The Year of the Ox begins on February 12, and although the ox isn’t the most exotic animal, it certainly is a respected one in the Chinese Zodiac. People born during this year are known to be reliable, persistent, honest, and faithful.
To celebrate the ox and his bovine relatives, here are 15 random, geeky, and sometimes pretty funny facts about cows, real and fictional.
1. According to the Travel China Guide, the ox is the second animal on the Chinese Zodiac. He would have been first, except when animals were arriving for the Jade Emperor to declare their order on the calendar, and the rat hitched a ride on the back of the ox. When the ox arrived, the rat jumped off him and cut ahead to be first. Typical.
2. Also, 2021, in particular, is the year of the “Metal Ox,” and there’s one herd of cows in New Zealand who might fully appreciate this. In a viral video that began around 2017, farmer and “doom metal” fan Tom Latta filmed himself performing metal riffs for his cows. I’m not sure if they were impressed, but the list on YouTube of people playing music for their cows is impressively long.
3. However, in a study by the University of Leicester School of Psychology, dairy cows’ milk production increases by about 3 percent if you play them slow jams and easy listening. Modern Farmer even put out a playlist, with songs like Lou Reed’s “Perfect Day” or the Danny Williams’ version of “Moon River.” Shouldn’t that be “Mooooon River”?
4. The biggest cow in classic folklore and fairy tales has to be Paul Bunyan’s Babe the Blue Ox. In some versions of the tale, Babe was blue because Paul found him as a little calf freezing in the Winter of the Blue Snow. He grew so big, he measured 42 axes high, and it took a murder of crows one day to fly from one tip of horns to the other. How popular is Babe? Atlas Obscura said the folk art giant statues of Babe and Paul Bunyan at Lake Bemidji, Minnesota are probably the “second most photographed statues in the U.S.” It didn’t say what the first was, but I’m going to guess the Statue of Liberty might get a few more shots than the 10-foot ox.
5. Children’s author Wilber Munro Leaf wrote more than 40 books for young readers, but his best known by far was the 1936 tale of the pacifist bull, Ferdinand the Bull. Although some critics said the book had an underlying political agenda, the character was so popular that, in the late 1930s, he became the subject of an Academy Award-winning animated Disney short. The most recent adaptation of the movie, from Blue Sky Studios in 2017, was nominated for Best Animated Feature Film but didn’t win.
6. Both Marvel and DC Comics have bovine characters with Ferdinand similarities. In the world of Doctor Strange, the gentle extraterrestrial bull Rintrah is often referred to as “Ferdinand.” There is also the recurring minotaur (a human form with the head of a bull) in the Wonder Woman comics named Ferdinand. He works as a chef for the Themysciran embassy.
7. The concept of the “Astrological Royal” is an east-meets-west idea of harmony between certain signs in the month-to-month zodiac and the year-to-year Chinese zodiac. The easiest one to guess is the “Taurus Royal.” These are people born as Taurus (the bull) during the Year of the Ox. This can be a good or bad thing, as some people who are Taurus Royals range from Enya and George Takei to Adolf Hitler. One literal “Taurus Royal” is Queen Elizabeth, who wasn’t born Year of the Ox, but is a “royal” who happens to be a Taurus.
8. “Cows” and “oxen” are hardly used as team mascots, but several teams across the country from school to professional are fine with the name “Bulls”—none as successful and popular as the NBA champion team Chicago Bulls. The Chicago Bulls Encyclopedia said the team name may have stemmed from Chicago’s status as the “meat capital of the world” or because the owner, Richard Klein, admired the strength and stamina of bulls. The encyclopedia also said Klein was thinking of naming the team Matadors or Toreadors, but his son said “Dad, that’s a bunch of bull.”
9. Cows have been the famous faces of several products over the years from Laughing Cow to Chick-Fil-A, but one of the most famous is Elsie the Cow, who was the face of Borden Dairy Company from 1936 through the 1990s. She’s still working hard and has her own nutrition and family-focused Facebook page with more than 65,000 followers. She even has an interesting back story including having a Ph.D. in “Bovinity” from Ohio State University, speaking three languages (English, Jersey, and rudimentary Pig Latin), and making a cameo appearance in Who Framed Roger Rabbit.
10. Elsie lists her marital status to Elmer the Bull, of Elmer’s Glue fame. This makes sense as Elmer’s was part of Borden’s line of adhesives. He was “born” in 1940, and he and Elsie have four children: Beulah, Beauregard, and Larabee and Lobelia (twins).
11. When the quirky, warped, and hugely imaginative comic The Far Side debuted in 1980, it would soon be apparent artist Gary Larson had a soft spot for making twisted tales and jokes about cows. There were so many, the animal is practically the strip’s unofficial mascot. It is interesting, then, that one of his most hated comics was “Cow Tools,” for which he received several letters from angry and confused fans trying to figure out what it even meant. He said he later had to issue an official statement explaining there was “nothing to explain” at the comic: “The cartoon was meant to be an exercise in silliness,” Larson wrote. “I regret that my fondness for cows, combined with an overactive imagination, may have carried me beyond what is comprehensible to the average Far Side reader.”
12. One more artist who has taken cows to another level, and even to their own planet, is children’s author Sandra Boynton. One of her picture books, Amazing Cows, is a parody of the early Action Comics era of Superman and features cow stories, cow poems, a cow myth, and “way too many unexplained chickens… and so much MOOER!”
13. Several cow characters have appeared in comic books, but it took to the craziness of The Tick to give one her own short-lived spin-off comic: Man-Eating Cow by Ben Edlund. She was the only survivor from recurring villain Chairface Chippendale’s pit of man-eating alligators… and cows. She went on to change her ways and only eat bad guys. She does show up in the animated series, but, alas, we never get to see her in either live-action adaptation.
14. One darkly funny comic team-up is when Deadpool met Bessie (aka Hellcow), a vampire cow who made her first appearance in the 1975 comic Giant-Size Man-Thing #5. Hellcow was a victim of Count Dracula, but as a result, is now immortal, can turn into a half-bat/half-cow creature, and is now apparently a fantastic milk producer. She does drink blood, so tread lightly.
15. One classic cow who seems to get overshadowed by her more famous colleagues is Clarabelle Cow, one of Walt Disney’s original animated characters who first made an appearance in the 1930 short The Shindig. Unlike Minnie and Daisy, who are paired up with the same species, Clarabelle’s love interest is Horace the Horse, but that’s probably too much information.
And as a bonus…
For those who follow the secret lab science of Disney’s The Emperor’s New Groove, being a cow (but only a cow) can get you out of guard duty: