Domestic cattle number more than 1.3 billion in the world. They come in various sizes and functions, from the petite 40-inch high multipurpose Dexter to the almost elephantine Chianina beef breed and the equally mountainous dairy Holsteins. The wild bovines can be even larger.
One of the biggest wild cows is the African or Cape buffalo, who competes with their herds for the savanna grazing. Big as he is, though, Mbogo (as he's called in Swahili) yields the palm to the Asian gaur of India, Burma and Malaysia. This behemoth of a bovine can stand nearly 7 feet at the shoulder and weigh well over a ton. Trailing behind the African buffalo -- but not by much -- come the Asian water buffalo and the American bison.
The extinct aurochs, one of the largest grazing animals of the Pleistocene, is the foundation stock of all domestic cattle today. It was about the same size as the gaur, with larger horns. Modern domestic cattle are considerably smaller by design. A current program is underway in Europe to resurrect by back-breeding an animal similar to aurochs, but even if this succeeds, it probably will not be in demand for ranching. In fact, one of the most significant recent developments in cattle breeding is the miniaturization of beef and dairy breeds to accommodate smaller farms and ranches, as well as smaller families to use their products.
An Italian breed called the Chianina, pure white giants are the tallest, heaviest and oldest breed of domestic cattle in the world. Once used as far back as Roman times to pull carts and plows as draft animals, they now are raised purely for beef. The second-largest breed is the red-coated Limousin, which originated in central France.
The grand champion milk cow is the dairy Holstein. At a size of 1500 pounds, one of these mammoth milk machines can produce 72,000 pounds -- that's 9,000 gallons -- of milk a year. This breed also has produced a contender for the title of the world's biggest bovine: Chilli, a Holstein-Friesian bullock (ox, or neutered male), who lives in an animal sanctuary in England, is 6 feet 6 inches at the shoulder and 6 feet 7 inches long, and weighs well over a ton.
Ankole-Watusi cattle have the biggest horns of any modern breed in terms of diameter, at 8 inches or more, but in spread they fall short of the Texas Longhorn: at the 2006 Horn Showcase, the widest set of horns measured 101 inches from tip to tip. The widest spread recorded for Ankole cattle at Longleat Safari Park in England is 1.9 meters or 74 inches.
- Animal Diversity Web: Syncerus caffer,African buffalo
- EuroWildlife: The Aurochs Is About to Return to the Mountains of Central Europe
- Oklahoma State University, Dept, of Animal Science: Chianina
- Cattle Network: Chianina Cattle
- Holstein Association USA: Holstein Breed Characteristics
- American Livestock Breeds Conservancy: Dexter Cattle
- Daily Mail Online, March 5, 2013: Pictured: The Giant 6ft Cow That Is As Big As a Small Elephant
- American Livestock Breeders Conservancy: Ankole-Watusi
- Animal Zone: The Amazing Horns of the Ankole-Watusi Cattle
- Phoenix Zoo Edventures: Watusi Cattle
- Double Helix Ranch: Frequently Asked Questions about Texas Longhorn Cattle
- Longleat Safari & Adventure Park: Ankole Cattle
- SeaWorld Animal Bytes: Ankole
- Miniature Farms: Miniature Farming
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