Cattle Breeds: Funny Bovine Facts

From the ancient auroch to modern cattle breeds, learn more about beautiful bovines.

| November/December 2012

There’s a good chance you had an encounter with a cow this morning, whether you did chores for them or not. Intrigued? Then moooove on over and learn a little more about our beautiful bovines.

About 8,500 years ago, one of our forebears encountered a cow and did something udderly brave and astounding: He milked her, and then drank what he got.

Though the daring deed was probably safer to do with a cow than, say, a tiger or a giraffe, milking the moo-er was still dangerous. Early domesticated cattle, like their wild aurochs ancestors-cum-brethren, had enormous horns with sharp tips, and barns weren’t very refined. That definitely made Bossy the boss.

The last aurochs died in Poland almost 400 years ago. Yet, if you could magically insert an ancient auroch into a random motley herd of beef cattle, few people would ever know the difference because your basic-model cow has changed little over the millennia.

Still, you’ll find physical disparities in today’s cows, since there are nearly 1.5 billion of them in the world, representing more than a thousand different breeds. You can get them with long legs (such as the rangy Texas Longhorn) or short ones (such as the 3-feet-tall Dexter). Some come with no horns, while others (Africa’s Ankole) develop a rack that a moose would envy. You can get them humpty (Zimbabwe’s Tuli) or not; ears down (the Brahman) or up; shaggy (like Highland cattle) or smooth. You can get your cow in several designer colors to match your household pets and other barnyard animals (the Dutch Belted is a nice complement to your Hereford pig). And if you so desire, you can get a cow small enough to be a household pet itself (India’s Vechur).

If you like, you can make your herd international by adding a Meuse-Rhine-Yssel from the Netherlands, an Aubrac from France, or an enormous Chianina from Italy. You can have a Devon from Devon, a Guernsey from Guernsey, a Jersey from Jersey, or an Africander from Africa. Or you can stick with the breeds we have here and get a Florida Cracker, a Santa Gertrudis from Texas, or an awesome-looking American Lineback that is really nothing like the linebacker on your favorite football team.

11/23/2012 7:10:27 PM

I have Irish Dexter cattle and have to say that after 35 years of breeding Polled Herefords, the Dexter is much easier to handle while their personality is calm like the Polled Hereford has.

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