A skeleton of the extinct Aurochs, the origin of our modern beef cattle.

A skeleton of the extinct Aurochs, the origin of our modern beef cattle.

DOMESTIC CATTLE, AN INTRODUCTION

Domestic cattle (Bos primigenius species) belong to the Bos genus which includes cattle, yaks, aurochs, guar, and bantengs. These animals are almost entirely large to very large grazing, ruminant mammals with long tongues that are used to grab and twist the plant material and grinding teeth used to macerate their food. Our modern domestic cattle originated from the aurochs (Bos primigenius), which is now extinct.

The subspecies of cattle that came from the aurochs in Western Asia is called Bos primigenius taurus. These cattle are where all the European breeds originated, and subsequently almost all North American cattle breeds as well. In fact, many researchers believe that all the European breeds originated from as few as 80 aurochs in Mesopotamia (which includes parts of modern day Iraq, Kuwait, Syria, Turkey, and Iran) about 10,500 years ago. The subspecies of cattle that came from the aurochs in Southern Asia is called Bos primgenius indicus. These cattle were also domesticated, and this is where the Indian Zebu cattle originate. The Brahman breed originate from the Zebu.

It is interesting to note that many cattle have the ability to interbreed with other Bos species.

We can divide cattle into four major types: Beef (meat), Dairy, Draft, and Multi-Purpose (Beef-Dairy, Beef-Draft, Dairy-Draft, and Beef-Dairy-Draft). Many of the older, heritage breeds are dual or triple-purpose animals. However, this article is focusing on Beef Cattle. When raised in a way that cattle are designed, which is not in a feedlot or concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO), the beef and fat can be very healthy and nutrient dense.

I’ve tried to outline the available and most common breeds in the U.S. (since that is where I am from) as well as notable breeds from around the world. There are a lot, so I am going to break this up into a number of articles. And please note that there are not a lot of good photos for some of the breeds, so I did the best I could.

But first, let’s start with cattle terminology.

Basic external cow anatomy

Basic external cow anatomy

TERMINOLOGY

  • Backgrounding: a beef cattle operation for growing feeder cattle from weaning until they are sent to be finished
  • Beef: meat from cattle, but not from calves.
  • Bos indicus: subspecies of cattle from South Asia, commonly called Zebu, they have a hump. Brahman is the most common breed in the US.
  • Bos taurus: subspecies of cattle from Western Asia, but often referred to as European. Most cattle in the North America comes from these breeds.
  • Bovine: the general family grouping of cattle
  • Bull: male bovine (uncastrated), usually means a breeding age animal (sexually mature)
  • Bullock: young male bovine (young bull), usually referring to an animal less than 20 months old
  • Calf: young bovine, male or female, under 1 year old
  • Calve: to give birth to a calf
  • Cattle: according to the Oxford Dictionary… cattle are large, ruminant animals with horns and cloven hoofs, domesticated for meat, milk, or as beasts of burden. Includes subspecies Bos primigenius taurus and Bos primigenius indicus. There is no singular form/word for cattle
  • Composite: a breed that has been formed by crossing three or more established breeds
  • Cow: female bovine, one that is sexually mature, and usually one that has already delivered a calf
  • Cow-Calf Operation: a farm/ranch that maintains a breeding herd of cows and sells weaned calves for sale
  • Cud: feed that a cattle regurgitates into their mouth so they can chew it and swallow it another time
  • Dam: the calf’s mother
  • Dehorning: removing the horns from calves so that they are easier to handle and safer to farmers/ranchers and each other, this is not always practiced
  • Dogie: pronounced “dough-ghee”, cowboy term for a calf with no mother
  • Feeder: cattle that need additional feeding, for weight gain, before going to slaughter
  • Feedlot: beef cattle operation where cattle are placed in confinement and fed/fattened before slaughter – I am strongly opposed to this for health and ethical reasons!
  • Fed Cattle: cattle that have been fed in a feedlot
  • Finished Cattle: cattle that are ready to go to slaughter
  • Freemartin: if twins are born, and one is a male and one is a female, the female usually is infertile and is partially intersexed – these animals are called freemartins
  • Heifer: young female bovine, used to describe a cow that has not delivered a calf
  • Heiferette: a cow that has calved once before she reaches 24 months of age, she is no longer producing milk and is usually fed for slaughter
  • Herd: a group of cattle
  • Leppy: cowboy term for an orphaned calf
  • Maverick: wild cattle (like those in the Western US) that have never been branded or gathered
  • Ox (Oxen): a castrated male that is used for draft (pulling, carrying) purposes, sometimes females or bulls are used
  • Polled: cattle that are naturally hornless.
  • Replacement Heifer: a female calf that has been chosen to replace another cow in the herd
  • Ruminant: any mammal that has a four-part stomach (rumen, reticulum, omasum, abomasum)
  • Scur (Scurred): any horn tissue that is attached to the skin and not the head
  • Seedstock (Seedstock Producer): cattle (or the producers of these cattle) that are purebred and registered
  • Sire: the calf’s father
  • Springer: a cow or heifer that is close to calving
  • Steer: male bovine that has been castrated (testicles physically or functionally removed) before reaching puberty, raised for meat
  • Stocker: weaned cattle that are fed on grass or other high roughage diet
  • Terminal Sire: sire (father bull) that is used in a crossbreeding program
  • Tipping: removing the insensitive part of the horn
  • Veal: meat from very young cattle (typically under 3 months old). Most veal comes from dairy breeds. Veal calves can be raised in a very inhumane manner or in a very humane manner… all veal is not created equal!
  • Weaning: separating calves from their dams (mothers) so that they no longer suckle, this can be allowed to happen on its own or can be forced
  • Yearling: cattle (male or female) that are between 1-2 years old
    • Short Yearling: calves that are between 12-18 months old
    • Long Yearling: calves that are between 19-24 months old
  • 3 in 1: A dam (mother cow) with her calf, where the cow has been bred again and is pregnant. These three (cow, calf, unborn calf) are sometimes sold together in one “package”.

 

BREEDS

See the other articles:
Domestic Beef Cattle: Terminology and Breeds (Part 1)
Domestic Beef Cattle Breeds (Part 2)
Domestic Beef Cattle Breeds (Part 3)
Domestic Beef Cattle Breeds (Part 4)

American Breed

American Breed

American Breed

American Breed

1. American

  • Origin: USA (New Mexico). Developed in 1950 from Brahman (1/2), Charolais (1/4), Bison (1/8), Hereford (1/16), and Shorthorn (1/16).
  • Type: Meat.
  • Flavor: Low-fat.
  • Size: Medium to Large.
  • Color: Variable.
  • Horns: Horned.
  • Temperament: Gentle.
  • Notes: Drought-tolerant.

 

American-British White Park

American-British White Park

American-British White Park

American-British White Park 

2. American-British White Park

  • Origin: Britain. Likely descending from Roman-era British cattle with Angus and Shorthorn.
  • Type: Meat.
  • Flavor: “textured meat, with excellent flavour and marbling”
  • Size: Medium to Large.
  • Color: White with black or red points.
  • Horns: Polled, but with occasional horns.
  • Temperament: Docile.
  • Notes: Traditionally a dual-purpose milk and beef animal.

 

Amerifax

Amerifax

Amerifax

Amerifax

3. Amerifax

  • Origin: USA. Developed in 1970’s. Angus (5/8) and Friesan (3/8).
  • Type: Meat.
  • Flavor: No reliable information can be found.
  • Size: Medium to Large.
  • Color: Black or red.
  • Horns: Polled (natural)
  • Temperament: No reliable information can be found.
  • Notes: Fast growing. Popular as a grass-fed animal. Good mothers.

 

Ancient White Park

Ancient White Park

Ancient White Park

Ancient White Park

4. Ancient White Park

  • Origin: Britain.
  • Type: Meat.
  • Flavor: Rich-flavored meat with fine-grain and limited marbling.
  • Size: Large.
  • Color: White with black or red points.
  • Horns: Large, lyre-shaped horns.
  • Temperament: “great temperament”, “far from docile”
  • Notes: High-quality meat. This is basically the horned version of the American-British White. This is the cattle breed at the Seed Savers Exchange in Decorah, Iowa… they are beautiful cattle. They also do well on grass/pasture.

 

Angus

Angus

Angus

Angus

5. Angus (a.k.a. Aberdeen Angus)

  • Origin: Scotland.
  • Type: Meat.
  • Flavor: High percentage of prime meat.
  • Size: Medium to Large.
  • Color: Black or red (although they are registered as different breeds).
  • Horns: Polled (natural)
  • Temperament: Docile.
  • Notes: High-quality meat. Fast growth. Easy calving. The most common beef breed in the world. I find it interesting that this breed was developed in Scotland with its cool and cloudy weather, but it is often raised in the desert southwest of the United States.

 

Ankole-Watusi

Ankole-Watusi

Ankole-Watusi

Ankole-Watusi

6. Ankole-Watusi

  • Origin: Africa. Originated in the Nile Valley about 6,000 years ago!
  • Type: Meat.
  • Flavor: Lean meat.
  • Size: Medium to Large.
  • Color: Wide range of colors and patterns.
  • Horns: Extremely large!
  • Temperament: “even though the horns can be intimidating, Ankole-Watusi cattle are docile, even trainable”, “excellent temperament”
  • Notes: Easy calving. Fast growth. Milk has high concentration of fat (10%). Tolerates temperature extremes.

 

Aubrac

Aubrac

Aubrac

Aubrac

7. Aubrac

  • Origin: France. Developed in the 1600’s by the Benedictine monks of the mountainous Massif Central region
  • Type: Meat.
  • Flavor: Lean meat.
  • Size: Medium to Large.
  • Color: Light Brown.
  • Horns: Medium.
  • Temperament: “extremely docile”, “excellent temperament”… I should note that in their native country, the cattle are decorated with flowers and walked through the town and country once a year to their grazing grounds
  • Notes: Good pasture production. Long-lived. Easy calving. Milk is used in cheese production. Only brought to the US in 1995.

 

Barzona

Barzona

Barzona

Barzona

8. Barzona

  • Origin: USA (Arizona). Developed in the 1940’s from Afrikander, Angus, Hereford, and Shorthorn.
  • Type: Meat.
  • Flavor: No reliable information can be found.
  • Size: Medium.
  • Color: Red, sometimes white.
  • Horns: Polled or Horned.
  • Temperament: “good, and they are easy to handle”
  • Notes: Excellent in heat and drought.

 

Beefalo

Beefalo

Beefalo

Beefalo

9. Beefalo

  • Origin: USA. Developed in Montana in 1962. Any beef breeed (5/8) and Bison (3/8).
  • Type: Meat.
  • Flavor: Extra-lean meat.
  • Size: Medium to Large.
  • Color: Various.
  • Horns: Polled or Horned.
  • Temperament: “wild”, “tend to be aggressive”, “difficult to handle”
  • Notes: Hardy. Efficient.

 

Beefmaster

Beefmaster

Beefmaster

Beefmaster

10. Beefmaster

  • Origin: USA. Developed in Texas in the 1930’s with Brahman (1/2), Shorthorn (1/4), and Hereford (1/4).
  • Type: Meat.
  • Flavor: No reliable information can be found.
  • Size: Medium.
  • Color: Red, usually, but other colors are accepted.
  • Horns: Polled or Horned.
  • Temperament: Gentle.
  • Notes: Good grass/pasture production. Hardy. Good pest resistance.

 

 

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Photo References:

  • http://www.ansi.okstate.edu/breeds/breeds/cattle/american/images/american-web-2.jpg
  • http://www.ansi.okstate.edu/breeds/breeds/cattle/american/images/american-web-1.jpg
  • http://s130.photobucket.com/user/djinwa/media/IMG_1409-1.jpg.html
  • http://www.sofwhitecattle.com/files/DSCN14740001.JPG
  • http://www.ansi.okstate.edu/breeds/breeds/cattle/amerifax/images/amerifax-web-1.jpg
  • http://www.vbarcattle.com/amfax3.jpg
  • http://www.bbar.com/wp_images/WhiteParks_0064.jpg
  • http://leapingwatersfarm.com/wp-content/themes/farm/images/bg-img-05.jpg
  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/1a/Red-angus.jpg
  • http://www.turkiyehayvancilik.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/Angus.jpg
  • http://watusicattle.com/wp/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/Princess-Hillary-8-16-11.jpg
  • http://watusicattle.com/wp/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/UgandaRodney.jpg
  • http://www.asta.fr/IMG/jpg/27_Aubrac_rd_012.jpg
  • http://img.kazeo.com/222/2222306/XL/taureau-aubrac-st-hippolyte.jpg
  • http://khavens.weebly.com/uploads/3/0/7/2/3072061/7001465_orig.jpg
  • http://www.barzona.com/images/Carmichael_6308_BlueBoxSugarRayxRamBoy.jpg
  • http://www.readthesmiths.com/articles/Images/Humor/beefalo.JPG
  • http://www.beefaloaustralia.com/Bold%20Venture.jpg
  • http://www.wildoaksfarms.com/BeefmasterBULLS/HERDSIRES/CP-2.gif
  • http://swingingbranch.mysite.com/images/starburst-2.jpg
  • http://classconnection.s3.amazonaws.com/18/flashcards/699018/jpg/cow_term1315582343589.jpg
  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/60/Aurochse.jpg