Before I dive into today’s blog, I have an exciting update to share: The HOOT! 2022 online auction started today!
You can visit the online-only page to decide which amazing items to bid on. Tickets are still available for the live event which will be held on Friday, Sept. 16 at The Foundry by Herban Feast in Seattle! You can learn more about the event by clicking here and buy tickets here.
We caregivers also enjoy viewing (and occasionally bidding on) items that commemorate our favorite sanctuary residents. Although there are some great chimpanzee-themed items, I must admit that I am quite partial to the plush Cuddle Clone of the Jersey cow, Meredith.
As many of you already know, the pastures that surround the sanctuary’s Chimp House provide a home to four rescued cattle: Betsy, Honey, Meredith and Nutmeg. This little herd helps the sanctuary by consuming vegetation that could potentially fuel wildfires. In turn, we give them food, water, shelter, enrichment, veterinary care, and everything else they need to thrive. Caring for these creatures is often quite different from the work we do with chimpanzees, so I’m taking a moment to share some interesting trivia about the sanctuary’s lovable, living lawnmowers.
- Domestic cattle (Bos taurus) are often called bovines because they belong to the subfamily Bovinae. This group also includes bison, buffalo, yaks, and other species of wild cattle. Sheep, goats and antelope are their closest living relatives and belong in the same family: Bovidae.
- The ancestor of all living cattle is the extinct aurochs (B. primigenius). Aurochs once ranged across Eurasia and North Africa and were commonly depicted in prehistoric art (e.g. the Lascaux cave painting shown below). People across the Roman Empire commonly used them in bullfights, but they likely went extinct due to deforestation, over-hunting, and competition with domestic cattle. The last known aurochs cow lived in Poland and died in 1627.
- Jersey cattle are specifically adapted to life on Jersey, one of the United Kingdom’s Channel Islands. The island’s human inhabitants carefully bred these cattle to yield milk with a high percentage of butterfat, and even prohibited the importation of foreign cattle in order to maintain this quality.
- Jerseys are not the most popular dairy breed in North America. That title belongs to the black-and-white Holstein-Friesian, which are larger and produce more milk per cow.
- Newborn cattle are called calves (e.g. newborn Nutmeg with mother Betsy, shown in the Farm Sanctuary photograph above). Immature females are called heifers and are only considered cows after birthing their first calf. Calves gestate for nine months and typically remain dependent on their mother’s milk for ten months before naturally weaning.
- Ranchers often castrate male calves so they don’t develop into adult bulls, which are difficult to house and manage. Young castrated males are called steers until they eventually mature into fully-grown oxen. Historically, humans utilized oxen as draught animals for pulling plows and carts. Even though they are a relatively small cattle breed (females are usually around 800 pounds), Jersey bulls and oxen can grow up to 1,800 pounds.
- The glands on cattle noses make distinct patterns that are as unique as human fingerprints.
- Cattle horns and hooves are bony structures encased in sheaths of keratin, the same protein that makes up human nails and hair. Hooves generally grow ⅕ -¼ of an inch each month. The hooves of domestic cattle must be trimmed periodically to prevent a variety of health issues (below).
- The common safety practice of horn removal is called polling. The remaining knob is called a poll and any subsequent horn growths are called scurs.
- Cattle and other ruminants have a complex, multi-chambered stomach that specializes in breaking down fibrous plant matter. They do not have four stomachs. The chambers are called the rumen, reticulum, omasum and abomasum (diagram below) . The rumen alone can hold up to 25 gallons of plant material. Each chamber contains a unique microbiome that is critical for proper digestion and overall health.
- Cattle regurgitate chunks of semi-digested food called cud. They chew these again before re-ingesting them. This process is called “rumination” or “chewing the cud.” They chew in a conspicuous circular motion, grinding the forage against a leathery dental pad that they develop in place of upper incisors
- Bovines are quite intelligent and have excellent long-term memories. Experiments show that cattle can discern between individual humans and learn to avoid humans who treat them roughly and trust humans who treat them kindly.
- Cattle herds are complex societies that regularly split up and reunite (fission-fusion behavior). When not managed by humans, cattle form matriarchal hierarchies where bulls only associate for competition and breeding.
- Domestic cattle can run up to 17 miles per hour (for short distances).
- Cattle develop friendships with familiar individuals and reinforce their social bonds through grooming. Their preferred method of grooming is to lick each other with their raspy prehensile tongues (which also help them to grab food).
- The USDA estimates the current global population of domestic cattle to be over one billion head (individuals), up 13.2 million from the previous year. These populations contribute significantly to anthropogenic climate change. The methane released from cattle ranches accounts for around 14% of global emissions.
- Red meat consumption peaked in 1976 and has fallen dramatically since, but the average American still consumes around 57.2 pounds of beef each year. Ranching remains a key industry in the communities near the sanctuary (below). Recently, the availability of plant-based meat substitutes, the rising costs of beef production, and the recent drought in the American West may all be contributing to this decline.
Now you’re all prepared to absolutely slay a Jeopardy category on the subject of bovines. You’re welcome.
Don’t forget to check out the HOOT! page to get your bovine collectibles and contribute to their sanctuary home!
dennis lorton says
Have heard the the cattle terms, but never knew what they all meant. Thanks!!
I’m glad you liked the post, Dennis!
I grew-up around milk cows and bulls….they are not dumb animals…I believe their internal clocks are much better than ours….they would show up for feed right on time around the clock and calendar…..but keep your feet out from under a hoof..!!!
We whole-heartedly agree, Tom! It’s amazing how quickly they adapt to schedule changes when they perceive them to be in their favor! We just started supplementing their remaining pasture forage with grass hay and they’re already meeting us at the barn every afternoon.
Wonderful photos of the fantastic four thank you so much…..I can’t believe Nutmeg was ever that small! Lots of interesting information too. When will the bovines be coming down into their winter quarters?
Thanks, Carol! He wasn’t that tiny for long, haha! Usually, the cattle can continue having access to their summer pasture space until it gets too muddy for them to reliably climb the steep path up the hill. This transition has occurred in late November for the past few years. They’ll stay in the winter paddock until the pasture is ready to support them again… perhaps in May!
Kim Harris says
Awesome post Anthony! Lots of fun facts. And the tongue-licking pic is perfect! I agree with Carol; hard to believe Nutmeg was so tiny!
Thanks, Kim! It was strange to review my photo library in search of a good tongue close-up.
Thank you, Anthony. I very much enjoyed this tutorial on cattle. One point of contention, however:. human-initiated “animal husbandry” is as much — if not more — of factor in the overproliferation of bovines and their resulting methane. Cattle, like human animals, have their place in the web of life but, please, let us not overbreed either species from being able to exist on a habitable planet.
Thanks for making that point, Tobin! I definitely agree and should have added a clear statement about that. Humans know the biosphere cannot sustainably support one billion domestic cattle and our species is solely responsible for fixing that problem now.
Even as a newborn, Nutmeg has a fabulous hairdo! That photo is simply priceless. Thanks for giving us a condensed education on your four “living lawnmowers”. Fascinating. I hope they enjoyed their new pasture this summer.
Isn’t Nutmeg’s “top-knot” the best? The cattle seemed to really enjoy the new pasture and all the shady resting areas in between!
Great post. I don’t eat meat anymore and even when I did, I’d find it impossible to imagine eating 57 pounds a year! Yikes
Linda C says
I fenerally don’t, either, but if 1 lb= 2-4 hamburgers, and then you think of pasta sauce and casseroles, you could see how a person would get in 50 lbs/yr. In the 70s, hamburger was cheap.
I also did a double-take at that statistic, but it seems more likely when I think about the widespread availability of beef-centric “fast food.” I wonder if things will change in the next decade or two?