Longhorn cow and calf
Longhorn cow and calf

Cowboys were very precise in their use of terms for the different ages, sexes, and sexual statuses of the cattle they looked after. Here are a few definitions and descriptions which might help clear up any doubt, confusion or ignorance.

  • A cow is a mature female that has had at least one calf.
  • A bull is a mature male that has not been castrated and that is used for breeding.
  • A steer is a male that was castrated before reaching maturity.
  • A stag is a male that was castrated after reaching maturity. The difference from a steer is that it can detect when a female is on heat so that she can then be presented to a bull.
  • A heifer is a female less than 2 years old but no longer a calf that has never calved.
  • A heiferette is a female that has gone beyond the age of 2 without having calved.
  • A bred heifer is one that is pregnant with her first calf.
  • A first-calf heifer is, as one would expect, a heifer who has had her first calf.
  • A calf can be of either sex but the distinction is that it is still being fed on milk.
  • A bull calf is a male calf that hasn’t been castrated.
  • A steer calf is a male calf that has been castrated
  • A heifer calf is obviously female.
  • A freemartin is a female which was born sterile as a result of having a male twin whose testosterone dominated in the womb.
Longhorn bull
Longhorn bull

Note that cowboys never used the word ‘cow’ unless they really were talking about a cow as such. They’d be more likely to use a word like ‘critter’ if they wanted to talk about a generic head of cattle.

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