Understanding cattle terminology

Cattle terms & terminology

We appreciate that farming skills, and indeed farms, are often passed through many generations. However, there are some who come to farming later in life. They may be a little unsure of which breed would best suit their needs and perhaps aren’t overly familiar with the various cattle terminology that is used in the farming community.

In this blog, we’ll explain some of the more common cattle terms. If there are novice farmers out there in need of livestock and advice, please get in touch. Please be aware that depending where you farm in the world, terms can vary.

Right, let’s kick things off with the ladies and some information on cows.

What is a cow?

A cow is an adult female animal that has had one or more calves. A suckler cow is the mother of a calf raised for beef production while the term dam is simply used to describe the mother of a calf.

cattle terminology
French Holstein fresh calved heifers & young cows

What is a heifer?

A heifer is a young female animal before she has had a calf or in lactation following the first calving. Occasionally the term, first-calf heifer is used to describe a young female that has had only one calf.

Cattle terms - What is a heifer?
Heifer with calf

A heiferette is a heifer that has calved once and can’t calve again while an open heifer Bulling or Maiden heifer are terms that are sometimes used to refer to an animal that isn’t pregnant.

What is a heifer?
Jersey bulling heifers

Young cattle terms

Calf is used to describe cattle (male or female) that are less than a year old. Between 1 and 2 years of age the animal will be known as a yearling. In some parts of the world this is further broken down into short yearling -when the animal is over a year but under 18 months and long yearling – when the animal is between 19 months and 2 years of age.

cattle terminology
Cow with newborn calf

You may also come across the term springer. This can be used to describe a cow or heifer that is close to calving.

When a female is born as the twin of a bull she will usually be infertile. In these cases the animal will often be referred to as a freemartin.

Other commonly used cattle terms

Store cattle are growing animals that are usually up to 2 years old that are bought and then finished. Depending where you are in the world, you may come across the term feeder cattle. This term also refers to animals that require more growth/fattening before slaughter. When they are ready for slaughter they are finished cattle.

cattle terminology
Jersey crosses

More cattle terminology

Cross-breed is an animal that is a product of crossing two or more breeds. This is done to get the best facets of several breeds into one animal.

Cattle terms - What is a cross-breed?
Belted Galloway crossed with a Hereford

OK, let’s finish with the gents and some male cattle vocabulary.

Male cattle terminology

cattle terminology What is a bull?
‘Angelo’ a very impressive Chianina bull

What is a bull?

A bull is a sexually mature male that hasn’t been castrated. A young male calve (typically under 20 months of age) and/or is castrated is called a bullock.

What is a steer?

A steer or Bullock is also a castrated male animal.

Other cattle information

We hope that you found this guide to cattle terminology useful. Find out more about individual breeds and view all our available livestock.

Breeds primarily used for beef

These breeds include; Aberdeen Angus, Aubrac, Beef Shorthorn, Belgian Blue, Belted Galloway, Blonde d’Aquitaine, Brahman, Charolais, Chianina, Devon, Galloway, Hereford, Highland, Limousin, Lincoln Red, Longhorn, Maine Anjou, ParthenaisPiedmontese, Salers and Welsh Black.

Breeds primarily used for dairy

AyrshireBrown Swiss, Dairy Shorthorn, Guernsey, Holstein / Friesian and Jersey.

Dual purpose breeds of cattle

These breeds include; British White, Brown Swiss, Danish Red, Dextor, Fleckvieh, Irish MoiledKerry, Montbéliarde, Norwegian Red, Red Poll, Rotbunt and Simmental.

2 Responses

  1. I have never heard of many of these terms before. My brother is thinking of starting his own cattle farm. I’m sure a list like this would come in handy for him, I will have to share it with him.

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