Cattle (colloquially cows) are the most common type of large domesticated ungulates. They are a prominent modern member of the subfamily Bovinae, are the most widespread species of the genus Bos, and are most commonly classified collectively as Bos primigenius. Cattle are raised as livestock for meat (beef and veal), as dairy animals for milk and other dairy products, and as draft animals (pulling carts, plows and the like). Other products include leather and dung for manure or fuel. In some countries, such as India, cattle are sacred. It is estimated that there are 1.3 billion cattle in the world today. In 2009, cattle became the first livestock animal to have its genome mapped.
Species of cattle
Cattle were originally identified by Carolus Linnaeus as three separate species. These were Bos taurus, the European or "taurine" 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 taurine cattle. Recently these three have increasingly been grouped as one species, with Bos primigenius taurus, Bos primigenius indicus and Bos primigenius primigenius as the subspecies.
Complicating the matter is the ability of cattle to interbreed with other closely related species. Hybrid individuals and even breeds exist, not only between taurine cattle and zebu but also between one or both of these and some other members of the genus Bos: yak (called a dzo or "yattle"), banteng and gaur. Hybrids can also occur between taurine cattle and either species of bison, which some authors consider to be in the genus Bos as well. The hybrid origin of some types may not be obvious – for example, genetic testing of the Dwarf Lulu breed, the only humpless taurine-type cattle in Nepal, found them to be a mix of taurine cattle, zebu and yak. Cattle cannot successfully be hybridized with more distantly related bovines such as water buffalo or African buffalo.
The aurochs originally ranged throughout Europe, North Africa, and much of Asia. In historical times its range became restricted to Europe, and the last known individual died in Masovia, Poland, in about 1627. Breeders have attempted to recreate cattle of similar appearance to aurochs by crossing traditional types of domesticated cattle, creating the Heck cattle breed. (See also aurochs and zebu articles.)
In the April 24, 2009 edition of the journal Science, it was reported that a team of researchers led by the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Department of Agriculture has mapped the bovine genome. The scientists found that cattle have approximately 22,000 genes, and 80 percent of their genes are shared with humans, and they have approximately 1,000 genes they share with dogs and rodents, but are not found in humans. Using this bovine "HapMap", researchers can track the differences between the breeds that affect the quality of meat and milk yields.
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In general, the same words are used in different parts of the world but with minor differences in the definitions. The terminology described here contrasts the differences in definition between the United Kingdom and other British influenced parts of world such as Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, and the United States.
- An intact (i.e., not castrated) adult male is called a bull. A wild, young, unmarked bull is known as a micky in Australia. An unbranded bovine of either sex is called a "maverick" in the USA and Canada.
- An adult female that has had a calf (or two, depending on regional usage) is a cow. A young female before she has had a calf of her own and is under three years of age is called a heifer (pronounced /ˈhɛfər/, "heffer"). A young female that has had only one calf is occasionally called a first-calf heifer.
- Young cattle of both sexes are called calves until they are weaned, then weaners until they are a year old in some areas; in other areas, particularly with male beef cattle, they may be known as feeder-calves or simply feeders. After that, they are referred to as yearlings or stirks if between one and two years of age.
- A castrated male is called a steer in the United States, and older steers are often called bullocks in other parts of the world; although in North America this term refers to a young bull. Piker bullocks are micky bulls that were caught, castrated and then later lost. In Australia, the term "Japanese ox" is used for grain fed steers in the weight range of 500 to 650 kg that are destined for the Japanese meat trade. In North America, draft cattle under four years old are called working steers. Improper or late castration on a bull results in it becoming a coarse steer known as a stag in Australia, Canada and New Zealand. In some countries an incompletely castrated male is known also as a rig.
- A castrated male (occasionally a female or in some areas a bull) kept for draft purposes is called an ox (plural oxen); "ox" may also be used to refer to some carcase products from any adult cattle, such as ox-hide, ox-blood or ox-liver. .
- In all cattle species, a female that is the twin of a bull usually becomes an infertile partial intersex, and is a freemartin.
- Neat (horned oxen, from which neatsfoot oil is derived), beef (young ox) and beefing (young animal fit for slaughtering) are obsolete terms, although poll, pollard or polled cattle are still terms in use for naturally hornless animals, or in some areas also for those that have been disbudded.
- Cattle raised for human consumption are called beef cattle. Within the beef cattle industry in parts of the United States, the older term beef (plural beeves) is still used to refer to an animal of either gender. Some Australian, Canadian, New Zealand and British people use the term beast, especially for single animals when the gender is unknown.
- Cattle of certain breeds bred specifically for milk production are called milking or dairy cattle.; a cow kept to provide milk for one family may be called a house cow.
- The adjective applying to cattle in general is usually bovine. The terms "bull", "cow" and "calf" are also used by extension to denote the gender or age of other large animals, including whales, hippopotamuses, camels, elk and elephants
Singular terminology dilemma
Cattle can only be used in the plural and not in the singular: it is a plurale tantum. Thus one may refer to "three cattle" or "some cattle", but not "one cattle". There is no universally used singular form in modern English of "cattle", other than the sex- and age-specific terms such as cow, bull, steer and heifer. Historically, "ox" was a non-gender-specific term for adult cattle, but generally this is now used only for draft cattle, especially adult castrated males. The term is also incorporated into the names of other species such as the musk ox and "grunting ox" (yak), and is used in some areas to describe certain cattle products such as ox-hide and ox-tail.
"Cow" has been in general use as a singular for the collective "cattle" in spite of the objections of those who say that it is a female-specific term, so that phrases such as "that cow is a bull" would be absurd from a lexicographic standpoint. However, it is easy to use when a singular is needed and the sex is not known or is irrelevant in the context of the conversation, as in "There is a cow in the road". Further, any herd of fully mature cattle in or near a pasture is statistically likely to consist mostly of cows, so the term is probably accurate even in the restrictive sense. Other than the few bulls needed for breeding, the vast majority of male cattle are castrated as calves and slaughtered for meat before the age of three years. Thus, in a pastured herd, any calves or herd bulls usually are clearly distinguishable from the cows due to distinctively different sizes and clear anatomical differences. The Oxford English Dictionary lists the use of "cows" as a synonym for "cattle" as an American usage.[Full citation needed] Merriam-Webster, a U.S. dictionary, recognizes the non-sex-specific use of "cow" as an alternate definition, whereas Collins, a UK dictionary, does not.
Colloquially, more general non-specific terms may denote cattle when a singular form is needed. Australian, New Zealand and British farmers use the term "beast" or "cattle beast". "Bovine" is also used in Britain. The term "critter" is common in the western United States and Canada, particularly when referring to young cattle. In some areas of the American South (particularly the Appalachian region), where both dairy and beef cattle are present, an individual animal was once called a "beef critter", though that term is becoming archaic.
Cattle raised for human consumption are called "beef cattle". Within the beef cattle industry in parts of the United States, the term "beef" (plural "beeves") is still used in its archaic sense to refer to an animal of either gender. Cows of certain breeds that are kept for the milk they give are called "dairy cows" or "milking cows" (formerly "milch cows" – "milch" was pronounced as "milk"). Most young male offspring of dairy cows are sold for veal, and may be referred to as veal calves.
The term "dogies" is used to describe orphaned calves in the context of ranch work in the American west, as in "Keep them dogies moving,". In some places, a cow kept to provide milk for one family is called a "house cow". Other obsolete terms for cattle include "neat" (this use survives in "neatsfoot oil", extracted from the feet and legs of cattle), and "beefing" (young animal fit for slaughter).
An onomatopoeic term for one of the commonest sounds made by cattle is "moo", and this sound is also called lowing. There are a number of other sounds made by cattle, including calves bawling, and bulls bellowing. The bullroarer makes a sound similar to a territorial call made by bulls.
Cattle did not originate as the term for bovine animals. It was borrowed from Old French catel, itself from Latin caput, head, and originally meant movable property, especially livestock of any kind. The word is closely related to "chattel" (a unit of personal property) and "capital" in the economic sense. The term replaced earlier Old English feoh "cattle, property" (cf. German Vieh, Gothic faihu).
In older English sources such as the King James Version of the Bible, "cattle" refers to livestock, as opposed to "deer" which refers to wildlife. "Wild cattle" may refer to feral cattle or to undomesticated species of the genus Bos. Today, the modern meaning of "cattle", without any other qualifier, is usually restricted to domesticated bovines.
Cattle have one stomach with four compartments. They are the rumen, reticulum, omasum, and abomasum, with the rumen being the largest compartment. The reticulum, the smallest compartment, is known as the "honeycomb." Cattle sometimes consume metal objects which are deposited in the reticulum and irritation from the metal objects causes hardware disease. 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 like the human stomach; this is why it is known as the "true stomach".
Cattle are ruminants, meaning that they have a digestive system that allows use of otherwise indigestible foods by repeatedly regurgitating and rechewing them as "cud". The cud is then reswallowed and further digested by specialised microorganisms in the rumen. These microbes are primarily responsible for decomposing cellulose and other carbohydrates into volatile fatty acids that cattle use as their primary metabolic fuel. The microbes inside the rumen are also able to synthesize amino acids from non-protein nitrogenous sources, such as urea and ammonia. As these microbes reproduce in the rumen, older generations die and their carcasses continue on through the digestive tract. These carcasses are then partially digested by the cattle, allowing them to gain a high quality protein source. These features allow cattle to thrive on grasses and other vegetation.
The gestation period for a cow is nine months. A newborn calf weighs 25 to 45 kilograms (55 to 99 lb). The world record for the heaviest bull was 1,740 kilograms (3,836 lb), a Chianina named Donetto, when he was exhibited at the Arezzo show in 1955. The heaviest steer was eight year old ‘Old Ben’, a Shorthorn/Hereford cross weighing in at 2,140 kilograms (4,718 lb) in 1910. Steers are generally killed before reaching 750 kilograms (1,653 lb). Breeding stock usually live 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 flag 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 the cone cells in their retinas. Thus they are dichromatic, the same as most other mammals (including dogs, cats, horses and up to ten percent of male humans). They are able to distinguish some colors, particularly blue from yellow, in the same way as most other mammals.
Domestication and husbandry
Cattle occupy a unique role in human history, domesticated since at least the early Neolithic. They are raised for meat (beef cattle), dairy products and hides. They are also used as draft animals and in certain sports. Some consider cattle the oldest form of wealth, and cattle raiding consequently one of the earliest forms of theft.
Cattle are often raised by allowing herds to graze on the grasses of large tracts of rangeland. Raising cattle in this manner allows the use of land that might be unsuitable for growing crops. The most common interactions with cattle involve daily feeding, cleaning and milking. Many routine husbandry practices involve ear tagging, dehorning, loading, medical operations, vaccinations and hoof care, as well as training for agricultural shows and preparations. There are also some cultural differences in working with cattle- the cattle husbandry of Fulani men rests on behavioural techniques, whereas in Europe cattle are controlled primarily by physical means like fences. Breeders use 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 less commonly used for conservation grazing, 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.
In Portugal, Spain, Southern France and some Latin American countries, bulls are used in the activity of bullfighting; a similar activity, Jallikattu, is seen in South India; in many other countries this is illegal. Other activities 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 (see Bull (mythology)), still exists in southwestern France. In modern times, cattle are also entered into agricultural competitions. These competitions can involve live cattle or cattle carcases in hoof and hook events.
In terms of food intake by humans, consumption of cattle is less efficient than of grain or vegetables with regard to land use, and hence cattle grazing consumes more area than such other agricultural production when raised on grains. Nonetheless, cattle and other forms of domesticated animals can sometimes help to use plant resources in areas not easily amenable to other forms of agriculture.
A 400-page United Nations report from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) states that cattle farming is "responsible for 18% of greenhouse gases." The production of cattle to feed and clothe humans stresses ecosystems around the world, and is assessed to be one of the top three environmental problems in the world on a local to global scale.
The report, entitled Livestock's Long Shadow, also surveys the environmental damage from sheep, chickens, pigs and goats. But in almost every case, the world's 1.5 billion cattle are cited as the greatest adverse impact with respect to climate change as well as species extinction. 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 suggested, since intensification leads to less land for a given level of production.
Some microbes respire in the cattle gut by an anaerobic process known as methanogenesis (producing the gas methane). Cattle emit a large volume 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. Methane is a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, having a warming effect 23 to 50 times greater, and according to Takahashi and Young "even a small increase in methane concentration in the atmosphere exerts a potentially significant contribution to global warming". Further analysis of the methane gas produced by livestock as a contributor to the increase in greenhouse gases is provided by Weart. Research is underway on methods of reducing this source of methane, by the use of dietary supplements, or treatments to reduce the proportion of methanogenetic microbes, perhaps by vaccination.
Cattle are fed a concentrated high-corn diet which produces rapid weight gain, but this has side effects which include increased acidity in the digestive system. When improperly handled, manure and other byproducts of concentrated agriculture also have environmental consequences.
Grazing by cattle at low intensities can create a favourable environment for native herbs and forbs; however, in most world regions cattle are reducing biodiversity due to overgrazing driven by food demands by an expanding human population.
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Oxen (singular ox) are large and heavyset breeds of Bos taurus cattle trained as draft animals. Often they are adult, castrated males. Usually an ox is over four years old due to the need for training and to allow it to grow to full size. Oxen are used for plowing, transport, hauling cargo, grain-grinding by trampling or by powering machines, irrigation by powering pumps, and wagon drawing. Oxen were commonly used to skid logs in forests, and sometimes still are, in low-impact select-cut logging. Oxen are most often used in teams of two, paired, for light work such as carting. In the past, teams might have been larger, with some teams exceeding twenty animals when used for logging.
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 right) and (5) haw (turn left). Oxen must be painstakingly trained from a young age. Their teamster must provide 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.