Giants of The Cattle Breeds

In the bovine world, there are some very large cattle around. And they are not all 'wild' species as might be expected.

It seems to be commonly accepted that the Chianina is the largest cattle breed in the world. It is an Italian breed, once mainly used as a draught animal but now raised for beef. It is one of the oldest cattle breeds in the world and produces the famous Florentine beefsteak known as 'bistecca alla fiorentina'.

It is the tallest and heaviest of the cattle breeds. At maturity, bulls may stand almost six feet tall at the shoulder while steers (castrated males) reach 6 ft 7 inches. Bulls  commonly exceed 3,500 pound in weight and cows 2,200 pound. Calves at birth weigh around 110 lb. Chianina cattle have black skin but white hair and just a black switch (end of the tail).

ChianinaCredit: Wikimedia

Most of the population of Chianina is found in Tuscany, Umbria and Lazio. The Chianina is tolerant of the heat and has a gentle disposition – which is fortunate considering its size! It produces just enough milk to raise a calf. These were excellent draught animals, well suited to steep, hilly terrain and equally to road transport. They were mostly yoked with neck yokes and worked in pairs.

Their growth rate may exceed 4.4 pound per day. They are good foragers and have great resistance to disease and insects. They are popular in Brazil with thousands of the breed contributing to the beef cattle industry there.

Wild Water Buffalo
The wild water buffalo is also known as the Asian buffalo or Asiatic buffalo. It is native to Southeast Asia and is second in size (of wild bovids) to the gaur. It is listed as endangered with most (91%) living in India, mostly in Assam. The height at the shoulder ranges from 50 to 75 inches and weight varies between 1,500 and 2,600 pound.

Wild Water BuffaloCredit: Wikimedia

 All have horns which spread widely. The horns are heavy at the base and measure up to 79 inches along the outer edges. They have smallish ears and a tuft of hair on the forehead. The coat is fairly long, sparse and coarse. From the haunches the hair lies toward the long, narrow head. In colour they range from black to ash grey. The tip of the yard-long tail is bushy and the hooves large.

 They frequent areas of wet grasslands, swamps or dense river valleys. As well as being in India, they are found in Nepal, Cambodia, Bhutan and Thailand. They have now vanished from Laos, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Vietnam.

Another large domestic breed is the Guzerat, one of the three major Indian breeds that have had an impact on beef cattle breeding in the USA. These are large, heavy-boned cattle. They are light grey  to black with short, broad faces. The long ears droop and open to the front. The horns are long and shaped like a lyre. The barrel is often lighter in colour than the rest of the animal. As well as being powerful draught animals, they produce moderate amounts of milk.

BrahmanCredit: Wikimedia

The bull above is a Brahman which has a background of Guzerat.

The Guzerat was one of the principal breeds in the make-up of the American Brahman. Introduction of Guzerat blood adds adaptability to tropical and subtropical conditions. They are gentle in nature and remain fertile under conditions of stress. They have good longevity and are good mothers. They also have some insect tolerance and disease resistance. They are widely used in cross-breeding to produce heat-resistant beef cattle.

Belgian Blue
The Belgian Blue is what is known as a double-muscled breed. A genetic mutation suppresses the production of myostatin resulting in extreme muscular development. The breed began in central and upper Belgium. Crossing with Shorthorn, Charolais and possibly Holstein eventually resulted in these bovine 'incredible hulks'.

Belgian Blue Bull(105117)Credit: Wikimedia

There is an increase in muscle mass of around 20%. There is less bone mass and the fat has a higher proportion of polyunsaturated fats (11% compared to 5% for traditional breeds). Carcasses dress out at perhaps 80% and, as much of the extra muscle mass is in the hindquarters, there is a greater percentage of the more popular cuts.  

Belgian Blue Bull(105108)Credit: By User:Mastiff (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Mature bulls weigh around 2,200 to 2,645 pound. Cows are slightly smaller. The hindquarters in particular are heavily muscled having larger amounts of red meat and much lower fat deposits than more traditional breeds. It is a docile breed with a straight back and prominent tail set. Colours seen range from white through all shade of blue roan to black.

The gaur or Indian bison is the largest of the wild cattle species. They stand 5.4 to 7.2 feet at the shoulder and weigh between 1,433 and 2,200 pound with occasional males reaching 3,306 pound. They have a dorsal ridge, well-developed dewlaps and strong muscular appearances. The forequarters appear much enlarged. The dorsal ridge extends to the middle of the back making the shoulders perhaps 4-5 inches higher than the rump.

Gaur - HeadCredit: Wikimedia

A high convex ridge between the ears curves to the front creating a deep hollow in the profile. The black-tipped pale green or yellow horns extend from the sides and curve up. The ears are very large. The sparse coat is short and glossy, becoming even thinner as the animal ages. The lower parts of the legs and the muzzle are pale while the body coat is dark brown to black.

The gaur is timid and shy in areas where it is unused to human activity. However it becomes quite bold and aggressive when found around domestic cattle. Parasitic insects and the heat of summer makes them short-tempered and unpredictable.

Gaurs have a preference for leaves, stems, seeds and flowers but their diet depends to a large degree on the season. They eat quite a lot of bark and fibre for the minerals contained therein. Teak bark is high in calcium and phosphorous. They also frequent mineral springs and licks within their range. The gaur is regarded as 'vulnerable' by the IUCN. Preservation of its preferred foodstuffs is important to its long-term survival. It is legally protected in all parts of its range.

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