top of page

COWBOY 101 FALL 2015


On the first day of my first college class, Animal Husbandry 101, the  the professor informed us that it would be prudent to study the various classes of beef cattle and their precise definitions as mentioned in chapter one of our textbook, as well as the anatomy charts in chapter two.  He was a handsome, affable fellow who was always nice to his students.  Nice, but firm.  Very firm.  He ran a sizeable dairy in his spare time.

As class was ending that day he reminded us to study the classes and definitions, inasmuch as there might be a quiz next class.  He told us to remember one thing for sure, that a bull is not a male cow.  Made a pretty big deal about it.

On the quiz two boys defined a bull as a male cow. They got zeros.

The world will be more orderly if we use proper, precise bovine terminology.  It is unseemly to refer to a mixed group of cattle that includes steers, bulls, and heifers as “my cows.”  Cows are the mature female bovines the next field over that are raising calves. For instance, if you are sorting a large group of cattle it is helpful to be specific and point out to your assistants “that pop-gutted black steer calf” rather than “that little cow over there.”

Equally cloying is the tendency to refer to cattle as “everybody,” as in “everybody’s fine except for the one with blackleg.”  Cattle are not “everybody;” they are “everything,” as in “everything looked sharp today, despite being out of water” or “we could winter everything if we’d just grazed better.” 

Also, livestock (and that includes “my cows”) eat feed, not food. 

Here are some basic definitions you may find useful as a refresher.

Cow – a female bovine three years old or greater that has calved.

Bull—a male bovine two years old or greater.

Bull calf—a male bovine less than 12 months old.

Yearling bull—a male bovine 12-24 months old

Steer – a neutered male bovine 12 months old or greater. 

Steer calf—a neutered male bovine less than 12 months old.

Heifer – a female bovine less than three years old that has not calved

Heifer calf—a female bovine less than 12 months old.

And here are some additional cattle/grazing terms:

Springer—Female bovine that will calve imminently.  Can be a cow or a heifer.  Udder will be filling with milk, belly will be huge and swingy, especially on the right side where the calf’s head is.  Vulva will be large, swollen and springy.


Wet Cow—A cow that is lactating.  Dry Cow—A cow that is not.

Stag—A male bovine that has been partially and unsuccessfully castrated. He is neither a steer nor a bull but occupies the gender never-never-land in between. If he breaks into your field he can breed 25-30 pure Devon cows in one night.  Makes our discussions and deliberations on proper testicular structure seem rather suspect.

Straight Cow—A cow or heifer that is nearly as straight on the bottom line as the top line.  Masculine appearance suggests hormonal imbalance, will not breed.  Very high-value as slaughter animals, very slick and fat, high-yielding.

Swamp cow—A sickle-hocked, flop-eared type of cow that is hard to look at.  Usually has longer, ski-like feet and a narrow body with a slick hide.  Does well when conditions are tough, scoffs at parasites, and usually drags in a big ol’ calf at weaning time.  May try to bust you up. 

Dink—Inferior type of calf that grows agonizingly slowly and is hard to look at.  Also referred to as a dud, runt, punk, or (pardon me) puke.

Hurl—Reflex action that occurs when you round up a pen full of dinks.

High-headed—An outlier that will always be watching you from the fringes of the herd.  Typically tall, nervous, high-maintenance, and often dangerous.  Put pressure on her and she’s bad news in the corral, really fast in the field. Current stockyard terminology is just “fast.”

Doll Baby— Any female bovine that somebody is selling.

RIG—A very good cow, usually lactating, generally the top cow in the sale.  Auctioneer will pause for effect, then say something like “ladies and gentlemen, this cow’s so, well look at her, she’s just, there’s no other way to say it………she’s a RIG!!!” If you use this term and the cow’s not a bona fide RIG, you look like a doofus.  I know this firsthand.

Landlord— An otherwise intelligent person who admires bush-hogging.   


Neighbor—Person who calls you when cattle are in the road, whether they’re yours or not.  Also admires bush-hogging and has considerable knowledge of fencing.

Pinkeye—A malady that afflicts Board Members from New York.  It is a wine-induced, chronic condition.

Magazine Editor—A dink with ink.

                                                                                         -Guille Yearwood

bottom of page