There are over 800 breeds of cattle worldwide some wild and others domesticated for milk, meat or hides. The various breeds are spread through Europe, Asia and Africa and fall into two main types: either, two closely-related species, or, two sub-species of one species.
The White Park is a very old breed of beef cattle kept in Britain for more than 2,000 years while most breeds can only be traced back 200 or 300 years. They are large and white with black points to their muzzles, ears, eye-rims and feet and their wide-spreading horns are mostly black-tipped. This hardy breed is adept at foraging and noted for its longevity. White Parks breed until 12 to 16 years old but have been known to breed up to 20 years of age. Cows weigh around 600 kg and bulls 900 kg. They are closely descended from Britainís original wild white cattle enclosed within parks by the nobility during the middle ages. The end of the 19th century saw them become unpopular and the breed struggled to survive.
The earliest references to cattle of White Park type are found in pre-Christian Irish epics where white cattle with coloured points were mentioned. The Romans' arrival in the country drove the Druids back to the northern and western fringes of Britain and into Ireland where pre-sixteenth century White Parks were found, although none remain in Ireland today. There are references to White Parks in Wales where, in 800 CE (AD), local laws required payment of fines in numbers of White Parks.
In 1973 the Rare Breeds Survival Trust was founded by Joe Henson (father of Adam Henson of Countryfile) to preserve native breeds since which time no UK-native breed has become extinct and the Trust chose the White Park as its logo. At the time of the RBST's founding there were 60 breeding females and through the Trust's dedication numbers have risen to 750 to date. White Parks reached their most endangered position following the Second World War when the Government decided the decline was important enough to be a part of British heritage and a small unit was shipped to the USA for safe keeping.
The Irish Moiled is one of the oldest breeds in Ireland, where it originated, but its location is mostly thought of as Finland since Norsemen took much of the cattle leaving a small number in Ireland making them endangered. The Irish Moiled Cattle Society, established in 1926, bought some back from Finland and special permits for breeding had to be obtained. As soon as the breed had been established in Ireland there was a sharp decline and by the late 1970s there were only 30 cows left but the demand for Irish Moiled beef being strong ensured the breed did not die out. Although still rare the breed is now produced throughout Ireland where there are about 100 breeders and also in parts of England where there are about 40 breeders.
The 'Moiley' is generally red with a white line down its back and stomach and its face is usually flecked. Moileys are known as dual producers being used for beef and milk which is not common with most cows. They weigh about 650 kg and their name, Irish Moiled, came from the Gaelic term Maol which refers to the dome on the head and the fact that they do not grow horns.
When there were no pedigree 'Moiley' bulls registered the breed was maintained by introducing polled Lincoln red and Shorthorn. This strengthening of a breed, called grading up, involves mating animals of two breeds producing several generations of hybrids. Subsequent generations displaying the necessary features are then inbred, therefore, grading up is a successful operation for maintaining dying breeds.
There are some 75 known breeds of Zebu distributed evenly between African breeds and South Asian ones. Zebu cattle have a complex origin and are thought to have originated from Asian aurochs which disappeared during the time of the Indus Valley Civilisation from its range in the Indus Basin and parts of South Asia possibly due to inter-breeding with domestic Zebu and the fragmentation of wild populations due to loss of habitat.
Zebu have distinctive shoulder humps, large dewlaps and droopy ears and generally breed at around 44 months. The gestation period averages 285 days depending on age and nutrition and male calves are carried for shorter periods. Zebu are used as draught oxen and for their hides, dung for fuel/manure and bone for knife handles. The meat is not highly regarded and the milk is mostly consumed by their calves. When Bos inidicus is crossed with Bos taurus, production generally increases.
Archaeological evidence of drawing on pottery and rocks suggests the species was in Egypt around 2000 BCE, poossibly imported from the Near East or south. They were imported to Africa over hundreds of years and interbred with taurine (European cattle) and are a sub-species of domesticated cattle originating in the Near East. They were also imported into Brazil in the early twentieth century and crossbred with Charolais, a European taurine breed, the result being 63% Charolais and 37% Zebu which crossbreeding improved meat quality and a better heat resistance.
Cow (and bull) myths
Hathor was the feminine goddess par excellence in ancient Egypt, Hathor was a pre-Dynastic goddess who gained enormous popularity early on. Her name is translated as "the House of Horus", which may be a reference to her as the embodiment of the sky in her role of the Celestial Cow, being that which surrounds the decidedly sky-oriented hawk-deity, Horus, when he takes wing. If Horus was the god associated with the living king, Hathor was the god associated with the living queen. In earlier periods she was most often depicted as a full cow with the sundisk between her horns or as a slender woman wearing the horns-and-a-sundisk headdress (which may or may not have a uraeus upon it). She was also shown as a hippopotamus, a falcon, a cobra, or a lioness, however these were not as frequent as the woman or the cow. While there are some depictions of Hathor as a woman with a cow's head, this is mainly found only in the later periods.
Ymir is the primordial giant and the progenitor of the race of frost giants. He was created from the melting ice of Niflheim, when it came in contact with the hot air from Muspell. From Ymir's sleeping body the first giants sprang forth: one of his legs fathered a son on his other leg while from under his armpit a man and women grew out. The frost kept melting and from the drops the divine cow Audumla was created. From her udder flowed four rivers of milk, on which Ymir fed. The cow itself got nourishment by licking hoar frost and salt from the ice. On the evening on the first day the hair of a man appeared, on the second day the whole head and on the third day it became a man, Buri, the first god. His grandchildren are Odin, Ve and Vili.
Zeus was enamored of Europa and decided to seduce or ravish her, the two being near-equivalent in Greek myth. He transformed himself into a tame white bull and mixed in with her father's herds. While Europa and her helpers were gathering flowers, she saw the bull, caressed his flanks, and eventually got onto his back. Zeus took that opportunity and ran to the sea and swam, with her on his back, to the island of Crete. He then revealed his true identity, and Europa became the first queen of Crete.
Cadmus, the brother of Europe, tried to find her, but never did. He consulted the oracle at Delphi and was told to follow a cow that he would find near the oracle; where the cow lay down to rest, he should found a city. He followed the cow to the future site of Thebes, where, after killing a serpent, he founded the city.
After he ascended the throne of the island of Crete, Minos competed with his brothers to rule. Minos prayed to Poseidon, the sea god, to send him a snow-white bull, as a sign of support (the Cretan Bull). He was to kill the bull to show honor to the deity, but decided to keep it instead because of its beauty. He thought Poseidon would not care if he kept the white bull and sacrificed one of his own. To punish Minos, Poseidon made PasiphaŽ, Minos's wife, fall deeply in love with the bull. PasiphaŽ had craftsman Daedalus make a hollow wooden cow, and climbed inside it in order to mate with the white bull. The offspring was the monstrous Minotaur. PasiphaŽ nursed him, but he grew and became ferocious, being the unnatural offspring of a woman and a beast; he had no natural source of nourishment and thus devoured humans for sustenance. Minos, after getting advice from the oracle at Delphi, had Daedalus construct a gigantic labyrinth to hold the Minotaur. Its location was near Minos's palace in Knossos. The Minotaur was eventually killed by the Athenian hero Theseus.
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