Did you know that not all cows, should be called cows? There are a lot of technical terms that refer to a cow’s age, gender, offspring, and more. Did you know the difference between a cow and a heifer? What? Well, I learned this myself early on in my decades of working with cattle.
When I was younger, I thought that all cows were simply called cows until they birthed their babies. Little did I know that there is a distinct difference between what you call a cow and her offspring and why they are being raised.
Three of the most important terms that you should know are cow, heifer, and steer.
What Is The Difference Between A Cow And A Heifer, A Steer?
Although both are female, the difference between cows and heifers is that cows are mature that have already given birth while heifers are young cows (1 to 2 years) and have not reproduced. A steer on the other hand is a male bovine that was castrated before sexual maturity.
Related: What Happens If You Don’t Milk A Cow
It’s interesting to note here that when someone refers to a specific kind of cattle as being cows, such as beef cows, for example, technically speaking, by definition only, it should be referred to as cows and steer since we’re discussing the sex of the animal and not their purpose for existing.
A cow is a general term used to refer to a domestic bovine, regardless of sex and age. Now, let’s discuss what is heifer and what is a steer.
1. What does it mean to be called a heifer?
In cattle, a heifer is a female that has not yet birthed her first calf. They may be 1 to 2 years of age and if they have been bred, but did not conceive, then they are called maiden heifers. If she is still nursing her mother, then she is referred to as a suckling heifer.
Heifers are usually raised with their mother, but depending on the circumstance, they can be weaned at around 6 months of age if necessary. If you’re wondering whether or not a cow can become pregnant before she’s even birthed her first calf, then the answer is yes. It’s considered to be rare, but not impossible.
2. Is a heifer good to butcher?
Another fact that you should know about the difference between a cow and a heifer, and a steer is their meat quality. Quality characteristics, tenderness, and value of beef are similar to steers and heifers. However, one important factor to keep in mind is that a heifer is usually smaller than a steer.
Heifers can be bred starting at 8 months of age, but it’s very common for them not to mature in size until they are two years old. This makes it difficult when you’re trying to determine which animals will be the best steers for butchering and which should become heifers.
3. What is meant by steer?
A steer is a male bovine that has been neutered or castrated. This process of removing either testicles or both testicles (castration) is called neutering and this prevents bulls from breeding and creating more cows (or heifers).
When you think about it, it makes sense because steers are raised for beef meat production whereas cows are used for milk and reproduction purposes. Although, there are some cases when steers can be bred with heifers to produce offspring known as Steiger’s.
4. Difference between bull and steer
Bulls are male bovines that are capable of mating and reproduction as their testicles have not been removed. A steer, still a male bovine, is a bull that has been surgically altered to prevent breeding.
You may ask, why would someone want to alter their bulls? The answer is because it’s more profitable for ranchers to sell the steers (castrated bulls) as opposed to selling their entire bull studs. There are some states where castrating a male bovine is required by law and there are other cases where it is banned altogether, so whether or not you decide on neutering your bulls will ultimately be up to you.
5. Are steers bigger than bulls?
Bulls are relatively bigger than steers, body-wise. You may ask, what about on average? Well, it can be difficult to determine which is bigger on average. However, bulls are usually estimated to weigh around 2,000 pounds whereas steers won’t be as muscular as a bull. Their shoulders won’t be as large or muscular.
As a farmer, you must learn the difference between a cow and a heifer and steer. Cattle terminologies can be confusing, but it is important to know the difference between a heifer, steers, and bulls.
Each has different intended purposes and some are neutered to prevent reproduction. Another important factor to consider is that steers will be smaller than bulls, but bigger than heifers.
When it comes to deciding which one you should butcher for meat, the quality, tenderness, and value of beef do not differ based on sex.
Sarah Lane has been a farm wife since 2010 and mother of two children for nearly as long. She and her husband, Jonathan, live on a small farm in Texas where they raise dairy goats and beef cattle as well as chickens for eggs and meat. In addition to growing their own hay, straw and garden produce, the Lane family works with other nearby farms to source organic grain from which they make artisan bread sold at local farmer’s market.