Can the American bison be domesticated

Can the buffalo run around in ranches? [closed]

Why did man choose to domesticate Bos cattle rather than bison? Was it a question of geography, characteristics, or both?

My first speculation was that size matters in this case, which is an idea that I'll explore first, but after further deliberation, I think this is partially true for another reason, and that Bos is capable of agricultural labor Providing versus bison may have been the most important factor.

At the time when cattle were first domesticated (something that probably happened a few centuries after sheep and goats were domesticated and tens of thousands of years after dogs were domesticated, but several thousand years before the horse was domesticated (and earlier) The hybrid mule was available. About a dozen centuries before the donkey domestication, human communities were much smaller than they are today. A community of 200 would have been a large city. A few dozen people in a community would have been pretty typical.

Bison are, on average, much larger than Bos. This means that the same amount of pasture can carry less bison than Bos and that each bison slaughtered produces more meat at one time. If you slaughter more meat in a week or two than your community members can immediately eat, there will be a lot of wasted meat that your community has invested a lot of time and effort on. However, when each slaughtered animal is smaller, it is easier to eat more of the meet from the slaughtered animal before it spoils and goes to waste.

In fact, even modern cows are likely larger than the earliest domesticated Bos. In this way, the meat production from slaughtered cows could be divided into manageable rates.

On further consideration, I still think that a smaller size was an advantage for Bos, but I think this may have less to do with the amount of meat produced per animal slaughtered (after all smoking and / or salting Beef in order to preserve it must be present was mastered fairly early, probably before shepherds and domesticated animals were even developed), and it had more to do with a few other size-related factors:

  1. Smaller animals eat less, so cows are more useful than bison when you have limited available grazing land (and early on in Fertile Crescent farming, when cattle were domesticated, there were plenty of forests used by early farmers for crops cleared, and much more less open steppe pasture than now).

  2. Smaller animals are easier to control when used in agricultural work than larger animals like bison, especially for early herders, whose animal control skills and techniques may not have been very sophisticated.

  3. To the extent that you want to keep your cattle from walking away from your farm with fences or rope lines, it is much easier to hold back a cow than a bison. You'll need bigger fences and stronger rope to hold back a bison.

  4. At least in winter it seems that early Neolithic farmers used the common area of ​​their houses as a combined family room / cattle shed. While having a bull in the china shop is bad, having a bison in the china shop is worse. The comparatively smaller cow would have been preferable to the bison to share your family room on a bitterly cold night (partly to give people extra warmth from the animals, as well as for the benefit of the animals, which are protected from the cold and wolves in the house) . Of course, it would be better to have sheep and goats still inside, but neither sheep nor goats are well suited to serve as pack animals, so at least until the donkey there would have been no substitute pack animals for the cow domesticated in Egypt after the European Neolithic Revolution had already started to expand into this "virgin territory" from the perspective of a farmer.

A related consideration is that before a cow, especially a male cow, becomes food, it is also a major source of muscle strength for all sorts of purposes, from pulling sleds (carts wouldn't come until thousands of years later) to cutting down forests to plow fields. I've seen other members of the Bos genus of various species used in this capacity, but I've seen a lot of American bison (the town I live in has its own herd of bison) but I've never seen one who used as such became a pack animal and I seriously doubt bison would be well suited for this role.

Bos also has a longer lifespan than bison (36v. 25 years in captivity and proportionally less in the wild). If meat is the primary goal, bison is superior. However, if you want a pack animal, give preference to a longer-lived animal. This fact suggests the idea that cattle were domesticated primarily as a source of power for horticultural endeavors and only secondarily as a stand-alone source of food.

An animal of load first, the second food source model also agrees with the reality that eating the grains that cattle directly eat is about ten times as efficient as eating beef. You don't want to waste valuable grain growing capacity on forage and thereby reduce the percentage of grain that is available for feeding cows unless the cows can do jobs that add more to total grain production than their own nutritional needs and forage production reduce . In the early Neolithic, the main concern was getting enough calories - the population density increased 100 times as fast as population growth could, while the calories per person actually decreased from the previous hunter-gatherer era to that early Neolithic, before humans fully mastered agriculture. So there would be significant pressure to use domesticated pack animals, which waste fewer calories than bison.

Further confirmation of the first pack animal, the second model of food source for domestication of cows, is the popularity of the mule on small family subsistence farms in the United States as late as the mid-19th century (remember the swan song from "40 acres and ") a mule"). It is much more difficult to grow enough plants to feed a whole family without a load than with one.

But mules are even smaller than cows, which makes them desirable on a small farm because they eat less but are still big enough to handle the load and easier to handle than cows. Did you know that cows in the US kill more people each year than poisonous spiders, Gila monsters, snakes and sharks combined? Mules, not so much.

The advantages of mules versus cows as pack animals on small farms such as those of the early Neolithic due to their smaller size would apply equally to smaller than modern cows compared to European bison, which were obviously larger and wilder than American bison.

JDługosz ♦

"Several thousand thousand years before the horse was domesticated," that may not be true, given that you have these other domestication events before millions set of years.


bison was no bigger than Bos and certainly not "much larger on average". Indeed it has Bos currently the larger species. Holocene aurochs were shorter but stockier than the co-living sages and probably about the same size. Wikipedia estimates 700 kg for the aurochs, while the bison is 634 kg for men and 424 kg for women. The Indian Bos Gaurus is today the largest cattle with adults between 650 and 1000 kg and the largest men with 1500 kg. The same numbers for the American bison are 318-1000 kg and 1270 kg.


Your argument about size is also deceptive. Domesticated cattle were significantly smaller than wild cattle, possibly because early shepherds killed males that got too large and aggressive and therefore were artificially selected for the smallest males (as opposed to what happens in the wild). Read here page 197. The smaller size is therefore not a reason for choosing a game species, but an artifact of the domestication event itself.


In terms of traction force, every domesticated cattle has been successfully used for traction. Not only Bos Taurus , Bos frontalis (Gayal), Bos javanicus (Banteng) and Bos Grunniens (Yak), but also the non- BosBubalis Bubalis (Water buffalo). If they can domesticate it enough to herd, they can use it to carry things, and if they can use it to carry things, they can use it to pull things.


Early domesticated animals did not compete with humans for the consumption of grain. Grain-fed cattle are likely an innovation from Roman times. Before that point, they were out in the pasture, and in large part still are. Cows can eat plants (grass, clover, lupine, vetch) that humans cannot eat. As a result, there was limited competition between cattle and grain. as in fact they still are not. Livestock is raised in areas that are too dry (shortgrass prairie from Texas to Nebraska) or too cool for grain in summer (New England, New York, Wisconsin milk production).