Heck cattle are a hardy breed of domestic cattle. These cattle are the
result of an attempt by the Heck brothers to breed back the extinct
aurochs from modern aurochs-derived cattle in the 1920s and 1930s.
Controversy revolves around methodology and success of the
programme. There are considerable differences between Heck cattle
and the aurochs in build, height, and body proportions. Furthermore,
there are other cattle breeds which resemble their wild ancestors at
least as much as Heck cattle.
3 Taurus cattle
6 See also
8 External links
Heck cattle originated in
Germany in the 1920s and 1930s in an attempt
to breed back domestic cattle to their ancestral form: the aurochs
(Bos primigenius primigenius). In the first years of the Weimar
Republic, the brothers Heinz and
Lutz Heck independently started their
extensive breeding-back programmes. Their motivation behind that
was to rescue the aurochs from oblivion because it was constantly
confused with the wisent, the other large bovine of Holocene Europe.
The Heck brothers believed that creating a look-alike and showing both
species next to each other would help to show the difference between
the two species to a broader public. Apart from that, they believed
they were able to reconstruct the species and therefore to correct the
mistake man made when killing the species off. Heinz was the
director of the
Hellabrunn Zoological Gardens
Hellabrunn Zoological Gardens in
Munich and Lutz of
Berlin Zoological Gardens. Only eleven years after they started
their breeding experiments, just as the
Weimar Republic was drawing to
a close, they each announced success. The two brothers used
different selections of cattle breeds in their breeding-back attempts.
Lutz Heck (in Berlin) used Spanish fighting bulls, while
Heinz Heck (in Munich) did not. The
Berlin breed seemingly did not
survive the Second World War, so all modern
Heck cattle go back to the
Heinz Heck in Munich. The ancestral breeds used
Hungarian Grey Cattle
Black-pied lowland cattle
White Park Cattle
In 1932, the first bull that
Heinz Heck believed to resemble the
aurochs, named ″Glachl″, was born. It was a 75% Corsican and 25%
(Gray cattle × Lowland × Highland × Angeln) cross individual. This
bull and its father subsequently were bred into further breeds to
increase weight. As a consequence, most modern
Heck cattle go back
to Central European milk- and meat cattle that were supplemented by
cattle from other regions. Advocates of
Heck cattle often claim
that Heinz′ and Lutz′ breeding results looked largely identically
″proving the success″ of their experiment. However,
Heck cattle did not look very similar.
In the Duisburg Zoo, one Watussi cow, which is a half-zebuine breed,
was crossed with a Heck bull. Some modern Heck cattle, mainly those
displaying large and thick horns, descend from this crossbred
offspring. In some locations, primitive Southern European cattle, such
as Sayaguesa and Chianina, have been crossed into
Heck cattle herds
aiming to approach the aurochs in phenotypical characters. This
cross-breed is called the Taurus, which is not to be confused with the
Tauros cattle (see below).
Comparison of the reconstructed appearance of the aurochs (top) with
Heck cattle (bottom)
Heck cattle from various locations and countries, displaying the
heterogeneity of the breed
A Heck bull demonstrating one of the divergent coat colours within the
Heck cattle gene pool, from Oostvaardersplassen.
Heck cow at Mannheim, Germany
A typical Heck bull should be on average 1.4 m (4'5") high and a cow
1.3 m (4'3"), with weight up to 600 kg (1,300 lb). Heck
cattle are twenty to thirty centimeters shorter than the aurochs they
were bred to resemble. Heck bulls are not much larger than other
domestic bulls, while aurochs bulls reached shoulder heights of
between 160 and 180, in rare cases even 200, cm.
Aurochs bulls are
believed to have exceeded weights of between 700 and 1000 kg
Size is not the only aspect in which
Heck cattle differs from its wild
Heck cattle are bulky like many other domestic breeds, while
the aurochs, as a wild bovine, had an athletic body shape. The legs of
Heck cattle are shorter and the trunk much longer than in the aurochs,
in which shoulder height and trunk length nearly equalled each
Heck cattle have a comparably small and short head, while
aurochs had an elongate large head sitting on a muscular neck. Aurochs
had a well-developed shoulder musculature, carried by long spines,
which is absent in Heck cattle. All in all, proportions and body shape
Heck cattle are not significantly similar to the aurochs and do not
differ from many other domestic breeds.
The horns of the aurochs had a characteristic and relatively stable
shape. At the base they grew outwards-upwards, then forwards-inwards
and inwards-upwards at the tips.
Aurochs horns were large and thick
overall, reaching 80–100 cm in length and 10 cm or more in
diameter. However, the horns of
Heck cattle differ in many
respects. Usually, they curve too much upwards or outwards compared to
the original, or do not reach the length or diameter of the aurochs.
Often the horns of
Heck cattle strongly resemble the breeds it was
created from (i.e. Grey Cattle).
In coat colour
Heck cattle may resemble the aurochs, in having bulls
with a black overall coat colour with a light eel stripe and cows
displaying a reddish-brown colour. However, some Heck bulls may have a
light saddle on the back (which was not present in the aurochs) and
the sexual dimorphism in color is unclear in most cases; bulls and
cows either may have a dark colour with a lightly coloured saddle,
black cows appear regularly and also lightly colored bulls are no
rarity. There are other deviant colours as well, such as individuals
having a grayish or gray colour or cows being beige. White patches,
typical for pied dairy breeds, do appear as well, sometimes to the
same extent as in Holstein cattle.
Heck cattle demonstrate a higher amount of heterogeneity than in any
wild animal or most other domestic breeds. There is considerable
variation in coat colour, horn shape and horn dimensions, as well as
size and proportions. Besides the features that are desired because
they bear resemblance to the aurochs, numerous divergent features may
appear (as explained above).
Heck cattle differ in many respects from the aurochs, and there are
breeds which resemble the aurochs at least as much, such as the
Spanish fighting bull, Sayaguesa, Pajuna,
Maremmana primitiva, and
Maronesa. Nevertheless, they are capable of coping in the wild with
cold temperatures or nutrient-poor food. On the other hand, there are
other robust cattle breeds which cope with harsh conditions at least
as well as
Heck cattle and feral cattle are no rarity.
Taurus bull, an advanced form of the Heck cattle
Main article: Taurus cattle
The ABU (Arbeitsgemeinschaft Biologischer Umweltschutz), a
conservation group in Germany, started to crossbreed
Heck cattle with
southern-European primitive breeds in 1996, with the goal to increase
the aurochs-likeness of certain
Heck cattle herds. These crossbreeds
are called Taurus cattle. It is aimed to bring in aurochs-like
features that are supposedly missing in Heck cattle, using Sayaguesa,
Chianina and, to a lesser extent, Spanish Fighting Cattle. The same is
done in the Hungarian national park Hortobágy National Park,
additionally using Hungarian Greys and Watusi, in Lille Vildmose
National Park in Denmark, using only
Chianina and Sayaguesa so far,
and in Latvia.
Criticism of the methodology and result of the Heck brother's programs
dates back to at least the 1950s. Cis van Vuure describes the work of
W. Herre in 1953 and O. Koehler in 1952 who found: "A lack of basic
knowledge about the extinct aurochs, broad selection criteria in the
breeding-back experiment and the rich imagination and complacency of
the two brothers led to their excessive simplification of the
breeding-back procedure. Criticism also focused on the carelessness,
the ease and the speed with which they had carried out their
experiments as well as the genetic basis". Cis van Vuure further
states: "On account of the absence of any marked similarity in size,
colour and horn shape, among other aspects,
Heck cattle cannot be
considered to resemble the aurochs closely. Rather they should be seen
as a population of cattle in which a few aurochs characteristics may
be found; a trait they share with many other cattle populations." In
the view of some experts, primitive Southern European cattle breeds
are much closer overall to the aurochs than Heck cattle, such as the
Spanish fighting bull.
Heck cattle are propagated in some places to fulfill the role of
extinct megafauna in the ecosystem. However,
European bison supporters
Heck cattle landscape management is a public relations ploy
in order to illegitimately garner support for
Heck cattle at the
expense of a genuine native species, the European bison.
Heck cattle bear less resemblance to the aurochs than some
other modern cattle breeds do, a new back-breeding project, Tauros
Programme, has formed in The Netherlands. Using the reconstructed
mitochondrial genome of the aurochs, the suitability of hardy
primitive breeds - such as Sayaguesa Cattle, Pajuna
Maremmana primitiva - has been tested, in order to locate the ancient
DNA and phenotypic characters in primitive cattle and unite it in one
breed that is robust enough to cope in wilderness as much as the
There are about 2000
Heck cattle in Europe and few elsewhere. Heck
cattle are found in German zoos because of the erroneous claim by the
Heck brothers that these cattle represent a resurrected aurochs and
are suitable for conservation projects today. In Oostvaardersplassen
Flevoland (Netherlands), about 600
Heck cattle roam freely. Weak
animals are shot by hunters in order to prevent unnecessary
suffering. Others are at the Falkenthaler Rieselfelder near
Berlin, at the Nesseaue nature reserve near Jena,
Thuringia and at the
Grubenfelder Leonie nature reserve in Auerbach, Bavaria. About 100
were registered in
France in 2000. In 2009 nine cows and four bulls
were imported to south west England from Belgium. Derek Gow, a
British conservationist who operates a rare breeds farm at Lifton in
Devon, bought a herd of 13
Heck cattle from Belgium in 2009. The
herd grew to 20 animals, but in 2015 Gow had to slaughter all but six
due to high levels of aggression.
^ de Bruxelles, Simon (April 22, 2009). "A shaggy cow story: how a
Nazi experiment brought extinct aurochs to Devon". The Times.
^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m van Vuure, Cis (2005) Retracing the
Aurochs - History, Morphology and Ecology of an extinct wild Ox.
^ a b van Vuure, Cis (2005) Retracing the
Aurochs - History,
Morphology and Ecology of an extinct wild Ox. ISBN 954-642-235-5
^ Heck, H. (1951). "The Breeding-Back of the Aurochs". Oryx. 1 (3):
^ a b Walter Frisch: Der Auerochs - Das europäische Rind. 2010,
Heinz Heck (1934): ″Der Ur.″ Das Tier und Wir, Monatszeitschrift
für alle Tierfreunde.
Special edition (Sondernummer), March 1934.
Quoted in: T. van Vuure, ″History, Morphology and Ecology of the
Aurochs (Bos primigenius),″ 2002.
Lutz Heck (1934): ″Über die Neuzüchtung des Ur oder Auerochs.″
Berichte der Internationalen Gesellschaft zur Erhaltung des Wisents
3(4):225–294, 1934. Quoted in: T. van Vuure, ″History, Morphology
and Ecology of the
Aurochs (Bos primigenius),″ 2002.
^ Julia Poettinger: Vergleichende Studie zur Haltung und zum Verhalten
des Wisents und des Heckrinds. 2011.
^ Uffe Gjøl Sørensen: Vildokserne ved Lille Vildmose 2003–2010.
Status rapport med anbefalinger til projektets forvaltning. Archived
2013-11-14 at the Wayback Machine. København: UG Sørensen Consult,
^ Margret Bunzel-Drüke: ″Projekt Taurus – En økologisk
erstatning for uroksen.″ Archived 2011-10-17 at the Wayback Machine.
Translated into Danish by Karsten Thomsen. Lohne: ABU 2004; Århus:
^ History, Morphology and Ecology of the
Aurochs (Bos primigenius), T.
van Vuure, Lutra 2002.
^ www.taurosprogramme.com – Official website of Tauros Programme
^ Map taken from the "Staatsbosbeheer Oostvaaderplassen information"
^ Report by the Independent newspaper Retrieved 2009-04-22
^ "'Nazi super cows are trying to kill everyone,' says
Devon farmer -
Plymouth Herald". Plymouth Herald, archived copy on Internet Archive.
Retrieved 6 January 2015.
^ Steven Morris. "
Devon farmer forced to offload aggressive Nazi-bred
'super cows'". the Guardian. Retrieved 6 January 2015.
International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature. 2003. Opinion
2027 (Case 3010). Usage of 17 specific names based on wild species
which are pre-dated by or contemporary with those based on domestic
animals (Lepidoptera, Osteichthyes, Mammalia): conserved.
Vuure, C. van. 2005. Retracing the Aurochs: History, Morphology and
Ecology of an Extinct Wild Ox. Pensoft Publishers. Sofia-Moscow.
Vuure, C. van. 2002. History, Morphology and Ecology of the Aurochs
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Heck cattle.
EAAP breed description
Heck cattle (in German)
Cattle Powerpoint presentation about Taurus Cattle. Drüke
& Edgar Reisinger, 2010. Taurus Naturentwicklung e.V.
'Nazi' cattle being bred in UK
BBC News (video) on introduction of
Heck cattle to Devon, UK