All about cows

This cow is a breed called Holstein. Holsteins are mainly raised for milk production. Photo from Scott Radcliffe, Purdue UniversityOne of the most common farm animals around the world is the cow. Every continent except for Antarctica raises at least one breed of cattle. It’s easy to see why: cows provide meat, milk, labor, leather and hundreds of other products that people use in everyday life.

Domesticated cows are descended from wild aurochs, a species of wild cattle with long horns that are now extinct. They were domesticated between 5,000 and 10,000 years ago for similar reasons as we use them today — meat, milk and help with labor. Horses later filled the role for labor, as they were able to perform the jobs more quickly.

Today, there are many different breeds of cattle, which can live in different climates. For example, in Indonesia, which is a chain of islands, each island where people live has its own breed of cattle. However, cattle eat and drink so much that the dry eastern Indonesia can’t raise too many cows.

Farmers need to make sure they have a lot of water and food for their cows because cows eat and drink a lot. On average, a cow will eat about 25 pounds of food and drink about 30 gallons of water in a single day.

Don’t try that at home.

Cattle today are raised by both small and large-scale farms, where they are fed hay, grain, or food byproducts like tomato pulp, potato peels, or hulls from almonds or soy. Most cows are raised for either beef or milk.

Cows have different stomachs than humans; while people have a stomach that is just a single compartment, cows have multiple compartments that are better at digesting rough plants. Animals with these kinds of stomachs are called ruminants. Other ruminants include goats and sheep.

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Healing sick cows

Sick cows in Bern, Switzerland might visit the "cow hospital" when they get sick. At the hospital, veterinarians diagnose illnesses and try to bring cows back to health.

Learn about cow research

Many animal scientists work with cows. Studying cows can help scientists produce more food for the world's growing population. Read more

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