FAQs from a 5 Year Old: Dairy & Beef Cattle

This past weekend I was looking through older photos with my daughter, Savannah, to find a specific one that I needed (because we have something exciting in the works!). She spotted a few photos of her in our old milking parlor with her uncle, Jacob, from when she was about 2. [Now, if you are keeping up with our posts, you’d maybe remember Ellyn and I mentioning that my family no longer has a dairy herd operation. However, our freestall barn is now occupied with our beef during the winter months leading up to calving season.] I could see her wheels spinning and I knew she was getting ready to ask me a good question. (I mean, it’s what kids do best, right?) “If our Angus cows have udders, how come we don’t milk them like we did the other cows?” Gosh, I love when she lets me put on my teacher hat! Together, we had a great conversation about how to tell the difference between dairy and beef cattle. 

Later on, it occurred to me that she and Bryce get the opportunity to learn and grow their knowledge and vocabulary about cattle (and agriculture in general) because it’s embedded in their daily lives. But a lot of this information is not common knowledge for most people. So, I’m going to roll out a few terms and facts about cattle that are often used in our agricultural community. One of my biggest motivators for starting Rural Soul is to help inform and engage in open-minded conversation with people from different walks of life because there IS so much to learn about agriculture, especially as society drifts further away from it. 

Here we go!

A cow, is a cow…  right? [BULL]logna! (Insert husband rolling eyes at my hilarious joke, ha!😉) But, before we dive into the differences between beef cattle and dairy cattle, let’s learn about a few important terms. *I know in Ellyn’s post Fresh Out of the Oven, she does a great job touching on a few of these terms below, but I’ve added a few more for reference. 

Calf – male or female baby

Bull – a male capable of reproduction

Heifer – a young female that has not yet had a calf

Steer – a male that has been castrated before maturity

Cow – mature female that has produced a calf 

Dairy Cattle are different in the fact that their energy goes into the production of milk and because of this their body tends to look “thinner” and more angular than that of their beef counterparts. They have udders that are larger and more prominent which aids in the production of about 8-10 gallons of milk a day! 

  • Breeds: When we were milking cows, we had a herd of Jerseys. But, just like dogs, there are many other different breeds like: Holstein, Guernsey, Brown Swiss, Shorthorn – just to name a few.
  • Uses: The main use of a dairy cow comes from the milk they produce to make milk, cheese, yogurt, and ice cream, etc. 

Beef Cattle are stocky, have rounded bodies with strong legs, a thick back, and muscular rump & shoulders. Beef cattle put their energy into storing fat and building muscle to produce high quality meat. They only produce enough milk for their calves, which is about 1-2 gallons per day. 

  • Breeds: On our farm, we have Angus, but with a quick search you can find many different breeds of beef cattle to add to the list like: Shorthorn, Charlois, Hereford, etc. 
  • Uses: They are mainly used in the production of meat (steak, roasts, hamburger), but their uses can go even beyond that! 

These types of cattle may have a few differences, but they all have one MAJOR thing in common: the farmers who love, care and dedicate their lives to the well-being of their animals. ❤️

The next time you have a question about dairy cattle, beef cattle or livestock in general, don’t be hesitant or afraid to ask the professionals. Talk to your local farmer, or ask us – Ellyn & myself! We’re here, ready, and wanting to talk. 

Feel free to comment below with any questions you might have! And don’t forget to subscribe so you are the first to find out about our latest post. 

Rooted in ag & led in faith,


2 thoughts on “FAQs from a 5 Year Old: Dairy & Beef Cattle

  1. A few years ago I taught the dairy cow unit from MAITC. Well, one student asked, ” Why don’t you teach about our cattle?” (they raised beef). So back to MAITC for their unit on beef cattle. You’re right! So much education needs to be done. The basic facts about agriculture have been left by the wayside just simply because not many students have exposure to the “circle of life” that’s experienced on a farm.

  2. Pingback: Couples that Farm Together, Stay Together: Preg Checking Cattle | Rural Soul

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