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History of Cattle Domestication

This article covers the domestication of cattle worldwide from its prehistoric beginnings to the 1700s

 

 

 

Go to:   Main History Index Page  |  History of World Cuisines   |   Origins of Ingredients

 

 

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 practicable.

 

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.

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