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A world without cows

Discussion in 'World Building' started by Devouring Wolf, Mar 6, 2016.

  1. Devouring Wolf

    Devouring Wolf Troubadour

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    I want to make a world without cows and I'm trying to think of how that would impact their society.

    They still have milk and cheese from goats and sheep, as well as fermented mare's milk. Obviously they're not going to be eating beef so it will impact their diet and they won't have any butter. I've read it is technically possible to make butter from goat milk but it seems like it would be more work than its worth given that most milks don't separate as easily as cow milk.

    I'm wondering if there are any other ramifications I need to think about for how this would alter society.
     
    S.T. Ockenner likes this.
  2. Vaporo

    Vaporo Inkling

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    I think that the ramifications would be as follows:

    There are no cows.

    Without bovine, people would just find the next best thing, which is probably goats and/or pigs if you're sticking with traditional western farm animals. There are multitudes of animals that could be domesticated and raised in their place.
     
    S.T. Ockenner likes this.
  3. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

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    You should check out the book Gun Germs and Steel.

    They have a TV show version too.
    Guns Germs and Steel - Out of Eden - 1/3 HD - YouTube

    Here's a wiki entry for it. Guns, Germs, and Steel - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    Basically, having larger docile animals that can be domesticated like cows gives a people certain advantages and enables them to develop higher levels of technology. There are ancient populations where the biggest domesticated animals were pigs. Because of this they couldn't farm as efficiently as younger populations that had cattle. This resulted in them stagnating technologically while the younger civilization advanced.
     
    S.T. Ockenner and Creed like this.
  4. TheKillerBs

    TheKillerBs Inkling

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    Horses and donkeys would be your big draft animals. Goats would be your dairy providers, and with sheep and pigs would be your primary sources of red meat.

    On the subject of Guns, Germs and Steel, I would recommend against reading it without looking into the criticisms of said book. I say this because it is very popular among laypeople, who often see it as fact or very close to it, while experts have some serious issues with it.
     
    S.T. Ockenner likes this.
  5. johnsonjoshuak

    johnsonjoshuak Troubadour

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    CGP Grey does a really good video of this on Youtube (ostensibly its about why Europe had some virulent and deadly diseases, but it also comments on draft animals; video 2 is more focused on draft animals)

    Americapox: The Missing Plague - YouTube

    Basically, he says that bovine are perfect because they're slow herbivores who have decent temperments. There weren't really any such creatures in the Americas.
     
  6. Geo

    Geo Troubadour

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    That is the biggest advantage of cows, contrary to horses or even goats, are much more manageable. If you have had goats (or been around a petting zoo) you would know that they are always trying to escape (keeping goats requires a constant effort contrary to cows who like to stay where you put them. And because goats are much smaller, your effort/benefit balance is seriously changed).

    Horses don't produce as much milk, and a new-born horse needs more protein to thrive than a calf (meaning you can't start taking the milk from the mare intermediately or you'll starved the baby)... so there is a reason why cows are the preferred meat producer of the world. By the way, goat meat is also a good source of protein.
     
  7. Jim Aikin

    Jim Aikin Scribe

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    If you're messing with history or the natural world, you could make up an alternative species (such as unusually large, placid goats). Or how about llamas? They're a species of camel -- maybe in your alternate history, llamas have been bred for milk production.
     
  8. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    What are cows? Do you exclude oxen? Buffalo? Yaks? Muskox?

    Be careful what you wish for. ;-)
     
    kennyc likes this.
  9. AndrewLowe

    AndrewLowe Troubadour

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    I strongly second this sentiment... It's a good book, but certainly not without inaccuracies.
    I approach it the same way I would approach Howard Zinn's work; there is some incongruousness, but for the most part, it proves to be an interesting concept.
     
  10. Butterfly

    Butterfly Auror

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    There's always sheep milk and sheep cheese, like feta and Roquefort. Not to mention wool, and meat from sheep.
     
  11. Devouring Wolf

    Devouring Wolf Troubadour

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    Pretty much all of the above. I just really don't like cows.
     
  12. Devouring Wolf

    Devouring Wolf Troubadour

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    That's a good point, but I don't think there's any real reason people need to be drinking the milk of other animals. Meat eating, sure, but I don't see why a society with a more plant-based diet can't thrive. The lack of oxen as draft animals as well as cows for meat would directly impact their ability to produce food and would slow population growth, but this might actually be an advantage to me since it would make my timeline more logical.
     
  13. AndrewLowe

    AndrewLowe Troubadour

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    I don't think that you need cows to make Kraft American cheese.
     
  14. AndrewLowe

    AndrewLowe Troubadour

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    Go Clockwork Orange style and have the characters all drink human milk.
     
  15. Geo

    Geo Troubadour

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    One of the main reasons why several societies did not develop technologically was the lack of protein in their diets (I'm not talking only of animal protein, but plant as well). When getting enough food to survive is difficult (protein is a concentrate source of energy, takes longer to digest but gives you more buck for your efforts) there's no chance you're getting creative enough to invent things. So, if you are going to remove cows but want a thriving society, make sure to give your people a good grain to survive (wheat, corn, oats). Otherwise they wouldn't have enough free time to do anything but produce food.

    Something interesting fact you may also consider, in Africa, several tribes harvest blood from their animals as an additional source of protein. Not killing the animal, just a little cut, a cup of blood for breakfast, then patch the goat and ready to go.
     
  16. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    There is an important difference between things that are in a story, or absent from it, because the story needs it, and things that are in or out because the author wants it.

    The difference usually shows.
     
    Ben and Russ like this.
  17. Devouring Wolf

    Devouring Wolf Troubadour

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    But everything is about what the author wants from my point of view. I created the world, the cultures, the story and there's no reason they are the way they are except that I want them that way. If I didn't I'd have created them differently.

    What does show though, is laziness. You can't just add and subtract things from the story without an in-story explanation and without taking the ramifications of that change into consideration. Since I'm making those considerations, I don't think its going to affect the quality of my story.
     
  18. Russ

    Russ Istar

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    Allow me to respectfully disagree.

    It strikes me that the "the world is this way because I want it that way" approach misses two important factors.

    The first is that fiction writing should be about the story and the world, to a greater or lessor extent should serve the story. If the process of world building, cow eliminating or purple mountain making is simply an exercise is self pleasuring whimsy or a reflection of an author's odd bias then it doesn't help the process of building a story that means something or says something. I see many people get too wrapped up in world building or magic system creation and they end up neglecting the story and the characters the things readers really care about.

    The second issue is that somewhere in the process the reader has to come into it. Writing can be thought of as a partnership between the reader and the writer. You need to respect your reader and hopefully entertain them or make them think so they get some value out of the relationship. As a potential reader, even if you absolutely cannot force yourself to put a bovine in your world, please don't waste my time with an in story explanation for that choice or bore me with the ramifications. I don't need explanations for what is simply an expression of an odd author bias, it really just kind of wastes my time.
     
    Devouring Wolf and Ben like this.
  19. Ben

    Ben Troubadour

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    This is really good advice and we should all remember it
     
  20. Chilari

    Chilari Staff Moderator

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    If you don't want cows, rather than trying to imagine a world with sheep, goats, cheese and milk but no cows, why not draw upon a civilisation that never had cows in the first place to build your world around? There are plenty of civilisations that became powerful and well-developed without cows, cows' milk, leather, beef and so on. Various cultures in the Americas - the Aztecs, Maya, Inca and their predecessors, which grew potatoes, beans, corn, squashes, and kept llamas and alpacas. Those in the far east - the various Chinese dynasties, where the agricultural efforts produced rice, raised chickens, and so on. Pick one, do some research, and there you go.
     
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