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?
Andrea T. says
Ok, you lost me. Saying that they are short compared to the deepness of the chest doesn’t mean much to me. Care to elaborate – in regular people words?
Dr. Marybeth Feutz says
Sorry, Andrea. I was just trying to point out that beef cattle tend to be short and stocky (sort of like a bulldog), instead of tall and skinny (like dairy cows and greyhounds). Looks like I still need to work on my communication!
Dani Vello says
The last one, looking into the camera, about ready to be sold for meat….ack! I had a hard time looking at that…and of course I was going to brown some ground beef for tacos tonight. 🙂 Am I sucker, or is it also hard for farmers? Maybe I am projecting a personality onto that last one?
Dr. Marybeth Feutz says
Dani, each animal does have its own personality. The one in the photo you mentioned is around people more than most, so he wasn’t very shy when I came up with the camera. Most of the time, cattle are pretty shy of new people and don’t appear quite so friendly. Sometimes it can be hard for farmers, but these animals are not our pets. The purpose of having cattle in the first place is so someone else has food later. We don’t usually give them names, but they all have a unique identifying feature and a unique number so we know which ones we’re talking about. (For example, our number 12 was the first to have her baby this year.) We do get to know them pretty well while we take care of them. But we don’t often miss one in particular, because there are always more coming that need our care and attention.
no problem… I was just at the Gibson County Preview Show over the weekend, and the judge kept using words and phrases like “deepness of chest.” Maybe a discussion about what phrases like that mean would be useful.
Dr. Marybeth Feutz says
Yes, John mentioned that I should go to more cattle shows. A lot of time I don’t understand what they’re talking about either, and ask John a ton of questions. The trouble is, like with many dog shows, what wins in the show ring is not what is good to have in the pasture. So, maybe an article like that would be a really good thing! Thanks for the comment.