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.
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.