Amazing cows

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 14 January, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 14 January, 2009, 12:00am

Wonderful cows

Cows pull carts and ploughs. Cow dung is a fertiliser and a fuel. Cows give us milk, which we can drink or turn into butter, yoghurt and cheese. Cows also give us beef, leather, and fat to make candles.

The incredibly useful cow belongs to a group of mammals called bovids. This group includes antelopes, bison, buffalo, cattle, sheep and goats.

A cow may not look a lot like a goat but they have lots in common. All bovids have hollow horns. They are also all herbivores. Herbivores are animals that eat grass and other plants.

If you could look inside a bovid's stomach, you would see three or four chambers.

When bovids eat, they chew, swallow and move the food into the first stomach chamber. Once it is digested, it comes back up into their mouth.

The grass is chewed a second time and swallowed again. This time the food goes into the second chamber. This continues until the food has passed through every chamber.

This process is called chewing the cud. Animals with these complicated stomachs are called ruminants. Ruminants can digest even the toughest grasses.

True or false?

1. Cattle are related to antelopes and elephants.

2. All bovids have hollow horns.

3. All bovids are herbivores.

Water buffalo: living tractors

Find words that mean:

tame, keeping, split up

The first water buffalo were domesticated in China more than 5,000 years ago. They work on farms, and give us milk, meat and leather.

Water buffalo live in wet grasslands and swamps. When they aren't working, they love to roll about in shallow water. They also like to stand in rivers, with only their noses sticking out of the water. Because many animals and plants live in ponds and rivers, this big bovid is important for maintaining biodiversity.

Wild female water buffalo live in groups of about 30 animals. The oldest female is their leader.

Wild males live in their own groups. The two groups come together to mate, and then separate again.

Yak, yak, yak

Fill in the blanks with the following words: wool, endangered, degrees

Yaks were originally wild animals living in Siberia, Nepal, the Tibetan plateau and western China. Wild yaks are now an __________________ species. However, there are many domesticated yaks living on farms.

Yaks are easily recognisable because of their long, thick, shaggy coats. Their wool is so thick that yaks can live comfortably even in the coldest mountains. These big bovids can survive even when it is minus 40 __________________ Celsius!

Farmers like yaks because their __________________ is used to make blankets and clothes. Yak milk and yak meat are also excellent.

Wild yaks are huge. They are more than two metres tall at the shoulder and weigh more than 800kg. Domestic yak are a bit smaller than the wild ones so they are easier to work with.

The sad story of the American bison

Find the antonyms, words that mean the opposite dead, long, small

Just 200 years ago, millions of bison lived in the grasslands of North America. They are huge animals standing more than two metres at the shoulder and weighing 1,000kg.

American bison have long fur on their head, neck, shoulders and front legs but very short hair on the rest of their body. They have a hump on their shoulders that is so big that the bison can't lift its head higher than its shoulders. Native Americans hunted bison for their meat and skins. But when European settlers arrived, they killed so many, that the bison almost died out.

European bison have shorter fur and a smaller hump than their American cousins. As too many European bison were killed in the Middle Ages, wild European bison only exist in parts of eastern Europe.

In Hong Kong

Look for water buffalo in fields and on farms. You can also see them in Kam Tin, and in southern Lantau Island.

There are also cattle that used to be domesticated but now live in the wild again. To see feral domestic oxen, look in any forested area in Hong Kong, except northwest Northern Territories and Hong Kong Island.

Remember that even tame cattle have sharp horns and big hooves that can crush your toes. Unless you are with a farmer, keep your distance and don't try to pat them.

Also, although you won't see yaks in the mountains in Hong Kong, look out for yak milk and yak cheese products in the supermarket. As wild yaks are endangered, avoid buying yak wool, horn and leather products.

now do this

Try to answer the following questions without referring to the text

1. All bovids are ...

a. carnivores

b. herbivores

c. insectivores

2. The first cattle were domesticated about ....

a. 50,000 years ago

b. 5,000 years ago

c. 500 years ago

3. Wild yaks live in ...

a. Central Asia

b. North America

c. Europe

4. Water buffalo ...

a. like to sit in water

b. live high up in the mountains

c. prefer to be in the desert

5. Bison have long hair ...

a. all over their body

b. on their rear legs and tail

c. on their faces and fronts

6. Ruminants are animals with ...

a. hooves

b. hollow horns

c. stomachs with three or four chambers

Look online for more about cattle

Wild cattle

Check out how bison, yaks and other cattle live. It also has fun facts that are good for project work.

Thinkquest dairy farm tour

Want to know how to milk a cow or make butter? Check out this online dairy farm tour.

National Geographic water buffalo

Check out Asia's living tractor, courtesy of National Geographic.


A typical cow is about 1.5m tall at the shoulder and weighs about 1,800kg. The world's smallest bovid is the chousingha from South Asia. This deer is 50cm tall and weighs 20kg

fab fact!

The first bovines were domesticated about 8,000 years ago. These were 2m tall aurochs that weighed 1,000kg. Aurochs died out in 1627


True or False: F, T, T

Synonyms: domesticated, maintaining, separate

Fill in the blanks: endangered, degrees, wool

Antonyms: lived, short, big/huge

Quiz: 1. b, 2. b, 3. a, 4. a, 5. c, 6. c