It has been more than 10,000 years since the first humans domesticated cattle. A male cow is called a bull and a female cow is a cow, a young cow is called a calf and a cow that is pregnant for the first time is called a heifer. There are many more cows than bulls. This is because a cow gives milk and you only need a few bulls when using artificial insemination to have many offsprings.
Although attempts are being made to breed back old primeval breeds, the diversity of the gene pool of the cattle is decreasing. This means that there are many cows, but they are almost all sisters. This is because the bovine animal breeds with a single bull with the best characteristics for dairy cows or beef cows. For example, one bull often has thousands of offsprings. Nowadays, a Dutch dairy cows give 8,000 litres of milk a year and that is more than three times the amount of a hundred years ago. In addition to milk and meat, the skin of the cow is also used to make leather.
There are approximately 90 million cows in the United States of America. The most famous dairy cows are the Holstein black fur (= black white mottled) and Holstein red fur (= red white mottled), Montbéliarde, a muscular breed from eastern France with a broad head, and Frisian red fur, a once almost extinct breed. Known beef cows are Limousin from France. These are muscular cows that used to be used to pull a cart and a plow. Other meat cows are Brandrood, Belgian White, Scottish Highland, with long horns and long fur, and Hereford.
A cow is a herbivore and a ruminant. This means that a cow only eats green, especially grass, and swallows it quickly. At a later moment he starts ruminating his food to grind it. In order to do this, a cow does not have one stomach just like humans, but four stomachs. The first stomach is the rumen. The freshly picked grass is collected here. When this stomach is full, the cow starts ruminating and the grass goes from the rumen to the second stomach, the reticulum. Here the food mixes with the cow’s saliva and produces cud. Cows burp up the cud into their mouths and chew it to help break it down more. The third Stomach is the omasum. In this stomach, moisture is removed from the food. The last Stomach is the abomasum that further digests the food and passes it to the intestines.
Apart from grass, dairy cows often receive concentrated food besides the grass or hay to keep the milk production up to standards. The cow will give milk after the birth of her calf, and after that, she can give milk for almost a year. After birth, calves are often quickly removed from their mothers. After that, the cows are milked every day by a machine. In the past, this was done manually by squeezing the udders and collecting the milk with a bucket. A cow can live to up to 20 years old, but often cows are slaughtered after six or seven years, because the milk production decreases.