Algarvean cow in a farm in Vila do Bispo. Photo: LUÍS FORRA/LUSA

Valiant bid to save Algarvean cows

Cattle breeders and vets are committed to saving the Algarvean cow from extinction, and claim they want to go from 11 to 150 cows by 2022, reported Lusa news agency.

In the 1950s, there were more than 20,000 specimens, but the mechanisation of agriculture, the introduction of exotic breeds and the progressive abandonment of the fields decreased their numbers, and the Algarve cow was even reported as extinct.

It is in Boca do Rio in Budens, in the municipality of Vila do Bispo, that Lusa found eight of the 11 specimens that are officially classified as being of Algarve breed.

Among the five females, there are already offspring, and another one about to be born. There are also a couple at Quinta Pedagógica de Silves and a bull in Tavira.

In 2005, in a joint effort by the Association of Cattle Breeders of the Algarve (ASCAL), the Regional Directorate for Agriculture and Fisheries (DRAP) and the Directorate-General for Veterinary, a study was carried out that led 19 animals to be recovered.

There were 16 females and three males that still had the characteristics to be part of an initial nucleus for the recovery of the breed, Carla Santos from ASCAL told Lusa.

Santos said there is currently “semen from four breeding males” at the Banco Português de Germoplasma Anima, at the National Institute for Agricultural and Veterinary Research (INIAV) in Santarém, which will serve as the basis for the breed’s recovery.

With such a small number of animals, it is “difficult to escape from inbreeding”, she warns, hence the importance of embryos and semen preserved at INIAV.
The process is now going through a very technical phase, with a new embryo collection in 2021 which will then be placed in recipient cows.

Another 150 animals will also be purchased for artificial insemination and a process to increase the purity of the breed will be carried out, she went on.

The Algarve cow is distinguished by a dewlap – skin hanging from the lower part of the neck -, smaller than that of the Alentejo cow, a pyramidal head, shorter coat and limbs, and white-spotted humerus, among other characteristics.

João Cassinello from DRAP said: “As the Algarve is a tourist region, it makes sense to value indigenous breeds.

“This will be the last opportunity to save this breed.”