( Originally Published 1936 )
There are many varieties of domestic cattle, and several wild species, but so far as we know the domestic forms are not descended from the wild species—at any rate, from those of the present day. We do, however, find fossil types of cattle which seem to resemble the domestic more closely than any living wild form. The animals most nearly allied to the domestic Ox have been divided into several sections, which are treated here as subgenera of Bos.
Ox (Bos taurus)
In structure the Ox is highly specialised and represents a very recent type of animal. In Europe re-mains of many different species have been found, and there is no doubt that this creature was known to primitive man and was of great service to him in various ways. The flesh was probably eaten by the ancient Egyptians, and the animals were worshipped as sacred things. The Bible mentions sacrifices of cattle in religious rites and also tells of the use of their flesh for food.
In England and Scotland at the present time several breeds of wild cattle are preserved in parks, the most important being the herd in Chillingham Park, Northumberland. They are usually white, with black muzzle, and black, or, more frequently now, red, ears. The coat is shaggy, and there are traces of a mane in the bulls. See Plate 30, Fig. 132. It is not believed that the Chillingham cattle are the true ancestors of any of the domestic breeds, but that they are simply an early offshoot from the same general stock.
In many parts of the world Oxen are used as beasts of burden for ploughing and drawing carts. The method of driving them is still extremely primitive, and the yoke is exactly the same as that used by the ancient Egyptians three thousand years ago—a poor form of harness and one that does not en-able the animal to use its great strength to advantage.
In recent times much attention has been paid to the development of various breeds of cattle for use as food, the Western plains of North America, the pampas of South America, as well as other parts of the world, serving as grazing grounds for immense herds in a semi-wild condition. The great variety of breeds is simply the result of the selection of certain types. While some are noted for the amount of flesh, or beef, they are able to produce, others are celebrated for their milk-giving qualities. Among the latter are the Holstein cattle, a very large black and white variety found principally in Holland and the Netherlands, the great quantity of milk yielded, however, being of rather poor quality. In contrast with these are the celebrated Jersey, Guernsey, and Alderney cattle, well known for the richness and high quality of the milk they produce. In form and colour these animals are very beautiful, being of a light fawn colour, with dark marks on the face and legs, and the eyes are very large and soft in expression. The horns are short and sharply recurved. The bull differs some-what in colour from the cows, being a beautiful mouse colour, darkening to black on various parts of the body.
Resembling these in form and colour, but larger in size, are the cattle found in Switzerland; wandering with tinkling bells through the mountain passes, they are among the picturesque features of that country. Other breeds that are noted for their flesh-developing characters are the Herefords, an English form now extensively used in the United States, and the Angus, or polled cattle, remarkable for their lack of horns. There are many other varieties of domestic cattle, too numerous to mention here; suffice it to say that of all the animals known to men, the Ox is probably the most valuable commercially, its flesh and hides forming a large part of the commerce of many countries.
The cattle of our Western plains, and the men known as cowboys who take care of them, have figured in many thrilling and picturesque incidents in the development of our country. These men, in common with the Gauchos of South America and the vaqueros of Mexico, owing to long and constant practice become remarkably expert and in lassoing the cattle execute the most difficult and daring feats of horsemanship possible to imagine.
Most breeds of cattle have one pair of permanent horns, which are hollow and grow upon a bony core or support, in this character resembling the horns of sheep and goats and antelopes, but differing from those of the deer, which are true antlers and grow directly upon the skull itself. Horn is simply a number of hairs joined together, and is the same substance as the nails of our own fingers. In size and shape the horns carried by various breeds of cattle differ greatly, some being of enormous length and thickness, while others are almost wanting.
Zebu (Bos indicus)
A variety of wild cattle known as the Zebu is found throughout Eastern Asia, in Africa, and Madagascar, where it is also domesticated. It is a very beautiful animal, with exceedingly fine and soft hair, and the bulls, particularly, have a large hump over the shoulders and a heavy dewlap under the throat. They vary considerably in size, some being no larger than a Newfoundland dog, whereas others are among the largest of cattle. The male is black about the head and shoulders, and grey on other portions of the body, while the female as a rule is the same even grey all over. See Plate 31, Fig. 134. The hips are not as wide as those of most domestic cattle, and the little animal is extremely active, and can run and leap to a considerable height. Zebus are used both for riding and as draught animals, and covered as they are at times in India with beautiful silver ornaments, form a most interesting part of the street scenes of that country. They are worshipped as sacred animals by the Brahmins and are allowed to wander through the streets and bazaars, helping themselves to what-ever they please, quite secure from molestation.
Yak (Bos [Poephagus] grunniens)
The Yak is found both in a wild and domesticated state in Thibet and the neighbouring mountains and plateaux, from the snow-line up to the height of 20,000 feet. They are rather extraordinary animals in appearance, some being jet black, others pure white and still others mottled. Along the sides and over the chest are enormously long masses of hair which hang like a great fringe, dragging the ground in places, and the tail also is very bushy, like that of a horse. The animal is greatly prized by the inhabitants of the country in which it is found. Yaks do not low, or moo, as other cattle do, but their voice is a kind of grunt. The horns stand out at right angles to the head on either side for some distance and then turn upwards at the tip. There is a small hump on the shoulders, and the animal is grotesque in appearance, but is not particularly savage in disposition. See Plate 31, Fig. 133.
European Bison (Bos [Bison] europoeus)
This animal, which resembles more than any of the other cattle our own Bison of the Western plains, is of larger size, standing as much as six feet at the shoulder and having much longer legs than the American species. The head is comparatively small, and the huge hump over the shoulders begins almost at the middle of the back, the animal sloping down from that point towards the head and the tail. See Plate 31, Fig. 135. It is a fierce and dangerous animal, and was at one time common throughout Europe, but exists to-day only in a semi-captive state in some of the Czar's preserves in Lithuania. Its habits are not well known, but it may safely be said that they approximate closely those of the American Bison, al-though it probably never existed in such large herds.
American Bison (Bos [Bison] americanus)
The American Bison, generally, but incorrectly, known as the Buffalo, resembles the European species, but has shorter legs and a larger and more shaggy head, and differs from it in other respects. The highest point of the American animal is well forward of the shoulders, and the neck is very long in proportion to the size—so long, in fact, that the front legs are almost at the middle of a line drawn from the forehead to the tail. The enormous head is heavily furred, the horns are short, black, and re-curved, and from the shoulders forward the hair is very thick and woolly, but the hindquarters are almost naked—a curious character. The tail is short and stumpy; the legs, though powerful, are quite delicate in build, and the speed in running is said to be considerable, but is of course no match for that of a good horse. The so-called hump bears no resemblance to the hump of the zebu, but is simply an elongation of the spines of the backbone and is more in the nature of a ridge or crest along the back, projecting well over the shoulders. See Plate 31, Fig. 136.
Until comparatively recent times these animals wandered over the Western plains of our country in vast herds, and it has been estimated that no less than fifty millions were living at one time; but owing to incessant persecution their numbers steadily de-creased, so that at the present day, with the exception of a few wild specimens kept in the Government pre-serves and still fewer in zoological gardens, they may be said to be exterminated. The Government is now trying to re-establish them, if only on a small scale, in their former haunts, and has lately sent out to one of the southwestern reservations as many individuals as could be obtained.
It was to this animal that the American Indians owed their chief food-supply during the long cold winters. Regular hunts were organised, and mounted Indians would surround as many of the Bison as possible and shoot them down with bows and arrows. After skinning them and carefully laying away the hides, the meat was cut into strips and hung in the sun to dry, and parts of it were pounded and beaten with fat and grain into what was known as pemmican, an article of food much prized by the Indians for use on long journeys on account of its concentrated form. The hides were afterwards scraped and tanned by the squaws and made into robes; or else the hair was removed and the dried skin used for making the tents in which they lived. The bones were split and made into implements resembling knives, and in the old days the larger leg-bones were also used as clubs by the Indian braves.
The Bison were preyed upon not only by man, but also by vast herds of grey wolves, known to hunters as buffalo-wolves, which followed in the tracks of grazing animals and devoured any of the helpless and young they could secure. When attacked, the females and young herded closely together in the centre of a ring of bulls, which faced outwards, defying the intruders. A single Bison bull alone was a match for a number of wolves—which, indeed, unless greatly pressed by hunger would not dare attack one.
Still later came white hunters, armed with rifles, and completed the destruction of the Bison. They were mercilessly shot down, the hides sold for but a dollar apiece, and often the tongues only were used for food. At the present time a fine buffalo-robe is worth from two to three hundred dollars.
In the natural state, it is said that these animals made a yearly migration, proceeding southward slowly as winter came on and retracing their steps with the return of summer. In these movements they kept as nearly as possible in long files, and their trails may be seen even today on the Western plains.
Buffalo (Bos [Bubalus] vulgaris)
Quite a different creature from the foregoing is the true Buffalo of India, a large and powerful breed of cattle found wild as well as domesticated in various parts of that country. The horns are long and flat and lie well along the back, projecting but little over the sides. They are thick at the base and tapering to a moderately sharp point. The hair is thin and sparsely scattered over the body, and in walking the animal carries its head high with the nose stuck up at a rather uncomfortable angle. See Plate 32, Fig. 14o. The Buffalo is valuable as a beast of bur-den, and although a native of India, it has long been domesticated in Southern Europe and Northern Africa. It is very fond of the water and of lying down in ponds and swamps in which most of its body is immersed. Clumsy and unprepossessing in appearance, the Buffalo is a powerful animal, and is said to be able to contend with an elephant or a tiger on fairly equal terms.
African Buffalo (Bos [Bubalus] caffer)
Somewhat resembling the preceding species in the form of the body, but not in the head, the African Buffalo is a fierce and active animal, with enormously powerful and heavy horns. These differ greatly in character from those of the common Buffalo, projecting almost at right angles from the head. Immensely thick where their roots meet in a defensive plate over the front of the skull, they droop quickly at the side of the head, turning sharply up-wards in points like two great hooks. See Plate 32, Fig. 137. With these terrible weapons the African Buffalo is able to conquer almost any animal, not excepting the lion or the leopard, a side lunge of the head bringing down a horse at one blow. It is shy and wary, and when hunted will lie in wait for its pursuer and spring upon him unawares, if possible. Sir Samuel Baker and other African travellers who have given accounts of this animal, speak well of its prowess in defending itself, and in the early days of settlement in South Africa many men were killed and wounded by these great creatures, which often leaped out upon them from hiding places in the tall reeds. Old and solitary bulls, in particular, are much to be dreaded. This animal is now in a fair way to extinction, owing to its destruction by man, and also to the ravages of a terrible disease known as rinderpest, which some years ago swept over Africa and was particularly fatal to the Buffaloes, killing them off by the thousand.
Anoa (bos [Anoa] depressicornis)
This little animal, the smallest of all the cattle, is confined to the mountains of the island of Celebes. It somewhat resembles the true buffalo, with whom it is closely allied, but the horns are much shorter and are quite straight throughout their entire length, projecting slightly backwards from the base. Although of such small size, it is said to be extremely fierce and very active in its movements. It is sparsely covered with hair, like the Indian buffalo, and the colour is very dark brown, with the ears, legs, and under surface more or less white, and the ears hairy only at the base. See Plate 32, Fig. 139.
Musk Ox (Ovibos moschatus)
The most northern of cattle, being found in Green-land and the northern parts of North America, the Musk Ox is also perhaps the most singular in appearance. The extremely long and dense fur, almost black in colour, is parted down the middle of the back and falls down on either side quite to the ground. The hoofs are short, and the hair surrounding them is of a light silver-grey colour. The horns are extraordinary in form, very thick at the base, much like those of the African buffalo, dropping from that point closely against the sides of the head, and then curving sharply upwards. The small ears are almost hidden by great masses of hair, the eyes are large, and the animal is said by those who have made its acquaintance in the far northern countries, not to be lacking in intelligence. See Plate 32, Fig. 138.
The name is derived from the fact that at certain times of the year, or under conditions not yet perfectly understood, the whole animal smells strongly of musk, but at other times the flesh is palatable, and among the Eskimos of Greenland it forms one of the principal articles of food. In our own northern lands it is as yet practically unmolested except by occasional fur-hunters and by the wolves that inhabit the same region. The skins make fine robes, the long woolly hair being almost impervious to the lowest temperature.