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Mar 17, 2017

A local court in northwestern China faced the agricultural version of Solomon’s judgment when two farming families both claimed ownership of the same 1-year-old calf. But rather than splitting the child in half, the families conducted a DNA test to determine its true mother, local newspaper Chinese Business View reported Friday.

Cattle farmers in rural Shaanxi province typically herd cows in the mountains during the spring and summer, and then bring the animals back down to their farms in the fall. But when a farmer surnamed Wang counted his cows last September, he was short one calf.

Wang’s neighbors informed him that a man surnamed Gong had returned from the mountains with an extra calf. Suspecting that he had found his missing cow, Wang immediately undertook the 10-kilometer journey to Gong’s home on foot. But Gong insisted that the calf — already a strong, sturdy cow that was sure to be of value in the future — belonged to him.

“The calf was born from my cow,” an aggrieved Wang was quoted as saying in the report. “How could it be his?”

Wang went to the village committee and the police but was told that neither department could solve this type of conflict. Finally, Wang filed a lawsuit. The court suggested letting the calf choose which cow was its mother, but Gong did not agree, and both sides instead opted for a DNA test.

But the medical procedure comes with a price tag much higher than that of the cow, according to a court employee. The test costs 2,000 yuan ($290), twice the estimated value of the calf in question.

Zhang Xiaonan, a forensic expert at the Fourth Military Medical University in Shaanxi’s capital, Xi’an, told Chinese Business View that due to the high cost, most DNA tests are administered to humans who want to prove their familial ties to settle household registration cases. This was only the third time Zhang’s department had conducted a DNA test on a cow.

The first such instance, also reported by Chinese Business View in 2014, successfully solved a similar cattle conflict between two households.

According to the DNA test results seen by Chinese Business View, the calf was determined to belong to Wang. The court hasn’t yet announced the verdict, and currently, the calf is still Gong’s property.

Editor: Kevin Schoenmakers.

(Header image: An elderly man leads his cows through a field in Hanzhong, Shaanxi province, March 29, 2015. Wei Yongxian/VCG)