Not all “Cows” are Cows

Terminology to a beef producer is important. As a young kid growing up on the farm, it was important for me to learn the terminology, as well as the difference between the beef animals that we had on our family farm. Not only is it important to learn and call the animals by the correct terminology and names, but educating our consumers about this terminology is necessary. Throughout the entirety of the beef chain, all beef animals have their purpose that coincides with their correct term, or name.


A bull is an intact male. Bulls’ purpose is to provide semen in order to breed cows and produce offspring. Bulls produce semen starting at the age of ten months and produce until they are no longer able to provide a sufficient amount to use for breeding.


A cow is a female mom. Once the female produces offspring she is called a cow. A cow also produces milk in her udder for her baby.


A beef cows’ main job is to provide and care for her offspring until the farmer or rancher weans the baby-unlike a dairy cow that has a main purpose to provide milk for consumers, beef cows provide milk specifically for their offspring.



A calf is a newborn baby. Both male and female babies are called a calf when they are first born.


A steer is a castrated male. A steers’ main purpose is to produce meat. As an industry, we castrate and raise steers because bulls are very territorial. In comparison to a steer, bulls are also bigger and more massive in their front end rather than in the rump area. A steer is fed to market weight which is between 1200-1300 pounds which take approximately 18 to 24 months.


A heifer is a female that is one year old. All females are called heifers until they produce offspring, but until they are one year old, we continue to call them a calf or a heifer calf. A heifer’s purpose is to grow until they are able to be breed at the age of one and produce offspring 9 months after conception.


It is important to understand that not all beef animals can be, or are, called a “cow” because that is not the correct name or terminology. It is important as a producer and consumer alike to understand the difference in beef animal terminology, as well as the difference in production between the beef animals.

Beef, Barns, and Babies!




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