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 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 (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"), banteng and gaur. Hybrids (such as the beefalo breed) 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 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.

Word origin

Cattle did not originate as the term for bovine animals. It was borrowed from Old Frenchcatel, 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). 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).

The word cow came via Anglo-Saxon cū (plural cȳ), from Common Indo-European gʷōusgenitive gʷowes) = "a bovine animal", compare Persian Gâv, Sanskrit go, Welsh buwch.

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, when used without any other qualifier, the modern meaning of "cattle" 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 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 ChianinaArezzo show in 1955. The heaviest steer was eight year old ‘Old Ben', a Shorthorn/Hereford cross weighing in at 2,140 kilograms (4,720 lb) in 1910. 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). The oldest recorded cow, Big Bertha, died at the age of 48 in 1993. named Donetto, when he was exhibited at the

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 receptorscone 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 in the