When people hear the word “cows” they immediately think of milk, maybe the dairy industry, calves taken from their mothers… Notice how all those things refer to females – the nurturing, the bond between mother and calf? Where are the males in all of this?
Are all cows female? Well, this depends on what you mean by “cows”. Many people use the word “cow” to talk about cattle in general, which of course includes males as well as females. Just think of the word “cowboy” – they do not, in fact, only drive herds of cows while the bulls and steers are left to themselves! Technically, the terminology is a little bit more complicated; only a female that has had at least one calf is actually called a cow! Before she has her first calf, she is called a heifer.
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There is also a difference between male cows that can breed (which means that they have to be at least two years of age), which are called bulls (or sires), and those that have been castrated and are not able to breed anymore, which are called steers.
Baby cows, no matter whether they are male or female, are referred to as calves. Once they are weaned – which means that they do not need to drink their mother’s milk anymore – they are called weaners, and when they are a year or two old, they are called yearlings.
How Can I Tell All The Different Forms of Cattle Apart?
Bulls are the largest of all cattle. They look very muscular and you can recognize a noticeable hump on their shoulders.
Male cattle are castrated before they can develop the impressive physique and characteristic aggression of bulls, so steers are smaller and have a less aggressive temperament. You will most likely notice the lack of muscles around and on their shoulders. Of course, you can also easily differentiate between them both by looking at whether the specimen of cattle standing before has testes or not.
Cows and heifers both have more refined heads and longer, narrower necks than their male counterparts.
Cows, which have had at least one calf, are characterized bar large hips and thick middles. Their size might make them look like a bull at the first glance, but they have significantly slimmer shoulders.
Heifers look similar to cows but lack the significant hips and middles. Sometimes you can also mistake a heifer for a small steer – in this case, you would have to check the genital area.
It maybe will surprise you that the horns have nothing to do with telling the sex of cattle! They depend on the breed of cattle and you can find horns on both male and female cattle. The same goes for coloring. Some people might think that darker, more aggressive-looking cattle are male, but it is the breed that determines the color, not the sex.
What Kind of Products Do We Get From Male and Female Cows Respectively?
The purpose of a bull is to produce more cows. Male cattle that are selected to be bread have to exhibit desirable characteristics when it comes to their size, muscles, and body structure.
An experienced bull of about two years of age is expected to mate with circa 30 females in a breeding season which is typically about 60 to 70 days long. Younger bulls are expected to serve about half of this number. As a rule of thumb, a bull can be expected to mate with the number of females that equates to his age in numbers during one season.
Steers are usually raised for meat, as are heifers unless they are bred once they are mature (about 12 to 14 months of age).
Cows breed more cattle and produce milk.
Some male calves that are born on dairy farms have the saddest fate of these different kinds of cattle. Since milk is the central product on a dairy farm and cows only give milk when they undergo pregnancies, there are far more male calves born that are needed for breeding or beef.
Those superfluous male calves are called bobby calves, and they are usually sent to the slaughterhouse or abattoir once they are five days or older. While leather can generally be made from the hides of all cattle, the hide of these bobby calves makes for especially soft leather.