My dad has raised cattle for several years, but until recently, he never had any cows.
To a livestock farmer, that line makes complete sense. However, to most non-farm folks, it makes no sense at all. How can you farm cattle without any cows? This is a conversation I have with many people who visit, or ask about our farm. Cow is actually a very specific type of bovine. Not the type my dad has been raising, until now. So to start off, lets review some basic cattle terminology.
Bovine – This term is the generic singular term for cattle. If you are referring to one, specific animal and don’t know its sex or age. This is the proper term to use. However, you could also use the term ox. More often heard in times past, this term refers to either a male or female domesticated bovine animal that is kept for meat or milk.
Cattle – This is a group of bovine animals. It is a term that encompasses all ages and sexes of bovine animals in a group.
Cow – Though this is the most commonly used term for a single bovine animal, it is actually only appropriate to use if you are referring to a mature female bovine. Typically, one who has already had a calf. This is what you call the mamas.
Heifer – This is a young female bovine. One who has not yet reached maturity or had a calf.
Bull – This term refers to a mature, intact, male bovine; one whom could be used to breed. Aka: the dads.
Steer – This is what becomes of all the males who aren’t destined to become dads. A steer is a neutered or castrated male. Steers are raised, most often, for meat only.
Calf – Calf is what you call a baby bovine. A calf is always under one year of age, and can be male or female.
Cattle farmers may have only one, or all of the above cattle on their farm. The farm that my dad operates, has gotten bull calves from dairy (milk) farmers at a week or less of age. He then raises them as steers for meat. Therefore, he never had any cows, but he raised cattle. Recently, his operation expanded to include Red Poll and Angus heifers, and cows. These cows will live on the farm, and have calves every spring. The bull calves will then be raised as steers, for meat, and the heifer calves will be raised to increase herd numbers or replace older cows that are no longer able or too old to produce a calf. There are many different types of cattle farming. However, that is a topic for a whole new blog.
Until next time,