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What Is the Difference Between a Cow & a Bull?

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Cow, bull, heifer, steer and calf are all words that you need to be familiar with if you are going to participate in the cattle industry. Purchasing a bull when you meant to buy a cow or steer likely will not lead to the desired outcome. It is essential that you have a solid grasp of basic cattle terminology before you go shopping for your first cow.


A cow is a full grown female animal. To be considered a cow, your animal needs to be at least a year old and have given birth to a calf. Calves are babies. Cows are generally fairly docile and used for milk production, meat and breeding.


A bull is a mature male who has never been castrated and is capable of breeding, which is their primary use in a cattle operation. Bulls can be aggressive and are capable of causing injury to any animals or humans they view as a threat.


A heifer is the term used to describe a young female cow, who has not had a calf. Heifers can be bred, used for milk production or sold for meat.


A steer is a bull who has been castrated, meaning his testicles have been surgically removed. Typically steers are more docile to handle than bulls. Steers are most often used for meat production.