Taxonomic name: Bos taurus Linnaeus, 1758
Synonyms: Bos indicus Linnaeus, 1758, Bos primigenius Bojanes, 1827
Common names: cattle (English), Hausrind (German)
Organism type: mammal
Feral cattle (Bos taurus) are escaped or released domestic animals. Unless well contained by adequate fences, they form feral herds and wander into native vegetation wherever suitable food is available. They can severely modify native vegetation by browsing, crushing and trampling. In native forests they invariably lay bare the forest floor and eliminate nearly all young trees, shrubs and ferns until only a few unpalatable or browse-resistant species remain. In subalpine environments feral cattle open up clearings by breaking down and browsing low-canopied vegetation.
Feral cattle can be distinguished from domestic stock only by their location and lack of ear marks or tags. Their size and conformation vary greatly depending on sex, age and breed. The male is heavier and larger, particularly around the head and neck. The hair is either straight or curly, and ranges from whitish to black with shades and blotches of red, roan, brown or buff. Both sexes can have horns, which are permanent and hollow, and grow throughout life over bony cores projecting from a prominent ridge on the skull. The horns of bulls are usually shorter and thicker than those of cows (Parkes, 2005).
agricultural areas, range/grasslands, scrub/shrublands, urban areas
Feral cattle can severely modify native vegetation by browsing, crushing and trampling (Aston 1912; Wodzicki 1950). In native forests they invariably lay bare the forest floor and eliminate nearly all young trees, shrubs and ferns, until only a few unpalatable or browse-resistant species remain. In subalpine environments feral cattle open up clearings by breaking down and browsing low-canopied vegetation. On sub-antarctic Enderby Island feral cattle prevented the regeneration of Poa litorosa tussock grassland and a variety of endemic sub-antarctic herbs (Parkes, 2005). Scott et al. (in Stone 1984) regarded domestic and feral cattle as the “single most destructive agent to Hawai‘ian ecosystems, particularly to koa forests”. Regeneration of young koa (see Acacia koaia in IUCN Red List of Threatened Species) trees is completely suppressed in some forests of Hawai‘I (Baldwin and Fagerlund 1943; SPREP, 2000).
Degradation of breeding sites by introduced cattle has decreased the range and population of the 'critically endangered' Amsterdam albatross (see Diomedea amsterdamensis in IUCN Red List of Threatened Species). Across the island (BirdLife International 2007).
Domestic cattle are used for meat, milk, hides and as draft animals. Feral cattle may be hunted for meat and hides.
The ancestors of today's Eurasian breeds of humpless cattle were the "wild aurochs" - large, formidable, long-legged and long-horned beasts - the last of which were hunted to extinction in Poland in 1627. Archaeological evidence suggests that cattle were first domesticated in the Middle East between 6000 and 5000 BC, and spread from there through Africa and Europe. Other early independent centres of domestication included Switzerland, Germany and Denmark. Hundreds of distinct breeds have been produced by artificial selection and transported throughout the world (Parkes, 2005).
Introduction pathways to new locations
Transportation of domesticated animals: Particularly important in Hawaii and New Caledonia as the basis for a meat industry.
Local dispersal methods
Escape from confinement: Unless well contained by adequate fences, cattle wander into native vegetation wherever suitable food is available. If unchecked this can result in the formation of feral herds roaming wild through extensive areas of country.
In mainland forests feral cattle browse on a very wide range of shrubs and young trees. Feral cattle are afoot at first light, feeding rapidly until the paunch is full, and then they alternate periods of chewing the cud with grazing throughout the day. Normally they ruminate lying down, but in wet weather they may stand with their backs to the wind. In bush country feral cattle will "walk down" tall saplings up to 6m high, straddling the stem in order to bend the tops within reach, and then stripping off the leaves.
The oestrus cycle is 3 weeks, and the gestation period about 9.5 months. Feral calves are most commonly born in late spring. Multiple births are unknown in feral herds. Calves are born with their eyes open, they stand and suckle almost at once, and within a few hours can follow their mother. They are usually weaned well before the next calf is born.
Males reach puberty at about 10 months of age, and thereafter are fecund throughout the year, but feral bulls do not mate until strong enough to compete for cows. Domestic cows can conceive at 6-10 months, but apparently very few do so in the wild. Cows may remain fertile for about 12 years and come in-season in spring or about 3 weeks after calving.
Principal sources: Taylor R. H. (1990) in King C. M. (ed.) The Handbook of New Zealand Mammals
Compiled by: IUCN/SSC Invasive Species Specialist Group (ISSG)
Last Modified: Tuesday, 3 July 2007