|Cattle, colloquially referred to as cows (though technically cow refers only to female bovines), 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 honored in religious ceremonies and revered. It is estimated that there are 1.3 billion head of cattle in the world today.
Species of cattle
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 (called a dzo), banteng, gaur, and bison ("cattalo"), 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.
The aurochs was originally spread throughout Europe, Africa, and Asia. In historical times, their range was restricted to Europe, and the last animals were killed by poachers in Masovia, Poland, in 1627. Breeders have attempted to recreate the original gene pool of the aurochs by careful crossing of commercial breeds, creating the Heck cattle breed.
Older English sources like King James Version of the Bible refer to livestock in general as cattle. Additionally other species of the genus Bos are often called cattle or wild cattle. This article refers to the common modern meaning of "cattle", the domestic bovine.
Cattle is both a plural and a mass noun, but there is no singular equivalent. Thus one may refer to "three cattle", "some cattle", but not "one cattle". There is no universally used singular equivalent in modern English to "cattle" other than the various gender and age-specific terms (though 'catron' is occasionally seen as a half-serious proposal). The use of such a term is rare in the English language ("people" is another similar example). Strictly speaking, the singular noun for the domestic bovine is ox: a bull is a male ox and a cow is a female ox. However, "ox" today is rarely used in this general sense, instead usually denoting a draught beast, most commonly a castrated male. For some time "cow" has been in general use as a singular for the collective "cattle" in spite of the objections of cattlepersons (who dislike consequent nonsense phrases such as "that cow is a bull"). However, it is easy to use when a singular is needed and the gender is not known, as in "There is a cow in the road". (Females of many other large animals, such as whales, hippos or elephants, are also called cows). The archaic plural of cow is "kine" or "kyne", which comes from the same English stem as "cow". Some Australian, Canadian, New Zealand and British farmers use the term "cattle beast" or simply "beast". In some areas of the American South (particularly the Appalachian region) the local inhabitants call an individual animal a "beef critter". This was common until the 1960s and has faded from usage in all but a few areas and even then it is used mostly among the aged inhabitants. "Bovine" is also used in Britain.
Obsolete terms for cattle include "neat" (this use survives in "neat's-foot oil", extracted from the feet and legs of cattle), "beef" (young ox) and "beefing" (young animal fit for slaughter). Cattle raised for human consumption are called "beef cattle". Within the beef cattle industry in parts of the United States, the "beef" (plural "beeves") is still used in its archaic sense for an animal of either gender. Cows of certain breeds that are kept for the milk they give are called "dairy cows" (formerly "milch cows" – "milch" was pronounced "milk"). A cow kept to provide milk for one family is often called a "house cow".
Young cattle are called calves. A young female before she has calved is called a "heifer" (pronounced "heffer"). A young female that has had only one calf is sometimes called a "first-calf heifer." A young male is a "bullock." The term "bullock," or "steer," is also used to denote a castrated male, 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 who has had more than two calves is called a "cow." The adjective applying to cattle is "bovine."
Cattle are ruminants, meaning that they have a digestive system that allows them to utilize otherwise indigestible foods by repeatedly regurgitating and re-chewing them as "cud." The cud is then re-swallowed and further digested by specialized microorganisms that live in the rumen. These microbes are primarily responsible for breaking down cellulose and other carbohydrates into 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 cattle to thrive on grasses and other vegetation.
Some of the microbes respire in the gut by an anaerobic process known as methanogenesis (producing the gas methane). Cattle emit a large amount of methane, 95% of it through eructation or burping, not flatulence. As the carbon in the methane comes from the digestion of vegetation produced by photosynthesis, its release into the air by this process would normally be considered harmless, because there is no net increase in carbon in the atmosphere, it's removed as carbon dioxide from the air by photosynthesis and returned to it as methane. But methane is a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, having a warming effect 23 times greater, and so the methane gas produced by livestock is a significant contributor to the increase in greenhouse gases. Research is underway on methods of reducing this source of methane, by the use to dietary supplements, or treatments to reduce the proportion of methanogenetic microbes, perhaps by vaccination.
The gestation period for a cow is nine months. A newborn calf weighs roughly 25 to 45 kg (55 to 100 lb). Very large steers can weigh as much as 1,800 kg (4,000 pounds), although 600 to 900 kg (1,300 to 1,900 lb) is more usual for adults. Cattle usually live up to about 15 years (occasionally as much as 25 years).
A common misconception about cattle (particularly bulls) is that they are enraged by the color red (something provocative is often said to be "like a red rag to a bull"). This is incorrect, as cattle are red-green color-blind. The myth arose from the use of red capes in the sport of bullfighting; in fact, two different capes are used. The capote is a large, flowing cape that is magenta and yellow. The more famous muleta is the smaller, red cape, used exclusively for the final, fatal segment of the fight. It is not the color of the cape that angers the bull, but rather the movement of the fabric that irritates the bull and incites it to charge.
Although cattle cannot distinguish red from green, they do have two kinds of color receptors in their retinas (cone cells) and so are theoretically able to distinguish some colors, probably in a similar way to other red-green colour-blind or dichromatic mammals (such as dogs, cats, horses and up to ten percent of male humans).
Uses of cattle
In Portugal, Spain, Southern France 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.
The outbreaks of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (mad cow disease) have limited some traditional uses of cattle for food, for example the eating of brains or spinal cords.
In modern times, cattle are also entered into agricultural competitions. These competitions can involve live cattle or carcasses.
Breeders can utilize cattle husbandry to reduce M. bovis infection susceptibility by selective breeding and maintaining herd health to avoid concurrent disease. Cattle are farmed for beef, veal, dairy, leather and they are sometimes used simply to maintain grassland for wildlife- for example, in Epping Forest, England. They are often used in some of the most wild places for livestock. Depending on the breed, cattle can survive on hill grazing, heaths, marshes, moors and semi desert. Modern cows are more commercial than older breeds and having become more specialized are less versatile. For this reason many smaller farmers still favor old breeds, like the dairy breed of cattle Jersey.
An ox is nothing more than a mature bovine with an "education." The education consists of the animal's learning to respond appropriately to the teamster's (ox driver's) signals. These signals are given by verbal commands or by noise (whip cracks) and many teamsters were known for their voices and language. In North America, the commands are (1) get up, (2) whoa, (3) back up, (4) gee (turn to the right) and (5) haw (turn to the left). Oxen must be painstakingly trained from a young age. Their teamster must make or buy as many as a dozen yokes of different sizes as the animals grow. A wooden yoke is fastened about the neck of each pair so that the force of draft is distributed across their shoulders. From calves, oxen are chosen with horns since the horns hold the yoke in place when the oxen lower their heads, back up, or slow down (particularly with a wheeled vehicle going downhill). Yoked oxen cannot slow a load like harnessed horses can; the load has to be controlled downhill by other means. The gait of the ox is often important to ox trainers, since the speed the animal walks should roughly match the gait of the ox driver who must work with it.
U.S. ox trainers favored larger breeds for their ability to do more work and for their intelligence. Because they are larger animals, the typical ox is the male of a breed, rather than the smaller female. Females are potentially more useful producing calves and milk.
Oxen can pull harder and longer than horses, particularly on obstinate or almost un-movable loads. This is one of the reasons that teams were dragging logs from forests long after horses had taken over most other draught uses in Europe and North America. Though not as fast as horses, they are less prone to injury because they are more sure-footed and do not try to jerk the load.
An "ox" is not a unique breed of bovine, nor have any "blue" oxen lived outside the folk tales surrounding Paul Bunyan, the mythical American logger. A possible exception and antecedent to this legend is the Belgian Blue breed which is known primarily for its unusual musculature and at times exhibits unusual White/Blue, Blue Roan, or Blue coloration. The unusual musculature of the breed is believed to be due to a natural mutation of the gene that codes for the protein Myostatin, which is responsible for normal muscle atrophy.
Many oxen are still in use worldwide, especially in developing countries. In the Third World oxen can lead lives of misery, as they are frequently malnourished. Oxen are driven with sticks and goads when they are weak from malnutrition. When there is insufficient food for humans, animal welfare has low priority.
Ox is also used for various cattle products, irrespective of age, sex or training of the beast – for example, ox-blood, ox-liver, ox-kidney, ox-heart, ox-hide etc.
Cattle today are the basis of a many billion dollar industry worldwide. The international trade in beef for 2000 was over $30 billion and represented only 23 percent of world beef production. (Clay 2004). The production of milk, which is also made into cheese, butter, yogurt, and other dairy products, is comparable in size to beef production and provides an important part of the food supply for much of the world's people. Cattle hides, used for leather to make shoes and clothing, are another important product. In India and other poorer nations, cattle are also important as draft animals as they have been for thousands of years.
The report, entitled Livestock's Long Shadow, also surveys the damage done by sheep, chickens, pigs and goats. But in almost every case, the world's 1.5 billion cattle are cited as being most to blame. The report concludes that, unless changes are made, the massive damage reckoned to be due to livestock may more than double by 2050, as demand for meat increases. One of the cited changes suggests that intensification of the livestock industry may be necessary, since intensification leads to fewer cattle for a given level of production.
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