The origins of the Romagnola breed go very far back, deriving from the aurochs cattle (Bos primigenius), that originated in the steppes of Eastern and Central Europe and that gave rise to various breeds similar in constitution, type, coat and shape of the head and legs. While all the wild subspecies are extinct, Bos primigenius lives on in domesticated cattle like the Romagnola (Bos premigenious podolicus).
During the fourth century AD, the barbarian hordes of the Goths, led by Alaric I, invaded Italy with all their goods, including cattle. Part of these populations settled in the fertile lands of Romagna and their cattle were the ancestors of the Romagnola breed. Present throughout the modern day provinces of Forlì, Ravenna, Bologna, Ferrara and Pesaro, this breed has encountered a favourable environment with a wealth of fodder plants and a good climate.
For centuries, the Romagnola breed was used mainly in a dynamic capacity and cattle with well-developed forequarters, a solid structure and short sturdy legs were needed on tough and tenacious terrain. Due to mechanization and the development of agricultural techniques, particularly during the second half of the eighteenth century, selection in this breed was aimed more towards beef production, a capacity that was gradually increased over time and became elective in today’s Romagnola cattle.
At the beginning of the 1900’s and up to 1930, three varieties of Romagnola were distinguished mainly on the basis of the different areas of the breed belt. In the southern hilly part of Romagna the breed was known as Montanara (from the mountains) and was influenced by Maremmana blood to produce rustic cattle suitable for farming needs in difficult areas. The plains area of Romagna (from Imola to Rimini) produced the best Romagnola’s. They were called Romagnola Gentile (soft Romagnola) due to the fact that the cattle were more beefy, muscular, precocious, heavier and typical. This can be considered the heart of the modern Romagnola cattle type. In the north-eastern part of the breeding area, (Bologna and Ferrara provinces) the breed was influenced by the Pugliese del Veneto, an extinct breed carrying Istrian blood. Pugliese comes from the Venice dialect, Pojese meaning "from Pola", a city on the northern eastern border between Italy and Yugoslavia (Istria).
The man responsible for the definite change in the direction of beef production was Leopoldo Tosi. He developed the first nucleus of selectively bred Romagnola cattle in the mid 1800's in San Mauro, Pascoli on the Estate of the Counts of Torlonia. The initial herd became the focal point for the entire breed. Over a relatively short period great progress was made, such that by the year 1900 Romagnola won first prize as best beef breed, ex equo, with Hereford at the Paris International Agricultural Fair.
The morphological and functional characteristics of the breed specialized for beef production, together with its dynamic past as a guarantee of strength, have brought the Romagnola to the attention of foreign breeders.
Since the 1970’s, the breed has been introduced to a number of countries, such as Great Britain, Ireland, Canada, the United States, New Zealand, Australia, Argentina, South Africa and Mexico. The balance achieved between beef traits and breeding traits, together with extreme hardiness under harsh environmental conditions and the proven quality of its nutritionally superior beef have placed the Romagnola breed among the finest beef cattle breeds in the world.
Today Romagnola bulls are amongst the largest of the beef breeds. Although their very heavy muscling was once sought for draft, that characteristic is now attracting attention to them for meat purposes. Their muscularity over the loin, rump and through the lower thigh is especially pronounced.
In early 1995 one bull, one cow with calf at foot, and two heifers were the first Romagnola’s imported directly from Italy to South Africa by Mr. A Balocco of Hekpoort. In December of the same year six more heifers were imported from Italy and in August 1996 another group of twelve heifers were imported by Mr. A Cockcroft.
These animals were selected for their performance and that of their sires and dams in Italy, and adapted exceptionally well to local conditions, thus introducing very valuable genetic material to South Africa.