Recently, Lance did a land clearing job for a customer. Because the customer could not afford the cash to pay for the job, the property owner offered us two zebu cows. He said the male was very friendly and the female is pregnant and due in the fall. When I laid my eyes on them them I couldn’t turn the offer down. Four days later we brought home Bonnie and Clyde! You can watch our YouTube video and watch their introduction to our homestead here!
I had never had any type of cattle before so as any homesteader would do, I started my research on Zebu cows. They are quite an interesting creature, and they have an interesting history. This post is a result of days of research on these fantastic cows and what we have learned by having them here on our homestead.
What are Zebu Cows?
Originally, Zebu cows came from Southeast Asia. They actually evolved from a mix of three Indian breeds of cattle, the Guzerat, Nelore, and the Gir. At that time, they actually did not have the humps that they currently sport. Somewhere near the 17th and 18th centuries, these cattle were taken to Brazil. There they were bred with Brazilian cattle. Zebu cows are now considered the oldest domesticated cattle breed. The name Zebu today, is not only the name used for a specific breed, but also a general name for Brahman, Gir, Guzera, and Nelore. Other names may include indicine cattle or humped cattle.
Because these cattle are social creatures, they live in groups. The need a secure enclosure and to have access to lots of grass and/or hay.
Zebu cows are pretty easy to identify. They usually have the following traits:
- red or gray in their coloring
- both male and female have horns
- have quite large, drooping ears
- very loose skin called a dewlap
- a large hump about at the shoulder
Zebus are well-adapted to hot dry climates. They are very resistant to drought and can tolerate much higher amounts of heat and sunlight than other breeds of cattle. This is because Zebus have more sweat glands than most cattle which allows the heat to dissipate easier. Because their skin is oily it helps repel pests like flies.
Female Zebus weigh in the neighborhood of 1000 to 1400 pounds, while bulls tip the scale at 1600 to 2000 pounds. Mature miniature Zebu cows weigh only 300 to 500 pounds; bulls, 400 to 600 pounds. A mini Zebu should not exceed 42 inches tall at three years of age.
Uses for Zebu cows
Zebu cows are mostly used for milk, meat, and as draft animals. The meat is preferred in sub-tropical countries due to its ability to thrive in hot conditions. Uncommon uses include their hides, and manure for compost and fuel. Because their horns are so strong, they make excellent knife handles. Miniature Zebus make excellent pets, especially for children. Their docile temperament allows them to be much more friendly than other cow breeds when treated well.
Zebu cows reach a mature age to reproduce at around 44 months, or just shy of four years old. The female carries her calf for around 285 days, depending on the age of the mother. Male calves are usually carried longer during pregnancy than the females. Most Zebus give birth to a single calf, though twins are also common. The calves nurse from their mother for about six months. Once they are a year old, most calves are fully independent. Zebu cows produce one-half gallon (2 liters) of milk per day.
Diet and Exercise
Like all cattle, Zebu cows are herbivores. They are most definitely grazers. A Zebu diet mainly consists of grass. Other than that, Zebus can consume seeds, leaves, and flowers. Alfalfa is a favorite. Because Zebus are ruminants with multi-chambered stomachs they are able to regurgitate their food to chew it again. After grazing, the Zebu picks a quiet spot to lie in the shade and chew its cud.
Interesting Facts About Zebu Cows
Here are some interesting facts about Zebus you probably didn’t know:
- In India, because Zebus are sacred, they are used only as draft animals, and for producing milk.
- Zebus are featured on the official stamp of Madagascar.
- In some countries, such as Madagascar, Zebus are a sacrificial animal and they are killed and eaten on occasions such as marriages, funerals and on New Year’s Eve.
- Herds contain one male and many females, all of which have their own spot in the pecking order.
So, are you ready to go get your own Zebu Cows yet? These two have been a lot of fun on the homestead! They are friendly, easy going and love being with the horses too! Make sure to watch our YouTube video so you can see how the male did when he first came to us. While you are there make sure to check out our other videos!
Do you have Zebu cows? We would love to hear about them in the comments below!