Forest Preserve District of Cook County, Illinois
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Nature Bulletin No. 741   February 1, 1964
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
Seymour Simon, President
Roberts Mann, Conservation Editor

The next time you see a cow grazing in a pasture, or placidly chewing her cud, take another look and say to yourself: "There is a wonderful animal. Where would we be without her and her kin? .

The first chapter of Genesis relates that cattle were specified among the first living creatures to be brought forth by the earth. Bulls, cows, calves and steers permeate the mythology, religions and art of all ancient peoples. As a result, the bull is a major constellation and the second sign of the Zodiac.

Originally, wild cattle -- called oxen by zoologists -- were hunted for their meat and skins but, after the dog, they became probably the first animals domesticated by prehistoric men -- at least twenty or twenty- five thousand years ago. When tamed, the males proved to be docile as draft animals, and the females were able to furnish milk in excess of what was needed by their offspring.

When oxen were hitched to a crude plow, a man could cultivate ten times as much ground as he and his woman could by hand. He could produce far more than his family needed, and sell or barter the surplus. Those surpluses supported builders, craftsmen, merchants, scholars and, hence, the progress of civilization.

Further, it seems likely that cattle, tamed and used as draft animals in the Old World, were responsible for the invention of another major contribution to civilization -- the wheel. The bison in America, like the Cape Buffalo in Africa, were untamable. Consequently the Indians had no plow nor any wheeled vehicle and were Stone Age people when the white men came because, until then, they had had no domestic animal other than dogs. Q.E.D.

Through the ages, mankind and cattle developed together; and each had a powerful influence upon the other. Of all domesticated animals - - including dogs, sheep, goats, swine, horses and camels -- the cow and her offspring have been and now are the most useful.

Steers, called "oxen", were commonly used as draft animals in colonial America and by the pioneers. Conestoga wagons and "prairie schooners" that rolled westward across the continent were pulled largely by yokes of oxen. Most of them were Durhams, an English breed of beef cattle now called Shorthorns -- big powerful patient animals weighing from 2000 to 3500 pounds apiece. To this day, work cattle outnumber working horses and tractors in most parts of the world except America and western Europe.

From cows we get milk, a "must" for babies and almost a perfect food - - lacking only iron and roughage -- for youngsters and adults. From milk we get butter, cheese, ice cream and other dairy products; also casein -- used in paints, paper coatings, plastics and synthetic fibers. From calves and steers we get meat. Their hair is used to bind plaster and make felt hats; the hides make leather. Their bones, pulverized, and their manure are invaluable fertilizers spread upon our fields to produce better crops. Soap, sandpaper, insulin and other drugs obtained from their glands, are among the many by-products from cattle, The by-products have become more valuable than their meat.

The tremendous loads of logs from the white pine forests of New England before the Revolutionary War and later from Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota, were hauled on sleds drawn by oxen. You've probably heard about that legendary logger, Paul Bunyan, who towered above the tallest trees, picked his teeth with a saw log and combed his beard with a young pine. His pet helper was Babe, the Blue Ox, so enormous that the span of its horns was 42 ax handles and a plug of tobacco.

We may do a bulletin on Texas longhorns and modern breeds of cattle. Want it?

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