Domestic cattle

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Domestic cattle
Brown Swiss

Brown Swiss

Subordination : Ruminants (ruminantia)
without rank: Forehead weapon bearer (Pecora)
Family : Horned Bearers (Bovidae)
Subfamily : Bovinae
Genre : Real cattle ( Bos )
Type : Domestic cattle
Scientific name
Bos taurus
Linnaeus , 1758

The domestic cattle or simply cattle ( Bos taurus ) is the domesticated form of the Eurasian aurochs . It was domesticated first because of its meat , later also because of its milk and performance as a draft animal . Since then, humans have bred a number of different breeds of cattle , some of which have also been crossed with wild cattle (such as the American bison in the Beefalo ). Cattle are top walkers and ungulates .

The zebus ( Bos indicus ) are derived from the Indian form of the aurochs. In order to distinguish between breeds of zebuine origin, the domestic cattle common in Europe are called taurine cattle . Zebus were also listed as a separate species ( Bos namadicus ) by some authors , which is not fully shared due to the similarity with the other aurochs types and the unrestricted cross-ability of the zebus with taurine domestic cattle.

In Asia in particular , other animals have been domesticated that descend from other species, such as the Bali cattle ( Bos javanicus f. Domestica) from the Banteng ( Bos javanicus ), the Gayal ( Bos gaurus f. Frontalis) from the Gaur ( Bos gaurus ) and the house yak ( Bos mutus f. grunniens) from the wild yak ( Bos mutus ).

In contrast to the previously mentioned species , which belong to the genus Bos ( actual cattle ), the water buffalo ( Bubalus arnee ) belongs to the genus Bubalus ( Asian buffalo ). The domestic buffalo was bred from it.


Live reconstruction of the aurochs: bull (left), cow (right)
The zebu (humpback cattle) is considered a descendant of the Indian wild cattle Bos namadicus
Buša beef

Today it is assumed that the taurine domestic cattle, which are usually kept in Europe and North America, originally come from Anatolia and the Middle East , where the aurochs, Bos primigenius , also occurred. DNA examinations showed that the ancestors of the taurine cattle and the zebus were genetically different and thus domesticated independently of each other.

The domestication of taurine Domestic Cattle already took place around 10,000 years ago. Confirmation is that around this time, arable farmers, cattle and other livestock, which at that time did not differ externally from wild animals, came to Cyprus , which had previously been cattle-free . The zebus were bred from the Indian form of the wild cattle ( Bos namadicus ), in some cases this wild form is also regarded as a subspecies of the aurochs.

In 2012, an international research group around scientists from the University of Mainz found that today's taurine cattle ultimately descended from 80 female animals from the “fertile crescent” . Introgression of male and sometimes even individual female aurochs into the gene pool of European domestic cattle is not excluded or even suggested by some studies.

With domestication, the anatomy of the aurochs was significantly changed. Not only was the selection made for the easiest specimens, but also for the most productive ones. As a result, the cattle rump became longer and bulkier, the legs shorter and the udder larger and often hairless. The once curved back with the strong neck and shoulders of the wild cattle became straight and low. Many cattle also have a pedomorphic "calf face", i. H. a shortened muzzle and forehead. Many of the so-called high-performance cattle also have stunted horns. New colors appeared in domestic cattle, for example due to the lack of pigments or the piebald pattern typical of domestic animals. Typical for domestic cattle is an often dramatic reduction in sex dimorphism in terms of size and coat color, which may still be present in some original breeds.

The degree of breeding modification of domestic cattle depends on the form of agriculture and the intended use. Some cattle in southern Europe, especially Iberia , are partly very original in their anatomy due to the fact that they are kept very extensive in places . They are robust enough to live freely in the pasture all year round and hardly receive any additional feeding. They have small udders and long-legged stature. Often an original horn shape is still present. Genetically oldest cattle species in Europe are the Buša of the Balkan Peninsula. They have a haplogroup that was otherwise only found in Neolithic cattle. No other domestic cattle species had so far brought a genetic trait to these Neolithic ancestral forms of today's domesticated domestic cattle. Another characteristic of the Buša cattle, which were no longer selected in historical times, is their high genetic diversity, which is higher than in any other European cattle breed. This trait is important for maintaining the functional and genetic diversity of cattle breeds worldwide.

Strong approaches like Sayaguesa , Pajuna or Maronesa also have the curved back line. The Spanish fighting cattle , since it was bred primarily for fighting lust, was also little modified and still shows clear similarities to the aurochs.

Since some cattle breeds are closer to their original form than others, the idea of ​​back-breeding a cattle corresponding to the aurochs has long been around. The Heck cattle was the first result of this breeding method known as image breeding, but its authenticity is often found to be inadequate. Other projects are the Taurus cattle , the TaurOs Project and the Auerrind project .


Young animals

Calf and young cattle

Not yet ripe breeding ( juvenile ) pups are up to the seventh month as a calf called and eighth from to twelfth month then as a heifer . The first signs of oestrus appear between the ages of six and twelve months and indicate sexual maturity . Since the young cattle are not physically built for occupancy at this age, they are only admitted at an age of 15 to 20 months. Then they have a live weight of around 350 to 400 kilograms.

At the age of about four to twelve months, the young animal is also called eater (depending on gender, bull or heifer eater , if it comes from two different breeds, cross eater ), provided it comes from dairy farming . The mother cattle of an eater is therefore a dairy cow . As the term eater suggests, from this age onwards, the animal is no longer dependent on the mother's milk or so-called milk replacers. It only feeds on roughage and concentrated feed . The more intensive the keeping, the earlier the weaning from the mother and the milk takes place:

  • Dairy farming: two to three months
  • Suckler cow husbandry: four to six months

Accordingly, sooner or later the animal will be called an eater .


In contrast, weaners - also calves or young cattle - come from the production process of beef cattle farming . They are usually reared with the mother cattle up to the time of weaning (at the age of six to eleven months) and then marketed as weaners or fed on until they are used in breeding or fattened until slaughter .

Female cattle (adult)


Beef cow in Mecklenburg

A mature ( adult ) female cattle is inseminated at around 18 months (less often covered ) and thus has a first calving age of around 27 months. Until then, it is called heifer or in southern German / Austrian calf or calf . Other regional names are for example Quie / Quiene, Starke / Sterke and Queen / Queene / Beijst / Beijste in Northern Germany as well as Swiss German Galtlig, Guschti / Gusti and Manse / Mänsche / Meis u. Ä. In the Allgäu region, female young animals are called Schump (e) .


Summer dairy cows on the Simplon Pass in Valais

Only after the first calving is the sexually mature female domestic cattle referred to as a cow (a very old word: Old High German kuo , Indo-European * g u ou- ). If the cow is used for milk or meat production, it is also known as a dairy cow . A cow that only raises its calf is called a suckler cow . A cow that (also) raises calves from other people is called a nurse cow . In Alemannic and Romance-speaking Alpine dialects, the cow is also referred to as a praise .

Carving calf

A sterilized female cow (of any age) is called a carved calf . This also includes female animals from twin births in which one of the twin calves is a bull (Zwicke, Freemartin ). The developing hormonal balance of the bull calf prevents the complete formation of the ovaries in its twin sister via connections between the blood vessels ( anastomoses ) of both placentas , so that female calves from bisexual twin births are 95% sterile.

Male cattle (adult)

Bull / bull


The sexually mature male domestic cattle is called a bull, in Germany also a bull, and is also known as a semen ox, semen cattle, bullock (from Middle High German phar / var ), bullock , Fasel or Faselochse (older also: barrel ox ), in South Baden , Allgäu and partly Swiss German as Hage, Hägel, Häge, Hägi, Haigel, also in Swiss German as Muni and in Swabian as (the) Hummel, which explains the swear word hummeldumm ("stupid as a bull").

A distinction is made between fattening bulls and breeding bulls .

A sexually mature but still young male cattle up to a maximum age of 24 months is referred to as a young bull or young bull according to the EU regulation . The three-year-old bull is named as a third .


A castrated male cattle of any age is called an ox . A bull sterilized by moving the testicles to the abdominal wall is called a Muchse .

Other names

  • Young cattle : Contrary to the definition for calves and young cattle described above, the term young cattle is broader and includes not only the aforementioned (juvenile) but also young bulls and heifers (both adults).
  • Galtvieh (from Old High German was "bewitched", since sterile cattle were considered bewitched ), also called Gelt and Gustvieh (see above "Galtlig"):
    • female cattle until the first calving (i.e. female calves, female young cattle and heifers),
    • Bulls and oxen under two years of age,
    • Carved calves as well
    • no milk-giving suckler cows, as happens especially between two lactation periods ( dry cows ).
  • Milking cattle : is (female) cattle that are milked .
  • Gold Cattle : supporting mother cows is known regionally and gold cattle .

Domestic cattle and people


Dehorned cattle
Young cattle with a horn guide
Cows, painting by Anton Braith from the Braith-Mali-Museum in Biberach / Riß

Domestic cattle are useful to humans in several ways, with some breeds being specially bred for one or more specific uses. A distinction is made between the dual purpose races and the milk and meat races. In addition to milk, meat , leather or skins , cattle provide liquid manure or liquid manure and dung , which play an important role in agriculture as natural fertilizers or as fuel and building material, and oxen in particular are still used as draft animals for carts in many parts of the world or an important function for plowing . Furthermore, robust breeds such as the Scottish highland cattle , Hungarian steppe cattle , Heck cattle , Galloway cattle or southern European primitive races such as Sayaguesa are an important factor in landscape maintenance and nature conservation ( alpine farming ).

In the case of the cattle themselves, a distinction can be made between milk production and meat production . There are breeds that were mainly bred for one of the two directions of use, but there are also those in which both directions of use are cultivated (= double use, DN). The differences between the two directions are genetic. The specialization on individual performance traits began in the 18th century when breeders like Robert Bakewell improved local breeds, which played a role primarily in subsistence farming , through a selective selection of qualitatively outstanding parent animals.

Dairy cattle

High milk yield breeds typically show high levels of endogenously synthesized growth hormone ( somatotropin , BST ). Typical dairy cattle breeds are for example Holstein-Friesian (= Red and Black Holstein , HF), Brown Swiss (= Brown Swiss, BS) or Fleckvieh (= Simmentaler, FV) as dual-purpose cattle .

See also: dairy farming

Beef cattle

Beef cattle have a more favorable structure of the meat (fibrous structure, marbling ). In the past, male animals were castrated to improve their meat and thus turned into oxen. In Germany today this is only common in extensive forms of husbandry. Both male and female animals are slaughtered. Common meat breeds are, for example, Hereford , Charolais and Limousin , as well as other, more regionally common breeds such as Angus and Galloway . When it comes to meat production, a distinction is made between breeds that show rapid growth but are not necessarily large (e.g. Limousin) and breeds that reach a high final weight (e.g. Charolais).

Cult object

In many pasture-based or nomadic cultures, domestic cattle are a status symbol and yardstick of wealth. Slaughter is therefore usually not an option there. In India in particular , domestic cattle are revered religiously to this day .

Sculptures of the bulls

Trademark, figure

The bull or bull, engl. bull often symbolizes power, strength, endurance, the pink energy drink Red Bull and the sculpture Charging Bull in New York's stock exchange district are known.

The cow - on the pasture or alpine pasture - is often a trademark for milk and milk products, the purple cow is particularly well known for Milka milk chocolate.

Force measuring amusement machines that used to be more common at fairs typically have bull horns which, after inserting coins, have to be gripped with the hands and pressed together.

Antiserum supplier

Before the development of human antisera , the sequence horse , cattle, mutton applied to the exclusively available animal sera . In this way, a sensitization through foreign protein should be avoided. This recommendation was valid until the last third of the 20th century.

Prominent domestic cattle

Some cattle became more famous for their performance or characteristics:

  • Osborndale Ivanhoe (1952–1963) - about 100,000 offspring
  • Herman (1990-2004) - transgenic bull
  • Kian (1997-2013) - more than 1 million sperm servings
  • Toystory (2001-2014) - more than 2 million sperm servings
  • Yvonne (2005–2019) - three-month escape 2011, EM oracle 2012
  • Goldwyn (2000 - -) father of many well-known show cows and stock cows (James x Storm x Grand)
  • Starbuck (- - -) progenitor 2.0

See also: Individual beef

Cow names

Depending on national legislation, cows have an identification number , like in the EU in the form of an ear tag. Naming by name is therefore not required. However, many cows have individual names. This is mainly done as a memory aid, for example to clarify relationships with the same initial letters. The regional board of trustees of the producer rings for animal processing (LKV) creates the basic principles for the allocation of cow names and the "directory of cow names" in book form. In herdbook breeding , most breeding animals have names that are often preceded by a letter combination as an incorrectly so-called company suffix. American cow and bull names often include parents' names such as Jenny-Lou Mrshl Toystory-ET that of his mother Jenny-Lou and his father Marshall. Osborndale Ivanhoe had put the farm name of the Osborndale farm in front.


Male domestic cattle were and are shown in particular in Spain, Portugal, southern France as well as in former Spanish colonies and Spanish-influenced regions in Latin America at show events in which they fight a person, so-called bullfights . These are sometimes fatal for animals, but sometimes also for humans. The same applies - to a lesser extent - to bull hunting .

Female cattle, on the other hand, are far more peaceful than males, but individual breeds are certainly used for cowfighting . Suckler cows are a major exception, as they see their calf in unjustified danger and rarely have contact with people. It becomes particularly dangerous if the person also has a dog on a leash and a whole herd of cattle is together. Several cases have already been documented in which cows killed people. For example, at the end of July 2014, a German holidaymaker (with a dog on a leash ) was attacked by 20 cows and trampled to death on an alpine pasture in the Tyrolean Stubai Valley ( Pinnisbach ). Criminal investigations were discontinued, relatives of the victim are suing for € 360,000 in damages in 2017. The civil trial began on May 9, 2017 and is being closely monitored, since if the farmer is convicted, it is to be feared that farmers will cordon off their pastures and thereby lose them as hiking areas. Representatives of the Chamber of Agriculture, the Animal Welfare Association, veterinary medicine and Tirol Werbung used the case as an opportunity to express “rules of conduct when dealing with cattle on alpine pastures”.

On May 8, 2017, an 80-year-old former farmer was attacked by a pregnant cow in Kirchberg an der Raab (Styria), from which he died; the cow calved the same day. On June 7, 2017, two 70-year-old women - with dogs - were attacked by cows - with calves - on a hiking trail across a fenced pasture on the Kranzhornalm near Erl (Tyrol) , and one woman died.

On May 16, 2018, Tirol Werbung and the Chamber of Agriculture presented the new information campaign "The Alm is not a petting zoo": five video clips - shown on TV channels and on YouTube - and brochures in five languages ​​provide advice on appropriate behavior with the aim of peaceful Coexistence of hikers and grazing cattle on the mountain pastures.


Chillingham cattle have been wild in England for centuries

Domestic cattle are distributed worldwide, with the zebu breeds being much better adapted to the tropics than breeds of Eurasian origin. Since the end of the 15th century, Europeans brought domestic cattle to America , to many islands and to Australia and New Zealand , where large overgrown populations soon developed, which however collapsed from the 18th century. However, there are still a number of wild domestic cattle populations today. The Chillingham cattle or the Betizuaks (see wild domestic cattle ) have a long tradition .

India is the country with the largest abundance of domestic cattle: around 226 million cattle live there. There are around 200 million beef cattle in Brazil. In China there are 108 million cattle, in the USA 96 million and in Germany just under 14 million. A total of around 1.5 billion cattle live on earth, the total mass of which is almost twice that of humans.


Bovine skeleton
Stomach of a domestic cattle:
b rumen, c reticulate stomach,
d leaf stomach , e abomasum
( a esophagus, f intestine)

Cows weigh around 500 to 800 kg, bulls 1000 to 1200 kg. The natural life expectancy of a cow is a maximum of 20 years. As a rule, cattle have horns, hornless cattle breeds are the exception. In a calf, horn growth can be prevented by a hot metal rod that is pressed onto the horn base. This can further reduce the cost of rearing. As a result, the dehorning rate in Switzerland is around 90 percent.

Cattle, like horses , are herbivores , but as ruminants, like sheep and camels, make far better use of food. But they cannot eat the grass as quickly as horses.

The adult bovine dentition contains 32 teeth. In each half of the lower jaw there are three incisors and one canine that is the same size. There are also six molars on each side. Canine and incisors are missing in the upper jaw. Instead, there is a cartilage ridge there. Like the lower jaw, it also has six molars on each side. There is a large gap between the canines of the lower jaw and the cartilage ridge of the upper jaw and the molars. Short grass is trapped between the incisors and the cartilage bar and plucked off with a jerk of the head.

The food passes through four stomachs ( rumen , reticulate stomach , leaf stomach , abomasum ). The beef dung , commonly referred to as cow dung , has a noteworthy calorific value. Dried cow dung is therefore used and valued as a low-smoke fuel in developing countries.

A cattle makes 30,000 chewing movements per day while eating and ruminating and produces up to 150 liters of saliva . So it is not surprising that on hot days it consumes up to 180 liters of water and swallows up to 25 liters per minute. High-performance cows produce well over 10,000 liters of milk within a year under favorable feeding and husbandry conditions.

During the digestion of food, fermentation gases arise in the rumen, as in all ruminants , which are " burped out " by the animal and which, in addition to carbon dioxide, contain a particularly high proportion of methane in domestic cattle , especially in roughage .

Utterance of domestic cattle


Simmental Fleckvieh as an example of a taurine domestic cattle
Crossbreeds of different breeds are very successful in Namibia . Here between Brahman , Hereford , Simbra and Brown Swiss

There are basically two basic types of domestic cattle. These are on the one hand the taurine or humpbackless cattle and on the other hand the zebus or humpback cattle. Zebus are descended from a different subspecies of aurochs than taurine cattle. According to some experts, the original form of the zebus could represent its own species ( Bos indicus ) alongside the aurochs. Genetic studies show that today's domestic cattle do not belong to one tribe, as was long believed, but are descended from two different lines. Both forms seem to have separated in the wild about 600,000 years ago.

African cattle breeds are outwardly similar to either Indian zebra cattle or humpback cattle. Originally, hump-less cattle were bred on this continent, while animals of the zebu type were first introduced around 4,000 years ago and did not appear more frequently until the early Middle Ages (around 700 AD) in the course of the Arab invasion. Strangely, both the African humpback cattle and the African humpbackless cattle show a much stronger mitochondrial similarity with European humpbackless breeds than with Indian zebu cattle . The mitochondrial genome is exclusively maternally inherited. It is therefore believed that male zebus were crossed into the original African races.

Watussi cattle belong to the group of Sanga cattle

The humpeless original breeds of Africa are known as Sanga cattle . Archaeological finds indicate that Sanga cattle go back to a domestication event that took place in Africa. Accordingly, the African aurochs would have been domesticated independently.

There are a large number of breeds of cattle that are bred for different needs. The most important cattle breeds for livestock husbandry in Europe are:

  • Dairy breed / dual purpose breed: Black Holstein / Red Holstein; Simmental / Simmental; Brown cattle; White and blue Belgians; Yellow cattle; Angler; Jersey; Normande; Modicana; Valdostana.
  • Meat breeds: Angus, Blonde d'Aquitaine, Charolais, Chianina, Galloway, Hereford, Limousin, Marchigiana, Piedmontese.

However, especially nowadays, many breeds are being lost due to the intensified industrial animal husbandry and the mechanization of agriculture. For this reason, an endangered domestic animal breed of the year is chosen by the GEH every year in Germany to draw attention to this situation. Breeds that have been optimized for special habitats or as draft animals (such as the Arouquesa ) are particularly affected by this decline . There is a binding breed key for cataloging the cattle breeds and identifying them in the cattle pass .

The Żubroń is a cross between domestic cattle and bison . The Beefalo is a cross between domestic cattle and American bison. Both are less demanding and more disease resistant than domestic cattle. A dzo (male) or zhom (female) is the cross between yak and domestic cattle. The animal is mainly used in agriculture in Nepal.

Diseases and parasites

Some of the important diseases in cattle for livestock farming are infectious diseases. The main diseases caused by bacteria are: brucellosis , anthrax , paratuberculosis , panaritium , intoxicating burn , salmonellosis and tuberculosis . The most important diseases caused by viruses are: Bovine Herpesvirus IBR / IPV , Mucosal Disease / Virus Diarrhea BVD , Foot and Mouth Disease FMD. The most common metabolic diseases are ketosis , hypocalcemia, and tetany . The main parasites are: lungworms , roundworms , liver fluke and coccidia . Other diseases of importance: BSE , foreign body disease of the reticulum , Pansentympanie , suffering from displacement and ringworm of the skin.

See also


  • Florian Werner: The cow. Life, work and effect. Nagel & Kimche, Munich 2009, ISBN 978-3-312-00432-4 .
  • Horst Lochner, Johannes Breker: Agriculture, specialist level farmer; Technical theory for plant production: planning, management, exploitation and marketing of crops. Animal production: keeping, feeding, breeding and marketing of farm animals. Energy production: Generation and marketing of regenerative energy . BLV Buchverlag, Munich 2007, ISBN 978-3-8354-0152-5 .
  • Ruth Bollongino: The Origin of Domestic Cattle in Europe. An aDNA study on Neolithic bone finds . Habelt, Bonn 2006, ISBN 3-7749-3415-0 . (UPA Volume 130)
  • Ruth Bollongino, J. Burger, KW Alt: Import or Secondary Domestication? The origin of European domestic cattle as reflected in molecular genetic analyzes on Neolithic bone finds . In: Contributions to archeozoology and prehistoric anthropology. Volume IV, 2003, pp. 211-217.
  • Ferdinand Orth : bull . In: Paulys Realencyclopadie der classischen Antiquity Science (RE). Volume III A, 2, Stuttgart 1929, Sp. 2495-2520.
  • Josef Boch, Rudolf Supperer: Veterinary Parasitology. Paul Parey Verlag, Stuttgart 2006, ISBN 3-8304-4135-5 .
  • Gerrit Dirksen, Hans-Dieter founder, Matthaeus Stöber: Internal medicine and surgery of cattle. Parey Verlag, Stuttgart 2006, ISBN 3-8304-4169-X .

Web links

Commons : Domestic Cattle  - Collection of images, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Cow  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Wikiquote: Cow  Quotes
 Wikinews: Beef  - on the news

Individual evidence

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  11. See Regulation (EG) No. 1234/2007.
  12. Even if the spelling is similar, the Low German name is not derived from the English word queen . See Danish kvie (heifer) and kvinde (woman).
  13. Schweizerisches Idiotikon , Volume II, Column 237, Lemma Galtli n g ( digitized version ); see. also Galtvieh .
  14. Schweizerisches Idiotikon, Volume II, Column 494, Lemma Gusti I ( digitized version ).
  15. Schweizerisches Idiotikon, Volume IV, Column 334, Lemma Manse n ( digitized version )
  16. ^ Bilder-Conversations-Lexikon, Vol. 3, p. 713.
  17. Baden Dictionary , Volume II, p. 529, Lemma Hagen; Schweizerisches Idiotikon, Volume II, Column 1077, Lemma Hage n ( digitized version ).
  18. Schweizerisches Idiotikon, Volume IV, Column 316, Lemma Munni I ( digitized version ).
  19. Swabian Dictionary , Volume III, Sp. 1866, Lemma Hummel I.
  20. VO (EG) No. 1234/2007, Appendix V; last amended by regulation (EG) 491/2009 based on the beef carcass trade regulation (RindHKlV)
  21. Schweizerisches Idiotikon, Volume I, column 648, Lemma Galt-Vëh ( digitized version ).
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