My uncle and aunt currently have three cows and two calves. Two of the cows are mothers of the two calves, and one calf is of the “Gir” breed, but all the other cattle are “Jersey” cattle. How did a Jersey cow give birth to a Gir calf? My uncle says there was no bull involved; instead a vet from the local agricultural college made the hour-long journey to my uncle’s village to administer an artificial insemination injection. Such are the miracles of modern science. Another of the cows is pregnant with a Gir calf and my aunt hopes it will be a heifer (a female calf). The vet is interested in the outcome too because his injections produce male calves much more often than chance, and they that aren’t all that desirable.

(The mentioned village is Otawane and the closest town (with the agricultural college) is Sawantwadi, 10 kilometers away. According to stories from two generations above me, Otawane was the home of my paternal ancestors for quite a few generations before that.)

My uncle is not happy with the Jersey cattle because he thinks they’re stupid. He says if you let local-breed cattle out to graze, they know how to come back home when it starts getting dark outside, but the Jersey cattle just keep eating and incessantly moving towards wherever they see food, so you need someone to watch over them and get them home. (Jersey cows are not a local breed in India. They originate, as you may guess, in Jersey. Such are the miracles of globalization.) But like many farmers, he keeps Jersey cows because they have high quality milk production.

On a related note, a while ago I was subject to some terminological confusion regarding cows, bulls, bullocks, oxen, buffalo, and the like. It is now resolved. All cows are female and their male counterparts are bulls, which is to be expected as cows are mammals that give milk and hence must be female (this bit amusingly came as a great surprise to a friend I mentioned it to). In the United States, castrated bulls are called oxen, and young bulls are called bullocks. But mostly everywhere else in the world castrated bulls are called bullocks. Cows, bulls, bullocks, and oxen are all terms for cattle.

Buffalo, or more precisely “water buffalo”, are an entirely separate genus of bovines in Asia. The North American bison is also called a ‘buffalo’ in the United States but it is actually more closely related to cattle than to the true buffalo. In India and many other parts of Asia the milk of female buffalo is used on par with cow milk, and the males are used for farmwork on par with bulls. My native language Marathi has different words for male and female buffalo but in English they are called, again, bulls and cows, and on top of that, a common misconception (outside America) is that female buffalo are called oxen. You can see why I was confused. Such are the miracles of language, particularly American English.

But wait! There’s yet another small detail before my confusion is fully resolved. Cattle in India and some other parts of Asia are all varieties of the zebu, a type of bovine that has a hump on its back and a large flap of skin below its neck. Cattle in the Western world are not “zebuine”, so they do not have a hump on their backs. (But the Jersey cows at my aunt and uncle’s place are actually zebuine cross-breeds so they do have a hump.) This observation was brought to my attention by my mom, actually, along with other claims about how American milk and butter is “not real” and it’s weird to consider genetically modified cows of a different species as sacred as the “originals” in India, which I admit have more truth in them than I previously attributed.

This is all new information to me and now maybe to you too. Such are the miracles of the Internet.

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