Last time we learned a little bit about what’s special about dairy cows. Today we’ll see why beef cattle are different.
As you might expect, beef cattle are raised for their meat. This can be in the form of steak, ground beef, roasts, or included in hot dogs or other processed beef foods. Instead of being bred for the amount of milk they can produce, like dairy cattle, beef cattle are bred for how fast they grow and how much muscle (meat) they can develop. While in dairy we talk mostly about the cows, in beef we talk about calves, cows, heifers, and steers. Beef can come from heifers or steers, there’s no difference in the taste, but it does usually come from animals that have grown up to about 18 months old. There are lots of different breeds of beef cattle, but Angus are the ones that most people have heard of.
Beef cattle tend to be shorter and stockier than dairy cattle. Beef cows have shorter legs and broader shoulders and hips. Unlike dairy cows, where it is normal to see them be a little thin during milking (lactation), you always want your beef cattle to be stocky.
All but the last photo are cows from our farm, right in our backyard. They are all purebred Angus cows. The last photo is a cross-bred beef breed. Here is one of our pregnant beef cows. She actually had her baby the other day, a few days after I took this picture.
Here’s another one of our pregnant cows. Our beef cows tend to be on the fat side. Each of these two ladies weigh somewhere between 1200-1400 pounds. And they’re not afraid of the scale.
This was our first calf of 2012. It’s a heifer (remember, that means a girl), and she weighs around 70 pounds. That’s a little bit on the small side, but not too much. She was actually born about 2 weeks early. Momma still looks pretty fat, and that’s okay.
These are beef bull calves, around 9 months old. They’re pretty fuzzy, because this photo was taken in November and they were putting on their winter coats. You can see that they have pretty short legs in comparison to how deep their chests are. They are pretty short and stocky all around, and weigh around 600 pounds. (The calf farthest to the left is Charlie, who we delivered by C-section. We don’t usually name our calves, just the ones who need a little extra TLC.)
Finally, this is a mixed-breed (like a mutt) beef steer. He is around 18 months old, weighs around 1000 pounds, and is just about ready to be sold for meat.
Clear as mud? Think you can tell the difference between dairy and beef cattle when you’re driving down the road and see them out in a pasture?