Glossary of Beef Terms

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Have you ever found yourself in a public place (say a restaurant?) and looked around only to find you’re receiving some awkward looks from others? Maybe you forgot to change those muddy boots and you’re giving off an awkward smell (awkward is in the eye of the beholder)? Or maybe it’s because you’re swapping stories about the day’s work on the farm or ranch, and there’s a few terms that sound bewildering to the non-Ag crowd? I have been there, done that.

Megan Brown shared this awesome list of beef terms recently and I thought it worth a share. This is just ABC. Be sure to visit Megan’s blog for the rest of the alphabet, and be sure to jump down to the comments on her page to read a comic parody of terms from Ireland.

A.I. – artificial insemination

Average daily gain – pounds of liveweight gained per day

Balling gun – a tool used to discharge pills into the animal’s throat.

Birth weight – the weight of the calf taken within the first 24 hours of birth

Birth weight EPD – The expected average increase of decrease in birth weight of a bull’s calves when compared with other bulls in the same sire summary.

Bloat – abnormal conditions characterized by a distention of the rumen, usually seen on the left side, due to the accumulation of gas.

Bloom – a haircoat that has luster that gives the appearance of a healthy animal.

Bolus – a large pill for treating cattle; you use a balling gun to administer.

Bos indicus – zebu (humped) cattle, including the Brahman breed. They tolerate heat and insects well.

Bos Taurus – European breads that tolerate the cold, such as Hereford, angus.

Brand – a permanent identification of cattle usually made on the hide with a hot iron or freeze brand.

Bred – a cow that has mated with a bull and is pregnant.

Brucellosis – a contagious bacterial disease that results in abortions; also can be called bang’s disease.

Bull – a male bovine, usually of breeding age.

Bulling – when a cow is in heat or estrus.

Calf – a young male or female bovine under 1 year of age.

Calve – to give birth.

Castrate – to remove the testicles

Cod – scrotal area of a steer remaining after castration.

Colostrum – the first milk given by a female cow following the delivery of a calf. It is high in antibodies that protect the calf from invading microorganisms.

Conditioning – Treatment of cattle by vaccination and other means prior to putting them in a feedlot.

Cow – an adult female

Cow/calf operation – a segment of the cattle industry that manages and produces weaned calves.

Crossbred – animal produced by crossing two different breeds, for example a Brahman and Angus is a Brangus.

Cud – bolus of feed that cattle regurgitate.

Cull – to eliminate one or more animals from your herd.

See a more complete glossary of Beef Cattle terms from

Do you have any specific cattle terms that have seemed confusing, or made for a comical story with friends?


  1. Z – Well, guess we’ll have to wait, I suppose, for that letter. I was looking for S – as in Stubborn, which is a cow or bull that is ornery!


  2. I have gotten some odd looks when another cattle person and I were discussing AI, or a cow in heat in no uncertain terms in a restaurant. Manure also makes for some interesting stares in public whether under discussion or on ones boots.

  3. I forgot backgrounding, another term that puzzles most people who don’t feed out cattle. It ain’t the study of a cow’s ancestry! (That, of course is pedigree.)

  4. We call it a bolus gun, we use the word “bloom” on a bred cow that is close to due and we also use the word “spring or sprung” on a cow that is close to delivering when her vulva is swollen and open!
    And of course there was the time my 8 year old daughter took some “town” girls out to the fence and proclaimed to them “Don’t be scared those aren’t bulls they are steers, look between their back legs they don’t have nut sacks we cut them off – if you want to see bull nuts I put some in Mom’s freezer I can show them to you!”
    And when someone lists their status on Facebook that has something to do with American Idol and refers to it as “AI” I always have to think twice because the first thing that occurs to me is Artificial Insemination!

  5. Another thing I get some weird looks about is when I talk about methane digesters and the use of cow manure to make electricity. I still think it’s an exciting alternative to manure pits and needs more attention.

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