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Cattle (colloquially cows) are the most common type of large domesticated ungulates. They are a prominent modern member of the subfamily Bovinae, are the most widespread species of the genus Bos, and are most commonly classified collectively as Bos primigenius. Cattle are raised as livestock for meat (beef and veal), as dairy animals for milk and other dairy products, and as draft animals (oxen / bullocks) (pulling carts, plows and the like). Other products include leather and dung for manure or fuel. In some countries, such as India, cattle are sacred. From as few as eighty progenitors domesticated in southeast Turkey about 10,500 years ago, it is estimated that there are now 1.3 billion cattle in the world today. In 2009, cattle became the first livestock animal to have its genome mapped.
Cattle were originally identified as three separate species: Bos taurus, the European or "taurine" cattle (including similar types from Africa and Asia); Bos indicus, the zebu; and the extinct Bos primigenius, the aurochs. The aurochs is ancestral to both zebu and taurine cattle. Recently these three have increasingly been grouped as one species, with Bos primigenius taurus, Bos primigenius indicus and Bos primigenius primigenius as the subspecies.
Zubron, a cross between Wisent and cattle.
Complicating the matter is the ability of cattle to interbreed with other closely related species. Hybrid individuals and even breeds exist, not only between taurine cattle and zebu (such as the sanga cattle, Bos taurus africanus) but also between one or both of these and some other members of the genus Bos – yaks (the dzo or yattle), banteng, and gaur. Hybrids such as the beefalo breed can even occur between taurine cattle and either species of bison, leading some authors to consider them part of the genus Bos as well. The hybrid origin of some types may not be obvious – for example, genetic testing of the Dwarf Lulu breed, the only taurine-type cattle in Nepal, found them to be a mix of taurine cattle, zebu, and yak. However, cattle cannot successfully be hybridized with more distantly related bovines such as water buffalo or African buffalo.
The aurochs originally ranged throughout Europe, North Africa, and much of Asia. In historical times its range became restricted to Europe, and the last known individual died in Masovia, Poland, in about 1627. Breeders have attempted to recreate cattle of similar appearance to aurochs by crossing traditional types of domesticated cattle, creating the Heck cattle breed.
Cattle did not originate as the term for bovine animals. It was borrowed from Old French catel, itself from Latin caput, head, and originally meant movable personal property, especially livestock of any kind, as opposed to real property (the land, which also included wild or small free-roaming animals such as chickens — they were sold as part of the land). The word is closely related to "chattel" (a unit of personal property) and "capital" in the economic sense. The term replaced earlier Old English feoh "cattle, property" (cf. German: Vieh, Gothic: faihu).
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