Cattle (called cows in vernacular usage) are domesticated ungulates, a member of the subfamily Bovinae of the family Bovidae. They are raised as livestock for meat (called beef and veal), dairy products (milk), leather and as draught animals (pulling carts, plows and the like). more...
In some countries, such as India, they are subject to religious ceremonies and respect. It is estimated that there are 1.3 billion head of cattle in the world today .
Cattle were originally identified by Carolus Linnaeus as three seperate species. These were Bos taurus, the European cattle, including similar types from Africa and Asia; Bos indicus, the zebu; and the extinct Bos primigenius, the aurochs. The aurochs is ancestral to both zebu and European cattle. More recently these three have increasingly been grouped as one species, sometimes using the names Bos primigenius taurus, Bos primigenius indicus and Bos primigenius primigenius. Complicating the matter is the ability of cattle to interbreed with other closely related species. Hybrid individuals and even breeds exist, not only between European cattle and zebu but also with yaks, banteng, gaur, and bison, a cross-genera hybrid. For example, genetic testing of the Dwarf Lulu breed, the only humpless "Bos taurus-type" cattle in Nepal, found them to be a mix of European cattle, zebu and yak. Cattle cannot successfully be bred with water buffalo or African buffalo. (See aurochs for the history of domestication, and zebu for peculiarities of that group.)
The word "cattle" did not originate as a name for bovine animals. It derives from the Latin caput, head, and thus originally meant "unit of livestock" or "one head". The word is closely related to "chattel" (a unit of property) and to "capital" in the sense of "property."
Older English sources like King James Version of the Bible refer to livestock in general as cattle, or sometimes the archaic kine (which comes from the same English stem as cow). Additionally other species of the genus Bos are often called cattle or wild cattle. This article refers to the common modern meaning of "cattle", the European domestic bovine.
Young cattle are called calves. A young male is called a bull-calf; a young female before she has calved is called a heifer (pronounced "heffer"). Male cattle bred for meat are castrated unless needed for breeding. The castrated male is then called a bullock or steer, unless kept for draft purposes, in which case it is called an ox (plural oxen), not to be confused with the related wild musk ox. If castrated as an adult, it is called a stag. An intact male is called a bull. An adult female over two years of age (approximately) is called a cow. The adjective applying to cattle is bovine.
There is no singular equivalent in modern English to cattle other than the various gender and age-specific terms (though "catron" is occasionally seen as a half-serious proposal). Strictly speaking, the singular noun for the domestic bovine is ox: a bull is a male ox and a cow is a female ox. That this was once the standard name for domestic bovines is shown in placenames such as Oxford. But "ox" is no longer used in this general sense, being restricted to the sense given above. Today "cow" is probably the closest to being gender-neutral, although it is usually understood to mean female (females of other animals, such as whales or elephants, are also called cows.) To refer to a specific number of these animals without specifying their gender, it must be stated as (for example) "ten head of cattle."
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