Domesticated cattle, classified as Bos taurus, and members of the sub-family Bovinae of the family Bovidae, and have been around for many hundreds of years, and their form has only very slightly changed. Through the American capitalistic machine, the cattle themselves are an important cog within the agricultural aspects of the economy. There are roughly 1.3 billion cattle in the world today and roughly 920 breeds, with the U.S. owning about 100 million cattle. Africa leads this front at 200 million, as they use cattle for manual labor, demonstrating how even developing continents demand use for this animal.
A keystone element in the production of much of our nourishment, they produce dairy products and meat, standard portions of an everyday American’s palate. The cow has borne many industrialized companies, as well as become a vital part of a farmer’s source of income. The cow undoubtedly has become etched within not only our country’s history, but throughout the world’s history and will continue to be for many years. Many are even dependent upon this strange animal. It is interesting to note that without this animal, much of our business giants would collapse and go under overnight, or not even have come about at all. Some countries, such as India, even worship cattle. In Indian culture, folklore, and history, many of their deities are symbolically associated with cattle. In some areas, such as Nepal, one individual could be imprisoned for only a few months for killing a person, but would serve one year for injuring cattle, or life imprisonment for killing them.
Cows, colloquially known as cattle, offer a variety of services. Cattle are raised as livestock for meat and dairy products like milk and cheese. The cattle’s ancestor, the auroch, had been around for hundreds of years within Europe and Asia. The species itself survived as long as the 1600s. Found within India, and dated as far back as two million years ago, the early aurochs were worshipped by the Indian peoples. Today, we use them not only for dairy products and for meat and hides, but in some areas, adult castrated male cattle, then called oxen, are used for manual labor such as pulling carts and wagons. Although they are not as fast as horses, they are stronger and more reliable. Cattle have been used for manual labor for hundreds of years. There are many terms used to describe stages or genders of cattle, unified under bovine. The mature female is known as a cow, with a mature male being a bull. A group of cows being called a herd, a young female cow is called a heifer, and a baby cow is called a calf. Cattle have an interesting terminology not unlike that of whales, elk, and elephants.
Cattle have a unique anatomy, one that serves American purposes very well. They are quadrupedal ungulates, and some have horns. Most cattle, however, throughout selection, have become hornless. On an interesting note, in some hispanic countries, male cattle, or bulls, are used in “bullfighting”, in which a matador attempts to goad a bull into attacking him with a red cape or flag. People have the misconception that bulls are enraged by the color red. This is incorrect; they are red-green colorblind, like many mammals. They have a rather large stomach with four compartments: the rumen, reticulum, omasum, and the abomasum. Cattle will spend roughly 6 hours a day eating. Following that, the next eight hours the cattle will chew their cud, which, due to their unique stomach, is simply regurgitated food.
In 2008, scientists have actually mapped the entire bovine genome. They share roughly 80% of their genes with humans. Also in contemporary news, scientists have also uncovered the fact that cattle are the result of roughly 18% of our greenhouse gas emissions. In some 100 years, the potential greenhouse gais emissions as global warming is more or less twenty five times as much as carbon dioxide.
On the health matter of cattle, they were recently the subject of interest when, in the 1980s, a prion disease known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or mad cow disease, was of concern. This prion disorder also takes a human form known as Creutzfeldt-Jakobs disease. For this reason, United States and even global regulations were centered around combating this incurable disease. Millions of cattle were recalled and much of the United States’ cattle production slowed to a halt in a panic of the disease.
Cows have pregnancies similar to that of humans as far as the fact that their pregnancy lasts for nine months. Cattle offspring, or calves, feed off udders, mammary glands that rest on the underside of the animal. Male cows, or bulls, are fertile generally by about seven months of age. There are many procedures involved in efficiently and correctly producing good offspring from cattle. Such husbandry practices include making sure that the cow is ready to be impregnated in a healthy state. Cow maintenance is very important; young cows can be fitted with nose rings in order to wean them off of their mothers, for example. Cows must have their hooves clipped, horns removed, ears tagged for identification, and must be cleaned and milked in order to be healthy cows. In some cases, cows are trained and maintenanced for shows and other such competitions. Cows generally do not have very long lifespans. Bulls are usually much larger than that of their female counterparts, and large bulls, depending on breed, can weigh anywhere from 1000 pounds to 4000 pounds. Cows also sleep roughly 4 hours a day.
Cattle are wanted primarily for two reasons: for beef, and for milk. Beef from adults is called beef, and those from that of calves is veal. Veal is considered a delicacy in many places, and is therefore more expensive. There are many different breeds of cattle, and each breed is obviously unique, in the same way that beagles are different from labrador retrievers, but are still dogs. Depending on the breed, factors such as quality of meat, milk produced, adaptations to a particular weather, and many others is important in picking what kind of cattle is served into each category. Cows are singled out for their ability to perform well in weather and their low percentage of complications in birthing calves. Humans themselves have the ability to genetically select which cattle they want and because of their specific traits, therefore breed because of it and procure the results they want. Obviously this is the case in animals such as dogs and cats. These adaptations can change even in the smallest ways. In the example of the Ayrshire, the fat molecules in the milk are smaller than that of the Guernsey, making them the proper choice for creamier cheese. In the U.S., there are four different main breeds used for meat production. Black Angus, Herefordshire, Piedmontese, and Wagyu. These breeds have excellent adaptations making them the choice candidate for meat. For example, the Piedmontese cow features a genetic anomaly that allows them to create exclusively chemical fat and a better protein content; (3.8% vs 5.6% for Black Angus). Some cattle, however, are used for milk. As far as milk cattle go, popular breeds include the Guernsey, Holstein-Friesian, Dexter, Brown Swiss, and Ayrshire. Cattle should be milked twice per day, and the milk produced from these cattle is processed into cheese or yogurt. After a certain point, a female cow will cease to produce milk, and at that point, must be impregnated to continue. In the case of an exclusively dairy only farm, the young calf, if it is male, will be slaughtered at a young age to produce veal.
Cattle have a very interesting placehold in our American history. Cattle were first brought to the Americas by European settlers in the 15th century. They were then migrated towards Mexico, which was, at that point, part of Texas. The longhorn cattle were kept on an open range. As Texan independence became a success, the Mexicans left them with cattle. At the time, cattle were used only for their hides. At that point, beef production started to develop. Prices increased and men became wealthy selling their cattle. When the Civil War occurred, Texas ranchers left to fight, leaving their cattle behind. In that environment, the cattle, left to themselves, thrived and multiplied. When they returned, there were roughly 5 million cattle in Texas. They were then noticed in the north. Cattle ranchers simply had to move them from the south to the north, but in reality, that was no simple feat. The railroad trade picked up, however, and the business boomed, being dubbed a “beef bonanza.” Men traveled day and night to create fortunes for themselves, and from 1867 on, beef production soared, and developed into what we have today.
America boasts as one of the biggest and baddest cattle producing countries in the world, and for good reason. It is the single largest chunk of American agriculture. Made up of more than 1 million businesses, farms, and ranches, beef production accrues $66 billion dollars worth of revenue for the United States. It’s interesting to see that, although beef production has been modernized and yes, there are some companies out there who explicitly serve for profit and they saw the value in cattle, most cattle come from family owned businesses. The Wild West American way of life is important to these people, and it is simply raised from one man making something of himself and passing it on to his son, which continues the tradition. This isn’t the case in just the United States. The cow breeds mentioned above come from a whole host of other countries. Italy, Britain, among many others pass along these cattle for production. A few hundred years ago, the cattle ranchers weren’t really that picky, but today, a rancher can pick what he wants and can make a living simply by raising animals. But cows aren’t the only animals on the ranching scene. Horses as well as cattle can be handpicked and genetically bred tailoring to self-serving human purposes.
However, there are different kinds of cattle production. There is factory farming, and ranch farming. Some cattle are misused ethically. A large number of businesses simply want the largest output at the lowest cost, and that is a feasible and understandable produce of business. However, in many cases, the bounds are overstepped and the cattle are simply housed in the smallest, cramped places possible and injected with a large host of drugs in order to maximize growth and harvest potential. These cattle also are left without time to exercise and move freely, as well as lack of sunlight and lack of quality of air within the areas of which they are confined. There are also injuries that result from being overcrowded, as well as points where the cattle themselves are upset simply due to an invasion of personal space by other cattle. This sort of treatment is obviously scandalous, and a whole host of cattle health related documentaries have been produced as a result of this blatant and inhumane mistreatment of cattle. Many government groups, such as the FDA, have stepped in and have tightly regulated cattle production in order to prevent this sort of animal cruelty from occurring.
These factory farms obviously produce a large number of excrement due to the large number of cattle produced from these farms. The surrounding groundwater and rivers and streams are therefore polluted as the excrement flows into the water supply. These make the waterways inhospitable for fishers and fish alike. As a result, concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs, were enacted by the United States government to revert the quality of water back to what it was. The CAFOs are not the only groups that are involved. The Animal Welfare Act, the 28 hour law, and laws that state that an animal must be knocked unconscious before slaughter, et. cetera, have all been placed. This, in conjunction with tight regulation, ensures that these animals will not be mistreated.
In conclusion, the industry of cattle has somewhat evolved into a large machine that attempts to maximize profits. However, there are still a large number and actually, the majority of the cattle-producing body is that of family owned businesses. Many food production companies today are refusing cattle and other livestock that have been factory produced. Hopefully this continues on and sets an example for other companies who continue to idly sit by and even condone this sort of animal cruelty purely due to their avarice.