Cow Smart: Breaking Down Cattle Terms

Cow Smart: Breaking Down Cattle Terms

If you didn’t grow up on a ranch, you might not know a Hereford from a Holstein. Here's some cattle vocabulary for cutting, cow horse and roping competitors.

Hereford and black baldy cattle at Stuart Ranch (Credit: Bee Silva)

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The first beef cattle breed developed in the southern United States (in the early 1900s) as a cross of four different breeds imported from India. Known for their long ears, extreme tolerance to heat and resistance to insects, they live longer than many breeds. 

a cutting horse and rider drive a herd of Brahman cross cattle with a lot of "ear"

Many cutters prefer a cow with some “ear” – generally referring to a crossbred that includes Brahman in the mix. There are several that qualify in this bunch. (Credit: Betsy Lynch)


A small, gentle, athletic breed with heavy horns descended from the first cattle brought to the Americas by the Spanish in the late 15th century. They’re hardy and require less water and more sparse feed than most breeds. 

large herd of roping steers with horns

Most team roping cattle are Corrientes. (Credit: Lone Wolf Photography)


Originally from England, this white-faced breed with red color dominates the beef industry globally and thrives in harsh climates. 


The most common breed of beef cattle in the United States, Aberdeen Angus or Angus are naturally polled and solid black or red, even though the udder may be white. 

Black baldy 

A type of crossbred produced by crossing Herefords usually with Angus to get a black body and white face. 

black baldy calves

Black baldy is a generic term for the common Angus- Hereford cross, which typically sports a black body and white facial markings. (Credit: Bee Silva)


A cow that is high-headed, uncooperative and unpleasant to deal with. 


An expression used in roping to describe a legal catch made by accident or by flipping the rope after the initial throw has missed the horns. 

Head tricks 

Common name for behaviors by steers to avoid having their horns caught, including tipping one horn or the other down or hiding the horns by lowering the head just as the rope is thrown. 


A steer that drags his hind legs and will not hop.

Catch pen 

The small corral that holds steers after they’re stripped of ropes at the end of an arena. 

Running up the rope 

Instead of being towed by the head rope, the steer gains speed and runs to the outside of the head horse, becoming difficult to heel. 

On the gain 

When you return steers, you’re paid based on the weight gain of the cattle, usually a certain number of cents per pound of gain over the weight when you acquired them. 

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