Cattle breeds: Chianina


It is believed that the Chianina breed began in the Bronze Age in about 1500 BC, derived from animals of Asia and Africa brought into Italy. The Chianina are among the oldest, if not the oldest, of purebred bovine breeds.


In the Roman times of 300–200 BC, the breed was used primarily for draft and sacrificial purposes. With the coming of Christianity and on into the Middle Ages, times became more practical; the medieval peasant simply could not afford to keep an animal that could not work well, and those animals that could not conform were butchered. This practice may have been the first, albeit rustic, breeding program. The legacy of this ‘breeding program’ is great uniformity within the breed, their excellently developed legs and hard hooves, and their endurance qualities and docility.

In 1974 the first Chianina semen was imported into Australia. The semen had been collected from 13 bulls in Canada, and to this day has formed the development of the Chianina breed in Australia. More recently, semen has been imported direct from Italy.


Although numbers in Australia are still small, Chianina cattle can be found in every state, with the largest number being in Queensland.

Breed characteristics

Chianina bull

  • Chianinas are very tall and long, with long smooth muscling and excellent growth rates. Mature bulls stand 180 cm (6 feet) at the withers.
  • The Chianina is a trim animal, being uniform in depth and without excessive dewlap and brisket.
  • They have a short, smooth, white or grey coat, and a skin pigmentation that is primarily black (including a black tongue, palate, nose, eye area and switch). This pigmentation gives excellent resistance to pinkeye and cancer eye.
  • The horns are short, and in young animals are black, becoming white after 2 years of age.
  • Chianinas are late-maturing, and are therefore suitable for production of yearling and older beef.
  • The Chianina breed has an unsurpassed capacity for lean meat production. The meat is red and is free from waste but still retains a marbling of fat among the muscling. They are renowned for their large eye muscle.
  • Chianina cow and calf

  • They do well in ‘soft’ or ‘hard’ country, and are without par in ‘tough’ country or in bad seasons due to their strong hooves, long legs and general toughness, which enables them to walk much longer distances than most cattle for forage and water.
  • The breed is known for its high heat tolerance.
  • The gestation period tends to be longer than in British breeds, and twinning rates are high.
  • With a fine, small head and small horns, Chianinas have very few calving problems.
  • Calves are born a fawn colour, and turn white between 30 and 260 days.
  • The cow has a small udder and therefore does not appear to give great quantities of milk; however, for the first 120 days after calving, a cow gives about 12 litres per day, and higher producing cows may give as much as 20 litres per day.

Commercial application

A full-blooded Chianina can offer more potential growth for a single cross than most other breeds. This hybrid vigour can be achieved over Angus, Hereford, Brahman, Sahiwal and other British and tropical breeds.

In a first-cross calf by a full-blood Chianina bull, it will be found that the black skin pigmentation of the Chianina is predominant, while the white colour of the Chianina hair is recessive; the predominant colour of the dam will carry through with the first cross.

Irrespective of the breed of foundation cow used, the performance of the progeny will be improved by crossing with the Chianina breed.

The Chianina Society of Australia

For more information about the Chianina breed, contact:

The Secretary
John C Thomas
Chianina Society of Australia
c/- ABRI
University of New England
Armidale  NSW  2351
Ph: (02) 6773 3126
Fax: (02) 6772 1943


This Agnote is based on information provided by the Chianina Society of Australia. Their contribution is gratefully acknowledged.

Photos supplied courtesy of the Chianina Society of Australia.