Kanfanar Celebrates Boskarin: Istrian Ox, the Gentle Giant

Sarozin, the largest Istrian ox ever wheighed (1.421 kg), the winner of Jakovlja boskarin fair in Kanfanar 2022, standing next to his 17-times smaller owner Mario Udovicic, photo by Ivan Kralj.
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Jakovlja in Kanfanar, the annual Croatian boskarin fair selecting the prettiest, the largest, and the most obedient Istrian ox, photo by Ivan Kralj.
Jakovlja in Kanfanar, the annual Croatian boskarin fair selecting the prettiest, the largest, and the most obedient Istrian ox, photo by Ivan Kralj.
Jakovlja in Kanfanar, the annual Croatian boskarin fair selecting the prettiest, the largest, and the most obedient Istrian ox, photo by Ivan Kralj.
Jakovlja in Kanfanar, the annual Croatian boskarin fair selecting the prettiest, the largest, and the most obedient Istrian ox, photo by Ivan Kralj.
Jakovlja in Kanfanar, the annual Croatian boskarin fair selecting the prettiest, the largest, and the most obedient Istrian ox, photo by Ivan Kralj.
Jakovlja in Kanfanar, the annual Croatian boskarin fair selecting the prettiest, the largest, and the most obedient Istrian ox, photo by Ivan Kralj.
Jakovlja in Kanfanar, the annual Croatian boskarin fair selecting the prettiest, the largest, and the most obedient Istrian ox, photo by Ivan Kralj.
Jakovlja in Kanfanar, the annual Croatian boskarin fair selecting the prettiest, the largest, and the most obedient Istrian ox, photo by Ivan Kralj.
Jakovlja in Kanfanar, the annual Croatian boskarin fair selecting the prettiest, the largest, and the most obedient Istrian ox, photo by Ivan Kralj.
Jakovlja in Kanfanar, the annual Croatian boskarin fair selecting the prettiest, the largest, and the most obedient Istrian ox, photo by Ivan Kralj.
Jakovlja in Kanfanar, the annual Croatian boskarin fair selecting the prettiest, the largest, and the most obedient Istrian ox, photo by Ivan Kralj.
Jakovlja in Kanfanar, the annual Croatian boskarin fair selecting the prettiest, the largest, and the most obedient Istrian ox, photo by Ivan Kralj.
Jakovlja in Kanfanar, the annual Croatian boskarin fair selecting the prettiest, the largest, and the most obedient Istrian ox, photo by Ivan Kralj.
Jakovlja in Kanfanar, the annual Croatian boskarin fair selecting the prettiest, the largest, and the most obedient Istrian ox, photo by Ivan Kralj.
Jakovlja in Kanfanar, the annual Croatian boskarin fair selecting the prettiest, the largest, and the most obedient Istrian ox, photo by Ivan Kralj.
Jakovlja in Kanfanar, the annual Croatian boskarin fair selecting the prettiest, the largest, and the most obedient Istrian ox, photo by Ivan Kralj.
Jakovlja in Kanfanar, the annual Croatian boskarin fair selecting the prettiest, the largest, and the most obedient Istrian ox, photo by Ivan Kralj.
Jakovlja in Kanfanar, the annual Croatian boskarin fair selecting the prettiest, the largest, and the most obedient Istrian ox, photo by Ivan Kralj.
Jakovlja in Kanfanar, the annual Croatian boskarin fair selecting the prettiest, the largest, and the most obedient Istrian ox, photo by Ivan Kralj.
Jakovlja in Kanfanar, the annual Croatian boskarin fair selecting the prettiest, the largest, and the most obedient Istrian ox, photo by Ivan Kralj.
Jakovlja in Kanfanar, the annual Croatian boskarin fair selecting the prettiest, the largest, and the most obedient Istrian ox, photo by Ivan Kralj.
Jakovlja in Kanfanar, the annual Croatian boskarin fair selecting the prettiest, the largest, and the most obedient Istrian ox, photo by Ivan Kralj.
Jakovlja in Kanfanar, the annual Croatian boskarin fair selecting the prettiest, the largest, and the most obedient Istrian ox, photo by Ivan Kralj.
Jakovlja in Kanfanar, the annual Croatian boskarin fair selecting the prettiest, the largest, and the most obedient Istrian ox, photo by Ivan Kralj.
Jakovlja in Kanfanar, the annual Croatian boskarin fair selecting the prettiest, the largest, and the most obedient Istrian ox, photo by Ivan Kralj.
Jakovlja in Kanfanar, the annual Croatian boskarin fair selecting the prettiest, the largest, and the most obedient Istrian ox, photo by Ivan Kralj.
Jakovlja in Kanfanar, the annual Croatian boskarin fair selecting the prettiest, the largest, and the most obedient Istrian ox, photo by Ivan Kralj.
Jakovlja in Kanfanar, the annual Croatian boskarin fair selecting the prettiest, the largest, and the most obedient Istrian ox, photo by Ivan Kralj.
Cows at Istrian cattle farm of Mario Udovicic near Kanfanar, the Jakovlja's champion breeder of boskarin, photo by Ivan Kralj.
Cows at Istrian cattle farm of Mario Udovicic near Kanfanar, the Jakovlja's champion breeder of boskarin, photo by Ivan Kralj.
Cows at Istrian cattle farm of Mario Udovicic near Kanfanar, the Jakovlja's champion breeder of boskarin, photo by Ivan Kralj.
Cows at Istrian cattle farm of Mario Udovicic near Kanfanar, the Jakovlja's champion breeder of boskarin, photo by Ivan Kralj.
Cows at Istrian cattle farm of Mario Udovicic near Kanfanar, the Jakovlja's champion breeder of boskarin, photo by Ivan Kralj.
Cows at Istrian cattle farm of Mario Udovicic near Kanfanar, the Jakovlja's champion breeder of boskarin, photo by Ivan Kralj.
Cows at Istrian cattle farm of Mario Udovicic near Kanfanar, the Jakovlja's champion breeder of boskarin, photo by Ivan Kralj.
Cows at Istrian cattle farm of Mario Udovicic near Kanfanar, the Jakovlja's champion breeder of boskarin, photo by Ivan Kralj.
Cows at Istrian cattle farm of Mario Udovicic near Kanfanar, the Jakovlja's champion breeder of boskarin, photo by Ivan Kralj.
Sarozin, the largest Istrian ox ever weighed, and his owner Mario Udovicic, the champions of Jakovlja annual boskarin fair in Kanfanar, photo by Ivan Kralj.
Sarozin, the largest Istrian ox ever weighed, and his owner Mario Udovicic, the champions of Jakovlja annual boskarin fair in Kanfanar, photo by Ivan Kralj.
Sarozin, the largest Istrian ox ever weighed, and his owner Mario Udovicic, the champions of Jakovlja annual boskarin fair in Kanfanar, photo by Ivan Kralj.

The cow crossing sign will be the first warning post when approaching Kanfanar, a small town in inner Istria, Croatia’s largest peninsula. Next, you’ll be alerted of possible pedestrians on the road, and only then the name of the settlement most drivers just rush through will appear. There are 500 humans here, but Kanfanar is still capital in a way. Last weekend in July, the town attracts a dozen boskarin ambassadors, the proud breeders of the endangered Istrian cattle. Jakovlja is a fair where Istrian ox takes a central stage.

Cow crossing traffic sign at the entrance road to Kanfanar, the hometown of Jakovlja, the Istrian ox fair, photo by Ivan Kralj.
Welcome to Kanfanar, the hometown of Jakovlja, the Istrian ox fair!

Boskarin (or more correctly, boškarin) is a native Istrian breed that has been roaming these lands for more than a millennium. But from 60 thousand specimens in the 1960s, their number dropped to low three-digit figures in the 1990s.

Replaced by tractors in the fields and more lucrative milk-producing cows in the stables, the working partner of an Istrian farmer was facing extinction. In 1994, Istria could count only 104 cows and 8 bulls.

Establishing the Alliance of Istrian Cattle Breeders and resurrecting Jakovlja or Saint Jacob’s Festival after four decades of communist-era proscription, provided a new public spotlight to boskarin. Today, their number is estimated at 2.000.

Exhibiting the best representatives of the Istrian ox at Jakovlja is somewhat a Gordian knot. A bull becomes an ox only after a castration. But then again, a castrated bull produces no offspring.

Somehow, the breeders managed to enlarge boskarin cattle numbers, and still deliver Istrian oxen to Kanfanar’s annual fair. Here, the gentle giants of Istrian pastures lock horns for the titles of the most obedient, the prettiest, and the heaviest boskarin.

Kanfanar – municipality of Istrian ox and fuzi

The main generators of Kanfanar’s economy are the quarry (mining the famous Kanfanar limestone) and the tobacco factory (producing the only Croatian cigarettes). In this strong competition, traditional agriculture had weak chances.

Nevertheless, Kanfanar did try to get away from the image of the “stone & smoke” town by rebranding itself as the “municipality of Istrian ox and fuzi”.

The home of the traditional Istrian pasta (the inventor of fuzi was local grandma Luca in the early 20th century) adopted the traditional Istrian cattle too. From the gastronomic point of view, it made sense, as the two merge well together, on a plate.

The week preceding Jakovlja, the so-called Šetimana od Jakovlje, is the best period to have a taste of it all. This is when Kanfanar restaurants offer special and specially discounted boskarin dishes such as boskarin pizza, boskarin tartare, or the famous fuzi pasta with boskarin meat sauce.

Looking for the ox whisperer

At the central junction of the Istrian Y motorways, one could joke that all roads lead to Kanfanar. But the place where I was heading was not even marked on Google maps. For all that I knew, it could’ve been the middle of nowhere.

I wanted to meet Mario Udovicic, a gentleman whose ox won at the first edition of Jakovlja back in 1991, in the category of obedience.

Istrian ox can weigh over a ton, and his horns can grow over 1,5 meters in length

The newspapers of the time were calling this breeder from the village of Gospodi “the ox trainer”. Mario’s ox Bakin was reportedly as tame as a poodle, cheering up the crowds by executing commands with no resistance.

“We have never encountered such a tame ox”, the jury members claimed. “And tameness and diligence are the most precious characteristics of the Istrian ox.”

While Istrian cows can weigh over 550 kilograms, the bulls’ weight is usually between 750 and 900. But after a castration, oxen can weigh over a ton. Their long, lyre-shaped horns can reach over 1,5 meters in length.

I’ve always wondered what keeps enormous animals (from Asian elephants to Istrian oxen) under the control of their masters. Surely, the power of these muscular beasts could easily set them free. So how does one domesticate an obedient giant, one of the strongest animals on the planet? Does it happen by force, with a help of a bullwhip and a stick, or does the job truly call for ox whisperers?

There are places in the world where you can try out farming life as a tourist! Plowing the land with a buffalo is just one of the fantastic things to do in Luang Prabang, Laos!

What makes boskarin so special?

Boskarin, the local nickname for the Istrian cattle (sometimes also called bakin or podolac), stands for an autochthonous breed of the largest Croatian peninsula Istria and some Kvarner islands, notably Krk.

His name derives from 'boška', the Istrian dialect word for the forest, boskarin's natural habitat.

It is a member of the Podolic cattle family that arrived in Europe in the 5th century, during the great migrations.

Boskarin cattle working in the field (plowing, pulling wagon), old black-and-white photographs exhibited at Istrian Ox Park in Kanfanar, Croatia.
Boskarin working in the field, as exhibited on old photographs at Istrian Ox Park in Kanfanar
Defined by the natural environment (free-grazing in forests and pastures), and human intervention through selective breeding of the best, the largest, and the most beautiful specimen, boskarin was developed as primarily working cattle. The farmers used them for plowing, rolling, weeding, harvesting, and hauling material. We can credit Croatian boskarin even for the existence of Venice, as they were the ones transporting Istrian stone and wood, necessary for the construction of the Italian floating city. The hard work in the karst terrain strengthened Istrian cattle which became known for their powerful legs, firm hooves, slow gait, and general resistance. These bodybuilders among cows could pull loads weighing over 2 tons, up to a total of 70 kilometers per day. When the breeding bull became an ox (after the castration), he championed strength and obedience. Being so useful in everyday life, the robust Istrian ox was successfully evading the skewer, and his lifespan could reach over 20 years. In the old days, the Istrian ox was a measurement of one’s wealth. To have an ox meant to be richer than others. The villages with more oxen were more powerful and respected than those that had less. Today, when Istria is the richest in its history, there are only 30 Istrian oxen alive.

Boskarin, between life and extinction

I left Kanfanar behind, passed by the ruins of the abandoned Dvigrad town, and continued even deeper into the Istrian mainland. The winding roads of patched asphalt with rusty fences led me through villages that Google hasn’t discovered yet. It didn’t feel far from civilization, but it was still fitting well into the puzzle of oblivion, where medieval towns and traditional agriculture were disappearing in the same plague of forgetting.

Exactly on the border of Kanfanar and Tinjan municipalities, I arrived in Fratrije, the village with no signpost. I would find out its name only after navigating the roads with the help of a human GPS, the 84-year-old Mario Udovicic.

He bought the three village houses from the blacksmith family in 1971. They sold the estate and left to live in Rovinj, today one of the brightest stars of Croatian tourism.

For the last five decades, no human resident lived in the village. The only inhabitants of these houses were four-legged animals: twelve horses, 22 cows, 1 bull, and three oxen.

Istrian cow and her calf in the stable owned by Mario Udovicic, boskarin cattle breeder, photo by Ivan Kralj.
Baby boom at Mario’s farm; this is a 1-day-old calf!

Well, on the morning of the 32nd edition of Jakovlja, a new citizen arrived in Fratrije world. In the corner of the stable, a reddish-brown calf caught a glimpse of my eye. Curled up next to its white-colored mother, the 40-kilos heavy newborn would be gaining a kilogram per day, changing its color as it grew.

The birth of a new calf almost stopped Mario Udovicic from attending Jakovlja, as new life always has a priority against the prizes and accolades. But luckily, in this natural world where almost everything happens without a veterinarian, mother and daughter cows were both fine.

Mario could politely ask Sarozin, the largest Istrian ox he ever had, to enter the truck. Sarozin would obediently understand and follow his master’s instructions. He would enter the vehicle with no hesitation or fear that it would bring him to the slaughterhouse. Such was the trust of this animal.

The largest animal in Europe?

Mario always knew Sarozin was bigger than others. He was winning competitions for the heaviest Istrian ox for several years in a row. The obedient boskarin was breaking records, exceeding the 1.300 kilograms mark, which was considered to be an extreme maximum for the species.

Boskarin breeder Mario Udovicic leading his gigantic champion Istrian ox Sarozin out of the stable, through barely large enough door, photo by Ivan Kralj.
Sarozin, 17 times heavier than his owner, can barely pass through the door of the stable

“Our home scale can weigh only up to a ton”, Mario told me. His giant thus maintained the fame of one of the biggest surprises.

When Sarozin came to the world eight years ago, he was already the size of an adult man. If we would have compared it to the newcomer that joined the stable on Jakovlja morning, Sarozin with 60 kilograms was literally a calf and a half.

And to make the story even more extraordinary, Sarozin was born together with a twin sister of the same size. That mother had to have one of the largest bellies Istrian cattle breeders have ever seen!

When Sarozin stepped off the truck in front of the judges of Jakovlja 2022, the Earth must have trembled. The scale was stressed to its limits and the number that showed up surprised everyone. With unbelievable 1.421 kilograms, Sarozin became the heaviest Istrian ox ever weighed!

Far away from elephants, hippos, rhinos, or even European bison, I was standing next to one of the largest animals on the continent. Knowing how often I hit my toenails into heavy objects, maybe I should mind my step, I thought.

“In boskarin world, weight can vary 50 kilos up or down any day. To be honest”, Mario grabbed my hand, with a sound of regret in his words, “if he wouldn’t have gotten diarrhea three days ago, Sarozin would have had a ton and a half!”

Size does matter, at least at the Kanfanar’s annual Istrian ox fair. See this record-breaking boskarin moving on Mario Udovicic’s farm, in a video!

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The secret of boskarin’s size

While we were standing in front of the stables, I wondered what the secret of this enormous animal was. The opponents must have thought Mario was filling him up with steroids.

“No secret”, the owner claimed. “He eats normal hay like all other cows, thirty to fifty kilos a day. You cannot force him to eat more!”

Istrian ox Sarozin, the winner of Jakovlja Kanfanar 2022 fair in weight category, standing next to his owner, boskarin breeder Mario Udovicic, and a large bathtub he drinks water from, photo by Ivan Kralj.
The Istrian ox champion can drink up to 100 liters of water a day; it’s no surprise he drinks it from a bathtub!

Besides hay rolls stacked like gigantic sushi, there was also a big bathtub in the courtyard of Fratrije. Temperatures were reaching 35 degrees Celsius these days, and I thought this was an ingenious solution of the owner to beat the heat wave. But the bathtub was not there for bathing.

“Fancy a drink?”, Mario asked Sarozin. The ox didn’t seem to be thirsty, but it was a ludicrous image. The animal that could barely fit through the stable doors used the bathtub as a – glass of water.

Boskarin can drink between 50 and 70 liters of water per day. During this extreme climate change, the need could reach 100 liters of water per animal. Bills quickly add up, and the Udovicic family pays several hundred Euros for water every month.

While the Istrian government had to enforce a particular water reduction policy this summer, animals have to drink. It is said that Istrian cattle prefer rainwater, and often refuse to drink the water from the tap. Luckily, Sarozin is not picky.

Royal Ascot, Istrian way

Sarozin’s size was impressively exhibited at Jakovlja. Standing next to the other contenders for the prize (and the ox that came second had 300 kilograms less!), Mario’s boskarin was unbeatable.

Boskarin breeders posing next to their Istrian oxen, a man sitting on the back of the animal, at Jakovlja Kanfanar 2020, photo by Martina Marin.
A big armchair for a big man; Istrian oxen are very obedient to their master

Parked at the Istrian Ox Park (Park istarskog vola), the new center of Kanfanar, twenty oxen competed in this unusual beauty contest. They were quite tolerant towards a large mass of people squeezing through the forest of horns, hoping to pet the future winner or take a selfie next to him.

The event had all the elements of a local fair, from those old times when “circus would come to town”. There were colorful balloons, tacky souvenirs, fast food, streams of beer, a brass band, baton-throwing majorettes, twirling folk dancers, and among all these hoofers – the bovine center of attention.

With Mademoiselles in wide brim hats posing next to the white stock, it almost seemed the event had a potential of an Istrian version of Royal Ascot. Kanfanar was transforming into a place to see and – be seen.

Mario Udovicic, with groomed sideburns and a small signature hat, accustomed to the tranquility of the pastures, was not the happiest with the fair buzz. “People would play ‘circus’, they put the child on the ox… I do not allow that. Luckily, in 32 years, there were no incidents”, he said.

Judging the oxen

“Please move the children away, we need to evaluate the oxen”, a member of the jury, with a paper and a pen in hands, scolded parents in a rather serious manner.

The kiddos were touching the lying boskarin, throwing hay on him, while he would just continue to chew the grass, unconcerned. It seemed that vide or brass beads placed on the top of the Istrian ox’s horns were indeed purely decorative, and not meant to protect anyone from this calm animal.

Jury of Jakovlja Kanfanar 2022 evaluating one of the Istrian oxen competing for the prizes of the prettiest boskarin, photo by Ivan Kralj.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and at Jakovlja, the beholders are the judges

At that moment, the jury member requesting proper conditions for her serious judging work was the one who seemed excessively strict.

A quartet of judges would go from animal to animal, and with an analytical gaze tried to translate what they saw into numbers. Tables rating a variety of ox qualities were quickly being filled.

Nothing went unnoticed. The shape of the horns and the tail, the gaze, the height of the wither, the depth of the chest, the flatness of the back, the size of the skin on the neck, the color of the hair… It all deserved a meticulous observation. And a grade.

“7-8! 7! 8! That’s more 6-7!”, the judges tried to pinpoint different qualities of an ox into the most precise evaluating system possible. It’s not easy to measure beauty.

Where to stay in Kanfanar?

If you want to witness Jakovlja first-hand and stay in Kanfanar, you should know that there are no hotels in the town. Your best accommodation solutions are apartments and holiday villas.

Places such as Holiday Home Ana, Apartment Greta, or this two-bedroom apartment in Kanfanar, all have excellent ratings.

If you want to be able to refresh yourself in a swimming pool during your Kanfanar holidays, consider Apartments Ivan & Tina, Alba apartment, Villa Darte, or Villa Dva Pina.

Enjoy your stay!

If you love the idea of staying in the proximity of animals, check out these Ethiopian lodges where wildlife is your first neighbor!

The forgotten language of the Istrian ox

For the obedience category, oxen are specially monitored during the weighing and the parade. Some of them, like Sarozin, complied with the master’s orders easily, but others needed more aggressive guidance.

“Last year, he was the most beautiful and the largest, but the jury decided not to give double prizes anymore”, Mario sadly stated. Was Sarozin a victim of his own size? Would his enormous growth be a handicap for recognizing his other qualities?

“If Sarozin was not the most obedient, I’d cut my head off! He goes wherever you tell him to go”, Mario said. “It is not easy to calm an ox. People only care for money, but a calf needs to be good and polite. One needs to school the livestock, teach them. For half of them on the fair, I wouldn’t allow competition. Their ox doesn’t even want to go ‘on a rope’, and yet they get the obedience award!”

Boskarin master hitting his Istrian ox wit a stick during the parade at Jakovlja Kanfanar 2022 fair, photo by Ivan Kralj.
The least obedient Istrian oxen are usually those whose masters use the stick the most

During the parade, when the town’s main street closed for car traffic and oxen went for a catwalk, one could truly see the variety of approaches to handling the stock.

Some oxen followed their owner as a well-trained dog. The ones that pulled away were generally those whose masters used the stick the most. Squinting at every threat of the owner’s hand, these oxen were refusing to cooperate.

“Some people think that oxen are brought up by themselves! I get up at 6:30 every morning”, Mario told me.

Instead of using the stick, the champion breeder talked to his cattle, in a language many didn’t speak: “Shu is ‘go ahead’. Konca can be ‘left’ or ‘right’, depending on which side I want them to move their rear end. Shti means ‘go right’, tsa means ‘go left’. Long ago, your stock would listen to your shti-tsa order kilometers away! That’s how precise Istrian cattle was!”

The hidden gene of auroch

Boskarin (Bos taurus primigenius) is a primitive species, exceptionally close to auroch (Bos primigenius), the wild herbivore that ruled Europe after the ice age and was the ancestor of the first domesticated cattle but was hunted to extinction in 1627. His genes are still existing in species such as Croatian boskarin. The Tauros Programme tries to resurrect the European original wild bovine species through back-breeding his closest relatives.

Even if zoos can be a controversial subject, they do play an important role in saving animals at the edge of extinction. Check out how Basel Zoo does that!

Istrian ox and Istrian farmer have one thing in common; they both belong to an endangered species

Boskarin, back to the woods

Once again, I returned to Mario’s disappearing paradise world. While his efforts were currently supported by his son and his grandson, the old man was aware of how fragile raising Istrian cattle was.

“They all have their day jobs. Anyone who gets schooled doesn’t want to work hard anymore”, he said.

With a variety of secure income possibilities in today’s Istria, Mario was aware that breeding cattle lost its appeal, and that Croatian boskarin and farmer had one thing in common; they both belonged to an endangered species.

Two Istrian oxen standing in the stable of Mario Udovicic, one of them is twice as big as the other one, it's the largest boskarin ever weighed - Sarozin has 1.421 kg, photo by Ivan Kralj.
Sarozin, the largest boskarin ever weighed, is two times heavier than his stable friend

We escorted Sarozin back to the stable, and his neighbor ox, almost half of the champion’s size, produced a loud “I missed you” roar. This bromance couple preferred to spend their daytime inside and go outside only during the night.

But Mario, now with the childish excitement in his eyes, wanted to show me the pastures where his herds spent most of their days. Horses were outside throughout the year, while a cow harem with a bull enjoyed Istrian outdoors from April until the first autumn rains.

We hopped into our vehicles and drove even deeper into the unknown. How deep? At our destination, we left the cars in the middle of the road, without the fear they would be obstacles for anyone.

Harem on the edge

After walking through the thicket, and navigating between dried dung, in the sunny meadow we encountered the cow herd, lazing under the warm Istrian sun. Unlike most of the cows I’ve seen, these preferred sunbathing to hiding in the shadows of the trees.

“This is the harem recess. There is no veterinarian. Everything happens in nature!”, Mario said, checking the belly of the newest pregnant member of the herd.

Cows, belonging to native Istrian boskarin breed, chilling on the pasture near Kanfanar, Istria, photo by Ivan Kralj.
The same as with trees, the age of the Istrian cow can be determined by the ‘circles’ on their horns; each counts for one year

It was an idyllic image, a dozen of cows of various ages and sizes peacefully lying around, and enjoying the days slowly passing by. I could almost understand the spark in Mario’s gaze.

One could think that leaving domestic animals on their own in nature would make them less keen on having humans around. But after an initial reservation, they were curiously approaching even me, the never-before-seen stranger on their meadow.

I touched them, and their story touched me. While it was true that boskarin or Istrian cattle was brought back from the edge of extinction, I wasn’t convinced that this was enough for their survival.

Behind the luxurious industry of sea and sun, where the high price in restaurants was reserved for Wagyu beef and fake but quick-profit-guaranteeing “truffle dishes”, there was this ignored potential of wealth slipping through our hands.

In the middle of the richest Croatian region, hidden behind the asphalt patchwork and nameless villages, the secrets of the partnership between Istrians and their boskarin cattle were slowly dissipating with possibly the last Istrian ox whisperer.

“People only care for money”, rang in my ears. Yet, the word ‘priceless’ could hardly be described in currency.

“Shu! Shu!”, Mario’s words echoed over the silent hills of inner Istria, kilometers away. And only cows understood them.

Meet more boskarin oxen from Jakovlja Kanfanar 2022 edition in our photo gallery!
 

 

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With 1.421 kilograms, Sarozin is the largest Istrian ox ever weighed. He belongs to boskarin, the native Istrian cattle breed that was facing extinction. We talked to the boskarin breeder Mario Udovicic, one of the last Istrian ox whisperers!

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Ivan Kralj

Editor

Award-winning journalist and editor from Croatia

4 Comments
    1. Yes, for now, it’s better than before.
      Boskarin’s problem is that they have lost their main purpose. They were always working cattle, but with all machinery around, they are no longer needed in the fields.
      At the same time, other cows give more milk and more meat in the unit of time, so boskarin loses a battle in the food industry too.
      In my fantasy universe, I could see boskarin’s destiny positively leaning on Istrian tourism. And I don’t mean necessarily making them into burgers for hungry tourists.
      I’m just afraid that, beyond the short-term touristic gain of the oxen fair, there is no significant interest or creativity to make breeding these special cows profitable.
      If anyone has money to invest, reach out to me! 😉

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