Petting of the cattle in India, and around the world, began centuries ago. With a rising consciousness among consumers, many wonder how it began and if it is ethical. That's what my friend, Shreya Paul, is here to address.

World history of domestication
Today, our understanding of the early history of petting cows is based mainly on the analysis of DNA. In 2009, cattle became one of the first livestock animals to have a fully mapped genome. Genome is the complete set of genes present in the cell of a living body. This helps trace the history of the organism, in this case, that of cows.

Cows were first domesticated between 8,000 to 10,000 years ago from their ancient species, aurochs. They have now become one of the most popular domestic animals in the world. In fact, India is the leading country, with China and Brazil following closely.  Five species of wild cattle have been domesticated in approximately, the last 10,500 years.

The distribution of cattle in different regions of the world has developed several types adapted to their local environments. Human interference led to the development of different breeds of cattle. This influenced various characteristics such as horn development, coat color, docility, and overall temperament. The oldest breeds, such as Chianina and Pinzgauer, are still found in Europe, Mediterranean and African countries.

The evolution of the cattle

Cows were also domesticated by the Indus Valley civilization. With the advent of agriculture, the domestication of cattle became more and more common. Cattle is considered to be the oldest form of wealth and interestingly the oldest form of theft. The migration of cows was common even before trade was developed.

An Egyptian painting depicting the domestication of cattle


Indian History of domestication
Indian culture has long been entwined with the domestication of cows and has a rather complicated history.

Cows have been mentioned in the Vedas and the Puranas. Cows were domesticated for many purposes, even religious, as early as the Rig Vedic times. It is only later in history when vegetarianism spread among the Hindus, Jains, and Buddhists that cow acquired its present status.

A depiction of cows from the Rig Vedic times

The transition of cow from being a food source to being a holy symbol occurred with The Mahabharata. Lord Krishna in The Mahabharata had a lot of affection and love towards cows. In His original form in the spiritual world, Krishna is a cowherd boy in the agricultural community of Goloka ("cow planet") Vrindavan, where He keeps unlimited, transcendental surabhi cows. In the Bhagvada-Gita, Krishna mentions cow protection as one of the prime duties of any civilized society.

Lord Krishna milking a cow

Economic Importance of Domestication of cows
Today, cows are seen as a symbol of wealth in India. They have gained an important status in religious festivals. In fact, people now keep cows even as pets in rural areas.

In India, poverty and unemployment is highly prevalent. In such a scenario, cows as livestock can appear as a boon. Often, typically in rural India, cattle is the only source of wealth. Cows are domesticated for their milk, used for tilling the farms, for transport, and also their dung. Cow dung is used as fuel fertilizer and more.

Agriculture is a major economic force behind the domestication of cows. After the green revolution, Indian agriculture has become modernized to some extent. But there are still parts of India where farmers continue to depend on cows and bullocks rather than modern machinery like tractors. The cows even save a lot of fuel in the process.

Cattle used for tilling the field

But, is it okay to domesticate cows?
Dairy cows that are lactating must be milked. This is because they produce milk in excess of what is needed by their offspring. Thus milking is required regardless of whether the cow is a pet or a commercial animal. If the excess milk is not discharged then it will build up in the cow and cause an infection known as mastitis.

Also, modern cows have larger udders. When they have excess milk stored in them, they themselves walk into the milking parlor. They are relieved after the milking is done. Thus milking benefits both- the humans and the cattle, and brings no harm.

Cow dung from cows is an efficient alternative to fossil fuel in rural areas. In India, the income of rural families is low. They are not able to afford fossil fuel for cooking, heating, and agriculture. Again extraction of cow dung does not harm the cow in any way.

Due to selective breeding and domestication, modern cows have developed a passive and docile nature which makes them perfect for domestication.

Since cows have been domesticated for centuries, now they completely depend on humans for both food, shelter, and care.

Thus petting cows helps both- humans and cattle. But of course, it has limitations, and needs to be done very ethically.


References-
1. In 2009, cattle became one of the first livestock animals to have a fully mapped genome.
2. Cows were first domesticated between 8,000 to 10,000 years ago from their ancient species, aurochs.
3. Dairy cows that are lactating must be milked.
4. It is only later in history when vegetarianism spread among the Hindus, Jains, and Buddhists that cow acquired its present status.
5. Cows were also domesticated by the Indus Valley civilization.
6. Five species of wild cattle have been domesticated in approximately, the last 10,500 years.
7. The migration of cows was common even before trade was developed.