The Maremmana is an Italian cattle breed, deemed to belong to the Podolian strain, a group of European grey cattle, some of which are now extinct, and who are believed to be descended from common ancestors, given their remarkable resemblance. The breed owes its name to its spreading area, the Maremma, a once marshy coastal region of Italy between southern Tuscany and northern Latium.
Many consider the Maremmana and the other Podolian as direct descendants of the aurochs (Bos taurus primigenius, Bojanus, 1827),the ancent wild cattle, now extinct, whose last specimen probably died in Poland in 1627.
The aurochs is described by Julius Caesar in De Bello Gallico, and Pliny (Historia Naturalis, VIII 30, 74), tells of a Taurus silvestris, a ferocious blue-eyed fawn-haired wild cattle living in Ethiopia. Indeed, it seems unlikely that the latter may correspond to the aurochs, being more likely an imaginary animal, whose description would be indirect, exaggerated and twisted.
The opinion of the direct lineage of the Podolian from the aurochs is a residual of the zootechnical theories proposing various species of the genus Bos as ancestors of the different cattle strains (polyphyletic theory), especially on the basis of the skull diameters and the length of the horns.
The Swiss naturalist Ludwig Rütimeyer in 1862 classified the remains of wild cattle in two species: Bos primigenius and Bos brachyceros alike as the Bos longifrons classified by Owen, later Nilsson classified an intermediate form, Bos frontosus, then Wilkens proposed the Bos brachycephalus, and finally Arenander launched the Bos akeratos. The French zootechnician André Sanson divided cattle into 12 natural species or breeds, with different geographic adjectives, six of which were dolichocephalic (elongated skull) and six brachycephalic (shortened skull) (Malossini).
According to these theories, the Bos primigenius would be the ancestor of the Grey Steppes and Podolian breeds, while bull-fighting fans maintain that the direct descendant of Bos primigenius be the raza de lidia, the one used in the corrida.
Modern taxonomic science clarifies that the aurochs belonged to the same species of domestic cattle, and therefore the various prehistoric bovines classified by their own specific names were in fact different forms of Bos taurus. So all current cattle breeds come from the aurochs.
Already in Charles Darwin supported the same thesis: The doctrine of the origin of our several domestic races from several aboriginal stocks, has been carried to an absurd extreme by some authors. They believe that every race which breeds true, let the distinctive characters be ever so slight, has had its wild prototype. At this rate there must have existed at least a score of species of wild cattle, as many sheep, and several goats, in Europe alone, and several even within Great Britain (The origin of species, chapter I).
Therefore, all present cattle breeds descend from these ancestors, though some, having been less subject to genetic improvement, have maintained greater resemblance to the wild ancestor, as we see it represented in prehistoric graffiti and statuettes and in medieval prints. Other details about the theories on the origins of Podolian breeds can be found in this article (in Italian).
According to the traditional
theories, Podolian cattle came in Italy from Eastern Europe steppes
(Podolia is a part of todays Ukraine) in the 5th
century, with the barbarian invasions and, crossing on the local
cattle, would have given origin to several local populations.
Actually, there is no documentation on this introduction, and
the few news left by the chroniclers of the era lead rather to
exclude that Podolian breeds were brought to Italy during the
barbarian invasions, also because many of the invasions were carried
out by mounted warriors, who moved quickly, without their families
and furnishings following, including cattle, but rather raided
the livestock and the food they found on their way. For example,
the famous invasion of Attila's Huns of 452, considered by many
responsible for the introduction of Podolian cattle in Italy,
lasted only three months, practically it was a raid, which excludes
that Huns hordes were worried about improving Italian livestock.
Other authors (Ciani and Matassino), deny the Podolian origin of Italian grey cattle breeds, remarking that similar macrocerous (broad-horned) cattle are documented in Mediterranean region since the Neolithic age, living together with their wild ancestor Bos primigenius, and assume that the Balkan livestock is instead derived from the Italian one. The paintings and sculptures of the Egyptians and Minoan show cattle with traits close to the present macrocerous cattle, like Maremmana or Iberian breeds, such as Spanish and Portuguese Cachena (see image of bull and cows) and Portuguese Barrosã (see image of bull and cow), which show horns' shape particularly close to Maremmana, though having for the rest very different traits.
Also in Italy representations of macrocerous cattle were found, such as the XI century b.C. bronze foil cup found in Tolfa, in the heart of Latium Maremma, the Villanovian askos of Tarquinia museum, again in Latium Maremma (VIII century b.C.), and from Bologna (725-680 b.C.), the bronze group of a ploughman with two oxen, of the late VIII century. b.C. and the sacrifice scene on a bronze vase, of the second half of VIII century b.C., both from Bisentium (on Bolsena lake), like the Etruscan frescoes from the "tomb of the Bulls" of VI century b.C., in Caere (Cerveteri, again in Latium Maremma), the bull represented on the repoussage silver urn and the charriot coping from the Duce tomb of Vetulonia (in Tuscan Maremma), kept at Florence Archaeological Museum and the small oxen heads adorning the bronze basin from Bernardini tomb of Palestrina (675 b.C.), exposed at Villa Giulia National Etruscan Museum in Rome, in Villa Poniatowski location.
According to some authors
of the past, a Roman breed existed, very similar to Maremmana,
and so called for its strong connection with the city of Rome,
where it was widely used as draught
animals, which were even shod,
as the main source of beef,
led into the city in herds,
and as the leading role of the Giostra
delle vaccine, the Roman version of the bullfight.
In 1908 the Meyers Großes Konversations-Lexikon,
vol. 16, alongside Hungarian-Transilvanian and Podolian-Bessarabian,
cites an Italian variety of the Podolian strain, the "romanische
Rasse" (Roman breed) (Maróti-Agots).
Maremmana cattle are commonly portrayed in numberless Roman Campagna paintings of several artist, starting from the 17th century (see images here below).
A foreign breed very similar
to Maremmana is the Hungarian grey
(Magyar szürke szarvasmarha), maybe an ancestor of
the grey cattle who was introduced in Italy in the 5th
century, but also derived from Maremmana, when in 18th
century Lorraine family, holding the throne of Tuscany Gran Duchy,
sent Maremmana bulls to cross their cattle in the family estates
in Hungarian puszta. Other shipments of Maremmana breeders
for crossings in the Hungarian Grey occurred in 1934 (2 cows and
2 bulls) and in 1936 (9 bulls and 7 heifers), from State farms
of Tor Mancina, in Monterotondo district and Montemaggiore, in
Montelibretti district, both in the province of Rome, with further
exports not better quantified, until 1944 (Hönsch, 1971). In October 1971 a bull and three
young bulls from Alberese, Polverosa and Musignano farms, in Grosseto
province, were exported in Hungary (Hönsch, 1973).
Maremma region was characterized by a harsh environment and a difficult situation even for human population, due to malaria which was present until the first years of last century, so the cattle that took origin there, was a strong, resistant breed, used to graze wild in extensive pastures. The advent of farm mechanization reduced dramatically the consistency of Maremmana, and from an initial triple purpose (dairy-beef-draught), the breed turned to a double purpose (beef-draught) and nowadays is a beef breed.
The attempt to transform Maremmana into a more productive, yet less rustic cattle, by means of substitution crosses, was fortunately abandoned in the first years of last century, even though at that time it reduced the number of heads reared as purebred, and today Maremmana is used as a pure breed or crossed with beef breeds (usually Charolaise, but also Chianina, Limousin and others, to produce young bulls with better beef traits, without losing the rusticity and maternal skill of Maremmana cows). Chianina x Maremmana crossbreds were in the past known as Cecinese breed (Mason).
In 1862 Cuppari describes
Maremmana as having low height, shape similar to that of buffaloes,
"with neck and head leaning out" hardy but wild.
In 1872 Vallada distinguished the breed "delle Maremme"
defined as "able to stand the most painful works, and
of the strongest nature that one may desire", but bad
producer of milk and meat, and the "Romana" the
most ancient in Italy, the ancestor of the Italian plain breeds,
very similar to the Hungarian breed and crossed with the Podolian
breed of the Balkans, where it would have been imported by the
Romans, with great resistance to the difficult environmental conditions
in which it was raised.
In 1903 Faelli mentions Maremmana breed, present in Tuscany, of Podolian origin, having a nearly wild in appearance, very good for draught, scantily appreciated for beef, and the bovine breed of Latium, also known as the breed of the Roman countryside, also of Podolian origin, with a hardy and noble appearance, broad-horned, whit a well-developed foretrunk, more than hindtrunk, pointy rump, black apical pigmentation and grey coat, fawn in the calf until weaning. The breed had a draught purpose with poor dairy attitude and milk yield sufficient only to feed the calf. The bulls, after serving a few years as breeders, were castrated and fattened. According to Faelli, the breed was susceptible to improvement provided it was reared by the breeders.
In 1928 a speech by professor Renzo Giuliani at a breeders meeting in Grosseto laid the basis for the selection of the breed, with the foundation of the first breeders' associations, although the morphological selection had been long-time implemented by the most advanced breeders who provided reproducers to farmers in other regions. In 1932 the Regional Agricultural Inspectorate of Tuscany and the Institute of Animal Husbandry at the University of Florence, launched a morphological selection program, by intervening on the best herds also having weight controls, on a scheme proposed by professor Giuliani, getting quickly very good results. Since 1936, the "progeny tests" were started on the bulls' offspring, and in the provinces of Grosseto and Viterbo nuclei of selection were created.
In 1941 Albertario censed 288,135 heads of Maremmana, about a hundred thousand more than Friesian breed, then defined as "Dutch." The heads were raised for almost half in Latium, and for the rest in 14 other regions, especially in Tuscany, Marche and Umbria.
Still in 1941, Tassinari's Manuale dell'Agronomo (Agronomist's Handbook) listed among the functional traits of Maremmana: "a very marked draught attitude, combined with rusticity and low dietary requirements, with a subordinated meat production; good calf suckling capacity. Adults' dressing percentage 45-50% "
The Maremmana has remarkable rusticity traits, with high skill to graze on dry pastures in every season, exploiting food resources that other breeds could not convert, making their breeding costs extremely low, and giving fattening calves, purebred or crossbred with specialized beef breeds. In addition, Maremmana is also highly resistant to drought, parasites and predators due to morphological and physiological characteristics, but also to the protection behaviour towards the group and offspring. very similar to those of wild ruminants.
Maremmana breeding is traditionally wild all year long, needing only very small integrations of straw to fulfil their requirements. In winter cattle exploit woods and bushes for feeding and as a shelter from the cold, and in springtime, after the calvings, on pastures, where the cows have enough food resources to suckle the calves. In summertime the pasture is on marshy areas, woods, and where available, on irrigated meadows and grasslands, while in autumn they go back to the pastures they already exploited in spring, staying there until November, when they go wintering in the scrub, where the big horns help the animals to make themselves way in the thick vegetation.
Maremmana cow's rusticity includes its good maternal capacity, meant as the skill to bring the calf alive and healthy until the age of weaning (at 5th month with 98% of calves' survival), and consisting in a great ease of calving, without any help, very good milk production (10 - 12 l/day) which assures to the calf satisfying daily growth (up to 1 kg/day) and capacity to protect itself and the calf from attacks of predators (mainly wolves and free-ranging dogs).
Calves are weaned in autumn and in the following spring they are iron branded during the "merca" which is often an opportunity for traditional feasts, being also a tourist attraction. The mating season lasts about three months, with groups of 20-30 cows per bull.
The traits characterizing Maremmana cattle are wide horns, long on average 60 cm, but which can reach 145 cm., with a distance between the tips of one meter, half-moon shaped in bulls and lyre shaped in the cows. The coat is dark to light grey in the cow, and dark grey for the bull, with darker head, neck, fore legs and fore part of the trunk. In 1941 Tassinari's Manuale dell'Agronomo (Agronomist's Handbook) listed the black spots under the eye sockets and black hair on the neck, shoulders, forearms and dewlap as traits to be held in high regard for the bulls. At birth the calf has a fawn coat, which starts to turn grey around the third month of age.
Some parts have to be black (black apical pigmentation) in order to stand open air breeding in areas with strong solar irradiation. The black pigmentation concerns hooves, dewclaws, edges of the horns, tongue, muzzle, mucosae of natural openings, eyelashes, edges of the eyelids and the ears, tuft of the foreskin, lower part of the scrotum, tassel of the tail. For specimens having the functional-morphological traits required for the admission to the herd book, a reddish tuft on the pull, a grey tassel of the tail and the partial depigmentation of the natural openings are tolerated.
The skeleton is well developed and massive, as the foretrunk and forelegs are, and together with the correct verticality of limbs, these are typical traits of draught animals, giving to these cattle a mighty appearance. The centuries-old history of Maremmana as draught animal is witnessed by the depth of its chest that, with subsequent selection for beef purpose, generated an increase in the transverse diameters of this area, with a greater arching of the ribs.
Joints are neat, skin is fine, elastic, loose and greasy, with good cutaneous muscles functionality, suitable for repelling parasites, and the abdomen is capacious, albeit not too bulky or sagging, allowing an adequate ingestion capacity, in order to contain the relevant amount of coarse vegetable feed, with low nutritional value of which Maremmana cattle can take advantage. Compared to the past, the dewlap is reduced but still relevant, as remains of when it was an additional heat dissipation surface, indispensable for draught animals in very hot environments.
Maremmana cows reach 15-16 years of age, even if their development is rather tardy: at 18 months their weight is 350-440 Kg, and the adult weight is 600-700 Kg, while the bulls' weight is 700-1200 Kg. At slaughtering 18 months Maremmana young bulls have an average carcass weight of 280.9 kg , with a dressing percentage of 52.88 and net dressing percentage of 58.65. Withers height varies from 155 to 180 cm for bulls, and from 143 to 150 cm in cows, depending on ecotypes.
For the sake of comparison, the following table shows the data on Maremmana, published in 1941 on Tassinari's Manuale dell'Agronomo (Agronomist's Handbook).
Maremmana herd book is kept by ANABIC (Associazione Nazionale Allevatori Razze Italiane Bovine da Carne - National Breeders Association of Italian Beef Cattle Breeds) that in 1961 incorporated Maremmana Breeders' Association. The best calves are reared in station (at Alberese, near Grosseto) in performance test, whence, if selected, they go out at 15 months of age as sires, if selected. Dams and sires are selected for their productivity, genealogy and morphology, this latter consisting in an assessment of functional beauty of the animal, therefore focused mainly on muscular development, rather than on merely aesthetical standards, like it was in the past. Since 1986, ANABIC has introduced a new morphological evaluation form, based on these new principles.
The selection goals are the production of rustic individuals able to produce good quality meat, with a free-range raising systems and exploiting low-quality vegetable resources. Cows are required to have longevity and good maternal attitudes,
The selection scheme is implemented at Young Bulls Selection Center, and allows to reach the maximum progress according to the different farm organizations. The herds managed with a grazing system are divided into two categories: "A" employing only one bull for each mating group, and from which the young bulls are produced (4) and "B" (7): employing more than one bull for each mating group (8) which can produce replacement heifers but not bulls. Young bulls are evaluated and selected in specific centers (1), based on their own production traits and on their mothers', selected on the basis of maternal abilities and reproductive efficiency (5). ANABIC publishes on its website the images of the ideal bull and cow, according to the breed standard.
The census of the Herd book is over 11,000 heads, nearly half of which are in the province of Rome, and 76% live in Latium, while 22% are raised in Tuscany (almost all in the province of Grosseto).
Several heads of Maremmana are reared in "institutional" herds, in addition to Alberese Estate, near Grosseto, in Tuscany, the organic farm of Ente Pubblico Terre Regionali Toscane (Public Institution of Tuscan Regional Lands), that hosts the above mentioned Young Bulls Selection Center, we also count the Presidential Estate of Castelporziano, the Farm of the Municipality of Rome in Castel di Guido, and the Research Center for Meat Production and Improvement (PCM) of the Council for Research in Agriculture and Agricultural Economy Analysis (CREA) at Tor Mancina, in the Municipality of Monterotondo, near Rome.
There is a rising interest for this breed by the farmers of southern Italy but also abroad (Spain and Central America), for its rusticity, allowing it to grow on harsh environments at a low cost.
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