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Cows vs. Cattles (Differences)

by Logan

You’re on a road trip with your family, one family member exclaims excitedly “Look! A cow!” and another responds, “yeah those are some pretty cattle!”. So, now you’re wondering if cows and cattle are the same things. After all, you’ve heard them being interchanged often without any technical regard.

As you may already know, cattle have been one of the oldest types of domesticated farm animals in human history. They have served to provide milk, meat, and leather to humanity for centuries.

Despite their importance to human civilization that carries on till the modern-day, many people don’t know much about them. Why do you think that is?

In short, Cows and Cattle are not the same, Cattle is a broad term for a group of cows, bulls, and bovines, whereas cows are almost exclusively female bovines. Think of it like this, all cows can constitute cattle but not all cattle are cows.

Keep reading to know more about these interesting creatures.

What Classifies as a Cow?

The term “cow” or “cows” is an overused term that is often associated colloquially and vaguely with domesticated bovines, regardless of sex or gender.

Domesticated bovines are commonly (and, in my opinion, more accurately) termed cattle. A cattle-beast is the singular of “cattle.” These same animals are also referred to as “bovines.” As a result, a mature female cattle beast is referred to as a “cow.”
A cow is an adult female of many large mammalian species, including seals, orcas, whales, elephants, rhinoceros, hippos, elk, moose, caribou, yak, banteng, muskox, and giraffes.

What Do You Mean by Cattle?

Cluster of Bovines or Cattle
A cluster of bovines, known as cattle.

Cattle are a class of bovine, and a cow is part of that group.

A cow could be a seal or elephant because it’s a mature female of any one of a number of species. Cattle are more accurately a species. Some cattle are cows, some are heifers, some are bulls and some are steers.

Before going on, take a look at this table which defines the names used for all classes of bovines so that you don’t get confused.

NameClassification
Heifers young females who haven’t calved.
Cowsfemales who have calved
Steer / Bullockmale without testicles
Bullmales with testicles
Ox Bovine was used for the draft. Almost always males & tend to tears.
Pretty interesting!

Here is a video explaining the table above more thoroughly.

Such descriptive yet consuming terms.

Just as humans are grouped as

  • people then individualized as men and women,

we have

  • cattle (the group), made up of cows and bulls.

What’s the Difference Between Cattle and Cow?

In general, a cow is a female bovine (although the term is used for other species as well). A bull is an intact male bovine, while a steer is a castrated male. They are referred to collectively as cattle.

Buffalo, while belonging to a different genus than cattle, are still classified as bovines, with the terms cow and bull used interchangeably with domestic bovines.

Cattle are usually found in herds. Cows are the individuals who comprise the cattle herd. A herd can be made up of only females or only neutered males known as steers.

Alternatively, calves. There are rarely herds of mature bulls. They are far too combative with one another.

Having said that, if someone says they have many cows, then they are likely referring to dairy animals, however, if they say they have many cattle, they are probably referring to a beef breed.

Still, the words are virtually interchangeable and are used in lieu of one another in everyday language.

When most people think of a “cow,” they immediately think of the black and white cows they see out in the fields, but those are only a specific breed called “Holsteins”. Holsteins are one of over 1000 different breeds of cattle in the world. Cattle can come in a variety of colors and patterns other than spotted black-and-white.

What’s the Difference Between a Cow and a Buffalo?

From a zoological and geographical point of view, these are all the major differences:

  1. Buffalo’s are of two types riverine and swamp their number of chromosomes is 50 and 48 respectively. While cow’s chromosome number is 60(58 autosomes and 2 sex chromosomes)
  2. A cow can regulate its body temperature so it can sustain itself in dry climates whereas buffalos need mud to lower their internal temperature in the summer season.
  3. The color of the cow is generally white, gold red, brown, black, and mostly spotted, While buffalo are mostly jet black some are greyish white and red-pied.
  4. The size of a buffalo is larger than compared of a cow.
  5. Cows are found across the globe whereas buffalo are majorly concentrated in India and Africa as they are native to South Asia.
  6. Milk production of cows is generally lower than buffalo.
  7. The horns of buffalo are more twisted than most cows.

What’s the Difference Between a Bull and an Ox?

Ox plowing the fields
Ox being used to plow the fields

Bull as well as the Ox are both males.

The major differences between a Bull and an Ox lie in the fact that :

  1. Bulls are aggressive in nature while the Ox is controllable as they are used in plowing fields.
  2. Ox are castrated bulls. Castration means that the testes of the bull are removed by surgery to calm down their aggressive nature. Removal of testes means that the main male hormone, testosterone will also not be produced which greatly lowers the characteristic aggressiveness in a male. On the other hand, Bulls don’t have their testes removed, so testosterone is produced so conclusively they are aggressive.
  3. It means that Ox and Bulls both are genetically males but the one who shows the “manly” characteristics is the Bull, which is aggression.
  4. Oxen are larger than their Bull counterparts but weigh less than bulls due to a lack of muscular framework.
  5. Bulls can produce offspring (children) but Oxen cannot. It’s because Oxen don’t have testes to produce sperm.

What is a Buffalo?

A buffalo is not the same as a domestic bovine. To further complicate matters, the term “buffalo” can refer to the American Bison (Bison bison bison), the Wood Bison (Bison Bison Athabasca), or even the European cousin, the Wisent. These, however, are not true buffalo.

The first settlers in North America were perplexed by these large hairy beasts and decided it was best to call them “buffalo” for ease of one-word descriptions. Such members of the Bovinae family are now and correctly referred to as “bison.”

Genetically accurate buffalo are either the Asiatic Water Buffalo (Bubalus Arnee), the domesticated Water Buffalo (Bubalus bubalis), or the African Cape Buffalo (Syncerus caffer). They all belong to the same subfamily, the domestic “bovine.”

As with domestic bovines like cows and other cattle, the females of all three species are called “cows” and the intact males are “bulls.”

Do We Get Our Milk From Cows?

Most dairy products (such as cheese) we buy in the grocery store now come from cows. I’m referring to female domestic bovines when I say “cows.” Milk from female buffaloes is commonly used in other countries.

We can also obtain milk from sheep, goats, camels, horses, and humans; in fact, any mammalian female who has recently given birth to young. Yes, cats and dogs are included.

Whereas beef (muscle tissue consumed as steaks, roasts, or ground beef) comes from both sexes. Males account for the majority of beef producers, as the females are too busy producing liters of milk in a single day.

Are All Cows Cattle?

The answer is a definitive yes!

All cows are bovines and as such classified under the umbrella term cattle, whereas all cattle are not cows.

Cows are exclusively female bovines that have had a child and are able to lactate whereas cattle include a wide variety of bovines regardless of gender or child status. For example, other bovids like the Asian water buffalo, the gayal, and banteng, the Tibetian yak, and the bison commonly reside in the plains of North America. These bovids have also been domesticated or semi-domesticated and are sometimes considered to be cattle.

Final Thoughts

Here are a few pieces of information from this article:

  • Cows are a part of cattle, cattle is a colloquial term for the bovine species.
  • They are used interchangeably in everyday language.
  • Cows are exclusively female bovines.
  • Whereas cattle are male and female bovines.
  • Cows only serve to provide milk and those who aren’t producing milk are used for meat.
  • Cattles are almost exclusively used for meat and leather.

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