The white Chianina cow hails from Italy, where it has served as a draft and meat animal since the days of ancient Rome. Before that, during the Bronze Age, they were first domesticated in Africa and Asia. This makes the Chianina one of the oldest cattle breeds in existence, a type of cow familiar to our ancestors.
One of the largest cattle breeds, purebred animals range from white to gray. Cows and bulls have black skin, with short black horns and a black tail. As they age, the horns turn lighter. Their heads are long and straight. Perhaps due to their draft heritage, the Chianina are extremely well-muscled, with long legs and strong feet. Calves are born light brown, turning white or gray within their first few months.
Chianina cows weigh between 2,000 and 2,200 pounds, while bulls might weigh 2,800 pounds or more. Cows may stand 5 feet tall at the shoulder, while bulls might reach as high as 5' 8".
Chianina cows are not especially good milk producers. Their small udders reflect the fact that they were never bred primarily as dairy stock, but for work and beef. For the first three months after calving, the average Chianina produces a little over 3 gallons of milk daily. However, the highest-producing Chianinas might put out over 5 gallons per day.
While bulls often are crossbred with other breeds to create animals with hybrid vigor and fast rates of growth, cows have their own advantages. They are known for ease of calving, with a higher twin rate than other breeds. While the gestation period of most cows is nine months, the Chianina's is several days or weeks longer. Chianinas largely are free of genetic diseases.
Their history as draft animals means that Chianinas were bred for docile temperaments, as they had to work closely with people. That good disposition is important in a cow as large as the Chianina.
An extremely hardy breed, Chianinas do well in areas with relatively sparse pasture. Because of their long legs and tough hooves, they can walk longer distances during drought and other tough seasons in search of food and forage than smaller breeds. Their Italian history indicates that they are extremely heat-tolerant.
Jane Meggitt has been a writer for more than 20 years. In addition to reporting for a major newspaper chain, she has been published in "Horse News," "Suburban Classic," "Hoof Beats," "Equine Journal" and other publications. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from New York University and an Associate of Arts from the American Academy of Dramatics Arts, New York City.