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Zoo on the Hill

Dwarf zebu

Scientific name: Bos primigenius indicus
Family: Bovidae
Order: Artiodactyla
Class: Mammalia
Range: Originally from South Asia, particularly India, Domesticated worldwide
Habitat: Urban
Lifespan: Approximately 20 years

What do they look like?
The dwarf zebu is a breed of domestic cattle that is descended from the zebu, one of the world’s oldest cattle breeds. Zebus are measured at the hip, and they cannot exceed more than 42 inches tall in order to be classified as dwarf. Dwarf zebus typically weigh between 200 to 300 pounds. They are usually grayish white, but can also be pale fawn, reddish brown or black. Males and females both have horns that point forward, unless removed, although the males’ horns are usually larger. They have droopy ears and thick skin that can withstand high temperatures and tick bites. They have a large flap of skin under their neck, called a dewlap, and a hump made of fat and muscle on their withers (highest part of the zebu’s back, at the base of its neck above its shoulders). If food and water is scarce, they can live off the fat stored in their hump.

How do they behave?
Dwarf zebus are domestic animals and are known for being manageable. The milk and meat production of zebus does not rival that of other cattle breeds, but zebus serve as excellent draft animals. In India, they are commonly used to pull plows and carts. Unless they are working, dwarf zebus are not very active animals. They spend their time grazing, resting and chewing their cud.

What’s do they eat?
Dwarf zebus are grazers, eating grasses and various other plant matter. They are ruminants, which means they swallow their food before completely chewing it. Their first stomach compartment semi-digests the plant product. Then the zebu regurgitates it and at this time it is referred to as cud. They will chew the cud again, and then swallow it once more. This helps the animal extract all the nutrition possible from the fibrous plant matter. At Happy Hollow, they eat grass hay, timothy hay pellets, and occasionally grain and fruit.

How are they born?
Dwarf zebus reach sexual maturity at about 18 months old. After mating, the female will go through a gestation of about 290 days, after which she will bear a single calf, or occasionally twins.

What should you know about them?
There are around 75 breeds of zebu worldwide, and all breeds originate from South Asia and Africa where they are thought to be domesticated around 6000 B.C. They have been introduced to other areas of the world, such as Brazil. In India, they are considered sacred. Hindu religion teaches that the soul of a human being returns in each cow, and killing a cow is a crime. When zebus are too old to work, their owner simply turns them loose to wander until they pass away from natural causes.

Zebus have not been evaluated by the International Union for Conservation of Nature , as a result of their designation as a domesticated species. However, zebus do play a vital role in conservation by helping impoverished communities through the Heifer International program. Heifer International works with rural communities throughout the globe to provide animals to subsistence farmers. These animals support sustainable agriculture and are vital sources of income to the members of their community. You can learn more about Heifer International and their programs at