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Oftentimes it’s easy to get confused by the various terminology of bovines, cattle, cows, oxen, heifers, bulls, and many more.
So who’s one and the same, who’s a part of which family and sub-family, or what makes them differ from one another?
Let’s start with the difference between cows and cattle.
Difference Between Cows and Cattle
The difference between Cow and Cattle is that cattle is the broad spectrum plural without regard to sex whereas cows refer strictly to mature female bovine who’s had a calf.
So why do we often confuse cows with cattle? Perhaps it’s due to a number of different classifications for what seems to all be the very same thing – cattle, at least at the first glance. Keep on reading to find out why all cows are cattle and why all cattle are not cows.
But what is a cow in its terminology?
Quite simply, a cow is only and strictly a female. However, not every cow is a cow, meaning, only female bovine cows who’ve given birth are called cows, whilst female cows who haven’t had a calf just yet are called heifers. The calf is a young bovine animal, either female or male.
Furthermore, a grown male cow is called a bull, whilst a young male cow is called a bull calf.
Bovine comes from the Latin word Bos meaning “cow” or originally “ox”. Bovine includes a diverse group of animals ranging from domestic cattle, bison, African buffalo, to the four-horned and spiral-horned antelopes.
Benefits of Cows
The most important and obvious benefit of cows is that cows give us milk. It’s hard to imagine our lives without milk as cows have become an essential source of milk for mankind.
Cow milk benefits include:
- Improves immunity by increasing the amount of antioxidant activity and decreasing inflammation
- Improves liver function
- Contains calcium, iron, phosphorus and other minerals which better our body functions
- Improves bone function and nourishes the skin
- Other than the listed milk benefits are the benefits that come as a byproduct in the forms of curd, cheese, and dunk.
Unexpected benefits cow produces are cow urine and manure. Cow manure is used for many purposes, a few of which are as a fertilizer, producer of fuel and biogas or as an insect repellent. Whereas cow urine can be used as fertilizer, antiseptic, cleansing purposes, and some pharmacological effects.
The next benefit we can draw from cows is leather. Cow leather is the most widely used leather and it makes up 65 to 70% of world leather production. Cow leather use varies from furniture upholstery, in car production as in for seats, belts, and straps, and for leather clothing and shoes.
Cow leather is used for soles and uppers of shoes, for car seats and furniture upholstery, belts and straps, saddles, leather clothing, and much more. There is hardly any area in which bovine leathers or calf skins are not processed.
In short, all parts of the cow can be utilized in one way or another, for it to produce something of value.
The cattle are domesticated herbivorous mammals from the Bovidae family and the genus Bos. The Bos cattle are divided into two main species:
- Bos Indicus Taurus
- Bos Taurus Taurus
Bos Indicus cattle breeds originate from Southwest Asia, whereas Bos Taurus cattle breeds originated from Europe.
The Bos Indicus breeds have adapted to the tropical environment and are known to have adapted to high temperatures and humidity. They’ve also accumulated resistance to the likes of ticks and are often used as draught and riding animals in tropical environments. Although they can be used for meat and milk production, most of the milk is used by the calf.
The Bos Taurus cattle breeds include the likes of most recent dairy and beef cattle and are found throughout much of the world today. Most of the Bos Taurus cattle breeds are adapted to cooler climates.
Altogether, Bos Indicus and Bos Taurus cattle contain around 250 different breeds of cattle and are most often mutually bred in efforts to produce the best possible breed.
What’s the difference between Cows and Cattle?
To repeat once more, cattle come from the family and sub-family of Bovinae. From the sub-family of Bovinae comes the Bos genus. From the Bos genus comes the Bos Taurus species. From the Bos Taurus species come two subspecies – the Bos Taurus Indicus and Bos Taurus Taurus.
No matter if the cattle are of Bos Indicus, Bos Taurus, or mixed breed, they can be cows. Simply put, all cows are cattle but not all cattle are cows.
All cows are cattle because they come from the Bos Taurus species, the Bovinae family, or as they’re commonly called – cattle.
With that being said, keep in mind that all cattle are not cows since cows represent only the female cow.
The female cow can be a calf – if it’s a young female cow, a heifer – if it’s a cow who hasn’t had a calf yet or a cow – a mature female cow who’s had a calf. All of these are cattle.
As for the male cattle, the male can be a bull calf – if it’s a young male bovine, a steer – if it’s a neutered male bull, an ox – a neutered male bovine used as a draft animal or a bull – an uncastrated male bovine of any age. A steer and ox are almost one and the same with the slight difference of their purpose as a steer is reared as beef bovine and an ox as a draft animal. Again, all of these are cattle.
Try avoiding calling the male bovine or male cattle a male cow, stick to – bull calf, bull, steer, or ox.
If you call the female bovine or female cattle a cow, that’s absolutely right! If you’d like to be more specific go with – calf, cow, or heifer.
Types of Cattle
One more difference between male and female bovine is their purpose. The female bovines can be either beef or dairy cattle whereas the male bovines can only be beef cattle as they’re unable to produce milk.
Beef cattle is reared to be tasty meat. Their physique of short necks, thick backs and muscular shoulders and rumps or overall rounded bodies is achieved by building muscle and storing fat as they mostly graze or eat grains and don’t use up much of their energy.
Female bovines or cows who are reared to be beef are able to produce milk but only in the amounts to feed their calves and not enough to be a dairy cow. Heifers – cows who hadn’t had a calf, and steers – who were neutered are reared specifically to produce meat and the meat that comes from them is considered to be of higher quality.
Dairy cattle can also be called dairy cows as only female bovines are able to produce dairy, or more specifically milk. What creates a difference between beef and dairy cattle is the energy which goes into producing milk or either the energy which goes into producing mass.
Dairy cows are rather lean with an angular body shape which makes them look underfed but they’re just not storing as much fat as beef cattle are. As with beef cattle, their diet also consists of grasses and grains but the dairy cattle don’t navigate as much terrain for grazing as the beef cattle does, which also contributes to their lean build.
Cows are able to produce milk only at the time they’ve calves. As a cow’s gestation period is around 280 days, cows are bred to have only one calf each year. Throughout that year they’re milked for about 300 days after which they get to rest for two months until they’re ready to calve again.
Although draft cattle could be both – male and female bovine, the female bovine is more often used in two previous cases. The female bovine isn’t as muscular and strong as the male bovine and is in general used for meat or dairy production. However, in areas like Zambia, where there was a shortfall of oxen at a time, it has become a normal thing to use cows as draft cattle.
Most of the other places see it as a taboo and use male bovine as draft cattle. Ox – a male bovine who’s been neutered is most often used as a draft animal due to it being more docile than the bull. Except for oxen, there’s also stags – male bovine who’s been neutered either late or improper and has developed some secondary sex characteristics.