Cows were first domesticated somewhere around 10,000 years ago. In that time, humans have selectively bred them for specific qualities. And sometimes, those qualities are extraordinary. Here are some of the more visually amazing breeds of cattle from around the world.
Texas longhorn cow
This breed is descended from a mix between a breed from Iberia and a breed from India, and they were some of the first cattle brought to North America by Europeans. The longhorn is well known for, well, long horns. The horns can grow as much as 7 feet from tip to tip! Despite the intimidating horns, they are quite gentle and smart (for a cow).
Not to be outdone in the giant horns department, the Ankhole-Watusi is a breed native to Africa. This breed's impressive horns can grow as long as 8 feet from tip to tip. Proportionally, they look impossibly large, but they do have a practical purpose. The large horns are used to disperse heat, and they also act as intimidating weapons to ward off predators.
Moving from the heat of Africa to the cold of Scotland, we see another cow breed adapted to its environment. The highland cow has a thick shaggy coat that keeps it warm against wind and rain. Plus, the wavy coat also gives it an endearingly silly appearance. The breed has the longest hair of any breed of cattle.
Belgian blue cow
Winning the trophy for one of the most bizarre-looking outcomes of our experimentation with beef cattle breeding is the Belgian blue. The strangely lumpy appearance is called double-muscling, a genetic trait that creates an increased number of muscle fibers. This interesting condition was first noted in 1808, and since then, the breed has been carefully selected specifically for this double-muscled condition, which results in about 20 percent more muscle than the average cow and extra-lean meat.
Lumpy and bumpy in a different way is the zebu cow. Zebu are a type of cattle originating from South Asia. They have been developed into more specific breeds, and we'll get to one of those soon, but the umbrella breed is the Bos indicus. This breed is easily identified by the prominent hump on its shoulders, as well as the "dewlap" or baggy skin hanging from its neck. Between the extra high shoulder hump and extra low dangling neck, the profile is unmistakable.
American Brahman cow
One specific breed of zebu is the American Brahman, which has both the distinctive shoulder hump and prominent dewlap as well as a few interesting features all its own. That includes some unusually long ears. They aren't quite as long as the Indu Brazil, which has the longest ears of any beef cattle breed, but they're long enough to give the breed an almost goat-like appearance at first glance.
Photo: Sam Berry/Wikimedia Commons
Photo: Lea Maimone/Wikimedia Commons
And now we mooove into the cute zone. Just as there are miniature horses, there miniature cows. These tiny cows stand only about 3-4 feet tall at the shoulder. But they aren't bred just to be adorable. Their small size makes them great for small farms. For those cows raised for dairy, they provide 1-2 gallons of milk a day (as opposed to 8-10 gallons from a typical Holstein dairy cow), or if you're raising one for meat, you get about 400 pounds of meat (compared to about twice that much from an average-sized steer). That makes them more than manageable for a family farm. Plus, they're cute, which is always a bonus.
Photo: David Merrett/Wikimedia Commons
Miniature belted Galloway cow
Another adorable and unusual cattle breed is the mini belted Galloway, or mini beltie. These little cows sport a black coat with a belt of white around their middle. Their coat is also quite thick, which is a head-nod to where the breed was developed: the highlands of Scotland. They're not nearly as shaggy as the highland cow but because they naturally don't have horns, they look all the more cuddly.
Miniature Jersey cow
Jersey cows are common enough but what about miniature Jerseys? They stand a mere 3 to 3.5 feet tall at the shoulder. Like the other smaller breeds, they were developed to be more manageable for small farms that don't need as much milk or meat, or don't want to invest as much space or feed into livestock. Everything about mini Jerseys is like their larger counterparts, just smaller.
Photo: Katie Newman/Wikipedia
Miniature panda cow
And finally, we have a particularly rare cow. The panda cow is known for its markings that are just like giant pandas, right down to the dark eye patches. In fact, it isn't a panda cow if the markings aren't right — the white belt around the middle and distinct black eye patches on the white face. There are only a handful of these in the world, somewhere around 30 total. They're so rare that when one is born, it usually makes the news, and there is even a pair of miniature panda cows at the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle, Washington.
Photo: Justin Baeder/Wikipedia