By Michael Ellis

Bos taurus is the scientific name for a species that evolved on the Indian sub-continent some two million years ago. They eventually spread all the way to the British Isles, Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia and diverged into three distinct genetic populations. These progenitors of all domestic cattle in the world are called aurochs and there is not one alive today.

The cave paintings in Lascaux in France are one of the earliest depictions of these powerful animals. They stood 6 feet high and weighed about half that of a rhino. They were fierce and they were respected. In ancient Persia the cow was at the center of the Zoroastrian religion. Their chief god was Mithras who is depicted standing by a bull. Mithras slew the animal and used its blood to fertilize the earth. The Hindus still venerate cows and respect them as providers of milk and labor in the fields. The Maasai believe that God gave them all the cows in the world. They do not steal them; they are simply returning them to the rightful owners.

The first domestication was 8 to 10,000 years ago in northern Mesopotamia and southern Caucasus. The tamed cows were much smaller and more malleable than the wild ones. As human populations expanded due to the advent of agriculture and the further domestication of animals, these cows spread to other human groups. The European cow derived from the Mesopotamian one. The remaining populations of wild aurochs were slowly out competed by the domestic cattle, their native habitats were destroyed and many aurochs were simply hunted out by humans.

The few remaining wild aurochs into modern times were protected on royal lands in Eastern Europe; the last one – a female- was killed by a poacher in Poland in 1627.

Regardless of how you feel now about overgrazing of public lands, cows do convert plants to protein efficiently. Humans do eat a lot grass (rice, wheat, corn etc.) but in many localities these crops cannot be grown. Cows have enabled humans to not only to live in marginal places but to improve our nutritional health as well. Cows are valuable.

The word cattle itself is derived from Latin – capitale – which means funds. So whether you are a Swiss Dairy Farmer, a Texas rancher or a Maasai herdsman, your cows are your wealth and your retirement

This is Michael Ellis with a Perspective.

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August 6, 2009