the cow

cow facts

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"… there is approximately one cow for every seven people on Earth…"

Cows are animals found all over the world. They were domesticated by humans over 10,000 years ago for work, dairy, meat and more. Yet scientists are still gaining insight into their complex brains and emotions. These suave giants range in weight from 700 pounds to the size of a car, and some have long horns, humps on their backs, colorful patterns, or other incredible features! While "cow" technically refers only to females, the term is generally used to describe any animal of the species, regardless of sex. The technically correct term for a group of animals in this species is "cattle".

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cow facts

  • The largest cows grow to nearly two tons and are as big as a car!
  • By number, dairy cows are the second largest livestock in the world!
  • A single cow can produce over seven gallons of milk per day!
  • Cows are sacred in parts of India, where their slaughter is generally prohibited.

Check out more incredible facts about cows.

cow looking at camera
By number, dairy cows are the second largest livestock in the world!

©Alena Demidyuk/Shutterstock.com

Scientific name, history and evolution

The scientific name of the cow is Bos taurus . Bos Taurus is the largest of the bovids . The two main subspecies of dairy cows are the Indian ox and the golden ox (or Bos taurus taurus). Indicus' roots can be traced back to South Asia, especially modern India. Meanwhile, the origin of Taurus can be traced back to Europe.



The predecessor of the modern dairy cow was the bison. The bison is an undomesticated cattle that lived in what is now Turkey and Pakistan. As cows were domesticated, they were crossbred and soon began spreading to different civilizations. Genetics of cattle brought to the Americas during Spanish colonial times bear traces of different bovine lineages, showing a historical mixing of African and European dairy breeds, researchers have found.

The predecessor of the modern dairy cow was the bison.

©Tito Slack/Shutterstock.com

appearance and behavior

A cow is an animal that comes in many breeds, colors, sizes and even shapes! Adult cows stand on four hoofed feet and weigh, on average, a little less than a small car—about 1,500 pounds. This varies by breed, from Chianina cows that grow to over 3,700 pounds, to Dexter cows that grow up to about 750 pounds. These breeds are six feet and three feet tall at the shoulder, respectively.

Most cows have a thin coat of setae, but some breeds have longer hairs. These skin and hair combinations come in many different patterns. The Holstein cow is the most famous breed and has an irregular black and white shape with a white stripe between the eyes. "Red" Holstein cows have brown or reddish-brown patches instead of black. Angus cattle are black from head to tail. Highland cattle are characterized by long, shaggy brownish red hair. Although there are hundreds of varieties with different markings, most have variations in gray, brown, black and white leather.

Indian cattle of any breed share another characteristic: the "hump." The bump on the back of the neck of these cows is the easiest way to distinguish them from Taurus cows.

Almost all cattle have horns. These breeds vary in length and shape. The Texas Longhorn is easily recognizable by its horns, which extend almost straight out of the sides of its head, each about 3 feet long. In fact, Texas Longhorns hold the Guinness World Record for the length of their horns, measuring more than 10 feet from tip to tip. A Brahman cow, meanwhile, has horns about six inches long, rising from the top of the head and back. The horns of English longhorns are mostly downward facing and curved like goat horns.

A herd of cattle is called a cow. A herd of cattle is a herd. Check out this article to learn more about herd names and how they work.

cow staring at camera
Cows are animals that come in many breeds, colors and sizes.

Types of cows and cattle

There are more than 250 different types of dairy cows worldwide, with approximately 80 breeds available to US ranchers alone.

Here are some of the top dairy cow breeds:

  • Angus – Angus cattle, also known as "Aberdeen Angus," are the most common breed of beef cattle in the United States. There are over 330,000 registered Black Angus cows. One reason the breed is so popular is its meaty characteristics, which have a full-bodied flavor and lots of marbling. Another positive aspect of this breed is that they are very self-sufficient like calves. These cows are also very good at being mothers.
  • Belted Galloway The Belted Galloway, also known as the "Oreo", is named for its white stripes surrounded by a black head and rump. While most look for their color, they do produce excellent lean beef.
  • Brahman – The Brahman comes from India and is actually the most abundant breed of dairy cow in the world. They stand out by the prominent hump on their shoulders. They also have extra skin under their throat area to keep them warm.
  • Charolais – Charolais cow is originally from France. They have a light colored coat and are bred for plotting purposes such as field work but also for milk and beef. They are known for being hardy and hardy.
  • Dexter – The Dexter cow comes from Ireland and is one of the smaller versions of the cow. Valued for their gentle nature and size, they require less acreage to manage. Additionally, they provide the most milk per pound compared to other cattle breeds.
  • English Longhorn – The English Longhorn is a versatile cattle breed known for being easy to keep and used as a working animal as well as for beef and dairy. Also known as the English Longhorn. The breed originated in Craven, England in the 1700's and was primarily used as a draft animal (or working animal). The breed can now be found almost anywhere on Earth and is known for its long horns on either side of its head.
  • Fleckvieh – Fleckvieh cattle are dual purpose and are raised for meat and milk production. They became popular in the 1800s and originated in Austria, but are now found in parts of Europe, the United States, and South America. These cattle were crossed from local livestock with Simmental cattle native to Switzerland around the 1830s. Simmental cattle are known for producing high-quality milk and meat. Plus, they are highly immune to disease, making them an ideal breed.
  • Gelbvieh – Gelbvieh cows come from Bavaria, Germany and are used for various purposes. Through artificial insemination, they were introduced into the American cattle herd in the 1970's for their strong farrowing and maternal qualities.
  • Hereford – Hereford cows can be found in a variety of climates around the world, making them a popular breed. After all, they are an extremely adaptable dairy breed. Herefords are popular in the United States because of their early maturity and good fattening. It is not uncommon for Herefords to be docile, easy to breed, good milk producers, and very reliable mothers.
  • Holstein – Holstein cows are black and white and when you think of stereotypical cows they probably come to mind. This breed is called Holstein Friesian. The reason this breed is so popular is that it is often used in advertisements for dairy products. These cows consistently produce large quantities of high-quality milk. Therefore, they are often raised as dairy cows in order to continue to produce milk.
  • Limousin – The Limousin is an ancient breed of cattle that can even be seen in cave paintings tens of thousands of years old. Originally from France, these cows have reddish and golden coats. They are now abundant on ranches in the United States and Canada.
  • Linebacker – Named for the line down the middle of its back, the Linebacker or Randall's Linebacker is a critically endangered rare breed of cattle that is currently protected from extinction in the United States. Like most other cattle breeds, they are used for dairy and beef and are generally low maintenance. Linebacker cattle are easy to spot because of a thick white line on their back.
  • Nelore – The Nelore cattle breed originated from the Ongole cattle breed in India. Their main uses are to produce meat and milk, as well as to ride animals and draft water. The Nelore is a widespread breed that accounts for more than half of the world's total beef producing population. The breed is sought after not only for its tasty beef, but also for its toughness, tolerance to heat, insects, swelling, and prolific reproductive life.
  • Nguni – The Nguni cattle are native to the southern regions of Africa. They are widely known and admired for their eye-catching speckled and multi-patterned leathers. This cattle breed is also known for its good temperament and ability to withstand harsh weather conditions. The Nguni cattle originated from the crossing of various Indian and European breeds. They are sought after for their excellent natural immunity to tick-borne diseases.
  • Piedmont Cattle – Piedmont cattle are known for their superior muscle genetics. They build muscle mass faster than other breeds. They are also hardy and resistant to many diseases. They originated thousands of years ago in Italy, the product of breeding two ancient breeds of cattle: the Pakistani zebu and the European bison. They were later incorporated into American ranches and are an important source of many Italian cheeses.
  • Red Angus – Originally a Scottish breed, the Red Angus is a cross between a red English Longhorn and a Black Angus. The goal is to create working animals. Only a few of the resulting offspring are red. Eventually, American ranchers managed to breed red offspring together to strengthen the Red Angus breed into what it is today.
  • Scottish Highlands – Scottish Highland cattle originally hail from the high altitudes of the scenic Scottish Highlands, and the breed is now bred worldwide for meat production. From its behavior and physical characteristics, it is very typical of the cattle breed. But the Highland cattle also have many distinctive traits, including a powerful physique and incredibly long coat.
  • Shorthorn – The shorthorn comes from the British Isles and is also known as the Durham cattle. This was a popular breed with early American settlers because they were known to be easy to manage, long-lived, and easy to reproduce. All of these qualities helped them become the cattle of choice for early Americans, who needed cows as working animals as well as for dairy and meat production. Some are naturally polled, some are angular.
  • Simmental – Simmental cattle. Of all the cattle breeds, the Simmental is one of the oldest and most widespread. American beef cattle farmers have benefited from the introduction of these red and white cattle since the late 19th century. Due to their large size, they need little help during the calving season and gain weight rapidly.
  • Senepol – Senepol cows are a specialty breed from St. Croix, one of the U.S. Virgin Islands. Breeders created them by selectively breeding N'Dama cattle from Senegal and English redhead cattle from the island. Identifying these animals is not difficult. Their distinctive red color and lack of horns, among many other desirable qualities. Breeders raise Senepol cattle to produce first-class milk and meat. They happen to be one of the most popular breeds of cattle.
  • Texas Longhorn – The Texas Longhorn is one of America's most iconic animals. In the western United States, these mammoths became hardy, hardy, parasite and disease resistant, able to sustain themselves in a rougher vegetative life than many other breeds of cattle. They were nearly wiped out by ranchers in the early 20th century through overhybridization, but the longhorn population has recovered.
  • Watusi – Watusi cows, known as "African Ankole-Watusi", come from the Nile Valley and can be traced back more than 5,000 years. These are known for their amazingly large horns, which can be seen on ancient drawings from Egypt. Naturally, the Watusi breed can thrive in warmer environments, and their horns actually help cool the blood of the cow by increasing circulation.
  • Welsh Black – Welsh Black is one of the oldest breeds in England, existing in pre-Roman England. Welsh black cattle have been raised in England and Wales for around 1,000 years for dairy and beef production. There are two main types of the breed: the northern breed, known for its beef, and the southern breed, known for its dairy products. Welsh black cattle as they are known today are a combination of northern and southern breeds, best suited for beef production.
  • Wagyu – Possibly the most valuable cow today is Wagyu. Their beef has a unique flavor and unparalleled marbling. It is sought after in fine dining restaurants all over the world. There are four types of Wagyu breeds: Japanese pollen, Japanese shorthorn, Japanese brown, and finally Japanese black, which is most common in Japan. What do wagyu eat? They eat more than 15 types of food
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intelligence and emotion

Recent research has found that cows are very intelligent, complex animals! They can learn, have memories, figure things out, and even tell one cow from another. They also have personalities, with scientists documenting cows who are bold, shy, playful, and other traits.

Cows also show emotion. More whites of their eyes can be seen when they are scared or anxious, such as when a mother is separated from her calf. Also, when they feel good, their ears hang looser. Their moods are also influenced by the moods of other cows, in what scientists call "emotional contagion." For example, a cow may eat less or act more anxious simply because other cows in the herd are frightened or injured.

Cows' moods are influenced by the moods of other cows in what scientists call "emotional contagion."

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Habitat

Cows are animals that can survive in many climates and places. The Indian subspecies are better suited to tropical environments, while Taurus cows can easily survive winter climates. In general, cows need access to wide open spaces so they can graze. Whether in the mountains, the jungle, or the open plains, cows can adapt to many different environments.

diet

Cows are herbivores, which means they eat grass and other plants. Because of their very unique feeding style, cows can eat a variety of tough grasses. Cows will first bite a plant or grass and then swallow it whole. This unchewed food does not enter its first stomach until later. When the cow finds a quiet place, it will start spitting the plants back into its mouth. This vomit is called "rumination," and the cows chew the cud into smaller pieces for further digestion.

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Cows eat grass, barley, grains and canola meal.

Predators and Threats

Predators of cattle include dogs, coyotes, bobcats and similar animals. Because most cows are on farms, the threat of predators is usually minimal. For example, only 2% of dairy cow deaths in the United States are due to predators. Most predators are dogs, followed by coyotes.

An even bigger threat to cows is disease. Because cows live in groups, one sick cow can quickly infect other cows. Depending on the type of infection, this can cause major problems. For example, some fear a resurgence of foot-and-mouth disease (FMD). Foot-and-mouth disease doesn't affect humans, but it can wreak havoc on dairy cows. FMD travels easily for miles and can quickly infect an entire herd.

The government takes dairy cow diseases very seriously. In 2003, reports that some U.S. cattle were infected with a disease known as "mad cow disease" led governments to not allow U.S. beef into their countries. This has cost cattle farmers an estimated $11 billion in lost sales.

Flakeway Cattle
Fleckvieh cattle are typically herd animals. The reasoning behind this behavior is to protect from predators and work together to find water and food.

© Clara Bastian/Shutterstock.com

Reproduction, Babies and Longevity

Cows start their lives after nine months of pregnancy. After live birth, the babies, known as calves, will nurse for several months before being weaned. Babies are usually able to walk shortly after birth. It takes about one to two years for a cow to grow old enough to start bearing her own young. Cows usually give birth one calf at a time.

Most farm cows are captive-bred—that is, with sperm implanted into the cow. This helps farmers avoid certain genetic problems.

Adult cows give birth to a calf every two years or so. While the natural lifespan of a cow can exceed twenty years, most do not live beyond ten years. This is because most dairy cows are part of a farm operation, and after a few years of milking, the cows are usually processed for meat.

Irish cows and calves
Calves are usually able to walk shortly after birth, and it takes about one to two years for a cow to be old enough to start bearing her own children

© Jane Stanley/Shutterstock.com

population

Numbering over 1.4 billion, there is roughly one cow for every seven people on Earth. This makes cows and cattle the second most numerous farm animals in the world. While there are bison in some areas, most cattle are domesticated. This means they were raised on a farm.

While dairy cows are generally not at risk, some breeds are significantly less affected than others. Various conservation groups work to preserve rare breeds of dairy cattle, such as Dexter.

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about the author

heather ross


Heather Ross is a middle school English teacher and mother of 2 people, 2 tuxedo cats and a golden doodle. In between taking the kids to soccer practice and grading homework, she loves reading and writing about all things animals!

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Cow FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

What is the Difference Between Bison and Cow?

The key difference between bison and cows is their body size. The back of the bison has a huge hump, a huge head, and a neck that is integrated with the body. In contrast, cows are smaller, with a more pronounced neck and wider belly.

What is the Difference Between Buffalo and Cow?

Buffaloes and cows are very different in color, size and horns. Buffaloes are larger and taller than cattle, with long horns growing horizontally from the sides of their heads.

Are cows female?

Technically, a "cow" is a cow that has given birth at least once. Before giving birth, a cow is called a "heifer". Many people also use the word "cow" when talking about a bull or a cow. Cattle, however, is a generic term for any member of the herd.

What is the purpose of a cow?

In most parts of the world, cows are used to produce milk. After a cow gives birth, farmers feed the calf with special milk called colostrum for the first month or two it gives birth. After that, the cows will spend about 10 months producing about 7 gallons of regular milk per day.

How many stomachs does a cow have?

A cow has four separate stomachs. The first two stomachs store mostly unchewed food while the cow waits for a better moment. When given time, the cow will chew the food in these stomachs more thoroughly, called "rumination," and then swallow it into one of the other two stomachs to complete digestion.

Where do cows come from?

Cows were domesticated as early as 10,000 years ago from an animal called the Auroch. The bison, which was about twice the size of a modern cow, is now extinct. The bison domesticated from South Asia became the bos taurus indicus subspecies of cattle, and the bison domesticated from Europe became the bos taurus taurus subspecies.

Are cattle herbivores, carnivores, or omnivores?

Cows are herbivores, which means they eat plants.

To which kingdom do cows belong?

Cows belong to the animal kingdom.

What door do cows belong to?

Cows belong to the phylum Chordate.

Which category do cows belong to?

Cows belong to the class Mammalia.

What family does the cow belong to?

Dairy cows belong to the family Bovidae.

What order do the cows belong to?

Cows belong to the order Artiodactyla.

What genus do cows belong to?

Cows belong to the genus Bos.

What type of habitat do cows live in?

Cattle live in forests and grasslands.

What is the main prey for cows?

Cows prey on grasses, seeds and flowers.

What are the distinctive features of a cow?

Cows have thick hides and complex digestive systems.

Who are the natural enemies of cattle?

Natural enemies of cows include humans, bears and wolves.

What is the average litter size for a dairy cow?

The average litter size for a cow is 1.

What are some interesting facts about cows?

There are almost 1.5 million dairy cows in the world!

What is the scientific name of the cow?

The scientific name of the cow is Bos Taurus.

What is the lifespan of a cow?

Cows can live 12 to 20 years.

How fast is a cow?

Cattle can travel as fast as 25 miles per hour.

Bulls vs Cows: Key Differences

The main difference between bulls and cows is their sex, size and morphology. A bull is a mature bull while a cow is a mature cow that has given birth to at least one calf. Also, bulls are larger than cows because cows are sexually dimorphic. Bulls have more muscle and thicker bones, so they are larger in height and weight.

Heifers vs Dairy Cows: What's the Difference?

The main difference between a heifer and a cow is that a heifer is a mature cow that has not given birth to any calves, heifers. The term dairy cow refers specifically to an adult cow that has had a calf at some point in her life.

Steer vs Cow: What are the main differences?

The biggest difference between steers and cows is their sex, purpose and morphology. Steers are mature bulls after castration, while cows are mature cows. Calves are raised for meat and cattle are also raised for slaughter, to produce more calves, to produce milk.

Cattle vs. Cattle: The Key Differences

The biggest difference between cows and cows is their sex, purpose and age. In the vast majority of cases, the cattle are bulls, but if the owner needs a working animal and does not have a bull, a cow can be used. Cows are female by definition, and there is no wiggle room with this term. Cattle are trained from a very young age to be draft animals, and they are raised just to work. Cows are raised to have calves, produce milk, and then slaughtered for consumption.

What is the main difference between goat's milk and cow's milk?

The main difference between goat's milk and cow's milk is the nutrition they provide as well as common allergies and restrictions.

What is the Difference Between Bison and Cow?

The main difference between bison and cattle is that the bison is extinct and is the ancient ancestor of the cattle whereas the modern cattle are found all over the world and are extremely common.

how do cows say in

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source
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  2. Tom Jackson, Lorenz Books (2007) Encyclopedia of World Animals
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