Cattle

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A Japanese wagyu bull

Cattle, colloquially referred to as cows, are domesticated ungulates, a member of the subfamily Bovinae of the family Bovidae. They are raised as livestock for meat (called beef and veal), dairy products (milk), leather and as draft animals (pulling carts, ploughs and the like). In some countries, such as India, they are honoured in religious ceremonies and revered. It is estimated that there are 1.3 billion cattle in the world today.

Terminology of cattle

In general, the same words are used in different parts of the world but with minor differences in the definitions. The terminology described here contrasts the differences in definition between the United States and other British influenced parts of world such as Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, and the United Kingdom.

  • An intact (i.e., not castrated) adult male is called a bull. A wild, young, unmarked bull is known as a mickie in Australia. An unbranded bovine of either gender is called a maverick in the USA and Canada.
  • An adult female who has had one or two calves (depending on regional usage) is called a cow. A young female before she has had a calf of her own is called a heifer (pronounced /ˈhɛfɚ/, "heffer"). A young female that has had only one calf is occasionally called a first-calf heifer.
  • Young cattle of both sexes are called calves until they are weaned, then weaners until they are a year old in some areas, in other areas, particularly with male beef cattle, they may be known as feeder-calves or simply feeders. After that, they are referred to as yearlings or stirks if between one and two years of age.
  • A castrated male is called a steer in the United States, and older steers are often called a bullock in other parts of the world; although in North America this term refers to a young bull. Piker bullocks are mickie bulls that were caught, castrated and then later lost. In Australia, the term "Japanese ox" is used for grain fed steers in the weight range of 500 to 650 kg that are destined for the Japanese meat trade. In North America, draft cattle under four years old are called working steers. Improper or late castration on a bull results in it becoming a coarse steer known as a stag in Australia, Canada and New Zealand. In some countries an incompletely castrated male is known also as a rig.
  • A castrated male (occasionally a female or in some areas a bull) kept for draft purposes or for food is called an ox (plural oxen).
  • In all cattle species, a female who is the twin of a bull usually becomes an infertile partial intersex, and is a freemartin. * Neat (horned oxen, from which neatsfoot oil is derived), beef (young ox) and beefing (young animal fit for slaughtering) are obsolete terms, although poll or polled cattle is still a term in use for naturally hornless animals, or in some areas cattle that have been disbudded.
  • Cattle raised for human consumption are called beef cattle. Within the beef cattle industry in parts of the United States, the older term beef (plural beeves) is still used to refer to an animal of either gender. Some Australian, Canadian, New Zealand and Scottish farmers use the term beast, especially when the gender is unknown.
  • Cows of certain breeds that are kept for the milk they give are called dairy cows.


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