Endangered Breed of the Year 2007Foto: Kinzelmann
Murnau-Werdenfels cattle

Antje Feldmann, Society for the Conservation of Old and Endangered Livestock Breeds, Germany

Powerful teams of draught oxen with Murnau-Werdenfels cattle drawing the wagon belong to the past. The motorisation of agriculture with tractors and transport wagons took over the tasks of draught animals. The milking performance of the females is too low to compete with those of modern high-performing dairy cows. Present stock numbers of this traditional Bavarian breed have decreased to 129 females and 6 bulls.

Murnau-Werdenfels is listed as “extremely endangered” in the Red List of the German Society for the Conservation of Old and Endangered Livestock Breeds and has been elected “Endangered Breed of the Year 2007”. This election has taken place since 1984 and shows in an exemplary way the threat to the diversity of our indigenous livestock breeds that are to be conserved in the wider sense of agrobiodiversity conservation.

Murnau-Werdenfels is not only optically noticeable with its colouring ranging from blond to reddish and black. It shows characteristics that make the breed special amongst other cattle breeds, such as e.g. milk components that have world-wide only been found in the milk of this breed, its very good meat performance, its hard claws and its adaptation to humid sites accompanied with high agility on steep mountain slopes. Until the 1960s, the famous powerful and laborous draught oxen were in high demand. The sale of these animals was the main animal-generated income for many farm enterprises. Mechanisation has made the work of the oxen unnecessary for field work, in the forests and for transport purposes. An important source of income dwindled for the farmers of the region.

The breed has already shown performance above average in earlier times. The highest life performance was achieved by a female named Erika in the year 1988. The cow survived its 22nd birthday after having calved 17 times with 18 calves raised. Murnau-Werdenfels outdid all other dairy breeds in Bavaria with an average age of 7.1 years. The fattening performance of male calves was considerable, a daily increase of more than 1300 g was recorded.

The present decline of the multi-purpose breed rich in tradition is mainly caused by its low milk performance – the females of Murnau-Werdenfels produce only 60% of the average German dairy cow’s milk yield. However, top diary cows are found, too. Record holder is the female “Ankara” with an annual milk yield of 8903 kg with 4.34 % fat.

The presentation of Murnau-Werdenfels within the frame of the International Green Week in Berlin and on many other occasions and in publications during the year 2007 is meant to promote the breeds as future genetic reserve and irretrievable cultural heritage. The Federal State of Bavaria has early got in a sperm reserve of this breed, supports breeding financially and maintains an own herd (suckling cow system). These measures are, valuable as they are, not sufficient to secure the future of the breed. The special situation of the breed requires to develop a “silver bullet” considering the conservation of its specific characteristics and at the same time a sustainable way to use it in the future whilst applying a suitable and very tightly organised breeding programme. Intensive cooperation of all stakeholders concerned is needed to keep the breed as breeding population on German farms.



Society for the Conservation of old and endangered Livestock Breeds in Germany (GEH), POB 1218, D-37202 Witzenhausen, Germany, Fon: 0049-5542-1864, Fax: 0049-5542-72560, E-Mail: info@g-e-h.de, Internet: www.g-e-h.de


Pictures of the Endangered Breed of the Year 2007:

  Murnau-Werdenfels cattle  (zip-Files - <300dpi, jpg-files)


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