Cattle (Bos taurus) are the most common type of large domesticated ungulates. They are a prominent modern member of the subfamily Bovinae and are the most widespread species of the genus Bos. Domesticated roughly 10,500 years before the twentieth century, cattle are raised as livestock for meat (beef and veal), as dairy animals for milk and other dairy products, and as draft animals (oxen/bullocks) pulling carts, plows and the like. Other products include leather and dung for manure or fuel. In some countries, such as India, cattle have important religious meaning. It is estimated that there are well over a billion cattle in the world today. In 2009, cattle became the first livestock animal to have its genome mapped.
There are at least four subspecies of cattle. Crossbreeds and hybrids are plentiful in this species, and these are sometimes classified as subspecies as well. Some hybridization between cattle and other genera of Bos is also possible, as well as between cattle and other bovine genera such as bison. The subspecies are:
- Bos taurus primigenius, aurochs cattle (extinct in 17th century)
- Bos taurus taurus, taurine or European cattle
- Bos taurus indicus, zebu or indicine cattle
- Bos taurus africanus, African cattle
There is some debate among taxonomists whether these bovids belong in the species Bos taurus at all, or whether they should be classified as Bos primigenius with the aurochs as type subspecies. Others believe that the domestic cattle (Bos taurus) and aurochs (Bos primigenius) should be recognized as different species, while others still suggest some combination of the above. Not even all scientists agree that there are four cattle subspecies to begin with, some believing there are more or fewer.
Cattle are large (up to 1,650 lbs. in most steers) hoofed quadrupedal bovines. Size varies greatly from one breed to another and between males and females. Most breeds have a thick, bulky body to contain the large stomach, a thick neck, and long snout with strong lips. The tail is usually short and thin, with a brush of longer hair at the end. In most breeds, the coat is short, but some may have longer hair on the back of the neck or on top of the head.
Many breeds have horns, which can be extremely large as in the Texas longhorn. However, most have only moderately sized horns, and many polled (hornless) cattle can be found worldwide due to selective breeding.
The coat of cattle can be a variety of colors, including reds, browns, and shades of gray, black, or white.
When born, baby cattle (called calves, singular “calf”) weigh between 55 and 99 pounds. The horns, if they have them, are smaller than in adults; the head is disproportionately large and the legs proportionally longer as with many baby mammals. Coloration often stays consistent throughout the maturation process.
Bulls become fertile at around seven months old. Breeding stock cattle can live for up to 25 years, while the oldest known cow died at 48 years old.
As with many domesticated animals, sexual dimorphism in cattle is reduced due to selective breeding. In the wild, bulls tend to be larger than cows, and may have larger horns. The bull also has a distinctive bellow which cows generally do not make.
Cattle are domesticated worldwide. Wild cattle prefer open fields of grass to graze in, and domestic cattle prefer similar conditions. They can tolerate some degree of hot and cold, with different subspecies and breeds better adapted to particular temperature ranges. Ancestrally, cattle come from steppe environments, and favored temperate grassy plains and the edges of woodlands.
The first type of cattle were the aurochs, which lived on Eurasian steppes after evolving in the early Pleistocene. Their fossils and subfossil remains have been found across the continent, from eastern Asia including the Japanese islands all the way to northern Europe. First appearing in Asia, they migrated west during warm interglacial periods and established populations in India, Africa, and Europe. Domestication occurred more than ten thousand years ago in central Anatolia, western Iran, and the Levant; these gave rise to the European cattle breeds, with a group of only eighty or so aurochs making up their founder population. A separate group of aurochs was domesticated in India, giving rise to the zebu. In Africa, domesticated aurochs were bred into Sanga cattle.
The original aurochs themselves began to decline several thousand years ago along with much of the ice age megafauna; they began to die out in northern Europe and Africa between 8,000 and 3,000 years ago, disappearing from much of that range. Aurochs in mainland Europe stayed common until the 13th century, when overhunting depleted their populations; in the 12th century they became extinct in India. Their decline in mainland Europe was exacerbated by the widespread clear-cutting of forests, which began in the 9th and 10th centuries. By the late 16th century, the aurochs population had dwindled down to just one herd of fifty animals in the Jaktorów Forest (located in Poland). By 1601, only four were left. The last cow died of natural causes in 1627.
Other types of cattle are still alive in their original range throughout Eurasia. Like many domestic animals, it can be difficult to establish which of their current-day populations within that range can be considered naturally-occurring; they have been bred by humans since before recorded history. Originally domesticated in Turkey, Syria, and Iraq, cattle are now most common in Asia, South America, and Africa.
As a domestic animal, cattle have been imported all over the world; they are found on every continent with the exception of Antarctica, where no permanent human settlements are believed to have ever existed. They are most common in regions with open grassland where their owners can let them graze, although in the modern age, technological societies are increasingly using intensive farming methods to keep large numbers of cattle cramped indoors. These animals are very unhealthy and do not live as long as those kept in more traditional barns and pastures. As of 2018, there were about 1.5 billion cattle worldwide, making them among the most numerous and widespread mammals on Earth.
Even some fairly isolated places have cattle brought there in the modern day. Island communities that are large enough, such as Hawaii, have cattle ranches. An unusual case is Isla Nublar in the Gulf of Fernandez; this island was used as a de-extinction attraction between 1988 and 2015, during which time both live and prepared cattle were shipped there as food for carnivorous animals. In particular, they were fed live to the Velociraptors in Jurassic Park, and later in a prepared state to the Indominus rex in Jurassic World. No permanent cattle population is believed to have established here, unlike goats, which were feral on the island between 1993 and 2002 when it was temporarily abandoned. Feral cattle would have faced stiff competition from de-extinct herbivores and been preyed upon heavily by the island’s carnivorous animals, so they likely did not live long in the wild if any were left in 2015 when Jurassic World closed.
Around the world, there are established feral cattle populations. In most areas a healthy adult bull has little to worry about from predators, being thick and muscular enough to defend himself and his herd from danger; even a large cow can defend herself vigorously from most threats too. Continental regions with notable feral cattle herds include the United States of America, Australia, Colombia, France, and Spain. Many islands, lacking in large predatory animals, are especially safe places for cattle to survive in the wild. Hawaii, the Galápagos, New Guinea, Hispaniola, the Juan Fernández Islands, Tristan de Cunha, and the Aleutian Islands all have wild cattle. They are also known in parts of England and Japan, as well as throughout the Pacific. In some cases such as the Galápagos they can be quite destructive, where their large diets and relatively unchallenged dominance in the ecosystem can strip small islands of their vegetation.
Cattle are diurnal. They are capable of resting while standing up, but contrary to popular belief, will lie down to sleep deeply.
Diet and Feeding Behavior
As ruminants, cattle are known for “chewing the cud.” This behavior involves regurgitating semi-digested plant matter to chew and swallow a second time. Cattle primarily feed on grasses, which is rich in cellulose; mammals cannot digest this material, so cattle and other ruminants make use of a four-chambered stomach using microorganisms to process this food.
Eating is one of the primary activities of cattle throughout the day. They mostly graze on grasses and other tough plants in fields.
Cattle are highly social, gregarious herd animals. When separated from others of their kind, they will become stressed after even short periods of time. They are capable of recognizing familiar versus unfamiliar individuals and form groups with relatives and familiar animals. Mothers wean their calves off milk over a period of several weeks, but still choose to graze with their offspring for years afterward.
Competition for dominance among cattle herds is mostly nonviolent. The hierarchy within a herd tends to remain stable. Older animals tend to be dominant over younger ones, and males over females. However, when young bulls reach about two years of age, they become dominant over older males. Dominance displays usually consist of mock fighting with little real physical contact, and subordinate animals will lick dominant ones.
Cows are able to give birth at two to three years of age, while bulls are sexually mature at around seven months. Gestation is around nine months, with the calves being born at such a time of year that they come into the world when food is plentiful. Infant mortality rates are around 5%.
For the first few weeks of life, the calf will feed from its mother’s udder. The calf is weaned off of milk and begins to feed on plants after this period of time, but remains in a close relationship with the mother for years to come.
Cattle are famous for the lowing sound (or “moo”) they make, a sound which is used for communicating between members of the herd. Calves make bawling noises to communicate with their mothers, usually to demand feeding. Bulls are known for the loud bellows that they use for intimidation.
They may also communicate using body language. For example, pawing at the ground is a sign of aggression in bulls, often a warning that it is going to charge.
Cattle are large herbivores and live on open grasslands and fields, forming herds of many animals. They can have a large impact on their environment, maintaining control over local plant life through eating it. Adults have fairly few predators, fending off most threats with their sheer size and strength. Calves are more vulnerable, and must be protected from danger by the adults. Since most cattle live in captivity, they are not often preyed upon by any animals except the humans that raise them, and their grazing impact is limited. However, cattle farming causes humans to massively change the local environment to accommodate new grazing grounds for the cattle, leading to wide tracts of forest and grassland being leveled. The huge population size of cattle on Earth in the present day is enough to make a noticeable contribution to the percentage of methane in the atmosphere via the animals’ digestive byproducts.
On Isla Nublar, it is unlikely that cattle were a significant part of island ecology. During the years that the island was a park under construction or in operation, the cattle would have been contained. There is no evidence that any cattle remained when the island was abandoned.
If any cattle did make it into the wild on either Isla Nublar or Isla Sorna, they would have faced competition for space with various large herbivorous dinosaurs. Many herbivorous dinosaurs inhabit open fields, which cattle prefer to inhabit. They would have also likely been preyed upon by some of the carnivorous dinosaurs; Velociraptors were fed live cattle while in captivity and would likely have viewed these mammals as food.
As one of the oldest domesticated species, cattle are featured in artwork dating back to prehistoric times (with images of aurochs being found in 17,000-year-old cave wall paintings). Their role in the development of human civilization has led to their being revered in many cultures; cows are considered sacred in some countries even today, and historically the image of a cow or bull was used to represent numerous deities. Cattle are particularly important in Hinduism, and the killing of cattle is illegal in India. This country’s history featured cows as symbols of plenty.
In fact, cattle are often seen around the world as an inherent symbol of civilization, since they were among the first animals ever domesticated for food and labor. European-derived cultures will often depict idealized imagery of cattle farming; children in these cultures will easily recognize cattle as one of the most common farm animals. In cultures where cows are raised for milk, they have become symbols of nurturing and nutrition, while bulls are often revered the world over as symbols of power and strength. Bulls are also commonly linked to impulsivity and indelicacy, giving rise to descriptive terms such as “bullheaded” to mean stubborn.
Both European and zebu cattle exist in Africa, where they feature in local culture as well. The Fulani people of western Africa are the world’s largest culture of nomadic cattle-herders, and the Maasai people traditionally assume divine right ownership over all cattle in the world as decreed by the supreme deity Ngai.
Cattle are most easily kept in regions where wide-open spaces are available, making them common farm animals in countries such as Australia and the United States where they were introduced during the British colonial era. A formerly common practice was ranching, and in many cases the cattle would be herded across the landscape to natural grazing grounds; this has fallen out of favor since it impeded the development of infrastructure, but it also was detrimental to the local environment. Today, most cattle are farmed in fixed locations. Some ranches still exist, but they are smaller in scale than those once popularized in the American West and Australia.
Cattle can be trained, as they are decently intelligent mammals, and can become emotionally attached to their handlers; however, the friendliness of a specific animal varies from one to another. They are capable of recognizing individual human faces and can tell friends from strangers.
As herd animals, cattle must be kept in groups or else they may become distressed. They will spend the better part of their day grazing, and can be fed most commercially available plant foods; some farmers have even had success raising cattle on a diet of kelp and other marine algae species. The keeping of cattle is an expensive operation despite the relative ease in finding foods they will eat, since they must consume huge amounts in order to remain healthy. Expenses begin to add up when the herding nature of cattle is considered, meaning that raising these animals for a profit is very difficult. Small farms today have difficulty competing with the massive factory farms that produce the majority of cattle meat and milk, leaving only legacy family farms and well-supported community farms as alternatives.
Cattle were among the first animals to be domesticated and are thus well-studied by archaeologists, since they provide insight into periods of human history that were not well-documented. These animals have been kept by humans for over ten thousand years; the aurochs is believed to be the first subspecies to be domesticated and therefore the ancestor of modern-day cattle. Scientists as early as the eighteenth century recognized that the aurochs represented a variety of cattle that had become extinct, with the last recorded living aurochs dying in the late 1620s. The concept of extinction was still quite new at that point in time, and cattle guided scientists into an early understanding of it.
Attempts have been made to bring the aurochs back from extinction through breeding cattle with primitive traits, but none have quite succeeded. Nevertheless, cattle have been an invaluable component of evolutionary research as well as studies into the domestication process since there is such an abundance of data about their history, from wild animals progressing all the way to the domestic variety known today.
Along with the religious significance that cattle play in some cultures such as Hinduism, these bovines are at the forefront of the global economy as the primary source of beef and milk throughout the world and therefore are of major political significance on many fronts. Such an enormous number of cattle are bred for their meat and milk that it actually has a measurable impact on Earth’s biosphere, affecting all countries globally. Methane production from farmland is one of the highly publicized concerns, with various efforts to curb methane levels being implemented; the type of food given to cattle does have an impact, but farmers have found that raising cattle on pastures is even more effective at reducing their methane production since the ecosystem absorbs some of the gases. Allowing cattle to forage naturally in their environment does appear to be the healthiest option.
However, letting cattle roam and forage is not short-term profitable, and most countries that farm cattle permit the existence of high-density stocking on factory farms. This is a politically contentious issue, since it causes long-term expenses, zoonotic disease, and animal cruelty. Cattle are often the subject of animal rights debates, since they are among the most intensively farmed large animals. As mammals, humans are more likely to empathize with cattle than with animals such as fish or chickens, so they are a popular symbol in the animal rights movement. For similar reasons, cattle are often featured in vegetarian or vegan demonstrations as one of the most systematically exploited animals. The production of veal is especially controversial since it is made from immature calves.
The governments of some countries have stepped in to regulate cattle farming not only for environmental and animal welfare reasons, but for human health as well. Especially in countries where high-density stocking is permissible, diseases may run rampant throughout cattle populations and infect meat and milk being shipped out. Bacterial, viral, fungal, and prion diseases are all known to occur in farmed cattle; food safety regulations are often implemented to force production facilities to inspect their foodstuffs for disease. The study of cattle veterinary science is called buiatrics, and professionals in this field are pooled by the World Association for Buiatrics.
Cattle are also used in blood sports, such as bullfighting. This is widely considered a cruel practice as it results in injury and death to many of the animals involved (and is also hazardous to the human participants), but it has not been outlawed in the countries where it is common. It is best known from Spain’s running of the bulls, but other forms of cattle-based entertainment can be found in the form of rodeos held throughout the United States, Canada, and other developed countries. These are considered less violent, but still are highly controversial. They remain in practice largely because they have successfully integrated themselves into Western conservatism as a symbol of old-fashioned colonial agriculture and the mythic past of the American West.
Cattle were domesticated by humans in the early Neolithic age. Since then, they have been used for their meat, hides, physical strength as draft animals, manure, and more recently as a source of milk for dairy products. On occasion, they can be kept as companion animals due to their ability to recognize and remember specific human faces. In most cases, modern cattle farming utilizes high-density stocking techniques, which can have a detrimental effect on the health of the animals and their caretakers as well as production efficiency. Despite the harmful health and environmental impacts, as well as the reduced profitability which can result from high-density stocking over time, it remains popular due to reduced upkeep and initially higher profitability.
InGen used cattle as fodder animals in Jurassic Park and Jurassic World for some of the carnivorous animals. Meat from cattle was also used by humans in Jurassic World, such as in some of the menu options at Winston’s Steakhouse. Forms of cattle meat served to guests at Jurassic World included veal, oxtail, filet mignon, black Angus beef, sirloin steak, rib eye steak, and porterhouse or T-bone steak. Cheeseburgers were also served in the park, which typically use ground beef from cattle. The processed cheese common to cheeseburgers includes some dairy products which are also typically made from cows’ milk. Other dairy products served in the park included ice cream and yogurt.
The massive size of these animals should not be understated, and their strength should never be underestimated. Cattle cause an average of twenty deaths per year, which is not a large number overall, but it still merits knowing how to be safe around these animals. Most cattle-caused deaths are a result of kicking and trampling, with more than half being allegedly deliberate. The easiest way to remain safe around cattle is to have a reliable escape route.
When herding cattle, alleyways and other passages should be wide enough for the animals to pass you but not so wide that they can turn around. Walking backward is not as easy as walking forward, so it is far safer to be behind one should it suddenly become agitated. Cattle have a wide, panoramic range of vision as befitting a prey animal, and have highly acute hearing; they may be startled by movements or sounds a human would not notice. It is best to be on your guard at all times while interacting with cattle. Like with all animals, they are especially dangerous when breeding, as a hormonal bull will be more aggressive than usual and cows with calves will be highly defensive. The University of Wisconsin at Madison recommends maintaining breeding bulls in specialized facilities and never assuming that any given bull is tame.
If interacting with cattle closely, remember that they are prey animals despite their size and can be startled into sudden action easily. Move slowly and deliberately around them, gently touching them but never prodding unless they have somewhere to go. Talking quietly and calmly to the animals can help reassure them. In every situation, defer to the advice and guidance of a trained farmhand; they likely know the personalities of their cattle well enough to keep you safe.