Natural Histories

photograph of a Sunda Pangolin

Domestic Cow, Cattle, or Aurochs

Bos taurus

Description

Domestic cattle are large, sturdy ungulates (hoofed animals). The weight of a domesticated cow can range from 147-1363 kg and grow to be a height of 49-52 inches. This species is covered by short hair that has many variations of color and patterns, variations commonly occur include black, white, reddish brown, and brown. Cattle have short necks with dewlaps that hang below the chin. Domestic cows have two hollow horns on the top of the head and a long tufted tail on the rump.

Habitat

Domesticated cattle can be found in much of the world. The wild ancestors of cattle originated from northern Africa, Europe, and southern Asia. Populations of this species are born and raised on rangelands; unfertilized, uncultured, and not irrigated land. Cattle require habitat with adequate areas for grazing.

Feeding Behavior and Diet

This species is herbivorous ruminant; consuming only plant matter and having a special digestion system which allows for the breakdown of consumed indigestible plant material. Cattle have a four-chambered stomach; including the rumen, reticulum, omasum, and abomasums. Ingested vegetation passes through the rumen where it is mixed with bacteria and then moves to the reticulum where it is broken down further into cud. Cud is partially digested food that is regurgitated and chewed before once again being swallowed. Cud moves into the omasum and abomasums where digestive enzymes break down the matter further and nutrients are absorbed. Domestic cattle have one of the slowest digestive passages of all animals. The complete digestion process requires 70-100 hours. Domestic cattle feed on grasses, stems and other herbaceous plant matter. An average cow can consume about 70 kg of grass within an 8 hour day. Cattle feed by twisting grasses around with their tongue and cut them with their lower teeth.

Reproduction

The dominant male of a herd is the only male permitted to mate with females within the herd. Mating can occur year round with a peak of births occurring in the spring months. Females give birth to one calf (sometimes twins) after a nine month gestation period. Young are able to recognize their mother, stand and walk very shortly after birth. Young are nursed for about 6 months until they are weaned and become independent after about a year. Female cattle reach sexual maturity after one year and can reproduce for the following 12 years.

Months and Times of Activity

This species lives in dominant hierarchy social groups called herds. Each herd is led by a dominant male (bull). The dominant male is the only male permitted to mate with the females within the herd. Females (cows) share parental care within a herd. Calves adopt the hierarchal status of their mothers at birth. Females will protect their young, chasing away any threats.

Special Features, Stories, Relationships

•    Domestic cows are used by humans for dairy products (milk, cheese, etc.) and meat. They are also used for the production of medicines, glue, sap, and leather. Cattle feces, known as dung, can be used as a good source of fertilizer and fuel.
•    Cattle have no upper incisors; instead they have a thick dental pad. The jaws are designed to move in a circular motion to grind and crush coarse vegetation.
•    Cattle were brought to the Southwest by the Spanish in the late 1500s.
•    To read legends featuring this animal go to; http://www.philsites.net/folklore/stories/legend2.html
•    Children’s book featuring this animal: Kiss the COW! By Phyllis Root

References

Ng, J. 2001. "Bos taurus" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed November 04, 2014 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/accounts/Bos_taurus/