Chianina – The World’s Largest Domesticated Cattle Breed

With a recorded history of at least 2,200 years, the Chianina is among the oldest known cattle breeds. But what it is most famous for is being by far the largest cattle breed on Earth.

Remember Nickers, the giant Australian steer that shocked the world a few years back? You should, photos of this bovine giant towering over normal-sized cattle were everywhere online late in 2018, causing many to wonder if it was some kind of bio-engineered mutant. The only ones that didn’t seem impressed were Italy’s Chianina breeders. They had been producing impressive specimens much larger than Nickers for many generations, so this was nothing special. At the time, they even put out a statement that read “ours is a giant breed, while the Australian steer is an anomaly”.

Photo: Peter von Wesendonk/Wikimedia Commons

Originally bred in the Val di Chiana region of Italy, Chianina cattle have been raised in the regions of Tuscany, Lazio and Umbria for at least two millennia, first as a beast of burden, and later for its meat. They were praised by ancient poets and inspired Roman sculptures, and even today they are used as part of traditional and religious processions. The most noticeable characteristic of the breed is the extensive and well-defined muscling, which made it the main source of agricultural power in Italy until the advent of mechanization.


The Chianina is both the tallest and the heaviest breed of cattle, with cows standing 150-160 cm at the withers and weighing 800-1,000 kg, and bulls measuring 160-175 cm and weighing 1,150-1,280 kg. These are just the average stats, though, as there have been several outstanding specimens that set numerous world records.


Bellino, a bull that measured 2.03 m at the shoulder and weighed 1,700 kilos in his prime, was declared the world’s largest steer by Guinness World Records in 2010. When he passed away in 2014, his owner, Massimo Donin, said that he already had several Chianina specimens that could break Bellino’s record at some point.


Another Chianina bull, Donetto, holds the world record for the heaviest bull ever, with one source reporting his weight at 1,740 kg, and others at 1,780 kg. His record dates back to the year 1955.


Today Chianina cattle are raised primarily for beef. It is, as some call it, a “meat machine”, growing at a rate that may exceed 2 kg (4.4 lbs.) per day, offering a very high yield of premium quality beef. After the Second World War, it became an international breed, being exported to Russia, the Americas and several Asian countries.