Cattle(Aurochs) have been domesticated at least two or three times, according to archaeological and genetic evidence. Cattle were probably among the earliest animals domesticated because of the many products they provide to humans.
First, primary products are food, milk and meat and blood fat. Secondary products include clothing and tools, manufactured from hair, hides, horns, hooves and bone.
Ancient History of Domestication
In early European countries cow dung was used for fuel. Cows can also be used as load bearers and for pulling plows. In communities that use commodities for trade, cows are used in bride wealth and barter.
Wild Aurochs, or wild cattle, were included in cave paintings by Upper Paleolithic hunters in Europe. Aurochs were one of the largest herbivores in Europe. The largest bulls reached shoulder heights of between 160 – 180 centimeters(5.2 – 6 feet) with massive frontal horns of up to 80cm(31 inches)in length.
Archaeologists and Biologists agree there is evidence for two distinct domestication events from Aurochs in the near East about 10,500 years ago and B.indicus(Aurochs) in the Indus Valley about 7000 years ago. There might have been a third domestication in Africa about 8500 years ago.
Recent Studies of DNA suggest that B.Taurus (Auroch) was introduced in Europe and Africa where they inter bred with local wild cattle. It is still debated whether this could be considered a fourth domestication or not. Modern cattle look quite different today from their domesticated ancestors.
A slight decline in overall body size in Aurochs, was noticed in the several sites in southeastern Turkey. This is not unusual with domestication. Small bodied cattle do not appear in the fertile Crescent until late in the upper reaches of the Euphrates river(6th millennial BC), and then all of a sudden.
Taurine cattle were traded across the planet, first into Neolithic Europe (6400 B.C.). They appear in archaeological sites as far away as northeastern Asia( China, Mongolia, Korea) about 5000 years ago.
The earliest domesticated cattle in Africa have been found at Capeletti, Algeria, around 6500 B.C. Cattle remains have also been found at African sites in what is now Egypt, as long ago as 9,000 BC.
Even though Scientists are not absolutely sure about how many domestications there were in Europe and Africa, they are confident that cattle were domesticated very early in human history.
Cattle Industry in the U.S.
Cattle are not native to the United States. The first Cattle were introduced to this country by explorers and settlers from England and Spain. The meat value of cattle and the open range eventually gave birth to a huge industry and the American Cowboy.
Cattle were first introduced to the U.S. by way of Florida. In 1521 Ponce de Leon brought cattle along on his expedition, and In 1540, Don Diego Maldonado brought cattle with him on his exploratory voyage. Early colonists also brought cattle with them.
History scholars suggest that cattle from these first herds escaped and survived in the wild to make the beginnings of Florida’s cattle industry. Organized ranching began in Florida in 1565 at St Augustine, when herds were brought in from Spain and Cuba. By the 1880s, Florida’s cattle herds were a hearty cross of old Spanish and British stock.
Meanwhile, two Devon heifers and a bull were brought to the American colony of Plymouth from Devonshire, England in 1623.
In 1493, Christopher Columbus brought Spanish cattle to Santo Domingo. Some of his cattle were also introduced to Mexico and these would eventually become the foundation for the Texas Longhorns. In 1690, the first herd of 200 head was driven north to a mission along the Sabine River. This area is now part of Texas.
When Texas became a state in 1836,the Mexicans went back to Mexico and left their free ranging cattle behind. Texas farmers began raising them for their hides and tallow. When the Civil War broke out in 1861, Texans left their cattle to fend for themselves. By the end of the war, and Texans returned, they found that Longhorns had reproduced exponentially and had grown to a population of approximately 5 million head .
Both Male and female longhorns sport horns. A bull’s horns are straight, turning a little at the end. A cow’s horns show a variety of sizes and shapes. Calves start sprouting horns at about 3 weeks. Texas longhorns are the most fertile of all beef breeds.
Another British livestock was bred in Hereford, England in the 1800s. This new breed flourished in England and were introduced to the United States in 1817 when Henry Clay imported a few to his farm in Kentucky. Since then, Hereford cattle are among the most important breeds in American cattle ranching.
Meanwhile, the three Devon cattle brought to Plymouth in 1623 have been carving out a niche for themselves. The Devon became
known as an ideal breed equally suitable for farm work, dairy production and quality beef. These cattle evolved into what is now known as the American Devon breed.
Dr. Stephen Hammack- Beef Cattle professor and extension specialist at Texas A&M University has done more than study cattle history-he has lived it. In a recent interview, he said that he has observed beef history for some 70 years.
He says he has seen the industry change dramatically. Cow genetics, population growth and even the “Cowboys created the beef industry we have today.”
Hammack says the number of beef cows in the country peaked about 40 years ago. In the mid 70s. ” We reached the most beef cattle that we’ll ever have in this country.”
Statistically, beef cattle numbers peaked around 1978. Between 1993 and 2008, the number of beef cows in the U.S. declined 2.8 %. The industry isn’t producing fewer cattle, selective breeding has produced bigger cows. Beef producers use fewer cows for the same amount of meat. Even with the small decline, beef cow numbers are still higher than they were in the early 1900s. Why is that? The U.S. population has grown. The beef industry is controlled by supply and demand.
Hammack says many beef cattle are raised in large feed lots, but many small, family run farms have survived and raise beef cattle as well. He says that the size of an average beef cattle herd is 42 animals, and that indicates the presence of small farms.
There are many reasons for the survival of small cattle farms, according to Hammack. Farmers that grow crops may have poor land that won’t grow row crops, and they let cattle graze there. In Texas, land owners can get a tax break on land used for agriculture; another reason to keep cows on their land.
Some just hang on to the land for tradition. Others, who grew up on small farms want to keep the property, “in the family.” Finally, people from non- agriculture backgrounds decide to start a small farm business.
In Texas, a recent drought may change the course of ranching. Texas and much of the Midwest were hit by record- breaking heat waves and drought. Feed prices went sky high and grass on grazing land died. Cattle died, too. A lot of beef producers sold their animals early to recoup what money they could. It’s too soon to tell what changes will happen in the beef industry.
Artificial insemination is a part of the beef cattle story as well. So why not just keep a Bull or two around? Well, that used to be the way to create herd growth, but bulls are not always cooperative. They are hard to handle, they eat a lot and are constantly stirring up unrest in the herd.
On farms, this process is used to control breeding among different farm animals. In cattle, it is used to produce genetically superior dairy cows and animals for meat production.
Around 1899 and 1900, Russian scientist E.I. Ivanoff began conducting artificial insemination experiments on cattle, horses, birds and sheep. He was the first person recorded to have accomplished the first successful artificial insemination on cows.
History of Dairy Industry
Today’s dairy Industry started in the late 1800s as people moved to the cities. The industry today provides more than just milk and other dairy products. The industry has a short history compared to the total history of agriculture, which dates back to over 10,000 years.
Humans have been drinking milk from cows for thousands of years, but modern dairy farming didn’t begin until after pasteurization and other inventions were developed.
People coming to north America in the 1600s brought cattle from Europe for meat and milk for their families. By the 1800s, cattle breeds were especially developed for dairy production. Up until this time milk and dairy products were produced for families and for local groups.
Pasteurization equipment, milking machines, refrigerated milk tank cars, bottling machines, commercial milk bottles, and tuberculin tests for cattle, were developed when people began to move into the cities in the late 1800s.
Federal Regulation of the Industry
In 1895, the Division of Agrostology and the Dairy Division was established to improve quality of dairy products in America, and to make them more acceptable to markets overseas. The meat inspection act was passed in 1895 and congress authorized inspectors to enforce sanitation and hygiene standards in the meat and dairy industries.
The dairy industry began to work on manufacturing butter, condensed milk and cheeses. They also coordinated milk campaigns in cities to help with the surplus of milk created by an increase in production during World War I.
In 1926,the name was changed again to the Bureau of Dairy Industry. Ollie Reed was chief from 1928 to 1953. He is known best for his work on breed improvement. Dr. Ralph Hodgson was Assistant Chief from 1945 to 1953, and was involved in international activity regarding the dairy and livestock industry. Hodgson and Reed wrote a book titled A Dairy Handbook for Tropical America.
Private Sector Dr. Charles E North, physician, public Health officer, inventor and agricultural scientist was instrumental in gaining acceptance of laws around pasteurized Milk. His most significant achievement was the creation of a system of sanitation that helped many farms produce clean milk.
Cows and Climate Change
Scientists at University of California, Davis are measuring gases from cows stomachs that ultimately contribute to global warming. Quantifying these gasses is key to mitigating them and several researchers are investigating economical ways to make livestock more environmentally sustainable around the globe.
In a year one cow can belch 220 lbs. of methane, which is 28 times more potent than carbon Dioxide. Climate Change advocates are urging the public to eat less beef. Scientists challenge that view saying that “forgoing meat is not the environmental panacea many would have us believe.”
Better breeding, genetics and nutrition have increased the efficiency of livestock production in the U.S. “We’re now feeding more people with fewer cattle,” one scientist says. But reducing the carbon footprint of livestock worldwide is a big challenge.
Livestock are responsible for 14.5 % of global greenhouse gases. India for example, has the world’s largest cattle population but the lowest beef consumption. Therefore, cows in India live longer and emit more methane in their lifetime. That produces a large environmental footprint.
U.C. Davis scientists are looking for ways to make cows less gassy. One way is to make their high -fiber diet easier to digest.
This sounds simple, but finding an affordable additive so far has been difficult. One U C Davis scientist has come up with a supplement way off the ordinary cow menu: seaweed. They did one trial and found that they had up to a 60 % reduction in methane emissions by using 1 % seaweed in the diet. One drawback is the problem of harvesting enough seaweed to provide a large enough supply for all the herds. UC Davis scientists are hopeful that a feed additive will eventually be found.
Another common critic of beef production is that cows take up nearly half the land in the U.S. Overgrazing can degrade soil health and bio diversity. Yet, if managed correctly, cows help restore healthy soils, conserve sensitive species and enhance overall ecological function. Proper cattle grazing can actually help mitigate climate change.
Rancher Jerry Spencer maintains about 2500 cattle on the Van Vleck Ranch east of Sacramento. Winter rains has left him with a feast of green pastures. He pays close attention to the grasses, and makes sure the animals have enough to eat but don’t overgraze. He maintains a diversity of native grasses to keep the cows healthy and rotates herds between pastures to give the plants a rest from grazing and an opportunity to recover.
Ranchers really have little or no incentive financially to let their herds overgraze or let their herd’s hooves compact and degrade soils. “Sustainability is keeping everything viable, both economically and biologically,” said Spencer. “Ranchers won’t continue to exist it either one of those are out of balance.”
Finally, some politicians have voiced an opinion that Beef as a food should be banned, because of the methane cows give off. I don’t think that is the right way to go. American scientists have always come up with things to solve environmental situations. I don’t plan on giving up hamburgers. And really, what will the country do with all those cattle herds?
It is amazing how much we depend on cattle for meat and milk for food for ourselves and our children. Not only milk but we enjoy items made with milk: butter, cottage cheese, cheeses, ice cream, cream, Not only food but leather– leather jackets, leather shoes, and buttons from horns. Cattle are the animals that keep on giving. It would appear that man and cows are quite different, but in many ways we are not so different. We are both
mammals. Calves are carried inside the mother until term and then are born alive. Calves can walk on all fours shortly after birth. They follow their mother for food and safety until weaned, and usually reach maturity at two years.
The next time any of us sit down to a steak or a milk shake, remember the placid cow, a distant cousin that gives us so many things to eat, to wear, and to use.
Barbara Nelson I hope you enjoyed reading about the ever so quiet, contented Cow. Would love to hear from my readers.
Some information for this article came from: History of Domestication of Cows and Yak,. Thought Co.com; What country introduced Cattle to the U. S. Kat Walden; Cows and Climate Change, Amy Quinton; History of the Dairy Industry, Karyn Moyer; A Glimpse into Beef Cattle History, Madeline McCurry-Schmidt.