Domestic cattle, Bos taurus (humpless breeds, originating from Europe and northern Asia) and Bos indicus (humped zebu breeds, originating from India) evolved from a single and now extinct wild ancestor, Bos primigenius, the auroch.
Domestication of cattle started about 12 000 years ago and took place independently for B. taurus and B. indicus in several locations from different lines of aurochs.
Today there are around 260 breeds of domestic cattle, many of which have been selectively bred as dairy, beef, draught or dual-purpose animals.
The main cattle breeds farmed in Italy are the following:
1) breeds specialised for milk production
2) breeds specialised for meat production
3) dual purpose breeds
calf → young cattle of both sexes from birth to weaning
heifer→ young female from weaning to the first calving
young bull → young male raised with the purpose of reproduction or beef production
cow → adult female after calving
bull→ adult male used for reproduction
steer→ castrated male used for meat production
Friesian are most quickly recognized by their distinctive colour markings and outstanding milk production.
They are large, stylish animals with colour patterns of black and white or red and white.
Calves weighs 40 kg or more at birth. A mature cow weighs about 600 kg and stand 145 cm tall at the shoulder.
The heifers can be bred at 15 months of age, when they weigh about 400 kg. It is desirable to have the first calving between 24 and 27 months of age.
While some cows may live considerably longer, the normal productive life of a cow is six years.
Average production for all cows enrolled in official production-testing programs in 2008 was 9,197 kg of milk, with 3.64 % of fat and 3.30 % of protein.
Once considered a dual purpose breed. Today a more refined dairy type animal, capable of producing more milk and maintaining high components.
The main features that distinguish the Bruna cow are the considerable high-quality milk production, docility, robustness of the limb, resistance and longevity, high quality beef yields, great capacity to adapt to the most varied agricultural environments.
Average production for all Bruna enrolled in official production-testing programs in 2008 was 6,953 kg of milk, with 3.96 % of fat and 3.50 % of protein.
Height at the withers:
The Jersey breed originated on the Island of Jersey, a small British island in the English Channel off the coast of France.
Adaptable to a wide range of climatic and geographical conditions, the Jersey subjects are excellent grazers and perform well in intensive grazing programs. With an average weight of 450 kg, the Jersey produces more kg of milk per kg of body weight than any other breed.
The colour in Jerseys may vary from a very light grey or mouse colour to a very dark fawn or a shade that is almost black.
Average production for all Jersey enrolled in official production-testing programs in 2008 was 6,035 kg of milk, with 5.14 % of fat and 3.99 % of protein.
Chianina are characterised by white hair and a black switch. They have black skin pigmentation. Chianina are heat tolerant and have a gentle disposition.
They are the largest breed in size, bulls generally standing 1.8 m tall and weigh up to 1,700 kg. The cows stand at 1.5 m or so and weighing in at up to 1,000 kg.
They are used in breeding programs for their growth rate, high quality meat and heat tolerance. They are also great foragers. Chianina are also tolerant to disease and insects to a greater degree than many other domesticated cattle.
Thanks to these qualities the Chianina breed is present in many countries like Brazil where there are many thousands.
The Marchigiana is a cattle type that has significant somatic development and it is characterized by a high growth capacity and outstanding precocity. It has a white coat that may have some grey shading in the males. The skin and mucosa have a black pigmentation.
The Marchigiana has a light head with short horns. It has a long cylindrical trunk with excellent muscle development, particularly in the buttock and thigh.
The cows have excellent maternal capabilities and calving is natural, with the calves weighing an average of 45 kg at birth.
It also has an excellent growth capacity and in the best specimens weight gain can peak at 2 kg a day. A precocious breed, it reaches its ideal slaughter weight at the age of 15-16 month, for a yield as high as 67%.
The Romagnola has a white coat with grey shading towards the front and black apical pigmentation. Beef-cattle type characterized by notable somatic development and a harmonious structure, with evident hindquarters and transverse diameter.
This breed’s short sturdy legs and strong feet have made it an ideal grazing animal.
Calving takes place without any difficulty and the cows give birth to wheat-coloured calves that weigh an average of 40-45 kg.
The Romagnola has an outstanding growth capacity that is comparable to the Chianina and Marchigiana.
Animals are slaughtered when they reach a weight of 650-700 kg, at the age of 16-18 months. Average slaughter yield is 62-63%.
The Maremmana has a grey coat that is darker in males and lighter-coloured in females, with blank apical pigmentation.
As seen in other breeds of Podolica descent, calves are wheat-coloured at birth and then at around three months they turn to the characteristic colour of the breed. The horns are long and are a typical half-moon shape in the males, whereas the females have lyre-shaped horns.
The Maremmana has an impressive skeletal structure that gives the adult a very solid and robust appearance. This very large sized cattle has extremely solid legs and hard hooves.
The Maremmana is an extraordinarily rustic and and long-living breed that can reach an age of 15-16 years. Calving is spontaneous and the calves weigh 30-40 kg at birth. They reach a weight of 180-220 kg by the age of six months.
Podolica has been present in Italy for a very long time. The breed is widespread over a rather vast area that includes all of southern Italy. As a result, this has caused a great deal of variability in its size and in the colour of its coat, which can range from white to dark grey. Pigmentation is black.
The Podolica has a lightweight skeletal structure with slender legs and strong feet. Adult bulls weigh from 600 to 800 kg.
The Podolica was long used mainly in a work capacity and only secondarily for beef and dairy products. In fact, its milk is ideal for producing the famous “caciocavallo’ cheese.
Calvings are spontaneous and are concentrated during the springtime. Calves are suckled for at least four months.
The calves are then weaned in order to be sold for slaughter at around 15-16 months, with weights ranging around 300-350 kg. In some cases, as far as males are concerned, heavier bullocks are produced and these subjects are slaughtered at around two years of age, at a weight of 500 kg.
The Piemontese bulls, weighting 900-950 kg, have a grey or pale fawn coat, with black hairs on the head (especially around the eye sockets), on the neck, the shoulders, the distal regions of the limbs and sometimes on the lateral sides of the body and the hind limbs.
The cows have a white or pale fawn coat with shades of grey or pale fawn. At birth the coat of the calves is of a deep pale fawn colour. The cows are of a medium size (550-600 kg), at birth the calves weigh on average from 40 to 45 kg.
The male fattening calves are ready for slaughtering at a weight of 550-650 kg when they are about 15-18 month old, the females at about 350-450 kg when they are about 14-16 months old. The weight gain of Piemontese cattle is high, reaching 1.4 kg a day.
The dressing out percentage is very high, on average 67-68% in the fattening calves, with peaks of 72%, thanks to the extremely fine bones and the low quantity of external fat.
The particular characteristic of the Piemontese cattle breed is the muscular hypertrophy, better known as the ‘double muscle factor’.
This breed originated in the Alps and then, thanks to its adaptability, spread to many European countries and other numerous extra continental zones.
Breeding in Italy started in the Friuli Venice Julia by crossing and substituting the local bovine population.
This breed responds to criteria for meat production (good size, sturdy constitution, precocity and development of specific muscle masses that correspond to the more valuable cuts) and at the same time has the characteristics of a dairy animal: fineness, gentility and, above all, good development of the mammary apparatus.
Average production for all cows enrolled in official production-testing programs in 2008 was 6,612 kg of milk, with 3.89 % of fat and 3.43 % of protein.