I recently had the unique opportunity to volunteer at a CommonGround exhibit at Omaha’s Moo at the Zoo event earlier this summer. The sun was shining bright and the attendance was high at the Henry Doorly Zoo. There was a continuous stream of a mostly urban audience visiting our booth to ask us questions about food production. The most unique and thought-provoking question I heard was, “what is the life span of a cow?” I never realized the complexity of this question until I was put on the spot to give an answer. Even to a farmer’s wife, this question has no easy simple answer. I said my favorite answer, “it depends.” Then, I quickly prepped a follow-up explanation to my simple answer.

A cow who is used for reproduction is a “mama cow.” Those ladies have a pretty long life span and can live up to 15 years. It depends on her health, her reproduction and her quality of life. A bull is a male who impregnates the cows. The bulls live up to 12 years, again depending on their quality of life and reproduction skills.  Market animals that are raised for meat will have a shorter lifespan ranging from 18 months to 24 months, depending on the production method.

The two main types of cattle are dairy and beef. Here in Nebraska, you see mostly beef cattle being raised because they are well-suited to our environment and have easy access to quality feeds. Our long nutrient rolling pastures are great places for the cattle to roam and live out their lives. Our rich hay fields and nutrient dense corn allows us to feed our cattle quality product right from the land!

As promised, here is a little cattle 101. This summer, while you are driving through our beautiful fly over state, you can try to identify what type of cattle you are seeing out your car window. Chances are, they aren’t all cows! 😉  

Cattle Terminology Terms

  1. Cows – Female Cattle
  2. Bulls – Male Cattle
  3. Heifer – A female who has not had a calf yet, in other words a young cow
  4. Steer – A castrated bull who is not used for reproduction


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