Taurus cattle and Heck cattle

Grazing for nature conservation

Author: Joachim Drüke
Author: Joachim Drüke

After the image of the Aurochs and the Wild Horse

In Central Europe, there once existed a diverse natural landscape that was influenced not only by climate, water, soil conditions and vegetation, but also by the impact of large herbivores. The landscape included all transitional zones: from closed forests right through to park-like and open, almost treeless areas. Due to their interactions with the vegetation, the large grazing animals played a key role within the ecosystem and created the basis for existence of many other animal and plant species. Aurochs, horse, bison, elk and deer were among the species that shaped the landscape.

Around 1920, the Heck brothers began a project to obtain animals resembling the former Aurochs by crossing domestic cattle breeds. This is referred to as breeding back. The result was Heck cattle, which already look very similar to the Aurochs, but remain considerably smaller, with the bulls having a maximum height at withers of 1.50 m. The project was taken up again in 1996 by the Arbeitsgemeinschaft Biologischer Umweltschutz im Kreis Soest (ABU) in the Lippe floodplain. By crossing Heck cattle with old cattle breeds, Taurus cattle were produced. Several other groups have meanwhile become involved in the back-breeding efforts. Individual bulls are now achieving shoulder heights of 1.65 m and weights of up to 1400 kg, which is about the size of their extinct ancestors.

In some nature reserves, such large herbivores are today grazing in the service of conservation and biodiversity. In addition to cattle, horses are also used in nature reserves to maintain or develop semi-open pastures. The result is a mosaic of habitats ranging from sparse forests and bush land through tall forb communities and pasture grass to open ground. Special conditions are created by the animals' watering places and wallows, as well as frequently-used trails. Plant and animal species that need light and warmth benefit greatly from the grazing. Heck and Taurus cattle are robust and easy to care for and can live outdoors all year round.