Holy Cow

Discover how cows have altered human life, human biology, and the geography of the world.

About 8,000 years ago, the relationship between cows and man began with the revolutionary advent of domestication in Mesopotamia, the Indus River Valley, and Africa. There were many possible candidates for the job but only the cow fit the specific criteria humankind needed: not too flighty, breeds well in captivity, grows at a good pace, not aggressive, requires a low maintenance diet. Our ancestors chose wisely: Cows provide just about all of our basic needs, from milk and meat to muscle.

Today there are about 1.5 billion cows in the world. In many different countries humans and cows have formed close relationships. In England, dairy farmer Mark Evans spends all of his waking time with his cows, milking, feeding, and otherwise nurturing them. The African Masai tribe believes that all cattle were given to them from the great god N’gai at the beginning of time — a belief which today remains at the heart of their culture. India is home to a quarter of the world’s cow population. One major reason for this is that India’s majority Hindu community reveres cows and considers them to be “second mothers.”

NATURE’s Holy Cow explores how we’ve changed the cow and how the cow has changed us.

To order a copy of Holy Cow, please visit the NATURE Shop.

Online content for Holy Cow was originally posted February 2004.

  • jose B. Soriano


  • Sue

    Great info. The questions of intense breeding to meet societal needs applies even more so to the puppy mills of the world. Balance must be central to all enterprises involving animal husbandry.

  • Matthew

    I think the info posted is good but could be more in depth

  • kate.

    Er… cows? Can we get a deeper subject matter, please? (refer; my sister asks for binturongs.)

  • kim

    I live on a dairy farm. We milk brown swiss cows. My husband and I both have dairy science degrees and a minor in animal nutrition. This is a very DEEP subject matter, you just need the education and scientific background to understand the use of the dairy cow today. It is not inhuman, it is not cruelity to animals, and it is a way of life. I am so happy my children are being raised to understand responsibility, hard work and the aspects of life and death. A lot more individuals should have the responsiblity of taking care of an animal. We love our cows. We respect their hard work for us. I am proud to be a dairy producer.

  • Pepper

    How and where foods comes from is a very important topic of discussion… for all nations. I think it is a “deep subject matter.” I would like to see more segments which explore 1.) food management and politics 2.) the business of food allocation, along with the cost to societies when breakdowns in food distribtion develop 3.) More segments like this one on but for goats, fowl, sheep, etc.

  • Ted Rowland

    This was a most interesting, informative, fascinating show about India and its cows. With inclusion of the Laseter Beef Farm in the US, it became even moreso, and taught us a lot about living on earth. The news for us from the Laseters is that we don’t think we’ll make it as a species — we’re not smart enough as a species to do the right thing, even when we are shown what it is. The bad guys are going to win, and take us all down with them. Getting old is not all bad — we won’t be here for the final days.

  • Kristen Bieger

    My father, Dr. Krauth, use to own a beautiful brown and white cow named cherry. Cherry had a baby, so I got to keep him. I named him CoaCoa, because he was so dark brown he was almost black. But we had to sell them =( they were actually beefalo…they are like cows. I miss CoaCoa…….

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  • Holy Cow

    Anyone know if there is any current publications on india’s holy cow? or is there any current research on current economy etc etc

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