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What’s in a name? Quite a lot for young female cows

‘Second-calf heifer’ doesn’t sit right with some, but the important thing is recognizing they’re different from mature cows

What’s in a name? Quite a lot for young female cows
Reading Time: 3 minutes

Cattle producers, there seems to be some disagreement as to what a female is called after she delivers her first calf and is pregnant with her second.

Is she a cow? Is she still a heifer? Is she something else? What do you call her?

A Twitter poll with 144 respondents revealed that 39 per cent of producers call them “second calvers” while 36 per cent call them “cows.” A smaller percentage (17 per cent) call them “second-calf heifers.”

David Latendresse and Terry James have a foot in both of the first two groups.

“They are a second calver in my books. After that, they are just a cow,” said Latendresse, a cattle producer from Edam, Sask.

“I don’t think we have a name for that stage of life in our animals,” added James, who ranches at Lavoy in the Vegreville area. “Although I think technically they are not heifers after their first calf, we still refer to them as heifers, probably right up to when that first calf is weaned. After that they are just ‘cows.’”

Jaylyn Ettinger calls them cows after the first calf, but her reasoning is closely tied to how she and her husband raise their Highland cattle at their ranch near Czar.

“With the Highlands, we aren’t breeding until they are at least two years (sometimes three years old if they are on the small side),” said Ettinger. “Mentally, they are mature; we’ve never had a mothering-up issue. They’ve spent a lot of time with older calving cows. The only time I’ve ever had to assist with a calving is malpresentation (and that was with mature cows). They generally come in fat in the fall with that first calf.”

Her comments zero in on why what you call a young cow carrying a second (or even third) calf is important.

In a blog post this fall, the Beef Cattle Research Council made the case for additional management because “these young females are still growing themselves.” In the article, Bart Lardner of the Western Beef Development Centre states they shouldn’t be managed the same as mature cows and that heifer management is actually a three-year project.

However, when the article was reprinted in this paper and posted on its website, one reader took issue with the term ‘second-calf heifer,’ saying no one uses that term and “the writer needs to learn basic English.”

But some producers do use that term, including Dennis Houtzel from Montana.

“When they are pregnant with their second calf, they are second-calf heifers,” he said. “When they are in their third pregnancy, they become cows.”

Some producers had other names for their females, including “heiferette,” which prompted more disagreement.

“Heiferette is not applicable in this case,” said Jesse Bussard from Montana. “That term only applies to heifers that did not successfully raise and wean their first calf (such as when the calf died before it could be weaned). Technically speaking, she’d be a cow.”

Quite a few producers called them “three-year-olds,” including Saskatchewan producers Adrienne Ivey and Tim Oleksyn.

“After first-calf heifers, we call them three-year-olds,” said Ivey, adding they are managed differently.

“They are their own herd, so their nutrition can be managed accordingly.”

Oleksyn does the same.

“Most definitely the first-calf heifers are managed within their own grouping,” he said. “Most three-year-olds enter the main herd, but with some flexibility. Some are pulled because of body score condition and go into a ‘celebrity’ pen with other older or suspected thinners.”

Second-cow heifer, second calver, three-year-old, or cow — whatever you call her is fine as long as you recognize that her nutritional needs might be different than the rest of your older cows.

Jill Burkhardt and husband Kelly raise cattle, direct market beef, and grow grain on Crooked Lake Farm near Wetaskiwin. She is also a regular contributor to Alberta Farmer and frequently tweets at @crookedlakecows.

About the author


Jill Burkhardt

Jill Burkhardt, her husband, Kelly, and their two children, own and operate a mixed farm near Gwynne, Alberta. Originally hailing from Montana, she has a degree in Range Management from Montana State University. Jill’s agricultural passions are cattle and range management but she enjoys writing and learning more about all aspects of farming.



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