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cattle, name for the ruminant mammals of the genus Bos, and particularly those of the domesticated species, Bos taurus and B. indica. The term oxen, broadly used, refers also to closely related animals, such as the buffalo and the bison. Narrowly used, ox refers to a mature castrated male used for draft purposes. In referring to domestic cattle a grown male is a bull, a grown female a cow, an infant a calf, and an animal between one and two years old a yearling. A female that has not given birth is a heifer; a castrated male is a steer.

Most cattle have unbranched horns consisting of a horny layer surrounding a bone extension of the skull; these horns, unlike those of deer, are not shed. Some cattle are naturally hornless. Western, or European, domestic cattle (Bos taurus) are thought to be descended mainly from the aurochs, a large European wild ox domesticated during the Stone Age, extinct since 1627. A smaller species, the Celtic shorthorn, was the most important domestic ox of the Stone Age and may also be involved in the ancestry of B. taurus. The zebu, or Indian ox, B. indica, is the humped domestic species of Asia and Africa. Several B. indica breeds have been developed in the United States into the Brahman breed. The yak, B. grunniens, and other cattle species, wild and domestic, exist in Asia. Domestic cattle were first brought to the Western Hemisphere by Columbus on his second voyage.

In various societies throughout history wealth has been measured in terms of cattle—cattle is related to capital and chattel, and pecuniary is derived from pecus [Lat.,=cattle]. Breeding for improvement of beef and dairy qualities, practiced by the Romans, was established on scientific principles in the middle of the 18th cent. by English livestock breeder Robert Bakewell (see animal husbandry; breeding). Important beef breeds include Angus, Hereford, Simmental, Charolais, Limousin, Gelbvieh, Brahman, and Shorthorn. Important crossbreeds include Brangus (Brahman x Angus) and Santa Gertrudis (Shorthorn x Brahman). Major dairy breeds include Holstein-Friesian, Jersey, Guernsey, Brown Swiss, Ayrshire, and Milking Shorthorn. The importance of dual-purpose breeds has declined.

Cattle are classified in the phylum Chordata, subphylum Vertebrata, class Mammalia, order Artiodactyla, family Bovidae. See also beef; dairying.


See publications of the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture; A. L. Neumann and K. S. Lusby, Beef Cattle (8th ed. 1986); V. Porter, Cattle (1992).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



domesticated artiodactylous ruminants of the family Bovidae. They include buffalo, yaks, and all domesticated breeds belonging to the genus Bos. Domestic cattle (Bos taurus) descended from the urus (Bos primigenius), which was distributed throughout Europe, Asia, and Africa for several thousand years before the Common Era. The urus became extinct at the beginning of the 17th century. Domestication of the urus began approximately 8,000 years ago, first in India and then in Southwest Asia, the Mediterranean, and Middle Europe.

Domesticated cattle are divided into four subspecies according to craniological characteristics: the European cattle of the steppe and plain zones (Bos taurus primigenius), the European cattle of the mountain and forest zones (Bos taurus brachyceros), Central Asian cattle (Bos taurus turano-mongolicus), and the humped cattle of Asia and Africa, or the zebu (Bos taurus indicus).

The life-span of the cow is about 20 years (rarely up to 35 years) and of the bull 15 to 20 years. A dairy cow is used until the age of 12 or 13, when its teeth wear out and productivity decreases. It is advisable to slaughter beef cattle at the age of 1½ to two years after fattening or pasturing. Animals are bred to replenish the herd every five to ten years. Cattle continue to grow until the age of five years, although some late-maturing breeds continue growing up to the age of six or seven years. Heifers become sexually mature at seven to nine months; males, at six to eight months. Females are bred at 18 to 22 months, and males, at 14 to 18 months. The length of the period between calving to the first heat, or estrus, is approximately three weeks. The gestation period averages 285 days. As a rule, cows are uniparous; twins are rare (about 2 percent), and there are some cases of six or seven births at the same time. Twins are most often fraternal (of the same sex or different). The majority of heifers twinborn with bulls are sterile (freemartins).

Depending on the breed, the weight of calves at birth varies from 18 to 45 kg (sometimes up to 60 kg); bull-calves weigh 1–3 kg more than the females. Cows weigh from 200 to 600 kg (the largest, more than 1,000 kg); bulls weigh from 300 to 900 kg (the largest, 1,600 kg).

The productivity of cattle is determined by their hereditary features and by the conditions of feeding and management. The average milk yield of dairy cows of registered breeds is 3,500–4,000 kg; the butterfat content of the milk is 3.6–4 percent. On the best farms, milk yields are approximately 6,000 kg. The record milk yield per lactation is approximately 20,000 kg (a Dutch breed). Maximum daily milk yield is 82.2 kg (Yaroslavl breed). The highest lifetime yield is 120,247 kg (Kostroma breed during 13 lactations). Milk yields of beef cows are about 1,000 kg per lactation. The lactation period lasts 280 to 320 days; the dry period (the time from mating to calving) is 1½ to two months. Maximum milk yields in early-maturing breeds come during the fourth lactation; in late-maturing breeds, during the fifth or sixth lactation (sometimes the seventh). Cow's milk is a valuable nutritional product for man; it serves as a raw material for various food industries. Whole milk and the by-products of its processing are also used in feeding young livestock.

The meat productivity of cattle is higher in specialized beef breeds. Meat cattle fatten more rapidly than dairy breeds, yielding a larger dressed weight and better quality meat. When cattle are fattened, fat is deposited not only on the internal organs and carcass but also inside the muscle tissue in thin interlayers (marbled meat). The meat of fattened calves is especially valuable. By the age of 1½ to two years the calves attain a weight of 400 to 450 kg. Beef and veal are high in nutritional qualities and calories, are easily digested, and are used in dietotherapy.

In addition to meat, slaughtered cattle yield hides from which various types of leather are made. Other by-products are made into meat-and-bone, bone, and blood meal; endocrine preparations; stearin; glue; and soap. Bulls and oxen of some breeds are also used as draft animals.

Cattle are easy to take care of and adaptable to management. Because they have a voluminous compound stomach, they are capable of digesting a large quantity of vegetable roughage. The principal feeds are green pasture grass, hay, silage, root vegetables, concentrated fodder, and industrial by-products (oilcakes, grist, bagasse, and vinasse). Cattle are also fed protein, mineral, and vitamin supplements. Feed is rationed according to the animal's weight, productivity, and physiological condition. The amount of feed is also determined by its content of digestible proteins, mineral substances, and vitamins. During stabling the principal rations consist of roughage and moist fodders; during pasturing, green fodders. Cattle are tethered or untethered in a deep litter or in stalls. During the summer, pasture maintenance is utilized; however, if there are not enough pasture areas, indoor maintenance is used. In some regions cattle are driven out to extensive distant pastures.

Cattle are raised in all countries. The cattle population of the world at the end of 1970 was 1.141 billion. A large number of breeds that are adapted to various climatic zones have been developed.


Kolesnik, N. N. Evoliutsiia krupnogo rogatogo skota. [Dushanbe] 1949.
Bogoliubskii, S. N. Proiskhozhdenie i preobrazovanie domashnikh zhivotnykh. Moscow, 1959.
Skotovodstvo. Krupnyi rogatyi skot, vols. 1–2. Moscow, 1961.
Rukovodstvo po razvedeniiu zhivotnykh, 3 vols. Moscow, 1963–65. [Translated from German.]
Skotovodstvo. Edited by E. A. Arzumanian. Moscow, 1970.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


Domesticated bovine animals, including cows, steers, and bulls, raised and bred on a ranch or farm.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright © 2003 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.


1. bovid mammals of the tribe Bovini (bovines), esp those of the genus Bos
2. any domesticated bovine mammals, esp those of the species Bos taurus (domestic ox)
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005