AskDefine | Define cows

Dictionary Definition

cows n : domesticated bovine animals as a group regardless of sex or age; "so many head of cattle"; "wait till the cows come home"; "seven thin and ill-favored kine"- Bible; "a team of oxen" [syn: cattle, kine, oxen, Bos taurus]

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. Plural of cow

See also


  1. third-person singular of cow

Extensive Definition

Cattle, colloquially referred to as cows, 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 draft 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 cattle in the world today. 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 acreage than such other agricultural production. Nonetheless, cattle and other forms of domesticated animals can sometimes help to utilize plant resources in areas not easily amenable to other forms of agriculture. These factors were not as important in earlier times prior to the Earth's large human population.

Species of cattle

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, 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 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 originally ranged throughout Europe, North Africa, and much of 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 cattle of similar appearance to aurochs by crossing of domesticated cattle breeds, creating the Heck cattle breed. (See also aurochs and zebu articles.)


Word origin

Cattle did not originate as a name for bovine animals. It derives from the 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.
Older English sources like King James Version of the Bible refer to livestock in general as cattle (as opposed to the word deer which then was used for wild animals). Additionally other species of the genus Bos are sometimes called wild cattle. Today, the modern meaning of "cattle", without any other qualifier, is usually restricted to domesticated bovines.

Terminology of cattle

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 States of America and other British influenced parts of world such as Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, and the United Kingdom.
An intact adult male is called a bull. An adult female who has had one or two calves (depending on regional usage) is called a cow. Young cattle are called calves until they are weaned, then weaners until they are a year old in some areas, in other areas, particularly with beef cattle, they may be known as feeder-calves or simply feeders. After that, they are referred to as yearlings if between one and two years of age, or by gender. A young female before she has had a calf of her own is called a heifer (, "heffer"). A young female that has had only one calf is occasionally called a first-calf heifer. A castrated male is called a steer in the United States of America, and is called a bullock in other parts of the world; although in North America this term refers to a young bull. A castrated male (occasionally a female or in some areas a bull) kept for draft purposes is called an ox (plural oxen). In North America, draft cattle under four years old are called working steers. In the extremely uncommon situation where an adult bull is castrated, it becomes a stag. In all cattle species, a female who is the twin of a bull usually becomes an infertile partial intersex, and is a freemartin. Some Australian, Canadian, New Zealand and Scottish farmers use the term cattlebeast. Neat (horned oxen, from which "neatsfoot oil" is derived), beef (young ox) and beefing (young animal fit for slaughtering) are obsolete terms, although poll or polled cattle is still a term in use for naturally hornless animals, or in some areas cattle 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. Cows of certain breeds that are kept for the milk they give are called dairy cows 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 color-blind or dichromatic mammals (such as dogs, cats, horses and up to ten percent of male humans).

Domestication and husbandry

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 to 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.


  • The Evangelist St. Luke is depicted as an ox in Christian art.
  • In Judaism, as described in Bible verse |Numbers|19:2|HE, the ashes of a sacrificed unblemished red heifer that has never been yoked can be used for ritual purification of people who came into contact with a corpse.
  • The ox is one of the 12-year cycle of animals which appear in the Chinese zodiac related to the Chinese calendar. See: Ox (Zodiac).
  • The constellation Taurus represents a bull.
  • An apocryphal story has it that a cow started the Great Chicago Fire by kicking over a kerosene lamp. Michael Ahern, the reporter who created the cow story, admitted in 1893 that he had made it up because he thought it would make colorful copy.
  • On February 18, 1930 Elm Farm Ollie became the first cow to fly in an airplane and also the first cow to be milked in an airplane.
  • The first known law requiring branding in North America was enacted on February 5, 1644 by Connecticut. It said that all cattle and pigs have to have a registered brand or earmark by May 1, 1644.
  • The is a traditional toy from the Aizu region of Japan that is thought to ward off illness.
  • The case of Sherwood v. Walker -- involving a supposedly barren heifer that was actually pregnant -- first enunciated the concept of Mutual mistake as a means of destroying the Meeting of the minds in Contract law.
  • The Maasai tribe of East Africa traditionally believe that all cows on earth are the God-given property of the Maasai

Cattle in Hindu tradition

Present status

The world cattle population is estimated to be about 1.3 billion head. India is the nation with the largest number of cattle, about 400 million, followed by Brazil and China, with about 150 million each, and the United States, with about 100 million. Africa has about 200 million head of cattle, many of which are herded in traditional ways and serve partly as tokens of their owner's wealth. Europe has about 130 million head of cattle (CT 2006, SC 2006).
Cattle today are the basis of a multi-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 economic size to beef production and provides an important part of the food supply for many of the world's people. Cattle hides, used for leather to make shoes and clothing, are another widespread product. Cattle remain broadly used as draft animals in many developing countries, such as India.

See also



  • Bhattacharya, S. 2003. Cattle ownership makes it a man's world. Retrieved December 26, 2006.
  • Cattle Today (CT). 2006. Website. Breeds of cattle. Cattle Today. Retrieved December 26, 2006)
  • Clay, J. 2004. World Agriculture and the Environment: A Commodity-by-Commodity Guide to Impacts and Practices. Washington, D.C., USA: Island Press. ISBN 1559633700.
  • Clutton-Brock, J. 1999. A Natural History of Domesticated Mammals. Cambridge UK : Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521634954.
  • Breeds"> - A visual textbook containing History/Origin, Phenotype & Statistics of 45 breeds.
  • Huffman, B. 2006. The ultimate ungulate page. Retrieved December 26, 2006.
  • Invasive Species Specialist Group (ISSG). 2005. .Bos taurus. Global Invasive Species Database.
  • Nowak, R.M. and Paradiso, J.L. 1983. Walker's Mammals of the World. Baltimore, Maryland, USA: The Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 0801825253
  • Oklahoma State University (OSU). 2006. Breeds of Cattle. Retrieved January 5, 2007.
  • Public Broadcasting Service (PBS). 2004. Holy cow. PBS Nature. Retrieved January 5, 2007.
  • Rath, S. 1998. The Complete Cow. Stillwater, Minnesota, USA: Voyageur Press. ISBN 0896583759.
  • Raudiansky, S. 1992. The Covenant of the Wild. New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc. ISBN 0688096107.
  • Spectrum Commodities (SC). 2006. Live cattle. Retrieved January 5, 2007.
  • Voelker, W. 1986. The Natural History of Living Mammals. Medford, New Jersey, USA: Plexus Publishing, Inc. ISBN 0937548081.
  • Yogananda, P. 1946. The Autobiography of a Yogi. Los Angeles, California, USA: Self Realization Fellowship. ISBN 0876120834.
cows in Tosk Albanian: Kuh
cows in Arabic: بقرة
cows in Bambara: Misi
cows in Bengali: গরু
cows in Min Nan: Gû
cows in Belarusian (Tarashkevitsa): Карова
cows in Tibetan: གླང་གོག་
cows in Bosnian: Domaće govedo
cows in Bulgarian: Домашно говедо
cows in Catalan: Vaca
cows in Czech: Tur domácí
cows in Welsh: Buwch
cows in Danish: Tamkvæg
cows in Pennsylvania German: Kuh
cows in German: Hausrind
cows in Estonian: Veis
cows in Emiliano-Romagnolo: Bà
cows in Spanish: Bos taurus
cows in Esperanto: Bovo
cows in Basque: Behi
cows in Persian: گاو
cows in French: Bos taurus
cows in Scottish Gaelic: Bò
cows in Galician: Vaca
cows in Gujarati: ગાય
cows in Korean: 소
cows in Upper Sorbian: Howjado
cows in Croatian: Domaće govedo
cows in Indonesian: Sapi
cows in Interlingua (International Auxiliary Language Association): Vacca
cows in Icelandic: Nautgripur
cows in Italian: Bos taurus
cows in Hebrew: פרה
cows in Pampanga: Baka
cows in Cornish: Bugh
cows in Latin: Bos
cows in Luxembourgish: Rëndvéi
cows in Lithuanian: Naminis jautis
cows in Lingala: Ngɔ́mbɛ́
cows in Hungarian: Szarvasmarha
cows in Macedonian: Домашно говедо
cows in Malay (macrolanguage): Lembu
cows in Min Dong Chinese: Ngù
cows in Dutch: Rundvee
cows in Cree: ᒥᔅᑐᔅ
cows in Japanese: ウシ
cows in Norwegian: Tamfe
cows in Narom: Vaque
cows in Low German: Rindveeh
cows in Polish: Krowa
cows in Portuguese: Gado bovino
cows in Quechua: Waka
cows in Russian: Корова
cows in Sardinian: Bàca
cows in Albanian: Lopa
cows in Simple English: Cattle
cows in Slovak: Tur domáci
cows in Slovenian: Domače govedo
cows in Serbian: Krava
cows in Finnish: Nauta
cows in Swedish: Nötkreatur
cows in Tagalog: Baka
cows in Thai: วัว
cows in Tajik: Гов
cows in Turkish: Sığır
cows in Ukrainian: Корова
cows in Walloon: Bovrins
cows in Yiddish: בהמה
cows in Contenese: 牛
cows in Samogitian: Galvėjē
cows in Chinese: 歐洲牛
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