We have worked out an arrangement with a nearby farmer to graze his cattle on the land. After checking and fixing the perimeter fencing, the cattle arrived last weekend. Mary provided a lovely primer for me and Zach about cattle terminology so we could understand what exactly we have on the ranch. Here’s the exchange:
Mary: The cows are on the ranch. They look healthy and settled in quickly. There are 10 cows, two calves and one bull.
Zach: Awesome! So a total of 13?
Mary: So, in animal husbandry terms, it is 11 because a still suckling calf is part of the cow unit. But in lay terms, yes, there are 13 actual animals there today.
The numbers and individuals will shift. For example, two are about to calve (give birth) and he will bring them home to keep an eye on them and avoid tempting the coyotes. When he is confident that all of his cows are bred (pregnant), he will probably bring the bull back to his house. He’s got one at home about to calve and when that calf is a few weeks old, he’ll bring them to our place. Cows usually nurse their calves until 4 to 6 months.
Francisco milks some of his cows, and uses some cows to nurse other calves, so he’s got a fairly elaborate system that ensures that he producing enough milk for his family and their cheese making as well as supporting growing calves.
… later she added:
I should have actually have said that cattle, not cows, have arrived. Cows are by definition adult female bovines, but because most cattle on our type of rangeland are what they call a “cow and calf” or “cow-calf” operation, the term “cows” gets applied to all of them, even when there are bull calves and/or a bull present.
“Steers” are young castrated males, and are usually between the age of 2 months to 2 years old. Steers usually are sent to slaughter, with or without a “finishing” or fattening period, which is usually on a feedlot. It is more stressful, but most ranchers castrate at the time of weaning, which is between 4 to 6 months of age. If steers are allowed to grow up to become adult bovines, they are oxen. (“Ox” is singular.)The primary reason people keep oxen is for draft work, so it’s a pretty rare to see them.
… and even later she added:
A heifer is a young female bovine, and she will grow up to be a cow. It does imply that she has never calved. If she is pregnant for the first time, she is called a “bred heifer”. The terms cow, bull, steer, heifer, calf, and ox are derived from sex and age; the use of the bovine for milk, beef, or draft work is not addressed by any of those terms.