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I was watching this documentary about North Korean defectors, and one of the claims struck me as very odd. One of the defectors claimed that the CIA was largely responsible for the famines in North Korea by sabotaging their economy. She says the CIA paid people for cows' tails, and this ruined their farming because without tails, cows lost their balance and so could no longer pull a plow.

During the Arduous March when food reserves were empty and farming was impossible ... our factories were shut down we couldn't produce anything ... [so] we crossed back and forth from China and out government let it be because the government knew it couldn't provide so we traded good in china and brought food back home constantly. And the damn Americans from the CIA operated in this border and did this. They would approach DPRK citizens and say, "go cut off a cow's tail and bring it to me. I will give you a bag of rice for a cow's tail. Go cut down and bring me electric wires I will give match you [sic] the weight of the wire with rice." Why do you think the Americans wanted cow tails? We didn't have oil or electricity but we still had to manually farm to produce was little we can... so we had to use cows instead to plow the fields. But when cows lose their tail they lose their balance and power. In order to ruin agriculture even more and to starve out the people the Americans wanted cow tails so North Korea can starve to death.

Do cows really need their tails to balance, so much so that they couldn't pull a plow if it was cut off?

* This transcript is directly from the video, which is an in-video "lower thirds" translation of a N. Korean woman's account as she speaks. There are many grammatical errors, so has had punctuation added and some excessive wordiness removed.

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    After evaluating the transcript closely, there's much to be skeptical of. Everything from the substance of the story, to the woman's rambling account [assuming translation fidelity], to the translation itself. In short, it has the smell of strongly interested propaganda, rather than documentary account. HOWEVER this question is explicitly about the claim that cows need their tail for balance. We can open another question to evaluate whether the CIA did this stuff, etc.
    – fredsbend
    Aug 18, 2021 at 18:41
  • Since cows are not used for plowing in most parts of the world... this is probably difficult to verify one way or the other, besides the kind of studies that Nigel found. Apparently cows lift their tail when they run. So in that context, the tail may provide a balance benefit. But again, running is not plowing...
    – Fizz
    Aug 19, 2021 at 1:10
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    Further complicating the issue, the NK cows are of different breeds than those in other "Western" countries, e.g. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hanwoo
    – Fizz
    Aug 19, 2021 at 1:19
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    Also, "oxtail soup" is popular in Korea, so that might explain some such "cowtail disappearances" in NK, not involving the CIA...
    – Fizz
    Aug 19, 2021 at 1:33
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    Note that "cow" probably isn't a correct translation. I suspect that "ox" or "bull" would also match the original Korean word. And it might not even be cattle; it could be water buffalo for instance. (Even in common English we use it incorrectly. Most of the beef we eat isn't from cows; it's from steers.) Aug 21, 2021 at 0:31

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