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Cattle (called cows in vernacular and contemporary usage) are domesticated ungulates, a member of the subfamily Bovinae of the family Bovidae. They are raised as livestock for meat (called beef and veal), dairy products (milk), leather and as draught animals (pulling carts, plows and the like). In some countries, such as India, they are subject to religious ceremonies and respect. It is estimated that there are 1.3 billion head of cattle in the world today.


 

Terminology: Young cattle are called calves. A young male is called a bull calf; a young female before she has calved the second time is called a heifer (pronounced "heffer"). A young female that has had only one calf is sometimes called a "first-calf heifer." In the USA male cattle bred for meat are castrated unless needed for breeding. The castrated male is then called a bullock or steer, unless kept for draft purposes, in which case it is called an ox (plural oxen), not to be confused with the related wild musk ox. If castrated as an adult, it is called a stag. An intact male is called a bull. An adult female over two years of age (approximately) is called a cow. The adjective applying to cattle is bovine.

Digestion: Cattle are ruminants, meaning that they have a unique digestive system that allows them to digest otherwise unpalatable foods by repeatedly regurgitating and rechewing them as "cud." The cud is then reswallowed and further digested by specialized bacterial, protozoal and fungal microbes that live in the rumen. These microbes are primarily responsible for generating the volatile fatty acids (VFAs) that cattle use as their primary metabolic fuel. The microbes that live inside of the rumen are also able to synthesize amino acids from non-protein nitrogenous sources such as urea and ammonia. These features allow them to thrive on grasses and other vegetation.

Stomach: Cattle have one stomach, with four compartments. They are the rumen, reticulum, omasum, and abomasum. The rumen is the largest compartment and the reticulum is the smallest compartment. Cattle sometimes consume metal objects which are deposited in the reticulum, and this is where hardware disease occurs. The reticulum is known as the "Honeycomb." The omasum's main function is to absorb water and nutrients from the digestible feed. The omasum is known as the "Many Plies." The abomasum is most like the human stomach; this is why it is known as the "True Stomach."

A bull fight, Barcelona, Spain: Courtesy of Library of CongressMyth: A popular misconception about cattle (primarily bulls) is that they are enraged by the color red. This is incorrect, as cattle are mostly color-blind. This rumor derives from bullfighting, where matadors traditionally use red-colored capes to provoke bulls into attacking. The red color is merely traditional, as the movement of the cape is the attractant.

Cattle as wealth: Cattle occupy a unique role in human history, domesticated since at least the early Neolithic. Some consider them the oldest form of wealth, and cattle raiding consequently the earliest form of theft. Their ability to provide meat, dairy and draft while reproducing themselves and eating nothing but grass has furthered human interests dramatically through the millennia.

Cattle ranching: In Latin America, Australia and the western North America cattle are grazed on large tracts of rangeland called ranchos, ranches or Stations (Australia).

Sacred cows: In Hinduism, the cow is said to be holy (and thus should not be eaten); "The cow is my mother. The bull is my sire." The importance of the cow is highlighted by the fact that a regional holiday called Mattu Pongal (literally Cow Pongal in Tamil) exists which is akin to a bovine thanksgiving day. In fact a divine cow named Kamadhenu is venerated as an all giving mother in a Hindu mythological story. It is common to see loose cattle walking the streets because of the holiness they hold in India and other countries that practice Hinduism.

Bull fighting: In Portugal, Spain and some Latin American countries, bulls are used in the sport of bullfighting while a similar sport Jallikattu is seen in South India; in many other countries this is illegal. Other sports such as bull riding are seen as part of a rodeo, especially in North America. Bull-leaping, a central ritual in Bronze Age Minoan culture, still exists in south-western France.

Mad cow: The outbreaks of bovine spongiform encephalitis or mad cow disease have reduced or led to the prohibition of some traditional uses of cattle for food, for example the eating of brains or spinal cords.


The gestation period for a cow is the same as humans: 9 months. A newborn calf weighs approximately 80-100 pounds.


Cattle were originally identified by Carolus Linnaeus as three separate species. These were Bos taurus, the European cattle, including similar types from Africa and Asia; Bos indicus, the zebu; and the extinct Bos primigenius, the aurochs. The aurochs is ancestral to both zebu and European cattle. More recently these three have increasingly been grouped as one species, sometimes using the names Bos primigenius taurus, Bos primigenius indicus and Bos primigenius primigenius. Complicating the matter is the ability of cattle to interbreed with other closely related species. Hybrid individuals and even breeds exist, not only between European cattle and zebu but also with yaks, banteng, gaur, and bison, a cross-genera hybrid. For example, genetic testing of the Dwarf Lulu breed, the only humpless "Bos taurus-type" cattle in Nepal, found them to be a mix of European cattle, zebu and yak. Cattle cannot successfully be bred with water buffalo or African buffalo.

 

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 Kingdom: Animalia

 Phylum: Chordata

 Class: Mammalia

 Order: Artiodactyla

 Family: Bovidae

 Genus: Bos

 Species: Taurus