What’s the Difference Between a Cow and a Heifer?

Posted by Stacey Venzel

How well do you know your cow terms?

Most of us just call them all cows. But the bovine family has distinct classifications based on age and sex. When a farmer can’t tell a bovine from a distance, the animal might just be called a cattlebeast in conversation.

You probably knew that a group of these hoofed animals is called cattle, and that a baby is a calf. But do you know what a freemartin is? What’s the distinction between the females? How about the males?

Let’s start with the basics:

  • A female bovine that has had at least one calf is called a cow.
  • A mature, intact male used to breed is a bull.
  • A male that has been castrated before sexual maturity is a steer.
  • A female that is one to two years old, and has never had a calf, is a heifer.
  • A female that is older than two years old but has never had a baby is a heiferette.
  • A bovine used for hauling workloads is an ox.
  • An infertile heifer is called a freemartin.
  • A male castrated after sexual maturity is a stag.

jersey cow

Many people think the distinguishing trait between a male and female bovine is a set of horns. But as with sheep and goats, that doesn’t hold true. Both sexes can have horns and both might lack them.

Cows are not only black and white, either. Bulls can be spotted and cows can be a solid color. But there is one noticeable anatomical feature that separates the females from the males. If you see udders, it’s a female, though the teats are more pronounced in breeding females.

Did you learn something new about cow terminology? Tell us in the comments below. 

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What’s the Difference Between a Cow and a Heifer?