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If you are wondering where and when cows were first domesticated, you are in luck – we’ve got a great blog post here to explain everything and more! At OurPets HQ, we mostly discuss dogs and cats but will also start focussing on providing quality research on various farm animals such as cattle, pigs, chickens, birds and several others.

Where were cows first domesticated?

In the 9th minimum BC or about 10,000 years ago, during the Neolithic or New Stone Age period of human history, humans began domesticating cattle as part of their transition from hunter-gatherer societies to agricultural farming societies. This domestication likely took place in various parts of the world, including Europe, Asia, and Africa.

What led to cow domestication?

Neolithisation or the transition from foraging to producing economies increased the demand for animal-derived products such as milk, cheese, and meat. This likely led to the domestication of cows so that they could be bred and kept for their dairy and meat production.

This period had several progressive innovations that included plant cultivation in the mid of the 10th millennium, animal husbandry in the mid of the 9th millennium, and pottery which started as early as the 7th millennium. Animal husbandry during this Neolithic era was most notably noted for the domestication of cows, sheep, goats, pigs, and poultry.

Origin of cows

According to archaeological and genetic evidence, wild cattle or aurochs (Bos primigenius) were likely domesticated independently much earlier than the 9th Millenium. The Yaks, another Bos species were domesticated in the wild and it is difficult to pinpoint exactly when and where this occurred since there are very few aurochs fossils found from the time period of domestication.

Cattle were first domesticated from the aurochs, which was an extinct wild ancestor of modern-day cows. The aurochs was a large, fierce animal that lived throughout Europe, Asia, and North Africa.

Why did they domesticate cows in the first place; was it for the meat, dairy, or something else?

The main reason that humans began domesticating cows was to access their valuable dairy and meat products. Dairy products such as milk and cheese were highly prized during this period of Neolithisation, as they provided important nutrients and energy. Similarly, cow meat was also an important source of protein and fat. In addition to their meat and dairy products, cows were also useful for their hides, which could be used to make clothing and other objects.

Over time, humans continued to breed and improve their herds of domesticated cows, leading to the development of modern-day breeds such as Holsteins, Angus, Herefords, and Jerseys.

How ancient cows looked like;

Aurochs were the largest herbivores in Europe with bulls having shoulder height of 160 to 180 centimeters (5.2-6 feet), with massive frontal horns of up to 80 cm (31 inches) in length.

Wild yaks were black upward- and backward-curving horns and a shaggy black to brown coat. Adult males can reach a height of 2 m (6.5 ft) and be 3 m (10 ft) long, weighing between 600 and 1200 kg (1300 and 2600 lbs).

Below is a Wikipedia drawing of Auroch cows;

In Ancient painting, aurochs are regarded with great esteem and are often depicted in hunting scenes. These fierce animals lived in Europe, Asia, and North Africa until they were eventually domesticated and bred for their meat and dairy production.

Extinction of auroch cows

Around 7500 and 8,000 years ago, Aurochs became extinct with evidence located in Southern Sweden. The primary reasons for their extinction are thought to be due to human hunting and habitat loss from the expansion of agriculture.

The aurochs was an important animal to humans during the Neolithic era as they were domesticated for their meat and dairy production. However, their populations dwindled over time due to hunting and habitat loss, leading to their eventual extinction around 7500-8000 years ago. Today, the domesticated cows that we know and love are direct descendants of this ancient species.

Cow’s Domestication timeline:

According to Helmer’s 2005 book, about 5 species of cattle have been domesticated in the last 10,500 years. Groeneveld (2010) book sheds light on how the early history of cattle domestication is based mainly on the analysis of mitochondrial DNA.

Comparison of bull and cow of the aurochs (left) and modern cattle (right). Courtesy T. Van Vuure

Below is a timeline showing the history of cattle timeline;

10,500 BCE – Neolithic cultures in Taurus: Aurochs are domesticated in the Taurus mountains.

9,000 BCE – Herds of Aurochs seen in Mesolithic rock art in Eastern Europe.

8,000 BCE – Approximate date when Aurochs become extinct.

7,500 BCE – Approximate date when first pottery is made.

7,000 BCE – Cattle domesticated in the Near East.

6,500 BCE – Cattle domesticated in India and first called in Africa

6,400 BCE- Taurine cattle traded for the first time

6,000 BCE: Grain and cattle were used as money

4,500 BCE – Cattle domesticated in China.

4,000 BCE: First sign of cows being milked

2,600 BCE – Cattle was introduced to Britain by farmers migrating from the Continent.

1,600 BCE – The first evidence of cattle being herded in Africa.

1600 BCE – Cattle brought to the Americas by early explorers and settlers.


Q: Why did humans begin domesticating cows?

A: During the Neolithic period, humans began domesticating cows in order to access their dairy and meat products such as milk, cheese, and meat. Cows also provided valuable hides that could be used for making clothing and other objects. Over time, humans continued to breed these herds of domesticated cows, leading to the development of modern-day breeds such as Holsteins, Angus, and Jerseys.

Q: What did ancient cows look like?

A: During the Neolithic era, Aurochs were large, fierce animals that measured up to 6 feet in height with shoulder heights of around 5-6 feet. They had long, powerful horns and shaggy black or brown coats.

Q: Are there any modern-day species that are similar to ancient cows?

A: There are several breeds of domesticated cows alive today that are direct descendants of the ancient aurochs. These include Holsteins, Angus, Jerseys, and other breeds that have been selectively bred over time for their meat and dairy production.

Q: Are cows native to America?

A: While the ancestors of modern-day cows were believed to have originated in Europe and Asia, there is some evidence that suggests that ancient humans may have later introduced them to America from Europe. Today, cows are a widespread and important agricultural animal all over the world. However, they are not native to North or South America specifically.

Q: What did cows evolve from?

A: The ancestors of modern-day cows evolved from the aurochs, an ancient species of large herbivores that lived in Europe, Asia, and North Africa. Over time, humans began domesticating these animals for their meat, dairy products, and hides, eventually leading to the development of modern breeds such as Holsteins and Angus.

Q: When were cows first discovered?

A: It is believed that ancient humans first discovered and domesticated cows during the Neolithic period, which occurred roughly 7500-8000 years ago. Today, modern breeds of cows such as Holsteins, Angus, and Jerseys are direct descendants of these early aurochs.

Q: When were cows domesticated for milk?

A: There is evidence of milking of cows from around 4,000 BCE years ago. While cows were domesticated far much earlier during the Neolithic period, roughly 8000-10000 years ago there was no evidence that our ancestors were milking them until around 4000 BCE. Over time, humans selectively bred these herds of cattle in order to produce high-quality dairy products such as milk, cheese, and butter.

Q: where did cows originally come from?

A: The ancestors of cows are thought to have originated in Europe and Asia. However, there is some evidence that suggests they may have later been introduced to America from Europe by ancient humans. Today, cows are a widespread and important agricultural animal all over the world.

Q: How many cow breeds are there?

A: While there is no definitive count, experts estimate that there are hundreds of different breeds of cows worldwide. These include popular breeds such as Holsteins, Angus, Jerseys, and many others that have been selectively bred over time for their meat and dairy production.

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