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10 Fun Facts About Cows

We might not have cows in our Petting Zoo, but Cherry Crest Farm started out with a dairy cow operation, which was sold in 2002. Even today, the son and granddaughters of owners Jack and Donna Coleman raise beef cows for showing at local fairs and competitions. You’ll find cows on many farms across Lancaster County, whether it’s a dairy-cow operation or not. Here are some interesting facts about cows you might not have known before.

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1. Domesticated cattle are classified as Bos taurus. They are a prominent member of the bovinae sub-family. Other members of the sub-family include zebu, yak, bison, water buffalo, and (believe it or not), some antelopes. Over 800 breeds of cattle are recognized world-wide. A very popular breed of cattle in Lancaster County is the Holstein, characterized by the distinctive black and white spots and known to be good dairy cows.

2. The term “cow” technically refers to an adult female bovine that has had a calf. However, because the proper term “cattle” is only used in the plural sense (you can have “three cattle” or event “two cattle,” but not “one cattle”), the word “cow” is colloquially used as the singular form, especially when the gender is unknown or irrelevant. Some would insist that “cow” only be used to refer to female cattle, it’s widely accepted as a way to refer to cattle in the general sense.

3. Cows have significant religious meaning for Hindus. They are featured in several religious stories, and are to be treated with “the same respect as one’s mother,” according to the Mahabharata. It is illegal to slaughter a cow in several Indian states because of the religious significance.

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4. The song “Get Along, Little Dogies” is a traditional cowboy ballad that actually refers to cattle, not to dogs. The term “dogie” was used in the west to refer to an orphaned calf. Since calves tend to follow after their mother, an orphan would need a bit of extra prodding to keep moving with the herd.

5. Cows are classified as ruminants, which means that their digestive system is highly specialized to allow for the processing of poorly digestible plants. They have four stomachs—called the rumen, reticulum, omasum, and abomasum—which help them to regurgitate and re-chew their food, allowing for further breakdown of the nutrients and plant matter. This is called “chewing the cud.”

6. “Oxen” are not actually a separate species or breed of the bovine family, but rather a term used to refer to older bovine (most often cattle) that have been trained as draft animals. They are used for plowing, transport, threshing grain, powering machines, and more. They are usually trained from a young age to respond to a driver’s commands, such as “Get up” (go), “Gee” (turn right), “Haw” (turn left), and “Whoa” (stop). They are most often yoked in pairs, and can pull harder and longer than horses.

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7. “Taurus” is one of the constellations of the zodiac, and is said to be the shape of a bull (the Latin word for bull is taurum). The constellation hosts two clusters of stars that are visible to the naked eye: the Pleiades (the “seven sisters”) and the Hyades. Taurus is known throughout many ancient mythologies: he was the “Bull from Heaven” sent by Ishtar to kill Gilgamesh (from the Mesopotamian Epic of Gilgamesh), he is associated with Zeus who assumed the form of a white bull (Greek mythology), he is symbolized as the “White Tiger of the West” in Chinese astronomy.

8. Mrs. O’Leary’s cow is notoriously blamed for starting the Great Chicago Fire in 1871. The rumor circulated that the poor Irish Catholic immigrant had been milking her cow when it kicked over a lantern, causing a fire to start. The story was retracted in 1893 by a reporter who said he had fabricated the whole thing, but the legend was so firmly established in local lore that it’s always been accepted as the “true” cause of the fire.

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9. Here at Cherry Crest, some of the Coleman kids and grandkids have raised both Holstein and Brown Swiss cattle for showing and fairs and other competitions. The Brown Swiss cows have to be registered with the American Brown Swiss Association, and are shown at the Eastern National Show in Harrisburg, PA and the World Dairy Expo in Madison, WI, as well as local fairs. Dylan Coleman won the All-American Award two years in a row, and was Reserve Junior Champion (at the World Dairy Expo) two years in a row, with a cow named Topsy (pictured).

10. The most famous Holstein-Friesen was named Pauline Wayne. She was the pet of 27th US President William H. Taft. She lived and grazed on the White House lawn and also provided milk for the first family.

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