come round to my way of thinking eventually!
The back-breeding idea is interesting isn't it - but as the original species died out in the 1600's I really don't think I know how it would work, do you?

The Weaver of Grass said...

Yes Kayla coo - I don't think I would want to meet one face to face. As the farmer said in the article, it is the cows who are the fiercest - I can't imagine what they would be like if they had a calf at foot.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Yes Madbush - my farmer agrees with you - there is enough hard work on a farm without having to contend with nasty beasts!

The Weaver of Grass said...

BT - what about a few to roam on The Burren?

The Weaver of Grass said...

Oh Raph - I can hear the tremble in your voice - no you will still reign supreme in terms of height.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Red Clover and Pamela - I didn't think I could photo them in the newspaper as it would be breaching copyright. Somewhere I have a painting my first husband did of part of the Lascaux caves - I thought of looking that out. Maybe i should google it and see what comes up.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Jo and c.g.p. - they are rather pretty things - not unlike very dark jersey colour but with absolutely enormous horns standing straight up (not like the longhorns) - more like the US Pronghorn.

Derrick said...

Hello Weaver,

Lets hope the farmer doesn't get too 'Jurassic Park' with his breading methods!!

Wendy said...

Aurochs might be okay, but I'm not too sure about those lions.

Dominic Rivron said...

I haven't gone over to The Times. I heard all about the auroch thing on Radio 4 a while back. I googled, looking for information, and found the Times article.

BT said...

They have red cattle on the Burren. Very handsome they are too. Maybe they could cross breed. They'd be splendid!

Woman in a Window said...

Impressive looking beasts. I'd be sporting full body armour around anything remotely close to that.

Robyn said...

That is so interesting, Weaver. I would love to hear an update later down the line.

Janice Thomson said...

I've not heard of these either. What a challenge that will be. It would be interesting to see down the road how successful the project is.

Lucy Corrander said...

These Aurochs would give new meaning to a walk in the countryside.

It's hard to get the balance between maintaining and restoring what is lost (and keeping a wide and healthy genetic pool) . . . and not doing daft things simply because you can and because what 'was' was inevitably better than what 'is'.

From the photo, the Auroch certainly does look as if it is a beautiful beast and it may have other virtues too which make it well worth farming and I don't suppose anyone would be allowed to let cattle like this roam loose if they really are very fierce. But . . . if they 'caught on', people would be trying to breed calmer, tamer, more pliable, safer herds in no time!

Lucy
P.S. Have you seen baby wild boar? They are stripy and like rather large and very sweet guinea pigs. But they grow . . .

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