1902 Encyclopedia > Cattle


CATTLE, a term applied to the various races of domesticated animals belonging to the genus Bos, known also as Oxer). They have been divided into two primary groups, the humped cattle or zebus (Bos indicus) of India and Africa, and the straight-backed cattle (Bos taurus), which are common everywhere. By many naturalists these groups have been regarded as mere races of the same species, and it is a well-ascertained fact that the offspring arising from the crossing of the humped and unhumped cattle are completely fertile ; but the differences in their osteology, configuration, voice, and habits are such as to leave little doubt of their specific distinctness. Oxen appear to have been among the earliest of domesticated animals, as they undoubtedly were among the most important agents in the growth of early civilization. They are mentioned in the oldest written records of the Hebrew and Hindu peoples, and are figured on Egyptian monuments raised 2000 years before the Christian era; while the remains of domesticated specimens have been found in the Swiss lake-dwellings along with the stone implements and other records of Neolithic man. In infant communities an individual's wealth was measured by the number and size of his herds—Abram, it is said, wa3 rich in cattle;—and oxen for a long period formed, as they still do among many Central African tribes, the favourite medium of exchange between nations. After the introduction of a metal coinage into ancient Greece, the former method of exchange was commemorated by stamping the image of an ox on the new money ; while the same custom has left its mark on the languages of Europe, as is seen in the Latin word "pecunia" and the English " pecuniary," derived from " pecus," cattle. The value attached to cattle in ancient times is further shown by the Bull figuring among the signs of the zodiac ; in its worship by the ancient Egyptians under the title of Apis; in the veneration which has always been paid to it by the Hindus, according to whose sacred legends it was the first animal created by the three divinities who were directed by the supreme Deity to furnish the earth with animated beings; and in the important part it was made to play in Greek and Roman mythology. The Hindus were not allowed to shed the blood of the ox, and the Egyptians could only do so in sacrificing to their gods. Both Hindus and Jews were forbidden, in their sacred writings, to muzzle it when treading out the corn; and to destroy it wantonly was considered a public crime among the Bomans, punishable with exile.

The domestic cattle of Europe, of which there are at least fifteen British, and a considerably larger number of Continental breeds, have been, according to Professors Nilsson and Biitimeyer, who have specially studied this subject, derived from at least three distinct species or races—Bos primigenius, Bos longifrons, and Bos frontosus. The first of these, the Urus, would seem, from its remains, to have been domesticated among the Swiss lake-dwellers,— abounding then, and down to historic times, in the wild state, throughout the forests of Europe. Caesar describes it as existing, in his time, in the Hercynian Forest, in size almost as large as an elephant, but with the form and colour of a bull; and it is mentioned by Heberstein so late as the 16th century as still a favourite beast of chase. The name Urus, applied to it by the Bomans, is derived from Ur, a root common to the Indo-European languages, and signify-ing original, primitive ; and may be traced in the Thur of Poland, Stier of the Germans, and the Latin Taurus, as also in various names of places, as the Canton of Uri, Thuringian Forest, Turin, and Tours. The Urus was characterized by its flat or slightly concave forehead, its straight occipital ridge, and the peculiar curvature of its horns. Its immense size may be gathered from the fact that a skull in the British Museum, found near Atholl in Perthshire, measures 1 yard in length, while the span of the horn cores is 3 feet 6 inches. Several breeds of cattle, as the Friesland of the Continent, and the Pembroke of England, are supposed to have sprung from this source ; while the so-called wild cattle of Britain (Bos taurus, var. Scoticus) make the nearest approach, according to Biitimeyer, of living forms to the Urus. This breed is of a white colour, except the tips of the horns, which are dark, and the ears and muzzle, which are either black or brownish red. Uniformity in colour, however, is secured by the slaughter of all calves which differ from the pure type. British wild cattle now exist only in Cadzow Forest, Chillingham Park, Lyme Park, and Chartley, in all of which they are strictly preserved. The purest bred are those of Chillingham—a park which was in existence in the 13th century. These have red ears with brownish muzzle, and show all the characteristics of wild animals. According to Mr Hindmarsh, who obtained his information from the proprietor, " they hide their young, feed in the night, basking or sleeping during the day ; they are fierce when pressed, but, generally speaking, very timorous, moving off on the appearance of any one even at a great distance." The bulls engage in fierce contest for the leadership of the herd, and the wounded are set upon by the others and killed; thus few bulls attain a great age, and even those, when they grow feeble, are gored to death by their fellows. The white cattle of Cadzow are very similar to those of Chillingham in their habits, but being confined to a narrow area are less wild. They still form a considerable herd, but of late years, it has been stated, they have all become polled It is probable, as Sir Walter Scott used to maintain, that Cadzow and Chillingham are but the extremities of what, in ruder times, was a continuous forest, and that the white cattle are the remnants of those herds of " tauri sylvestres " described by early Scottish writers as abounding in the forests of Caledonia, and to which Scott evidently refers in the following lines :—

" Mightiest of all the beasts of chase That roam in woody Caledon, Crashing the forest in his race, The mountain bull comes thundering on."

It is still a matter of controversy whether these wild cattle are the unsubdued, although degenerate, descendants of the mighty Urus, or merely the offspring of a domestic breed run wild, which have reverted somewhat to the ancient type. Their comparatively small size, and their evident tendency to vary in colour, seem to point out the latter as the more probable view. A breed similar to the Chillingham cattle existed in Wales in the 10th century, being white, with red ears ; and Welsh chroniclers relate how on one occasion a Prince of Wales demanded, as compensation for certain injuries, 100 white or 150 black cattle, and how also the anger of King John was at one time appeased by a gift of 1400 of the white variety,-— showing that the latter were numerous, and sufficiently under control to be collected and conveyed from one part of the country to another, also that they were more highly valued than the black cattle,—in short, that they existed at that time as a domesticated breed. According to Professor Low (Bomesticated Animals of the British Islands), this Welsh breed existed under domestication, in a com-paratively pure state, in Pembrokeshire at the beginning of the present century. As the wild cattle of Britain are prevented, by rigorous selection, from deviating from their present colour, it is impossible to assert that the ancient Urus was mainly white, although Darwin (Animals and Plants under Bomestication) has brought forward some facts to show that domestic cattle run wild seem to have a slight tendency to revert in that direction. Immense herds of wild oxen in the Ladrone Islands are described in Anson's Voyages as " being milk-white, except the ears, which are generally black;" and in the southern districts of the Falkland Islands, where cattle, introduced from La Plata, have run wild for at least a century, they are " white, with their feet, or whole head, or only their ears, black."

Bos longifrons, according to Nilsson, existed in the wild state in Sweden ; but Biitimeyer holds that there is not sufficient evidence to prove that it ever existed otherwise than domesticated in Central Europe. It seems to have been the most common race of domestic cattle among the ancient lake-dwellers, and several of the existing Swiss breeds are believed to be derived from it. Bemains of the same race are found in Britain associated with those of the elephant and rhinoceros, and there is little doubt that Caesar found large domestic herds of this kind on his arrival in Britain, and that these supplied food to the Boman legions. Professor Owen regards it as the original of our Welsh and Highland cattle. Bos longifrons was smaller than the ordinary breeds now existing, and had short horns. Whether it is to be regarded as originally a wild European species, which Neolithic man succeeded in domesticating, or merely as a domestic race introduced by settlers from the East, as many on philological grounds suppose, it has undoubtedly had a very considerable influence in the formation of our existing breeds.

Bos frontosus was somewhat larger than B. longifrons, with which it coexisted in certain districts of Scandinavia. Its remains are found chiefly in the lake-dwellings of the Bronze period, although occurring sparingly in those of earlier date. They have also been found in Irish cran-noges ; and Nilsson regards it as the progenitor of the present mountain cattle of Norway.

The breeds and sub-breeds produced from those ancient races are exceedingly numerous. " In Britain," says Youatt, " they are almost as various as the soil of the different districts, or the fancies of the breeders." This variety may in some degree be attributable to their being the descend-ants, in all probability, of more than one species, to slight differences in the climate and pasturage of different districts, or to the sudden appearance of what Darwin has termed " spontaneous variations ;" but it is beyond doubt mainly due to the long-continued and careful selection of the breeder. The British forms, a detailed account of _which will be found under the article AGRICULTURE, vol. i. p. 387, may be conveniently arranged in three classes :— (1.) Polled Cattle, an artificial variety which may be produced in any breed by selection ; thus the polled cattle of Galloway had small horns so late as the middle of the last century, but by only breeding with bulls of the shortest horns, the grandfather of the present earl of Selkirk succeeded in entirely removing those appendages; (2.) Short-homed Cattle, the descendants of Bos longifrons, represented in greatest purity by the Welsh and Highland cattle, and probably differing little from the cattle found in Britain from the Polished Stone age to the end of the Boman period; these were afterwards driven with their masters from the open country to the hilly districts, before the Saxon invaders, who probably brought with them (3.) the Long-homed Cattle, larger than the preceding, and of a red and white colour, which have given rise to those breeds of cattle that now occupy the less elevated and more fertile tracts of England. Those Saxon cattle may be regarded as representing the primigenius type. The long and short horned varieties, however, interbreed freely, so that in many of our breeds the two types are inextricably mixed.

Of Continental forms the Hungarian is conspicuous from its great size, and the extent of its horns, which often measure 5 feet from tip to tip. The cattle of Friesland, Jutland, and Holstein form another large breed, and these, it is said, were introduced by the Goths into Soain, thus becoming the progenitors of the enormous herds of wild cattle which now roam over the Pampas of South America. The latter, it is alleged by Spanish writers, have all sprung from seven cows and a bull brought from Andalusia to the city of Assuncion in Paraguay, about the year 1556. They are widely spread over the plains of that continent, but are most numerous in the temperate districts of Paraguay and La Plata—a fact which bears out the view taken by Darwin, that our oxen are the descendants of species originally inhabiting a temperate climate. Except in greater uniformity of colour, which is dark-reddish brown, the Pampas cattle have deviated but little from the Audalusian type. They roam in great herds in search of pasture, under the leadership of the strongest bulls, and avoid man, who hunts them chiefly for the value of their hides, of which enormous numbers are exported annually from Buenos Ayres. They are, however, readily reclaimed ; the wildest herds, according to Professor Low, being often domesticated in a month. These cattle have hitherto been chiefly valued for their hides, and as supplying animal food to the inhabitants, who only use the choicest parts; but lately attempts have been made, and with considerable success, to export the beef in a preserved state to Europe. Although the South American cattle have thus sprung from a single European breed—that continent possessing no indigenous species of taurine Bovidos, they have already given rise to many well-marked varieties, as the polled cattle of Paraguay, the hairless breed of Colombia, and that most monstrous of existing breeds, the Natas, two herds of which. Darwin saw on the banks of the Plata, and which he describes as " bearing the same relation to other cattle as bull or pug dogs do to other dogs." Cattle have been introduced by the colonists into Australia and New Zealand, where they are now found in immense herds, leading a semi-wild existence on the extensive " runs" of the settlers. The Hottentots and Kaffres possess several valuable breeds, as the Namaqua and Bechwana cattle, the latter with horns which sometimes measure over 13 feet from tip to tip along the curvature. The cattle of those semi-barbarous South Africans appear to be among the most intelligent of their kind,—certain of them, known as backleys, having been trained to watch the flocks, preventing them from straying beyond fixed limits, and protecting them from the attacks of wild beasts and from robbers. They are also trained to fight, and are said to rush into battle with the spirit of a war-horse.

Oxen, especially in Britain, have come to be regarded as dull and stupid animals, but this is only true of such breeds as are reared solely for fattening and killing. The wild cattle of Chillingham, and the semi-wild herds that abound on the plains of South America, show no lack of sagacity in avoiding threatened danger, or in combining to meet a common foe ; while the bachley of the Kaffres shows how susceptible they are of education. Wherever, indeed, the ox is employed as a beast of burden or of draught, and it is so in most countries, its intelligence is scarcely inferior to that of the horse, while it surpasses the latter in docility and in the patient endurance of toil. In the south-west of England the Devonshire cattle are largely employed in husbandry, and the greater attention which has consequently been bestowed upon them has been amply rewarded in the superior docility and intelli-gence of the breed. Among the Swiss mountains there are herds of cows, whose leaders are adorned with bells, the ringing of which keeps the cattle together, and guides the herdsman to their pasture grounds. The wearing of the bells has come to be regarded as an honourable distinction by the cows, and no punishment is felt so keenly as the loss of them, the culprit giving expression to her sense of degradation by the most piteous lowings.
The period of gestation in the cow is nine months, when she usually produces a single calf; occasionally, however, two are born, and when these are of different sexes, the female is almost invariably barren, and is known as a " free-martin," that is, a cow free for fattening, from the Scotch word " mart," signifying a fattened ox.

It is impossible to over-estimate the services rendered by the ox to the human race. Living, it ploughs its owner's land and reaps his harvest, carries his goods or himself, guards his property, and, as has been seen, even fights his battles, while its udders, which under domestication have been enormously enlarged, yield him at all seasons a copious supply of milk. When dead, its flesh forms a chief source of animal food; its bones are ground into manure or turned into numerous articles of use or ornament; its skin is made into leather, its ears and hoofs into glue; its hair is mixed with mortar; and its horns are cut and moulded into spoons and other useful articles.

Humped cattle are found in greatest perfection in India, but they extend eastward to Japan and westward to the African Niger. They differ from the European forms not only in the fleshy protuberance on the shoulders, but in the number of sacral vertebrae, in the character of their voice, which has been described as "grunt-like," and also in their habits; "they seldom," says Mr Blyth, "seek the shade, and never go into the water and there stand knee-deep like the cattle of Europe." They now exist only in the domesticated state, and appear to have been brought under the dominion of man at a very remote period, all the representations of the ox on such ancient sculptures as those in the caves of Elephanta being of the humped or zebu form. There are several breeds of the zebu, the finest occurring in the northern provinces of India, where they are used for riding,—carrying, it is said, a man at the rate of six miles an hour for fifteen hours. White bulls are held peculiarly sacred by the Hindus, and when they have been dedicated to Siva, by the branding of his image upon them, they are thenceforth relieved from all labour. They go without molestation wherever they choose, and may be seen about Eastern bazaars helping themselves to whatever dainties they prefer from the stalls of the faithful. See AGRICULTURE, vol. i. p. 387. (J. GI.)

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