History of Cattle Domestication
This article covers the domestication of cattle worldwide from its
prehistoric beginnings to the 1700s
History of World Cuisines
European domestic cattle and the Indian zebu are believed to be
descendents of the prehistoric Aurochs (singular). The Aurochs was large
animal which evolved in India two million years ago, from where they
migrated across Asia and to the Middle East, finally reaching Europe about
250,000 years ago.
Evidence indicates that domestication occurred approximately 10,000 years ago in
many parts of the world, as a direct result of wild cattle being attracted to
the fields of grain being cultivated by early farmers. However, one definite
exception to this is in Africa where there is evidence that the herding of
cattle occurred in the absence of any agricultural activities.
The usefulness of these wild animals for meat, milk, skins and as beasts of
burden, certainly encouraged humans to capture and keep as many of them as
During the long process of domestication, the keeping different types of wild
cattle in pens resulted in a reduction in the size of the animals through cross
mating. Not only did they gradually become smaller, but their temperaments
become more docile and, naturally, variations in markings and genetic
characteristics also evolved.
As with humans, the environment was also to play a role in the evolution of the
different types of cattle, which together with the developments in livestock
husbandry and “selective” breeding, produced further refinements. In Scotland
Highland cattle are a representative example of all of these factors with their
small stature and long coats to shield them from the cold Scottish winters.
Cattle are not indigenous to the Americas. The first cattle were introduced to
the Caribbean area in the early 1500s by the Spanish and dairy cows were
introduced to the USA by English settlers in the early 1700s.
Interestingly, the last aurochs, a lone female, only died in 1627 in Poland.