Skinny white cows or Zebu
The skinny white cows and oxen we saw all over Cambodia are known as Zebu, also known as Brahmin. There are about 75 known breeds of Zebu. A characteristic of the Zebu is a fatty hump on their shoulders, drooping ears, and a large dewlap or long flap of skin that hangs beneath the lower neck. Different breeds of Zebu are also found in Africa and Brazil. Australia has herds of Brahmin cattle in tropical areas in the Northern Territory.
Skinny white cows – oxen – a draught animal
The skinny white cows or oxen, like the water buffalo, are important livestock and offer a source of income and survival for Khmer families. Despite their skinny appearance the white cows do get fed, grazing on grasses in vacant paddocks, or along the roadside verges. Dry hay or a haystack is held in stock for the cows during monsoon periods when food is in short supply. The skinny white cows or oxen fill the same role as the water buffalo. The cows for dairy and beef, and like the water Buffalo the oxen can be seen pulling a plough through the rice fields, or a dray with timber or other produce.
Oxen – valuable livestock
Oxen or skinny white cows are valuable livestock. Families who own livestock such as a water buffalo, cows or oxen are usually better off than others. Their livestock can give milk and dairy for family use or to sell, and perhaps even a calf for sale over time. If they don’t have their own rice fields to plough, they can hire out their livestock to other farmers. Cow dung is not only used as fertilizer but also as fuel. At the end of its working life, skinny white cows or oxen can be fattened and sold for slaughter, the hide tanned and used for leather goods.
Skinny white cows are descendents of wild Asian aurochs
It is believed the skinny white cows or oxen are descendent of the wild Asian aurochs (now extinct). the aurochs disappeared around the time of the Indus Valley civilization. A bit of trivia – reading about wild aurochs in a novel entitled “Game of Thrones” a good read. Wild aurochs are the beast for the feasts, roasted on a spit of course! It is the first time I have ever heard of wild aurochs until now.
Skinny white cows – environmentally friendly livestock
Owning livestock such as a skinny white cow or oxen, is a step forward in Cambodia today. The years of the Khmer Rouge regime took it toll in all areas of Cambodia and it is a country still rebuilding. In European and western countries draught horses did the work of pulling the ploughs and drays, those days have long gone, and now in these countries there is no end of bright shiny modern-day tractors and machinery to do the heavy work. In Cambodia and other Asian countries the skinny white cows or oxen still do the work of the draught animal, as they have done for centuries.
Farmers who own livestock are usually better off than their counterparts. A lot can be said for the draught oxen as livestock. The skinny white cows are much more environmentally friendly than modern machinery, and offers so much more to a Khmer family that is useful, with little waste or pollution.
Traveling through Battembang there were small herds of skinny white cows, oxen and water buffalo grazing in roadside paddocks. The cows grazing on the drier areas, the water buffalo wading in the flood-waters. The livestock in this region looked very healthy, the skinny white cows not so skinny but well fed, the buffaloes sleek and fat, a good season perhaps?
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