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Living History – The Department of Animal Breeding Turns 150 Years Old

In 1873, Béla Tormay, the director of the Royal Hungarian Veterinary Institute, founded the country’s first independent Animal Breeding Department. The establishment of the department marked the beginning of organized animal breeding in Hungary and laid the foundations for domestic livestock breeding guidelines. The auditorium of Building J on the István Street campus still bears his name today, where lectures on animal breeding and genetics take place.

Following the founder at the helm of the department was his disciple, Károly Monostori. Together, they initiated the registration of Hungarian horse, sheep, pig, and cattle breeds, laying the groundwork for subsequent breeding and global breeding efforts. This contribution elevated Hungary to become one of the world’s leading livestock breeding countries.

A genius of his time, Oszkár Wellmann, a physician and veterinarian, and a regular member of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, led the department for 35 years from 1908. He focused on the biochemical, genetic, and pathological foundations of animal breeding. Among his pioneering work was the quantitative analysis of elements involved in the metabolism of productive animals, revealing diseases attributable to mineral deficiencies. He developed the modern and scientifically based registration system for cattle breeding, selection criteria, and the basis for conformation judging (1926), which later served as a model nationally and internationally. His work significantly contributed to making animal breeding education an integral part of veterinary education. He served in various professional committees, including a 10-year tenure (1934-1943) as the president of the National Studbook Committee, considered the predecessor of the Hungarian Livestock Breeders’ Association.

He was succeeded by two Kossuth Prize-winning academics, József Schandl, a professor of sheep breeding, and later Zoltán Csukás, an excellent researcher in poultry and cattle breeding, and animal nutrition. A statue in the garden of the István Street campus commemorates Csukás Zoltán.

Internationally recognized and respected scholar, university lecturer Artúr Horn, and his disciple Imre Bodó made lasting contributions to cattle breeding and the preservation of native breeds in grey cattle, horses (Lipizzaner and Muraközi horse), and research. Imre Bodó, with great expertise, addressed the preservation of endangered native livestock breeds, initiating the formation of breeding organizations and breeding programs for several breeds.

Professor Emeritus Sándor Fekete enhanced the department’s professional reputation in the field of feed research and education. He modernized the curriculum, introduced a supplementary course in wildlife management, organized German-language education, and laid the foundations of laboratory animal science. As a result of his work, the Laboratory Animal Science Department was established.

Today, the Animal Breeding Department is part of the institute created in 2021 by merging the Animal Nutrition and Laboratory Animal Science Departments. Professor Péter Sótonyi, the rector of the University of Veterinary Medicine Budapest, appointed Dr. Zsombor Wagenhoffer, an associate professor, who also serves as the executive director of the Hungarian Livestock Breeders’ Association, the editor-in-chief of the Hungarian Livestock Breeders’ Journal, and the national president of the Animal Husbandry Division of the National Chamber of Agriculture.

As always in its history, the institute remains committed to research and development aimed at the education, breeding organization, and preservation/development of animal genetic resources in Hungary. The establishment of the institute and the appointment of its leader align with one of the University’s main objectives, which is to increase the number of veterinarians specializing in livestock medicine in the coming years and to establish even closer ties and cooperation with practical applications.