Cattle terminology

Sep 09 2015 0 Comments Tags: cattle

When reading the cattle market report, you might see something like this:

The good size yarding offered potential buyers with many pens of heavier yearling steers in forward store to fat condition.  It would appear that prices at recent physical markets have risen to producers proffering the store market over fat sales.

I thought it was time I figured out what they were talking about!  Here are a few terms that you might hear in the cattle industry, there are more in the links at the end.

eight acres: cattle terminology
three fat cows
First are they male or female?  And what age?

Bull: A male bovine with sexual organs intact and that is capable of reproduction. A mature male animal used for breeding.

Bullock - Mature castrated male cattle destined for meat production

Calf: A bovine no permanent incisor teeth, can be a male or a female with no secondary sex characteristics.

Cow: A mature female used for breeding with eight permanent incisor teeth.

Heifer: A female bovine that has not produced a calf and is under 42 months of age. After 42 months of age she is known as a 'grown heifer', unless she has had a calf, and then she is a cow.

PTIC: Pregnancy Tested in Calf – used to describe cows at a store or prime market.

Steer: A castrated male bovine showing no secondary sex characteristics.

Weaner: A young animal that has been weaned from its mother’s milk to live completely on pasture.

Yearling: Young animal, fully weaned without permanent incisor teeth. Animal does not show any secondary sex characteristics. Approximately 12 to 18 months of age.

eight acres: cattle terminology
Molly cow and her heifer calf


Types of cattle and operations

Backgrounding: Growing young cattle from the time calves are weaned until they enter a feedlot to be finished on a high protein ration.
Restocker: A producer or agent who purchases cattle/sheep/lambs and returns them to the farm - this could be for backgrounding or breeding.

Cow and calf operation: Keeping cows for the purpose of breeding and selling either weaner calves or finished beasts.

Fat or Finished stock: Animals suitable for slaughter - usually these have been fed in a feedlot, or may be mature animals, such as cull cows (older breeding cows no longer required).

Feeder steer: A steer purchased by a lot-feeder to be placed in a feedlot (generally from a backgrounding facility). Cattle specifications (entry weight, muscle and fat score, breed, age etc) are dependent on the market the animal is destined for.

Japan ox: A grown steer, weighing in excess of 500kg lwt or weighing 320 to 400kg cwt. Such animals are predominantly destined for the Japanese market.

Store Cattle - animals for beef which have been reared on one or more farms, and then are sold, either to dealers or other farmers. They are brought for finishing in feed lots, normally well-grown animals of up to two years of age 

You will see that the markets have size ranges for calves, weaners/vealers, yearlings, grown heifers and steers, cows and bulls.  Each weight class may also have a muscle score description:

Muscle score description
A: Very heavy
B: Heavy
C: Medium
D: Moderate
E: Light

Each weight class and muscle score will have an average and maximum price.

eight acres: cattle terminology
our mob of weaner steers and heifers

Types of sales

Prime sale: A regular (often weekly) physical market auction.

Store sale: A physical auction where normally cattle/sheep/lambs are bought and sold. Most of the stock offered are for breeding or future finishing.


To put all of this in context....

We did try a cow and calf operation, originally buying 25 cows and calves, and a bull through private sales.  We sold the calves as "weaners" at about 9 months old in a store sale.  The cows had more calves, which we sold.  Then when we started to run out of grass and water on the property, we sold the cows as fat or finished cows, and the bull.  Just recently, we bought a mob of weaner steers and heifers to fatten on our property (so we became backgrounders) and we will sell them as store cattle (to be fed in feed-lots).  Ideally we would like to have a smaller number of cows, and to keep the calves until they are finished on grass, because I really don't like feed-lots.

eight acres: cattle terminology
our bull with the mob of weaners



Meat and Livestock Association (MLA) glossary

Small holder series - quick guide to cattle terms


Does that help?  Are there any other cattle terms that you're still unsure about?

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