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Criollo cattle - bull calf - Latin America

Criollo cattle
(general category)

most common name (Spanish):
most common name (Portuguese):
most common name (French):
most common name (anglophone regions of the West Indies):

In 1493, Northwestern Blond Iberian Spanish cattle (presumably from the Canary Islands on the northwest coast of Africa) were brought by Columbus to the island of Hispaniola in the Caribbean.

More and more Spanish cattle were brought by ship and these cattle then spread throughout the islands of the Caribbean and became known as Criollo cattle.

In 1521, Criollo cattle finally arrived on the mainland in Mexico for the first time (supposedly from Santo Domingo, which is now the capitol of the Dominican Republic) — and it’s from Mexico that the Spanish Criollo then spread into both Americas, except for Brazil.

After being conquered by Portugal, Brazil had Portuguese cattle brought to them in 1534. Brazillian Crioulo are thought to trace back to ancestors of the Alentejana (a close relative of the Spanish Retinta).

Criollo cattle have a long history of adapting to dry plains, humid swamp regions, and harsh mountainous areas and thus developed into various ecotypes in Latin America.

Over time though, West European dairy and beef breeds and zebu breeds were introduced and Criollo cattle of Iberian descent slowly dwindled in numbers. Today, they have disappeared from large parts of Latin America.

However, some regions are working to conserve Criollo cattle due to their valuable characteristics as a multipurpose breed; in many places the oxen are still used for work. When crossed with modern production breeds, these new crossbreeds and populations are proving to be profitable and more adaptive.

Criollo cattle characteristics:
• vary in size (smaller in the mountains, larger on the plains)
• small and slender
• widespread horns, twisting handle-bar or lyre-shaped
• thick, pigmented hide
• wrinkled skin above the eyes
• sparse, thin, short hair (except rough–haired in the cold Andes)
• thin switch with a short plume (except in the Argentine Criollo)
• majority are fawn-tan to reddish in color (minority are black or black spotted)
• in the high Andes red spotted animals are common
• very hardy
• very resistant to heat
• docile

The Spanish word ‘criollo’ and its Portuguese cognate ‘crioulo’ possibly derive from the Spanish/Portuguese verb ‘criar’, meaning “to breed” or “to raise” or “to nurse”.

This page was last updated on: 2021-06-28

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