Maronesa is a primitive cattle breed from the Trás-os-Montes region in Portugal, which closely resembles the extinct aurochs, the wild ancestor of domestic cattle, in several features. Its name comes from Mountains in Portugal, Serra do Marão, which rise to approximately 4648 feet (1415m). Genetic evidence suggests that it is very different from other Iberian cattle and consequently is not a crossbreed of other breeds like Barrosa Cattle or Mirandesa.
The degree of primitiveness and Aurochs-likeness of Maronesa differs from lineage to lineage. The number of aurochs-like Maronesa herds is shrinking due to breeding for more productivity and selection against primitive traits. The bulls are usually much bigger than the cows and of dark brown to black coat colour. They bear a light eel stripe and a lightly coloured mouth. The head of the bulls is large and often has frizzy hair on its front head, the colour of that region varies from dark brown to orange. The profile of the head in Maronesa cattle is usually concave or more or less straight, the snout tends to be short. The body of the bulls is well-muscled and has a swung backline because of the strongly pronounced shoulder- and neck musculature. The horns are thick and swung forwards. The cows are considerably more gracile than the bulls, and are often much lighter in colour, although some cows have a dark colour as well. On average, Maronesa cows are reddish-brown while the bulls are dark brown to black, which is the colour also described and depicted for the European aurochs and some other primitive cattle breeds. Also the body shape as described resembles the wild ancestor of that breed. The udder of the cows usually is small to medium-sized and hairy. The dewlap is small to moderately developed.
Maronesa is a hardy breed which comes from the north of Portugal. It is used to harsh conditions and is able to live without any human interference and also capable of defending against predators like wolves. The primitive anatomy and ecology of this breed makes it valuable for conservation, it is used by TaurOs Project in order to create a breed that resembles the aurochs to the largest possible extend (breeding back) by crossbreeding primitive and aurochs-like breeds. Other breeds used are f.e. Sayaguesa Cattle, Pajuna Cattle and Maremmana primitivo.
The True Nature Foundation is using the Maronesa breed as a separate lineage in their Uruz Project. Selection within the Maronesa population is used to increase primitive traits found in the Aurochs. Because of the strong resemblance of the Maronesa with its wild ancestor, no crossbreeding is taking place.
- Fernández, A., J.L. Viana, A. Iglesias and L. Sánchez: Genetic variability and phylogenetic relationships between ten native cattle breeds from Galicia and the north of Portugal. 1998.