The Chianina (pronounced kee-a-nee-na)
may well be one of the oldest breeds of cattle in existence. They were praised by the
Georgic poets, Columella and Vergil, and were the models for Roman sculptures.
The breed originated primarily in the west central part of Italy and was found in
a wide variety of environmental conditions. Because of this, the cattle vary in size and
type from region to region. The largest representatives of the breed, from the plains of
Arezzo and Siena, have supplied most of the foundation stock that has been used in the
United States and Canada. The name comes from the Chiana Valley in the province of Tuscany
in Central Italy.
Until recent times the Chianina were used primarily as draft animals in their
homeland. With the advent of modern mechanized farming practices they selection emphasis
has been placed on the breeds ability to produce beef. The earlier selection for work
animals had produced a very large breed with considerable length of leg, good action, and
heavy muscling. Good dispositions were also desired in the draft animals. The later
selections for beef production has maintained the size of the breed and improved the rate
U.S. servicemen, stationed in Italy during World War II, discovered Chianina. In 1971,
Chianina genetics were introduced to the U.S. when the first semen was imported from
Italy. Diaceto I was the first Italian fullblood bull to be collected. The first Chianina
born in the U.S. was a black half-blood Chianina x Angus/Holstein bull calf. He was born
January 31, 1972, at the Tannehill Ranch, King City, CA.
For the first few years, Chianina genetics were attainable only through semen.
United States Department of Agriculture regulations prohibited the importation of cattle
from countries having Foot and Mouth disease, and Italy was one of those countries. A
private quarantine station was established in Italy where semen was collected, processed
and shipped to breeders in the U.S. For a one year period, 17 young Chianina bulls were
admitted and their semen collected.
Another avenue for obtaining fullblood Chianina semen was from Canadian breeders.
Although Italian Chianina were not allowed to move into the U.S. from Canada, U.S.
breeders could import semen. In 1973, Italian fullblood Chianina were exported from Canada
into this country.
Fullblood Chianina have short hair that varies from white to steel gray in color. Bulls
are often a darker gray around their front ends. Both sexes have black pigmented skin,
points and mucosa. The short horns curve forward and are usually black in the younger
animals but become lighter, beginning at the base, as the animals mature.
The most noticeable characteristic of the breed is the extensive and well-defined
muscling. The shoulders, back and rear quarters are especially well formed. The legs are
longer than most breeds and the bodies are not proportionally as long as some breeds that
have shorter legs. The faces are rather long and straight. These characteristics give a
The breed is often referred to as a "terminal" breed by cattlemen. This
infers that the primary use of the breed is as the sire to animals which will all be
marketed. The herds they are used in are frequently crossbred and the Chianina bulls
provide an outstanding growth rate in the offspring of these crossbred females.
Cows of the breed often have small udders and are not noted for their milk
production. This is not surprising as they were originally valued for draft and later for
Briggs, H.M. & D.M. Briggs. Modern Breeds of Livestock. Fourth Edition. Macmillan
Publishing Co. 1980
Mason, I.L, World Dictionary of Livestock Breeds, Third edition (1988), C.A.B
Promotional materials from American Chianina Association, Platte City, MO provided by
Dr. Michael L. Thonney, Professor of Animal Science, Cornell University
Dr. Robert Kropp, Oklahoma State University