Bovines in History / Beef Cattle and the Oklahoma Economy / About the Cow / Raising Cattle / Cattle and the Environment / Cattle Breeds / Cattle Ranching / Nonfood Products from Cattle
Bovines in History
Cows were first domesticated
about 5,000 years ago. Modern domestic cattle
evolved from a single ancestor, the aurochs (pronounced or
oks). Prehistoric paintings on cave walls help us see what
the aurochs looked like.
Cattle are herd animals.
In ancient times, herd animals were the easiest animals
to domesticate. Herd animals follow the lead of a dominant
member. These natural leaders are the first to cross streams,
gullies and other obstacles, showing the others the way.
Herd animals stay close together and move together.
The first cow in America arrived in Jamestown in 1611.
Beef Cattle and the
industry generates more income than any other agricultural
enterprise in our state. In 2005, Oklahoma’s cattle
and calf population was 5.4 million.
The cattle and calf
industry is the most profitable agricultural enterprise
in Oklahoma. In 2005 cattle and calves contributed $2.2
million to the Oklahoma economy.
In 2005 Oklahoma ranked
number five in the nation in the number of cattle and calves.
Oklahoma City's Stockyard
City is the home of the largest stocker/feeder cattle
market in the world. Since it opened in 1910, more than
102,000,000 head of livestock have passed through its iron
Bovine is the scientific name for beef or dairy cattle. A
bull is a mature male bovine. A sire is a bull used for breeding
and is not usually used for meat.
About the Cow
Both male and female
cows are born with horns (except polled breeds). Sometimes
the farmer has the veterinarian remove the horns.
A male is called a “bull,” and
a female is called a “cow.”
A heifer is a young
female that has never given birth, and a cow is an older
female that has given birth.
- Cattle are ruminant
animals. They have stomachs with four compartments that
allows them to eat grass and hay. Some experts think a
cow’s digestive system developed as it did for survival.
Since bovine animals are hunted animals in the wild, it
must eat quickly and eat as much as possible. The grasses
the animal eats are stored in the second stomach until
it finds a safe place to eat. Then the animal brings up
the food, the cud, to chew. A cow spends six hours eating
and eight hours chewing its cud each day.
A cow has a long tongue
that feels like sandpaper. It helps pull in the grass
and hay that she eats.
The ears of a cow are
much larger than those of humans. They help transfer
heat. Breeds that originated in warmer climates have larger
ears and looser skin to help their bodies get rid of heat.
Some cattle can even use their ears to fan themselves in
warm weather. Loose skin also protects the cattle from insect
Cows use their tails
to swat flies.
A female cow has an
udder that produces milk after she has given birth to her
Cows can smell odors
up to five miles away.
- Cows face north or south to graze. They do this all over
the world. Wild deer also display this behavior.
- Cattle are social animals. They all sit down before it rains
and huddle together in a circle formation during blizzards.
People who raise cattle
usually have one bull for every 25 cows. During the
breeding season, the bulls are placed in a pasture with
heifers and cows.
time the bulls and the females are together is called
a breeding season. A breeding season usually lasts three
to four months. Once breeding season is over, the bulls are
moved to another pasture until the next breeding season.
The bred females will then have a nine-month (285-day)
gestation period. Gestation is the period of time that
begins when the cow is bred and ends when she gives birth
to her calf.
A group of calves all
born in the same season to cows belonging to one producer
is called a calf crop.
Most beef calves are
born either in the fall or the spring. Ranchers try
to arrange it that way because grazing is better at those
times of year, and the weather is not so harsh. They also
try to time the birth of calves so they are ready for market
at the time when market prices are best. Dairy cattle are
born year-round so the supply of milk will be constant.
Cows are checked
often, day and night, during calving season. Many ranchers
bring cows into sheds and barns during calving time. That
way the rancher can watch the cows and help them give birth
The average calf weighs
between 75 and 95 pounds at birth.
After the calf is several
days old, it is moved into a pasture with its mother. The
mother cows are given extra feed such as hay and cattle
cubes to keep them healthy.
Calves are normally
weaned at seven to nine months of age, when they weigh
between 400 and 600 pounds. By this time the calves do not
need milk because they can eat grass and drink water .
After weaning, heavier
calves (600-650 pounds) may be sold directly to feed lots.
Most calves weaned
in the fall weigh between 350 and 450 pounds. These lighter
calves are classified as stockers and will be grazed on
lush wheat pastures across Oklahoma until they reach feeder
weights between 600 and 750 pounds in March or April of
the next year. At that time they go
to commercial feed lots to be fed to an acceptable slaughter
weight of about 1200 pounds.
- Most of the calves
produced in Oklahoma are sent to feed lots spread across
western Kansas, Oklahoma, Nebraska and Texas.
Cattle and the Environment
Cattle graze on land
that can't be used for anything else because the terrain
is too steep or hilly for building houses or too rocky
or dry for growing food crops.
The hooves of cattle
aerate the soil when
they walk on it, allowing more oxygen to enter the soil
and helping grasses and plants grow better. Grazing
press grass seed into the soil and fertilize it with their
We get meat from beef cows and milk products from dairy
Although females from all cattle breeds produce milk and
meat, some cattle are better at giving milk, and some are better at
Cattle come in many different colors. The color depends
on the breed. The cattle you see on Oklahoma ranches come
in all colors. Angus cattle are black; Herefords are red
with white faces; Jerseys and Limousin are brown; Charolais
are white with pink noses; Holstein cattle are white with
There are over 70 breeds
of cattle raised in the United States. These breeds
are classified in two categories, Bos Indicus and Bos Taurus.
Bos Indicus breeds usually have slick hair coats
and a larger crest (or hump) behind the head on the neck.
Bos Indicus cattle are also more tolerant of heat and insects.
Many cattle classified as Bos Indicus have Brahman
ancestry. Bos Taurus have long thick coats and a smaller
crest. Because they have longer hair, they do not tolerate
hot and humid environments.
Of the cattle breeds
common in Oklahoma, Angus, Hereford and Limousin are Bos
Taurus, and Brahman and Brangus are Bos Indicus.
The fastest steer is
the Corriente, used in rodeos.
Since grazing animals
must move around, ranches are usually larger than farms.
Cattle cannot stay in one place but must be moved from
pasture to pasture to give the grass a chance to grow back.
Ranching was developed
by the Spanish. They brought the first cattle
to the New World and taught ranching to the people who lived
in the area we now know as Mexico. Some of these cattle escaped
and ran wild on the plains of Texas. These feral
cattle were the ancestors of the wild longhorns that can
now be seen in Oklahoma’s Wichita Mountains Wildlife
Refuge and on other private and public lands.
Products from Cattle
One cowhide can produce
enough leather to make 20 footballs, 18 soccer balls, 18
volleyballs or 12 basketballs.
NFL footballs are made
of cowhide. About 3,000 cowhides are required to make footballs
for one season.
Facts About Beef
OSU Livestock Breeds Website
Oklahoma Ag in the Classroom
Oklahoma Ag in the Classroom is a program of the Oklahoma Cooperative Extension
Service, the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry and the
Oklahoma State Department of Education.