Heifer Bulls

Every once in a while I finally think I “get it”, living out here.  And then something slaps me in the face.
This afternoon I was reading Thursday’s edition of the weekly local paper.  I had that slap in the face.

They were advertising for heifer bulls.  Heifer bulls?  Talk about a contradiction.  This whole cow vocabulary had confused me, but I thought I was over it. If you remember correctly, a while back I shared my new found bovine term knowledge with all of you.

If you recall, a heifer is a female bovine that has not had a calf (baby) yet and a bull is an uncastrated male bovine. So obviously a heifer bull just confuses things.

As my husband explained (twice), it turns out that in the world of ranching, that is raising bovines, that the birth weight of baby calves is determined by genetics on their father’s side. A heifer that makes her entry into cow-dom, that is has a baby for the first time is younger and will have smaller hips than a cow who is older and has done this a few times. A lower birth weight calf is desirable for heifers, but not necessarily for cows. A heifer bull is a bull that is better to have a honeymoon with heifers to have low birth weight calves.

So heifer bulls exist. Mind blown.

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Cow Vocabulary Lesson

For those of you who have been ranching since you’re two like my husband, you’ll probably roll your eyes at this post.  I feel the need to write it for any of you who may be like the me of a few years ago and need a cow vocabulary lesson.

I have discovered that cows and bovines have a whole vocabulary all their own. Not only is a would-be rancher like me expected to know this language, but your average Lincoln County Joe, too. (After all, we have more bovines than people here and an entire ghost town named Bovina.)  So I’m going to attempt to explain things on here to the best of my ability.  Ranchers don’t laugh.  Non-cow people, we can keep it a secret that you got this information here and you can just sound smart.

A bovine is a fancy name for the entire species regardless of their age, fertility or gender.

A bull is an intact male bovine.

A calf is a baby bovine.  You can use the term “heifer calf” or “bull calf” to differentiate girls and boys.  The term calf can be used to describe the bovine up until the age of two.

Cattle is a collective noun for the entire species, regardless of their age, fertility or gender.  Cattle always refers to more than one bovine.

The term “cow” actually refers to a female bovine who has previously bore a calf.
“Cows” is also a collective noun meaning just cows or a cow or cows and another type of bovine.
Informally, “cow” could mean any member of the species, but not to those around here.

Head refers to the amount of adult bovines one owns.  Head never has an “s” added even if someone owns more than one bovine and head does not include nursing calves or even bulls.  For example, “George has 250 head.” means that George has 250 bovines.  He may have nursing calves and full-grown bulls that are not in that number.

Hereford is the name of a breed of red beef cattle.  I figured I’d throw in the term because I used to get heifers and Herefords mixed up.  Don’t even get me started on Hereford heifers.

A heifer is a female bovine who has never had a calf.  Sometimes people still call a first-time bovine mama a heifer while the calf is still young.  I think at that point, you would be correct in both terms, heifer or cow.

An ox is a technically steer that is used for work.  The plural of ox is oxen.  Even if the working bovine is not really a steer, you can still call the bovine an “ox”.  Oxen are not used in this area anymore, but I’d love to learn to use oxen again.  It seems like a lost art, no?

A pair refers to mama cow and her baby calf.  An “s” is never added to pair to imply the plural.  For example, you would be correct to say “Johnny has fifty pair.”
“Johnny has fifty pairs.”
“Johnny has fifty mama cows and fifty calves.”
“Johnny has fifty pairs of cows.”
Those crossed out ones are all incorrect and saying them will mean you’re the laughing stock of the town.

A ranch is a land area and business entity which is devoted to raising bovines for meat.
Ranch can also be used as a verb to describe the activity of raising bovines.  For example, you can say, “He ranches west of Bovina.”

A steer is a castrated male bovine.  He is typically raised for meat.

Stock is a general term for large domesticated herbivores.

A yearling is a bovine that is weaned, but not yet two years old.  He or she may not be one yet.


This is my oldest in Mayish of 2012 with a bull calf.

Let me give you some examples…
Right now, we have two castrated male bovines in our pasture.
“Honey, I’m going to give the cows water.” is incorrect.
“Honey, I’m going to give the steers water.” is correct.

“This morning Kevin fed the cows,” is a perfectly acceptable way to tell someone that Kevin fed the cows, heifers, steers and bulls, or even just actual cows only.  If one really wanted to know what type of bovines he fed, then we’d have to ask for clarification. However, if there were only one type of bovine there and that type was not cows, then that would be the proper time to differentiate to start with.  For example, “Kevin fed the steers in our pasture,” would imply that there were only steers there.


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