This article originally appeared on VICE UK
Bit of Nazi news to perk up the New Year: Devon farmer Derek Gow has had to mostly destroy a herd of cows that—sort of, kind of—were bred by Nazis. You're thinking about cows with very specific patches of black on their white, white hides, aren't you? Cows burning a big pile of books about horses. Cows marching with high steps beyond the reach of normal cow physiology. Stop doing that.
Basically, in 2009, Derek Gow imported 13 Heck cattle, setting them to graze on his Devon farm. The herd grew to a peak of about 20 animals, before, as announced yesterday, Gow had to "thin" the herd because the creatures were unimaginably angry. "The ones we had to get rid of would just attack you any chance they could. They would try to kill anyone," he said. "Dealing with that was not a lot of fun at all."
What has garnered the Heck cattle more press attention than might otherwise be afforded to a gathering of aggressive livestock is that they were sort of bred in Nazi Germany. See, the Heck cattle are the result of a two-decade breeding experiment by brothers Lutz and Heinz Heck—of the Berlin and Munich zoos, respectively—that began in the 1920s. The Hecks were trying to breed domestic cattle that exhibited the most "primitive" characteristics in both appearance and behavior, in an effort to breed the closest thing they could to an extinct wild cattle that used to roam the Teutonic forests called the aurochs.
The aurochs, in case you're not down with your long extinct Germanic cows, were large, wild, mad-as-heck cattle that inhabited Europe and North Africa up until the last recorded animals died out in 1627. Nobody knows exactly what they looked like because people were really bad at painting cows in olden days, but it's generally thought they were born chesnut and, at around six months, the males turned a darker conker color with a white stripe down their backs. When the Hecks first bred their version of the aurochs, they were looking primarily for domestic cattle that looked vaguely aurochs-y in an attempt to breed a pre-industrial super cow that might yield more meat, and then went from there. That meant big creatures with long legs and, as it turned out, fiery temperaments.
Gow originally got his herd of demi-aurochs because he was so interested in their story, and wanted to keep them just to look at them now and again and occasionally photograph them. Heck cattle aren't the only animals that were bred in Europe after everyone figured out the whole evolution thing: Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire is one of the only homes on earth to the Konik pony, a tiny angry little pony bred from the stock of the Tarpan, a wild European horse that had a major place in German folklore and were bred from Polish animal stock between the two World Wars. Kind of like The Boys From Brazil, only with more ponies. And less Nazis. I'll be honest: I just wanted to show off that I'd read The Boys From Brazil.
Anyway, before you start a pop-up restaurant selling certified Nazi burgers and crinkle-cut chips in the shape of a Swastika, just be aware that the Hecks, although they lived in Nazi Germany and worked at Nazi-funded zoos, didn't actually breed their cattle for any shady Nazi reasons, they just kind of liked the look of them and their big stripe-y backs. Also, pretty much all of them have been humanely killed now, so not to worry.
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