Cow-sheep Hybrids

Mammalian Hybrids



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Ram Ovis aries

cow Bos taurus

The evidence for cow-sheep hybrids is sparse, much sparser than that available for what would otherwise seem less likely crosses, say, sheep × pig or dog × cow. Christiansen (1952) pictures an alleged hybrid, and Mohr (1930) reports a sheep-cow calved in the town of Husum in northern Germany (see also: Wittmer 1925). And Slavik et al. (1997) successfully produced cow-sheep hybrid embryos by fertilizing bovine oocytes with ram semen in vitro. But goat-sheep hybrids, are much more common.

There are also old news reports about sheep-cow hybrids. Under the heading of Brief State News on page 19 of the May 3, 1917 issue of The Ward County independent, a newspaper published in Minot, North Dakota, the following notice appears:

Clarence Starkey of Napoleon [a town in Logan County, North Dakota] has the latest freak of nature. It was born last week and is a calf with a coat of sheep’s wool even down to the hoofs. The calf is black in color and has a small amount of hair on the forehead. The mother of the freak is one of Starkey’s best cows” (source).

Another newspaper account (The Kingston Daily Freeman, page 7, March 9, 1903) reports that “A cow belonging to C. D. Mickle of Guilford Center recently gave birth to a calf which is covered with wool like a sheep.”

Another report about a cow-sheep hybrid appears on page 4, column 2, of the October 14, 1892 issue of the Vermont Phoenix, a newspaper published in Brattleboro, Vermont (source):

It will be remembered that [P. T.] Barnum’s woolly horse originated in Chesterfield, although the great showman in his autobiography states that he procured it in Indiana. The Hinsdale Record says that another freak of a somewhat similar nature was born recently on Charles Dragoon’s farm, on the road between Hinsdale and Chesterfield. It is a black bull calf with a sheep’s head and a woolly coat. It is a lively, healthy animal and promises to be a great curiosity. It was exhibited in front of the post-office at Hinsdale, and bought by Frank Stearns, a son of the John Stearns who traded for the famous woolly horse, which he subsequently sold to Barnum at a high price.

Both Chesterfield and Hinsdale are New Hampshire towns across the Connecticut River from Brattleboro.

sheep-pig hybrid A sheep-pig hybrid?

One old report is especially interesting because it seems to describe a bilateral gynandromorph, a very unusual condition in a hybrid. The article entitled “A CALF-SHEEP” appears on page 6 (cols. 4 and 5) of the August 20, 1891 issue of the Fort Worth Gazette, a newspaper published in Fort Worth, Texas (source):

G. D. Huffman, who resides near Woodland [a small community in northeastern Texas in northwestern Red River County], has on his farm a freak, which he terms a “calf-sheep.” It is the offspring of a cow, and was born about six weeks ago. The right side of that animal is that of a perfectly formed sheep, with the skin like that of a sheep, covered with a luxuriant coat of wool, which, when handled has the same oily feeling of the wool from a perfect sheep. The legs and feet of the right side are also those of a perfect sheep. The left side of the animal is in every respect the same as a normal calf, the skin being thickly covered with a thick crop of cow hair. The head resembles that of a sheep more than a cow, with the characteristic ridge in the forehead peculiar to the sheep. The animal is six weeks old and the size of a dog. Mr. Huffman will bring the “calf-sheep” to Paris [Texas] on the 27th, the day of the great union picnic and barbecue, for exhibition.

There is even an old account of a cow giving birth to two lambs and a normal calf as the result of a single pregnancy.

Cow-sheep also appear in nineteenth century listings of hybrids. For example, Morton (1847a, p. 43) offers the following account:

Bovine and Ovine Hybrid. — In the article on hybridity in [William Thomas] Brande’s Dictionary of Literature and Science, it is mentioned [in the article “Hybrid”] without doubt or reservation that a mule has been obtained between the bull and sheep, a statement that claims our entire credence from the circumstance that the physiological part of the work in which it is contained is from the pen of Prof. [Richard] Owen of the Royal College of Surgeons.

The source cited (Brande 1845, p. 573) states that hybrids have been produced from the union “of the bull and sheep, notwithstanding their disparity of size.” But no documenting reports are mentioned. William Thomas Brande (1788-1866), a chemist and an author of many scientific texts, was a fellow of the Royal Society (access the 1866 edition of Brande).

A sheep-cow hybrid joke

Q: What do you get if you cross an angry sheep and a moody cow?

A: An animal that’s in a baaaaaaaad moooooood.

And such animals were sometimes offered for sale. In the September 4, 1880 issue of the New York Clipper, (p. 191, col. 4), an advertisement reads as follows: “Great Curiosity for Sale. A HYBRID ANIMAL, HALF COW, HALF SHEEP, and covered with wool; has four horns—two buck’s horns on his feet. Apply to JOHN BRAGAW, Guntherville, L. I., N. Y.”

But, as has already been pointed out, these hybrids are rare, and the documentation for this cross is poor.

dog-cow hybrid A dog-cow hybrid?

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By the same author: Handbook of Avian Hybrids of the World, Oxford University Press (2006).

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