What the Heck? Ecology and a “Hitlerian Herd”

· Essay


Someone tried to do something for the environment, and it went all wrong – or did it? 

In brief, a British farmer with an interest in nature, Derek Gow, was forced to terminate with extreme prejudice, part of a herd of a breed of cattle called Heck, originally developed in Germany, chiefly during the Nazi period.  Some of the miniature horde became too barbaric, these Hunnish brutes were put down, stuffed into sausages, or potentially used for burgers, stew, or barbecue, according to one’s taste.

What’s it all have to do with the environment?  First, is the question of the environment of political correctness, or lack thereof.   Spanish, Italian and English language web-sites are enjoying the term “Nazi” cattle, and surely it does not end there.  A little intelligence would show that the Heck can hardly be considered more Nazi than the Holstein,1 a cross between cattle from Hesse and Frisia, both German provinces.  As the Hessians helped George III fight the Americans (and gentlemen such as La Fayette), the fact that a German breed of cattle ended up in the United Kingdom cannot make it subject to political stereotyping.

The internet is contaminated by the loose labelling of things as “Fascist” and “Nazi”.  As for the Heck variety, experiments began on developing the breed in the 1920s, a bit before Hitler.  The basis for one of the lines was Spanish bulls.  O.K., the other line was developed in Munich, and did have some Nazis interested, but the same political interest is true of some more solid German products, such as the Volkswagen, Daimler, Siemens, etc.  The Bross line of clothes has been condemned for being Hitler’s favourite.  He even had a preferred piano, the Beckstein.  Possessed, perhaps he was, possessive also, but to say that he imparted his demonic presence into the things he preferred implies the need for checking similar cases of possession in  other mass murderers.

In any event, more attempts at the creation of aurochs are taking place in Holland.  The latter link, on its home page, also emphasizes ecology.  [Meanwhile, an article my Anne-Marie Bullock[!] reports on the grave environmental damage caused by American experiments much earlier than the ones just mentioned, in this linked article on the Beefalo, giving 1906 as the original breeding date, and contradicting the Wikipedia article on this hybrid creature.]

A look at the web-sites on the supposed ancestry and development of the Heck gives further contamination, in that there are confusing explanations about the aurochs, which the Heck was to emulate.  One version is that they “officially” died out thousands of years ago, another is that the last one died in Poland in 1627 .  The urus, according to one of the Oxford dictionaries, a variant name for the aurochs, was described by Caesar.  We can add that reference is made in Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe.  Some domesticated descendents still exist – the Spanish bull has been mentioned.

But a bigger question would be, what would possess Mr. Gow to import this line of cattle – which apparently is not even the most savage of the lot – after having a certain reputation for being less domesticated than other breeds?

The variety is said to be hardy, heavier than others.  The Scotsman noted in their article that these cattle annually produce their weight in dung, which is beneficial for the environment.  What is not noted, though, is the allegation that bovine flatulence (along with the formic acid released by ants) has a negative impact on the ozone layer.  We may question whether the over-all benefits of the fertilizer exceed the damage caused by the release of methane gas.

Becoming facetious now, it may be asked if the cattle, in all its savagery, was to have a rôle in global depopulation.  Indeed, such may be inferred where it is stated that only the Aryan superman was to be able to handle such a beast.  Clearly, Gow’s workers couldn’t, but it is to be wondered if in their spare time, they weren’t doing a bit of bull-baiting, which caused the animals temper to sour.  At any rate, Gow claimed that the animals had become murderous.

While all of these, the historical, and the actual bovine may be brutish; in their favour, it is to be stated that they attend no political rallies, plan no wars nor exterminations, and contribute to no military-industrial complexes or corporate states.  Those countries that equate animals with people under the law, or those people who would have such be done, have not raised the cry in the defence of these animals.  Would no brave bull-fighter take them on, not even the cows?  These modern toreadors cannot hold a candle to the Greeks who jumped over bulls’ horns, to demonstrate their masculinity.  These animals, according to a BBC film, Atlantis, End of the World, Birth of a Legend, gave rise to the myth of the minotaur.2

Clearly, we commiserate more with Mr. Gow, than with the cows, and trust that his loss was minimal or non-existant.  We now ask for a bit of forgiveness at a certain punning in the following unpolished poem, in which his name plays a part.

There are some, even, who would say that environmentalism is Nazi-inspired.  More likely, it’s a case of blaming one’s enemies for the problems we don’t like.

Poem based on the above story: .

A Disturbed, Disterred Herd.

In the following text, “feck” has the meaning used in Scottish or Late Middle English, “effect”.  “Hornochs”, more or less pronounced “horn-ox”, was just discovered to be a German insult, roughly, “dumb ox”, though we mean to be more literal with the latter use.    No insult to any living person or group is to be inferred.  

If you have come here through the Poetry page, click here for the what inspired this story.

We ask the reader to pardon our puns,
You’ve heard of the herd created by Huns,
“There a cow!” squeals a tot from the city,
The Gauleiter, we trust, accepts this as witty.

The cow-leader, on acres six hundred fed
His mini-gau, a herd which he came to dread
Too trivial to breed was the Hornochs, dumb ox.
He went the whole hog, for a type of aurochs,

A Frankenstein recreation by Goebbels approved
Only more diabolical ‘twere, if cloven hooved;
But to such extremes went no brother Heck,
Enough ‘twas to have beasts clearly with feck.

No bull, this, to cavort twixt some master race,
For no coward cow-herd such monster could face.
Generations pass, and from Belgium they import,
Several descendants to Devon, some of the worst sort.

Till finally, for life they did then fear,
They culled, from the herd, many a cow, bull, or steer,
But the original proposal was e-Cow-logically sound
You’d see how well Hecks did manure the ground.

But the horns, they made it a Goring ens beast
And the methane we also mention at least
To show Algorean fears for th’ ozone layer
While I’ve just discovered another nay-sayer.

Comment on the last line:

On the day I read about Gow’s cows on the BBC, I also read that two Chinese scientists published  articles in two different academic journals, sustaining what we were taught many years ago: the world was warmer during the Middle Ages. They show that this was true not only for the British Isles, but for Asia. In other words, global warming is not what some say it is.


1 : A Venezuelan web-site, in fact, shows Holsteins instead of Hecks. The English translation of the headline is “He had to eat his Nazi-bred cattle because they were too aggressive”.

2: There is a modern equivalent of jumping over bovines, but using less dangerous animals or methods.

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