Cows

Natural History

Cattle (Bos taurus) and humans have a long history together. They have been domesticated and used for agricultural purposes since the Stone Age, over 10,000 years ago. Traditionally, cows have been raised for milk, beef, leather and other byproducts by farmers. Like humans, cows are highly sociable and even like to be in groups. They tend to stay close together as a form of protection guided by their herd instincts.

Cows have what’s called a “flight zone”, which is an area of personal space, and they get upset when people encroach upon them. However, being highly sociable animals, cows enjoy a good scratching under the chin and behind the ears. Cows are ruminants, which means they chew their cuds, have a split hoof, and have no upper front teeth. The cud is the food that has been swallowed and “burped” back up out of the rumen (the first section of the cow’s four chambered stomach) to be chewed again. They eat hay and grain and forage in the pasture. A cow spends 6 hours eating and 8 hours chewing its cud each day.

Raising cows requires a lot of acreage, but they can be raised where crops cannot be grown, such as hilly terrain. They require plenty of water and a shelter from the harsh weather. Holstein cows are the most popular milk cow used on farms. A milk cow is a female that has had a calf and produces milk as a result. The calf is usually taken away from the mother (and given a bottle) so she can be milked regularly. The cows are milked by pulling on the udders’ teats between her hind legs, most modern dairies have machines to do this. Beef cows are raised for meat  and only half of the weight of the cow is useful for meat products. The rest of the cow is used in various ways—the hide for leather, the horns and hooves for glue, the hair for paintbrushes, and the fat in cosmetics. It takes two years for a calf is ready for the market as beef.

Maymont is home to Irish Dexter cattle, which is a smaller breed of domesticated cattle. A mature Irish Dexter can grow as large as 1,000 lbs.

Fun Facts

  • A milk cow can produce enough milk in one day to keep the average family in milk for a month. That’s 6 gallons a day!
  • Whether or not a cow has horns depends on the species of cow, not whether or not it is a male or female.
  • Their manure makes good fertilizer.
  • Cows like to eat clean food. They will not eat hay that is muddy, has manure in it or has been stepped on.
  • Cattle Vocabulary: A bull is a male cow.  A female is called a cow, and a young female is a heifer.  The baby cows are called calves and a neutered male is a steer.  Steers that are trained to pull a cart or plow are called oxen.

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