Zebus are a species or subspecies of domestic cattle which originated in South Asia. They have been domesticated since 3,000 B.C. Today, there are about 75 breeds, evenly divided between those living in Asia and those living in Africa. Zebu are used as draft animals, and are farmed as both dairy and beef cattle. Read on to learn about the zebu.

Description of the Zebu

Zebus are one of the smallest breeds of cattle; some adults are only 3 feet (1 meter) tall at the shoulder. They are also about half the weight of traditional domestic cattle. It is thought these smaller proportions help them to be so well adapted to hot conditions. They are usually gray or red in color, have horns, and loose skin. Their distinctive characteristics include the large hump on their shoulders, a flap of skin hanging below the throat and chest – called a dewlap – and large, floppy ears.

Interesting Facts About the Zebu

Zebu have been domesticated to be productive in hot, humid environments. Because of this selection by breeding, they are smaller than other domestic cattle, have a lower metabolic rate, and have more efficient sweat glands.

  • Adaptations – Zebus have a high resistance to parasites and disease, and are very tolerant of intense humidity and heat
  • Sacred Animal – In India, zebus are sacred, and are used only as draft animals, and for producing milk
  • As an Icon – Zebus are featured on the official stamp of Madagascar
  • Milk Production – Zebu cows produce one-half gallon (2 liters) of milk per day, whereas European high performance breeds have a peak production of about 21 gallons (80 liters) a day
  • Name – The name “zebu” comes from the Tibetan word “ceba,” which means “hump”

Habitat of the Zebu

Wild zebus inhabit forests, but those being raised for agricultural purposes are usually found on grasslands.

Distribution of the Zebu

Zebus are mainly found in Africa and Asia, however, they are also found in South America, North America, and other countries around the world. There are thought to be 270 million zebu in India, 155 million in Brazil, and 2 million in the U.S.

Diet of the Zebu

Zebus are typical of other cattle, as they are herbivorous. They graze on grass, flowers, and seeds. They are ruminants, having the same digestive system as other cattle. This means they have a 4-chambered stomach, and chew their cud.

Zebus and Human Interaction

Zebus are a hardy animal and, because of this, they are farmed in hot environments on a range of continents. They are raised primarily for beef and milk, even though their meat is not considered very tasty. Their dung is often used for fuel or fertilizer, and they are also used as draught animals, pulling carts, plows, and other farm equipment. They are also used for leather, and their horns and bones are often used to make jewelry, ornaments, and cutlery.

In some countries, such as Madagascar, zebus are a sacrificial animal and they are killed and eaten at occasions such as marriages, funerals and New Year’s Eve.


Zebu have been domesticated for hundreds of years, possibly since 3,000 BC, and they are thought to be the world’s oldest domesticated breed of cattle. They are now found on all continents of the world. The zebu is derived from the Brahman, Gyr, Guzerat, Nelore, and Indu-Brazilian breeds of cattle. Although wild zebu are still found in small herds in Southern Asia, wild zebu populations are small, primarily because of habitat loss caused by deforestation.

Does the Zebu Make a Good Pet

Zebus are docile animals but, due to their large size and strength, they do not make good pets.

Zebu Care

Zebus are a domestic cattle breed, and therefore require the same quality and type of care as other domestic cattle. Zebu are well adapted to the harsh environment of the tropical areas in which they live. These adaptations include a high resistance to parasites and disease, and they are very tolerant of intense humidity and heat.

Behavior of the Zebu

Like other cattle, zebu are a prey animal and much of their behavior is adapted to this niche. For example, their eyes are on the sides of the heads, giving them vision of 330 degrees. The amount of time spent grazing depends on environmental factors, but is usually 8-9 hours per day. Zebu show typical social behaviors of domesticated animals, such as group cohesion, dominance, and leadership. Knowledge of these behaviors is very useful when handling the animals.

Reproduction of the Zebu

Zebu become sexually mature at approximately 44 months of age. The female is pregnant for about 285 days, but this varies depending on her age and health. If the calf is a male, the pregnancy (gestation period) is often shorter than for a female calf. The female zebu usually gives birth to just one calf for each pregnancy.

Beliefs, Superstitions, and Phobias About the Zebu

In India, zebus represents Nandi, the sacred bull of Shiva.


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