The Two Subspecies of Cattle



Climate will determine whether a Bos taurus taurus or a Bos taurus indicus is right for you.

The Two Subspecies of Cattle

The Two Subspecies of Cattle

Did you know that cattle breeds are commonly categorized into two different subspecies? While the two subspecies can breed and produce fertile offspring, they do come from different parts of the world and have very distinctive characteristics.

The species names are:

  1. Bos taurus taurus.
  2. Bos taurus indicus.

Bos taurus taurus

Simply put, Bos taurus taurus is the group of cattle without humps. Most of them also have relatively tight skin. Most of these cattle come to us from various parts of Europe, although some breeds do come from Africa and Asia. Thus, as a group, they are typically associated with cooler climates.

The subspecies Bos taurus taurus includes breeds that have been specialized for either beef or dairy, as well as breeds that can multitask. Most of them are well suited for many parts of America, but may not thrive in the hot, humid South (there are exceptions).

Here is just a handful of the forms that Bos taurus taurus cattle can take:

Quite a diverse group!

Bos taurus indicus

Bos taurus indicus is the group of cattle with humps, also known as zebus. Zebus are distinguished by big ears and baggy skin, features which help them dissipate heat easily in the hot, muggy climates from which they come. Bos taurus indicus breeds are often associated with India, but some of them have roots in other parts of southern Asia and in Africa.

The zebu is typically used for milk and draft purposes in its native home, two roles in which it has never excelled in America. While it is rarely eaten in many of its native countries, the zebu is elsewhere primarily used for raising crossbred beef steers. Bos taurus indicus has a reputation for being rather tough, but crossing it with a Bos taurus taurus animal can improve the meat quality of the offspring somewhat.

There are nowhere near as many breeds of Bos taurus indicus as there are breeds of Bos taurus taurus. The only zebu breed familiar to most Americans is the Brahman.

Practical Considerations

In most parts of America, Bos taurus taurus is the preferred subspecies when it comes to cattle. The dairy breeds produce more milk than zebus, and the beef breeds produce tastier, more tender meat. For multipurpose cattle, there are many heritage breeds that better meet the requirements of homesteaders.

The arena in which Bos taurus indicus really shines is crossbreeding in extremely hot climates. Zebu breeds such as the Brahman consistently impart heat resistance to their crossbred offspring, while the Bos taurus taurus influence improves beef and dairy performance to some extent. Many new and useful breeds have been developed specifically for the tropics in this way.

Therefore, climate will determine whether a Bos taurus taurus or a Bos taurus indicus is right for you. For most parts of the United States, Bos taurus taurus is the animal of choice.

Helpful Resource
Choosing a Breed of Cattle

Choosing a Breed of Cattle
Is a zebu breed right for you? Or would you be better off considering a British, Continental, American, or Spanish-American breed? This book will help you find the answers. Free sample pages are available here.