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File:CH cow
A Swiss Braunvieh cow wearing a cowbell
Conservation status
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Artiodactyla
Family: Bovidae
Subfamily: Bovinae
Genus: Bos
Species: B. primigenius
Subspecies: B. p. taurus, B. p. indicus
Binomial name
Bos primigenius
Linnaeus, 1758
Trinomial name
Bos primigenius taurus, Bos primigenius indicus

Bos taurus, Bos indicus

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.[1] In 2009, cattle became the first livestock animal to have its genome mapped.[2]


Species of cattle

Cattle were originally identified by Carl 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.[3]

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 (including the sanga cattle breeds, Bos taurus africanus) but also between one or both of these and some other members of the genus Bos: yak (called a dzo or "yattle"[4]), banteng and gaur. Hybrids can also occur between taurine cattle and either species of bison (for example, the beefalo breed), which some authors consider to be in the genus Bos as well.[5] 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.[6] 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.[7] Breeders have attempted to recreate cattle of similar appearance to aurochs by crossing traditional types of domesticated cattle, creating the Heck cattle breed.

Word origin

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 personal property, especially livestock of any kind, as opposed to real property (the land, to also include wild or small free-roaming animals such as chickens, which would be sold as part of the land).[8] The word is closely related to "chattel" (a unit of personal property) and "capital" in the economic sense.[9][10] The term replaced earlier Old English feoh "cattle, property" (cf. German: Vieh, Gothic: faihu).

The word cow came via Anglo-Saxon (plural ), from Common Indo-European gʷōus (genitive gʷowes) = "a bovine animal", compare Persian Gâv, Sanskrit go, Welsh buwch.[citation needed]

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 (part of the real property). "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.[citation needed]


in Shreveport]]

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.[11]

  • An intact (i.e., not castrated) adult male is called a bull. A wild, young, unmarked bull is known as a micky in Australia.[12] 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[13] and is under three years of age is called a heifer (pronounced /ˈhɛfər/, "heffer").[14] 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[15] if between one and two years of age.[16]
  • A castrated male is called a steer in the United States; older steers are often called bullocks in other parts of the world[17] but in North America this term refers to a young bull. Piker bullocks are micky bulls that were caught, castrated and then later lost.[12] 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.[18] 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.[19] 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.[14]
  • A springer is a cow or heifer close to calving. [20]
  • 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.[21]
  • Cattle of certain breeds bred specifically for milk production are called milking or dairy cattle.[11]; 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 issue

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.[22]

"Cow" is in general use as a singular for the collective "cattle", despite the objections by those who insist it to be a female-specific term. Although the phrase "that cow is a bull" is absurd from a lexicographic standpoint, the word "cow" is easy to use when a singular is needed and the sex is unknown or irrelevant - when "there is a cow in the road", for example. 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. Merriam-Webster, a U.S. dictionary, recognizes the non-sex-specific use of "cow" as an alternate definition,[23] whereas Collins, a UK dictionary, does not.[24]

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.[25] 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.

Other terminology

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".[26] 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.[citation needed]


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".

Dairy farming and the milking of cattle - once performed largely by hand, but now usually replaced by machine – exploits the cow's ruminant biology.

Cattle are ruminants, meaning that they have a digestive system that allows use of otherwise indigestible foods by 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 (3,840 lb), a Chianina named Donetto, when he was exhibited at the Arezzo show in 1955.[27] The heaviest steer was eight year old ‘Old Ben’, a Shorthorn/Hereford cross weighing in at 2,140 kilograms (4,720 lb) in 1910.[28] Steers are generally killed before reaching 750 kilograms (1,650 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.[29][30] 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; see also color vision. ). They are able to distinguish some colors, particularly blue from yellow, in the same way as most other non-primate land mammals.[31][32]

Cattle genome

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.[33] 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.[34]

Domestication and husbandry

Texas Longhorns are a U.S. breed

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.

File:Cattle inspected for
A hereford being inspected for ticks; cattle are often restrained or confined in Cattle crushes when given medical attention.

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.[35] Breeders use cattle husbandry to reduce M. bovis infection susceptibility by selective breeding and maintaining herd health to avoid concurrent disease.[36]

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.[37] 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.


[[File:|thumb|Holstein cattle are the primary dairy breed, bred for high milk production.]] 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, couches and clothing, are another widespread product. Cattle remain broadly used as draft animals in many developing countries, such as India.

Environmental impact

[[File:|thumb|Cattle — especially when kept on enormous feedlots such as this one — have been named as a contributing factor in the rise in greenhouse gas emissions.]] A 400-page United Nations report from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) states that cattle farming is "responsible for 18% of greenhouse gases".[38] The production of cattle to feed and clothe humans stresses ecosystems around the world,[37] and is assessed to be one of the top three environmental problems in the world on a local to global scale.[39]

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.[39]

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.[40] 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.[citation needed] Methane is a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, having a warming effect 23 to 50 times greater,[41][42] and according to Takahashi and Young "even a small increase in methane concentration in the atmosphere exerts a potentially significant contribution to global warming".[42] Further analysis of the methane gas produced by livestock as a contributor to the increase in greenhouse gases is provided by Weart.[43] 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.[44][45]

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.[46]

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.[47]


Cow urine is commonly used in India for medical purposes. It is distilled and then consumed by patients seeking treatment for a wide variety of illness. At present, there is no conclusive medical evidence that this has any effect. [48]


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 a mature bovine who has learned to respond appropriately to a teamster's signals. These signals are given by verbal commands or by noise (whip cracks). In North America, the commands are (1) get up, (2) whoa, (3) back up, (4) gee (turn right) and (5) haw (turn left).[citation needed] U.S. ox trainers favored larger males for their ability to work. [[File:|right|thumb|Riding an ox in Hova, Sweden.]] Oxen can pull harder and longer than horses. Though not as fast as horses, they are less prone to injury because they are more sure-footed.

Many oxen are used worldwide, especially in developing countries.

Oxen are also used as food products, including their blood, livers, kidneys, hearts, hides, and tails.

Religion, traditions and folklore

Hindu tradition

[[File:|thumb|In Hinduism, the cow is a symbol of wealth, strength, abundance, selfless giving and a full Earthly life.]] Cattle are venerated within the Hindu religion of India.[clarification needed] According to Vedic scriptures they are to be treated with the same respect 'as one's mother' because of the milk they provide; "The cow is my mother" (Mahabharata)[49] They appear in numerous stories from the Puranas and Vedas. The deity Krishna was brought up in a family of cowherders, and given the name Govinda (protector of the cows). Also Shiva is traditionally said to ride on the back of a bull named Nandi. In ancient rural India every household had a few cows which provided a constant supply of milk and a few bulls that helped as draft animals.[citation needed]

Observant Hindus, even though they might eat meat of other animals, almost always abstain from beef, and the slaughter of cows is considered a heinous sin in mainstream Orthodox Hinduism. Slaughter of cows (including oxen, bulls and calves) is forbidden by law in almost all the states of the Indian Union. Illegal slaughter of cows in India is sometimes the reason for religious riots between Hindus and Muslims. McDonalds outlets in India serve only vegetarian, chicken or fishburgers. At one time the death sentence was imposed for killing a cow in India,[50] and as late as 1960, an individual could serve three months in jail for killing a pedestrian, but one year for injuring a cow, and life imprisonment for killing a cow. [51]

Other traditions

File:UK Durham
Legend of the founding of Durham Cathedral is that monks carrying the body of Saint Cuthbert were led to the location by a milk maid who had lost her dun cow, which was found resting on the spot.
  • The Evangelist St. Luke is depicted as an ox in Christian art.
  • In Judaism, as described in Numbers 19:2, 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 fabricated it for more 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 had to have a registered brand or earmark by May 1, 1644.[52]
  • The akabeko (赤べこ?, red cow) is a traditional toy from the Aizu region of Japan that is thought to ward off illness.[53]
  • 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.[citation needed]
  • The Maasai tribe of East Africa traditionally believe that all cows on earth are the God-given property of the Maasai

In heraldry

Cattle are typically represented in heraldry by the bull.

See also: Ciołek coat of arms


The world cattle population is estimated to be about 1.3 billion head.[1]. India is the nation with the largest number of cattle, about 281,700,000 or 28.29% of the world cattle population, followed by Brazil: 187,087,000, 18.79%; China: 139,721,000, 14.03%; the United States: 96,669,000, 9.71%; EU-27: at 87,650,000, 8.80%; Argentina: 51,062,000, 5.13%; Australia: 29,202,000, 2.93%; South Africa: 14,187,000, 1.42%; Canada: 13,945,000, 1.40% and other countries: 49,756,000 5.00%.[2] Africa has about 20,000,000 head of cattle, many of which are raised in traditional ways and serve partly as tokens of their owner's wealth.

See also


  1. ^ {{broken ref |msg=Cite error: Invalid tag; no text was provided for refs named {{{1|Breeds_of_Cattle_at_CATTLE_TODAY}}}; see Help:Cite errors/Cite error references no text |cat=Pages with broken reference names}}
  2. ^ Cattle Population By Country


  • 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 1-55963-370-0.
  • Clutton-Brock, J. 1999. A Natural History of Domesticated Mammals. Cambridge UK : Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-63495-4.
  • Purdy, Herman R.; R. John Dawes; Dr. Robert Hough (2008). Breeds Of Cattle (2nd ed.).  - 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 0-8018-2525-3
  • 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 0-89658-375-9.
  • Raudiansky, S. 1992. The Covenant of the Wild. New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc. ISBN 0-688-09610-7.
  • 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 0-937548-08-1.
  • Yogananda, P. 1946. The Autobiography of a Yogi. Los Angeles, California, USA: Self Realization Fellowship. ISBN 0-87612-083-4.


Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary



Wikipedia has an article on:



From Middle English catel < Anglo-Norman catel (personal property) < Mediaeval Latin capitale from capitalis (of the head), from caput 'head' + -alis '-al'.




countable and uncountable; plural cattle

cattle (countable and uncountable; plural cattle) (usually used as plural)

  1. Domesticated bovine animals (cows, bulls, steers etc).
    Do you want to raise cattle?
  2. Certain other livestock, such as sheep, pigs or horses.
  3. (pejorative, figuratively) People who resemble domesticated bovine animals in behavior or destiny.
    • 1961, Gerald Hanley, The Journey Homeward[1], page 155:
      "I always knew it, but I always denied it, because I'm one of them, and I'm like them." ¶"We're just cattle," the Prison Governor said, relieved now.
  4. (obsolete, English law, sometimes countable) chattel
    goods and cattle
    • 1552, Parliament of England, An Act for the Uniformity of Common Prayer, and Service in the Church, and Administration of the Sacraments[2]:
      That then every person so offending and convict, shall for his third offence, forfeit to our Sovereign Lady the Queen, all his goods and cattles, and shall suffer imprisonment during his life.
    • 1684, Records of the Colony of New Plymouth, in New England, published 1856:
      1684 July. Mistris Dorothy Gray, Adminnestratrix of the Goods and Cattles of Mr Edward Gray, late of Plymouth, deceased, []
  5. (uncountable, rare) Beef.
    I hate eating cattle.

Usage notes

There is no singular form for "cattle", and the words for the particular types of cattle are used: "bull", "calf" etc.

  • There are five cows and a calf in that herd of cattle.

Where the type is unknown, "cow" is often used (although properly a cow is only an adult female).

  • Is that a cow in the road?

When used as an uncountable noun, the phrase "head of cattle" is used for countable quantities of cattle.

  • He sold 50 head of cattle last year.

However, "cattle" is often used as an ordinary plural rather than as as an uncountable noun.

  • I have fifteen cattle.

In some circumstances the uncountable form is not used.

  • How many cattle? (not how much cattle?).


  • (Scientific): Bos

Derived terms

Related terms


The translations below need to be checked and inserted above into the appropriate translation tables, removing any numbers. Numbers do not necessarily match those in definitions. See instructions at Help:How to check translations.

See also


Simple English

[[File:|thumb|250px|Dairy cattle grazing (eating grass) in a field.]]

Cattle are animals which are mammals and belong to the genus Bos. The word cattle is in the plural, meaning "some cattle" or "many cattle". There is no word in English that means "one cattle".[1] The usual way is to say "cow" or "bull" or "ox".

Cattle are large grass-eating animals with hoofs that are divided into two parts. They have horns which are a simple shape, usually curved upwards but sometimes down. They usually stay together in groups called herds. One male, called a bull will usually have a number of female cows in a herd. The cows give birth to one calf a year. The calves have long strong legs and can walk a few minutes after they are born, so they can follow the herd.

Cattle are native to most tropical and subtropical parts of the world except Australia and New Zealand. Cattle have been domesticated for about 7,000 years. They are used for milk, meat, transport and power.


Word use

[[File:|thumb|200px|Watusi cattle are herded in Africa.]] The word cattle has been used in English for about 1,000 years and the meaning has changed. In books that are written in Old English, such as the King James Version of the Bible, the word is used for all sorts of farm animals, including horses, sheep and goats. The word comes from the Old French word, chattels, meaning all the things that a person owns.

The word cattle is used for some wild animals as well as for domesticated cattle. Wild cattle include the Water Buffalo from South East Asia, the Musk Ox andYak from Central Asia, the Bison of North America and Europe and the African Buffalo. The last Aurochs, wild cattle of Europe, were killed in Masovia, Poland in 1627.

  • This article uses the word cattle in the modern way.
  • This article is about the domestic farm animal, and not the wild cattle which are still found in some parts of the world.
  • The word "head" is used by farmers when they count the number of cattle that they own. A farmer might say "My land runs 5,000 head of cattle." A "head" means one, but the term "one head of cattle" is not usually used. It is easier to say "one cow".
Danish Red cows and calves.

Cattle vocabulary

A male is called a bull. A female that has had a baby is called a cow. A baby is called a calf. Two or more babies are calves. A young female that has not had a calf is called a heifer, (pronounced "heffer").

Because many cows will form a herd with one bull, most male cattle are used for meat. They are castrated by removing the testicles. A castrated male is called a steer or an ox. Steer is the usual word for beef cattle. Ox is the usual word for working cattle.

The adjective that is used to describe something that is like a cow or an ox is "bovine".

The words "cow", "bull" and "calf" are also used to describe some other large animals that are not related to cattle, such as elephants, moose and whales.


Highland Cattle are adapted to cold weather.

Cattle can be found across the world, from snowy Scotland to the dry inland of Australia. Different types of cattle are suited to different environments. Their large wide hoofs are good in both wet areas and dry grassland. Their hairy coat grows much longer in the winter and has an extra fluffy layer to hold the warmth. Most cattle do not sweat, but their wet nose is a cooling system.

Cattle can make a range of noises, usually a gentle "Moo!" When they are angry or upset, they can bellow loudly.

Cattle are grass-eating animals. They are ruminants which means that they have more than one stomach and they digest their food very well. Cattle have very strong tongues and strong lower front teeth that help them to eat grass. After a cow has eaten and is resting, they return the grass from their stomach to their mouth and grind it with their very large back teeth to get all the nourishment from it. This is called "chewing the cud". Other ruminants like deer also do this. It means that cattle do not need as much food as horses, even though they are about the same size.

Young cattle sometimes fight to sort out the order in their herd.

Female cattle, or cows, have large breasts called "udders" which are under the belly and partly between the back legs. The udder is divided into four parts, each with a large "teat" for feeding the calf. Cows usually make more milk than they need for one calf. If the milk is regularly taken from the cow, be hand or by machine, the cow makes more milk. Cows that have a lot of milk are used as dairy cows.

Male cattle, or bulls, can be fierce and dangerous. In the wild, they fight over the herds of cows and use their horns to gore each other. They also protect the herds from other animals such as wolves, jackals and lions. On farms, bulls are usually quieter and can be led by their owners, but they can be aggressive with other bulls and with strangers who might go near the herd.

For this reason, most male cattle are either sent to the butcher while they are still calves or are castrated so that they are not likely to fight. Young steers, or castrated males, can be safely kept together in herds until they are sent to the market for meat.

Uses of cattle

File:Cambodia buffaloes in paddy
Water Buffalo ploughing a rice paddy in Cambodia.

Ever since people started using cattle in Prehistoric times, cattle have been seen as a sign of wealth. In many countries today, particularly in Africa and Asia, a person's wealth is judged by the number of cattle they owned.

Cattle are very useful animals. Their flesh can be eaten as meat. Their milk can be drunk and turned into cheese and yogurt. Their skin can be used as leather. They can pull carts and plows. They can make the power to turn flour mills or pump water. The food that they eat is not expensive.

A prize-winning Ayrshire dairy cow at a show in England.

Dairy cattle

Dairy cattle are kept specially for milking. Herds of cows are kept and are regularly mated with a bull, so that they produce calves. This keeps the milk supply going.

Cows can be milked by hand, but in many countries where there are large dairies, the cows are milked by milking machine. The milk is collected in stainless steel containers and is taken by truck to the Milk Factory to be treated so that any germs are killed. The milk is also separated to remove most of the cream. It is then put into bottles or cartons to be sold. Some milk is turned into cheese and some is turned into yogurt. The cream is also put into bottles and sold. Milk factories often make ice cream as well.

Large dairy herds are usually kept in places where there is a good supply of grass and the fields are quite small. This is because the cows are brought in for milking every day.

[[File:|thumb|200px|Friesians are well-known dairy cattle.]] Many types of cattle are used for milk. They include:-

  • the Holstein-Friesian, which is black and white with short inward-curving horns.
  • the Ayshire, which is very large, red and white with long up-curving horns.
  • the Australian Illawarra Shorthorn, which is usually red with short inward-curving horns.
  • the Jersey, which is small and dun-colored with black legs and eye patches. They do not give as much milk as the other breeds, but it is famous for the amount of cream.
  • the Guernsey, which is pale red and white, and also give a lot of cream.
  • the Swiss, which is short-legged and grey, and famous for the sweetness of its milk.
In many places owning cattle is a sign of wealth.

Beef cattle

Beef cattle are kept specifically to provide meat. Steers are the best for this purpose because they can be kept in herds, without fighting each other. The cows of beef cattle are used to raise calves for meat. They are not usually used for milk, although some types of cattle, such as the Red Devon are used for both.

Beef cattle can be let loose to graze over a big area, because they do not have to be brought in every day like dairy cattle. The biggest farms in the world are cattle stations in Australia, ranches in North America and ranchos in Latin America where they run beef cattle.

Until the mid 20th century, beef cattle were often sent to market on the hoof. Cowboys or drovers would herd the cattle along the roads to the cattle markets in big towns. In Australia, sometimes the cattle would travel for hundreds of miles along roads known as Travelling Stock Routes. Big herds would have thousands of head of cattle. (Cattle are counted by the "head".) Nowadays cattle are usually sent to the market in huge lorries known as road-trains.

[[File:|thumb|200px|A Symonds bull used for breeding beef cattle.]] The meat of a young beast is called veal and from an older beast, beef. Meat that is cut into flat pieces for frying or grilling is called steak. Every part of a beast can be used. The skin becomes leather. The meat which is not used by humans becomes pet food and everything that is left over becomes garden fertilizer.

Types of cattle that are used for beef:-

  • Hereford, which are large red and white cattle, with white faces and spreading horns. Some Herefords have no horns.
  • Aberdeen Angus, which are small black cattle. Hereford heifers are often mated with an Angus bull so that their first calf is small and easy to give birth to.
  • Brahmans are very large cattle originating in Asia. Unlike most cattle they have humps to store food and can sweat in hot weather. Brahmans are often crossed with other breeds to give Brahfords and Brangus.
Brahman steers with a load of sugar cane in India.


Oxen are cattle trained as work animals. The word "ox" is used to describe just one. They are usually castrated males (steers), but in many poor countries, dairy cows are also used for work.

Usually, an ox is over four years old and grown to full size when it begins to work. Oxen are used for pulling plows and wagons, for hauling heavy loads like logs, for grinding grain by trampling it or for powering different machines such as mills and irrigation pumps.

Texas Longhorn steers were used to pull heavy wagons in the USA.

Oxen are most often used in teams of two for light work such as plowing. In past days, very large teams of fourteen to twenty oxen were used for heavy work such as logging. The oxen are put into pairs and each pair must work together. A wooden yoke is put about the neck of each pair, so that the work is shared across their shoulders. Oxen are chosen from calves with horns, since the horns hold the yoke in place when the oxen lower their heads, back up or slow down.

Oxen must be trained from a young age. The owner must make or buy as many as a dozen yokes of different sizes as the animals grow. Ox teams are steered by shouted commands, whistles or the noise of a whip crack. Men who drove ox teams were called teamsters in America, wagoners in Britain, or in Australia, bullockies. Many bullockies and teamsters were famous for their voices and for their foul language.

Oxen can pull harder and longer than horses, especially for very large loads. They are not as fast as horses, but they are less often injured. Many oxen are still in use all over the world, especially in poor countries.


File:In Tibet, yaks are decorated and honored by the families they are part
In Tibet, the Yaks are treated with honour by their owners.
  • According to Hinduism, the cow is holy, and should not be eaten: "the cow is our Mother, for she gives us her milk." See: sacred cow.
  • In Portugal, Spain and some Latin American countries, bulls are used for the sport of bullfighting. In many other countries, this is illegal.
  • A mistaken idea about cattle (mostly bulls) is that they become angry when they see the color red]. This is not correct. Cattle cannot see tell red from greencolors, and probably have limited other color vision. This mistake comes from Matadors (bull-fighters), that have always used red cloth to make bulls attack, in Spanish-speaking culture. But really, red is only used as a tradition. Also, the color red makes people excited by making them think of blood. The bull just gets angry at the waving motion of the cape. If you wave a cape of any color at a bull, it will get angry.
  • 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.

Some close-up pictures


Other pages

Other websites

Look up Bos taurus in Wikispecies, a directory of species
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