Cattle, colloquially referred to as cows, are domesticated ungulates, a member of the subfamily Bovinae of the family Bovidae. They are raised as livestock for meat (called beef and veal), dairy products (milk), leather and as draft animals (pulling carts, plows and the like). In some countries, such as India, they are honored in religious ceremonies and revered. It is estimated that there are 1.3 billion cattle in the world today.
Cattle were originally identified by Carolus Linnaeus as three separate species. These were Bos taurus, the European 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 European cattle. More recently these three have increasingly been grouped as one species, with Bos primigenius taurus, Bos primigenius indicus and Bos primigenius primigenius as the subspecies.
Complicating the matter is the ability of cattle to interbreed with other closely related species. Hybrid individuals and even breeds exist, not only between European cattle and zebu but also with yaks (called a dzo), banteng, gaur, and bison ("cattalo"), a cross-genera hybrid. For example, genetic testing of the Dwarf Lulu breed, the only humpless "Bos taurus-type" cattle in Nepal, found them to be a mix of European cattle, zebu and yak. Cattle cannot successfully be bred with water buffalo or African buffalo.
The aurochs originally ranged throughout Europe, North Africa, and much of Asia. In historical times, their range was restricted to Europe, and the last animals were killed by poachers in Masovia, Poland, in 1627. Breeders have attempted to recreate cattle of similar appearance to aurochs by crossing of domesticated cattle breeds, creating the Heck cattle breed. (See also aurochs and zebu articles.)
Cattle did not originate as a name for bovine animals. It derives from the Latin caput, head, and originally meant movable property, especially livestock of any kind. The word is closely related to "chattel" (a unit of personal property) and "capital" in the economic sense. 
Older English sources like King James Version of the Bible refer to livestock in general as cattle (as opposed to the word deer which then was used for wild animals). Additionally other species of the genus Bos are sometimes called wild cattle. Today, the modern meaning of "cattle", without any other qualifier, is usually restricted to domesticated bovines.
In general, the same words are used in different parts of the world but with minor differences in the definitions. The terminology described here contrasts the differences in definition between the United States and other British influenced parts of world such as Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, and the United Kingdom.
Cattle can only be used in the plural and not in the singular: it is a plurale tantum. Thus one may refer to "three cattle" or "some cattle", but not "one cattle". There is no universally used singular equivalent in modern English to "cattle", other than the gender and age-specific terms such as cow, bull, steer and heifer. Strictly speaking, the singular noun for the domestic bovine was "ox", however, "ox" today is rarely used in this general sense. An ox today generally denotes a draft beast, most commonly a castrated male (but is not to be confused with the unrelated wild musk ox).
"Cow" has been in general use as a singular for the collective "cattle" in spite of the objections of those who say that it is a female-specific term, so that that phrases such as "that cow is a bull" would be absurd from a lexicographic standpoint. However, it is easy to use when a singular is needed and the gender is not known, as in "There is a cow in the road". Further, any herd of fully mature cattle in or near a pasture is statistically likely to consist mostly of cows, so the term is probably accurate even in the restrictive sense. Other than the few bulls needed for breeding, the vast majority of male cattle are castrated as calves and slaughtered for meat before the age of three years. Thus, in a pastured herd, any calves or herd bulls usually are clearly distinguishable from the cows due to distinctively different sizes and clear anatomical differences. The Oxford English Dictionary lists the use of "cows" as a synonym for "cattle" as an American usage. Merriam-Webster, a U.S. dictionary, recognizes the non-gender-specific use of "cow" as an alternate definition, whereas Collins, a UK dictionary, does not.
Colloquially, more general non-specific terms may denote cattle when a singular form is needed. Australian, New Zealand and British farmers use the term "beast" or "cattle beast". "Bovine" is also used in Britain. The term "critter" is common in the western United States and Canada, particularly when referring to young cattle. In some areas of the American South (particularly the Appalachian region), where both dairy and beef cattle are present, an individual animal was once called a "beef critter", though that term is becoming archaic.
Cattle raised for human consumption are called "beef cattle". Within the beef cattle industry in parts of the United States, the term "beef" (plural "beeves") is still used in its archaic sense to refer to an animal of either gender. Cows of certain breeds that are kept for the milk they give are called "dairy cows" or "milking cows" (formerly "milch cows" - "milch" was pronounced as "milk"). Most young male offspring of dairy cows are sold for veal, and may be referred to as veal calves.
The term "dogies" was once used to describe calves and young steers in the context of ranch work in the American west, as in "Keep them dogies moving," but in modern use is considered archaic unless used in a humorous context. In some places, a cow kept to provide milk for one family is called a "house cow". Other obsolete terms for cattle include "neat" (this use survives in "neatsfoot oil", extracted from the feet and legs of cattle), and "beefing" (young animal fit for slaughter).
An onomatopoeic term for one of the commonest sounds made by cattle is "moo", and this sound is also called lowing. There are a number of other sounds made by cattle, including calves bawling, and bulls bellowing (a high-pitched yodeling call). The bullroarer makes a sound similar to a territorial call made by bulls.
Cattle have one stomach with four compartments. They are the rumen, reticulum, omasum, and abomasum, the rumen being the largest compartment. Cattle sometimes consume metal objects which are deposited in the reticulum, the smallest compartment, and this is where hardware disease occurs. The reticulum is known as the "Honeycomb." The omasum's main function is to absorb water and nutrients from the digestible feed. The omasum is known as the "Many Plies." The abomasum is like the human stomach; this is why it is known as the "true stomach". Cattle are ruminants, meaning that they have a digestive system that allows use of otherwise indigestible foods by repeatedly regurgitating and rechewing them as "cud". The cud is then reswallowed and further digested by specialised microorganisms in the rumen. These microbes are primarily responsible for decomposing cellulose and other carbohydrates into volatile fatty acids that cattle use as their primary metabolic fuel. The microbes inside of the rumen are also able to synthesize amino acids from non-protein nitrogenous sources such as urea and ammonia. As these microbes reproduce in the rumen, older generations die and their carcasses continue on through the digestive tract. These carcasses are then partially digested by the cattle, allowing it to gain a high quality protein source. These features allow cattle to thrive on grasses and other vegetation. The gestation period for a cow is nine months. A newborn calf weighs 25to. The world record for the heaviest bull was 1740kg a Chianina named Donetto, when he was exhibited at the Arezzo show in 1955. The heaviest steer was eight year old ‘Old Ben’, a Shorthorn/Hereford cross weighing in at 2140kg in 1910. Steers are generally killed before reaching 750kg. Breeding stock usually live to about 15 years (occasionally as much as 25 years).
A common misconception about cattle (particularly bulls) is that they are enraged by the color red (something provocative is often said to be "like a red flag to a bull"). This is incorrect, as cattle are red-green color-blind.  The myth arose from the use of red capes in the sport of bullfighting; in fact, two different capes are used. The capote is a large, flowing cape that is magenta and yellow. The more famous muleta is the smaller, red cape, used exclusively for the final, fatal segment of the fight. It is not the color of the cape that angers the bull, but rather the movement of the fabric that irritates the bull and incites it to charge.
Although cattle cannot distinguish red from green, they do have two kinds of color receptors in their retinas (cone cells) and so are theoretically able to distinguish some colors, probably in a similar way to other red-green color-blind or dichromatic mammals (such as dogs, cats, horses and up to ten percent of male humans). 
Cattle occupy a unique role in human history, domesticated since at least the early Neolithic. They are raised for meat (beef cattle), dairy products and hides. They are also used as draft animals and in certain sports. Some consider cattle the oldest form of wealth, and cattle raiding consequently one of the earliest forms of theft.
Cattle are often raised by allowing herds to graze on the grasses of large tracts of rangeland. Raising cattle in this manner allows the use of land that might be unsuitable for growing crops. The most common interactions with cattle involve daily feeding, cleaning and milking. Many routine husbandry practices involve ear tagging, dehorning, loading, medical operations, vaccinations and hoof care, as well as training for agricultural shows and preparations. There are also some cultural differences in working with cattle- the cattle husbandry of Fulani men rests on behavioural techniques, whereas in Europe cattle are controlled primarily by physical means like fences. Breeders utilise cattle husbandry to reduce M. bovis infection susceptibility by selective breeding and maintaining herd health to avoid concurrent disease.
Cattle are farmed for beef, veal, dairy, leather and they are less commonly used simply to maintain grassland for wildlife- for example, in Epping Forest, England. They are often used in some of the most wild places for livestock. Depending on the breed, cattle can survive on hill grazing, heaths, marshes, moors and semi desert. Modern cows are more commercial than older breeds and, having become more specialized, are less versatile. For this reason many smaller farmers still favor old breeds, like the dairy breed of cattle Jersey. In Portugal, Spain, Southern France and some Latin American countries, bulls are used in the activity of bullfighting; a similar activity, Jallikattu, is seen in South India; in many other countries this is illegal. Other activities such as bull riding are seen as part of a rodeo, especially in North America. Bull-leaping, a central ritual in Bronze Age Minoan culture (see Bull (mythology)), still exists in southwestern France. In modern times, cattle are also entered into agricultural competitions. These competitions can involve live cattle or cattle carcasses.
In terms of food intake by humans, consumption of cattle is less efficient than of grain or vegetables with regard to land use, and hence cattle grazing consumes more area than such other agricultural production. Nonetheless, cattle and other forms of domesticated animals can sometimes help to utilize plant resources in areas not easily amenable to other forms of agriculture. These factors were not as important in earlier times prior to the Earth's large human population.
A 400-page United Nations report from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) states that cattle farming is "responsible for 18% of greenhouse gases." The production of cattle to feed and clothe humans stresses ecosystems around the world, and is assessed to be one of the top three environmental problems in the world on a local to global scale.
The report, entitled Livestock's Long Shadow, also surveys the environmental damage from sheep, chickens, pigs and goats. But in almost every case, the world's 1.5 billion cattle are cited as the greatest adverse impact with respect to climate change as well as species extinction. The report concludes that, unless changes are made, the massive damage reckoned to be due to livestock may more than double by 2050, as demand for meat increases. One of the cited changes suggests that intensification of the livestock industry may be suggested, since intensification leads to less land for a given level of production.
Some microbes respire in the cattle gut by an anaerobic process known as methanogenesis (producing the gas methane). Cattle emit a large volume of methane, 95% of it through eructation or burping, not flatulence. As the carbon in the methane comes from the digestion of vegetation produced by photosynthesis, its release into the air by this process would normally be considered harmless, because there is no net increase in carbon in the atmosphere — it's removed as carbon dioxide from the air by photosynthesis and returned to it as methane. Methane is a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, having a warming effect 23 to 50 times greater,  and according to Takahashi and Young "even a small increase in methane concentration in the atmosphere exerts a potentially significant contribution to global warming". Further analysis to the methane gas produced by livestock as a contributor to the increase in greenhouse gases is provided by Weart. Research is underway on methods of reducing this source of methane, by the use of dietary supplements, or treatments to reduce the proportion of methanogenetic microbes, perhaps by vaccination. 
Cattle are fed a concentrated high-corn diet which produces rapid weight gain, but this has side effects which include increased acidity in the digestive system. When improperly handled, manure and other byproducts of concentrated agriculture also have environmental consequences.
Grazing by cattle at low intensities can create a favourable environment for native herbs and forbs; however, in most world regions cattle are reducing biodiversity due to overgrazing driven by food demands by an expanding human population.
See main article: Ox. Oxen (singular ox) are large and heavyset breeds of Bos taurus cattle trained as draft animals. Often they are adult, castrated males. Usually an ox is over four years old due to the need for training and to allow it to grow to full size. Oxen are used for plowing, transport, hauling cargo, grain-grinding by trampling or by powering machines, irrigation by powering pumps, and wagon drawing. Oxen were commonly used to skid logs in forests, and sometimes still are, in low-impact select-cut logging. Oxen are most often used in teams of two, paired, for light work such as carting. In the past, teams might have been larger, with some teams exceeding twenty animals when used for logging. An ox is nothing more than a mature bovine with an "education." The education consists of the animal's learning to respond appropriately to the teamster's (ox driver's) signals. These signals are given by verbal commands or by noise (whip cracks) and many teamsters were known for their voices and language. In North America, the commands are (1) get up, (2) whoa, (3) back up, (4) gee (turn right) and (5) haw (turn left). Oxen must be painstakingly trained from a young age. Their teamster must provide as many as a dozen yokes of different sizes as the animals grow. A wooden yoke is fastened about the neck of each pair so that the force of draft is distributed across their shoulders. From calves, oxen are chosen with horns since the horns hold the yoke in place when the oxen lower their heads, back up, or slow down (particularly with a wheeled vehicle going downhill). Yoked oxen cannot slow a load like harnessed horses can; the load has to be controlled downhill by other means. The gait of the ox is often important to ox trainers, since the speed the animal walks should roughly match the gait of the ox driver who must work with it. U.S. ox trainers favored larger breeds for their ability to do more work and for their intelligence. Because they are larger animals, the typical ox is the male of a breed, rather than the smaller female. Females are potentially more useful producing calves and milk. Oxen can pull harder and longer than horses, particularly on obstinate or almost un-movable loads. This is one of the reasons that teams drag logs from forests long after horses had taken over most other draft uses in Europe and North America. Though not as fast as horses, they are less prone to injury because they are more sure-footed and do not try to jerk the load. An "ox" is not a unique breed of bovine, nor have any "blue" oxen lived outside the folk tales surrounding Paul Bunyan, the mythical American logger. A possible exception and antecedent to this legend is the Belgian Blue breed which is known primarily for its unusual musculature and at times exhibits unusual white/blue, blue roan, or blue coloration. The unusual musculature of the breed is believed to be due to a natural mutation of the gene that codes for the protein Myostatin, which is responsible for normal muscle atrophy. Many oxen are used worldwide, especially in developing countries. Ox is also used for various cattle products, irrespective of age, sex or training of the beast - for example, ox-blood, ox-liver, ox-kidney, ox-heart, ox-hide.
See main article: Cattle in religion.
Cows are venerated within the Hindu religion of India. According to Vedic scripture they are to be treated with the same respect 'as one's mother' because of the milk they provide; "The cow is my mother. The bull is my sire." They appear in numerous stories from the Puranas and Vedas, for example the deity Krishna is brought up in a family of cowherders, and given the name Govinda (protector of the cows). Also Shiva is traditionally said to ride on the back of a bull named Nandi. Bulls in particular are seen as a symbolic emblem of selfless duty and religion. In ancient rural India every household had a few cows which provided a constant supply of milk and a few bulls that helped as draft animals. Many Hindus feel that at least it was economically wise to keep cattle for their milk rather than consume their flesh for one single meal.
Gandhi explains his feelings about cow protection as follows:
"The cow to me means the entire sub-human world, extending man's sympathies beyond his own species. Man through the cow is enjoined to realize his identity with all that lives. Why the ancient rishis selected the cow for apotheosis is obvious to me. The cow in India was the best comparison; she was the giver of plenty. Not only did she give milk, but she also made agriculture possible. The cow is a poem of pity; one reads pity in the gentle animal. She is the second mother to millions of mankind. Protection of the cow means protection of the whole dumb creation of God. The appeal of the lower order of creation is all the more forceful because it is speechless."
Cattle are typically represented in heraldry by the bull.
The world cattle population is estimated to be about 995,838,000 head. India is the nation with the largest number of cattle, about 281,700,000 or 28.29% of the world cattle population, followed by Brazil: 187,087,000, 18.79%; China: 139,721,000, 14.03%; the United States: 96,669,000, 9.71%; EU-27: at 87,650,000, 8.80%; Argentina: 51,062,000, 5.13%; Australia: 29,202,000, 2.93%; South Africa: 14,187,000, 1.42%; Canada: 13,945,000, 1.40% and other countries: 49,756,000 5.00%. Africa has about 20,000,000 head of cattle, many of which are raised in traditional ways and serve partly as tokens of their owner's wealth.
Cattle today are the basis of a multi-billion dollar industry worldwide. The international trade in beef for 2000 was over $30 billion and represented only 23 percent of world beef production. (Clay 2004). The production of milk, which is also made into cheese, butter, yogurt, and other dairy products, is comparable in economic size to beef production and provides an important part of the food supply for many of the world's people. Cattle hides, used for leather to make shoes and clothing, are another widespread product. Cattle remain broadly used as draft animals in many developing countries, such as India.