The Romagnola breed of cattle derives from the Bos primigenius podolicus, a wild ox which lived on the Italian peninsula and, to a great extent also, from the Bos primigenius nomadicus, a bovine originating in the Euro-Asian steppes, which came to Italy during the fourth century AD with the Gothic invasion led by Aginulf.
The Romagnola therefore combines the characteristics of both major types of Aurochs, the ancient wild cattle which were the forebears of the modern Bos Taurus and Bos Indicus cattle breeds.
These primitive beasts gave rise to several breeds with similar characteristics throughout Italy. Common traits of these breeds are black pigmented skin, white or greyish coat and general conformation. In north-eastern Italy the amalgamation of Bos primigenius podolicus and Bos primigenius nomadicus saw the formation of a new breed. Since this region, comprising the provinces of Ravenna, Forli, Bologna, Ferraio, Pesaro and Florence was known as Romagna, the breed acquired the name of ROMAGNOLA.
For centuries the main purpose of these animals was to assist man in tilling the fertile plains, with the production of beef as a secondary consideration. The fertile soils and high quality forage contributed significantly to the evolution towards a progressively more muscular type while the continued use of Romagnolas as living tractors ensured their structural soundness and dynamic traits. During the past century the mechanisation of agriculture has seen the role of the Romagnola directed specifically into beef production.
The man responsible for the definite change in this direction was Leopoldo Tosi, who developed the first nucleus of selectively bred Romagnola cattle in the mid 1800’s in San Mauro Pascoli on the Estate of the Counts of Torlonia. The initial herd became the focal point for the entire breed. Over a relatively short period great progress was made, such that by the year 1900 the Romagnola was able to win first prize as best beef breed, ex equo, with Herefords at the Paris International Agricultural Fair.
From the estate in San Mauro Pascoli many bulls were sent throughout the breed’s distribution area. Of all these, the bull Medoro is considered to be the founder of our modern day Romagnola. Medoro was born in 1920 and then bought and transferred to Gambellara, a small town close to Ravenna, where he served at stud for thirteen years. Medoro was responsible for a definite change in the basic structure of Romagnola cattle toward a modern type where strength, muscling and thickness were the main characteristics. Medoro’s descendants were numerous and many became famous including Edo, Cesare, Glauco, Ergum, Bolero, Inverno, Astro and Niccolo.
Immediately before the second World War the Romagnola was at its peak. The population was close to 700,000 head, undoubtedly the strongest beef breed in Italy. The official herd book was initiated with Medoro in the 1920’s. Regular shows with registered cattle became very popular with the number of entries growing progressively, reaching 1,300 animals in the San Pietro in Vincoli and Lugo market squares.
After the war 550,000 animals were left. The distribution area was quite large, spreading from Marche to Emilia-Romagna and Veneto. Cattle markets were full of high quality stock and buyers converged here from all parts of Italy.
From this period of glory a series of factors including the mechanisation of agriculture, the end of tenant farming, the rapid expansion of intensive fruit growing and the progressive reduction of profitability from cattle breeding all caused an unrelenting contraction of the breed’s numbers from 550,000 in 1953 to the 15,000 remaining today.
Within the breed’s distribution area the herds on the fertile plain of the Po Valley are those containing the best quality stock. Plentiful good forage and a strong farming economy have enhanced the development of stature, muscularity and thickness.
Cattle from the mountainous area, which represent the southern limit of the breed’s original range, have always suffered from the less fortunate conditions in which they are bred. The mountain Romagnola is therefore an extremely resistant animal but somewhat smaller with a lesser expression of muscularity and breed character. It is unfortunate that the extreme intensification of agriculture on the plains combined with the decreasing profitability of commercial beef production in Italy has caused a massive reduction of cattle numbers in this area. The majority of Romagnolas today are to be found in the hill country where consistent efforts are being made to improve stock quality.
Under these difficult conditions the valued qualities of the breed have been maintained by the determined efforts of a small number of people who have identified and exploited outstanding sires and dams to maintain the spread of bloodlines and further improve their beef producing ability. Of these Dr. Georgio Guberti, the veterinarian who owned a bull centre which was the focal point for the breed for decades, is the man who contributed most to the alignment of the Romagnola to modern requirements. Colosso, Molosso, Dritto, Telamone, Ramses, Titano and Brama were all bulls from his stud which have founded many herds in Italy and overseas.
International interest in the Romagnola has been steadily increasing since the first cattle left Italy for Scotland in the early 1970’s. Today the breed is present in Great Britain, Ireland, North and South America, Australia, New Zealand and Africa.
The Romagnola can now be rightly considered an international breed.