Oklahoma Ag in the Classroom

Cattle & Calves

Bovines in History / Beef Cattle and the Oklahoma Economy / About the Cow / Raising Cattle / Cattle and the Environment / Cattle Breeds / Cattle Ranching / Nonfood Products from Cattle

Bovines in History

  • Cows were first domesticated about 5,000 years ago. Modern domestic cattle evolved from a single ancestor, the aurochs (pronounced or oks). Prehistoric paintings on cave walls help us see what the aurochs looked like.

  • Cattle are herd animals. In ancient times, herd animals were the easiest animals to domesticate. Herd animals follow the lead of a dominant member. These natural leaders are the first to cross streams, gullies and other obstacles, showing the others the way. Herd animals stay close together and move together.

  • The first cow in America arrived in Jamestown in 1611.

Beef Cattle and the Oklahoma Economy

  • The beef industry generates more income than any other agricultural enterprise in our state. In 2005, Oklahoma’s cattle and calf population was 5.4 million.

  • The cattle and calf industry is the most profitable agricultural enterprise in Oklahoma. In 2005 cattle and calves contributed $2.2 million to the Oklahoma economy.

  • In 2005 Oklahoma ranked number five in the nation in the number of cattle and calves.

  • Oklahoma City's Stockyard City is the home of the largest stocker/feeder cattle market in the world. Since it opened in 1910, more than 102,000,000 head of livestock have passed through its iron gates.

  • Bovine is the scientific name for beef or dairy cattle. A bull is a mature male bovine. A sire is a bull used for breeding and is not usually used for meat.

About the Cow

  • Both male and female cows are born with horns (except polled breeds). Sometimes the farmer has the veterinarian remove the horns.

  • A male is called a “bull,” and a female is called a “cow.”

  • A heifer is a young female that has never given birth, and a cow is an older female that has given birth.

  • Cattle are ruminant animals. They have stomachs with four compartments that allows them to eat grass and hay. Some experts think a cow’s digestive system developed as it did for survival. Since bovine animals are hunted animals in the wild, it must eat quickly and eat as much as possible. The grasses the animal eats are stored in the second stomach until it finds a safe place to eat. Then the animal brings up the food, the cud, to chew. A cow spends six hours eating and eight hours chewing its cud each day.
  • A cow has a long tongue that feels like sandpaper. It helps pull in the grass and hay that she eats.

  • The ears of a cow are much larger than those of humans. They help transfer heat. Breeds that originated in warmer climates have larger ears and looser skin to help their bodies get rid of heat. Some cattle can even use their ears to fan themselves in warm weather. Loose skin also protects the cattle from insect bites.

  • Cows use their tails to swat flies.

  • A female cow has an udder that produces milk after she has given birth to her first calf.

  • Cows can smell odors up to five miles away.

  • Cows face north or south to graze. They do this all over the world. Wild deer also display this behavior.
  • Cattle are social animals. They all sit down before it rains and huddle together in a circle formation during blizzards.

Raising Cattle

  • People who raise cattle usually have one bull for every 25 cows. During the breeding season, the bulls are placed in a pasture with heifers and cows.

  • The time the bulls and the females are together is called a breeding season. A breeding season usually lasts three to four months. Once breeding season is over, the bulls are moved to another pasture until the next breeding season. The bred females will then have a nine-month (285-day) gestation period. Gestation is the period of time that begins when the cow is bred and ends when she gives birth to her calf.

  • A group of calves all born in the same season to cows belonging to one producer is called a calf crop.

  • Most beef calves are born either in the fall or the spring. Ranchers try to arrange it that way because grazing is better at those times of year, and the weather is not so harsh. They also try to time the birth of calves so they are ready for market at the time when market prices are best. Dairy cattle are born year-round so the supply of milk will be constant.

  • Cows are checked often, day and night, during calving season. Many ranchers bring cows into sheds and barns during calving time. That way the rancher can watch the cows and help them give birth if necessary.

  • The average calf weighs between 75 and 95 pounds at birth.

  • After the calf is several days old, it is moved into a pasture with its mother. The mother cows are given extra feed such as hay and cattle cubes to keep them healthy.

  • Calves are normally weaned at seven to nine months of age, when they weigh between 400 and 600 pounds. By this time the calves do not need milk because they can eat grass and drink water .

  • After weaning, heavier calves (600-650 pounds) may be sold directly to feed lots.

  • Most calves weaned in the fall weigh between 350 and 450 pounds. These lighter calves are classified as stockers and will be grazed on lush wheat pastures across Oklahoma until they reach feeder weights between 600 and 750 pounds in March or April of the next year. At that time they go
    to commercial feed lots to be fed to an acceptable slaughter weight of about 1200 pounds.

  • Most of the calves produced in Oklahoma are sent to feed lots spread across western Kansas, Oklahoma, Nebraska and Texas.

Cattle and the Environment

  • Cattle graze on land that can't be used for anything else because the terrain is too steep or hilly for building houses or too rocky or dry for growing food crops.

  • The hooves of cattle aerate the soil when they walk on it, allowing more oxygen to enter the soil and helping grasses and plants grow better. Grazing cattle also press grass seed into the soil and fertilize it with their manure.

Cattle Breeds

  • We get meat from beef cows and milk products from dairy cows.
    Although females from all cattle breeds produce milk and meat, some cattle are better at giving milk, and some are better at providing meat.

  • Cattle come in many different colors. The color depends on the breed. The cattle you see on Oklahoma ranches come in all colors. Angus cattle are black; Herefords are red with white faces; Jerseys and Limousin are brown; Charolais are white with pink noses; Holstein cattle are white with black spots.

  • There are over 70 breeds of cattle raised in the United States. These breeds are classified in two categories, Bos Indicus and Bos Taurus. Bos Indicus breeds usually have slick hair coats and a larger crest (or hump) behind the head on the neck. Bos Indicus cattle are also more tolerant of heat and insects. Many cattle classified as Bos Indicus have Brahman ancestry. Bos Taurus have long thick coats and a smaller crest. Because they have longer hair, they do not tolerate hot and humid environments.

  • Of the cattle breeds common in Oklahoma, Angus, Hereford and Limousin are Bos Taurus, and Brahman and Brangus are Bos Indicus.

  • The fastest steer is the Corriente, used in rodeos.

Cattle Ranching

  • Since grazing animals must move around, ranches are usually larger than farms. Cattle cannot stay in one place but must be moved from pasture to pasture to give the grass a chance to grow back.

  • Ranching was developed by the Spanish. They brought the first cattle to the New World and taught ranching to the people who lived in the area we now know as Mexico. Some of these cattle escaped and ran wild on the plains of Texas. These feral cattle were the ancestors of the wild longhorns that can now be seen in Oklahoma’s Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge and on other private and public lands.

Nonfood Products from Cattle

  • More than 100 medicines used by humans come from cattle.

  • One cowhide can produce enough leather to make 20 footballs, 18 soccer balls, 18 volleyballs or 12 basketballs.

  • NFL footballs are made of cowhide. About 3,000 cowhides are required to make footballs for one season.

Other Products

adhesives
medicines
footballs
volleyballs
basketballs
soccer balls

Facts About Beef

OSU Livestock Breeds Website

Oklahoma Ag in the Classroom

Oklahoma Ag in the Classroom is a program of the Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service, the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry and the Oklahoma State Department of Education.