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Bulls vs. Cows: What's the Difference?

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Bull and cow are two terms we often hear when discussing cattle. These members of the genus Bos are often distinguished by the simple observation that bulls are male and cows are female. While that's a good explanation, it's also a very simplistic one that fails to notice the complexities among these mammals. We'll take a closer look at how bulls compare to cows and show you a few ways these ruminants differ from each other.

Comparing Bulls and Cows

bull to bull

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bull the cow
gender a mature male mature females who have bred
size – Bigger, heavier and more muscular than cows – Smaller and not as strong as a bull – Larger than a heifer
Purpose – Breeding with dairy cows – not for meat – For calving – For milk – For meat
morphology – Males of most species have horns – Muscular, rounded shoulders – Large heads with browbones protruding above the eyes – females of some species have horns – have breasts – wider midsection and more angular shoulders
age 12-15 months and above 2 years or older, as long as it has calves

5 Key Differences Between Bulls and Cows

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Bulls are males, larger than cows, and tend to be much more muscular

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The main difference between bulls and cows is their sex, size and morphology. A bull is a mature bull while a cow is a mature cow that has given birth to at least one calf. Also, bulls are larger than cows because cows are sexually dimorphic. Bulls have more muscle and thicker bones, so they are larger in height and weight.

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Bulls are known for their broad, rounded shoulders, humps, thick necks and large heads with prominent brow ridges. Cows have udders, wider midsections and angular rather than rounded shoulders. These key differences help us distinguish these animals from each other.

Bull and Cow: Sex

Bulls are bulls and cows are cows. More specifically, a bull is a bull that has reached mature age, while a cow is a mature cow that has bred at least once in her life.

This is the biggest difference between bulls and cows.

Bulls vs. Cows: Size

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Most bulls are bigger and heavier than cows

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Bulls are bigger than cows. Bulls have their testicles intact, and they produce the hormones they need to reach their maximum size. As a result, these mature bulls are, on average, larger and heavier than the cows. Cows are not small, though. They are larger than heifers and possibly larger than bulls that were castrated when young.

The average size range for cattle is 5 to 7 feet long, 880 to 1,760 pounds, and 4.5 to 5.5 feet wide at the shoulder. Bulls are more likely to fall in the upper range of these measurements, or even exceed them, in the range of 2,000 pounds or more. Of course, the size of cattle also depends on their species.

Bulls and Cows: Purpose

Bulls are bred to mate with cows and heifers and produce new cattle, while cows are bred to produce calves. Cows may also be used to produce milk for sale, or they may be slaughtered for consumption. Bulls are not bred for slaughter, though.

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Bulls and Cows: Morphology

Bulls and Bulls - Bulls

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There are many morphological differences between bulls and cows. Bulls are known for their large heads with prominent ridges over the eyes, thick necks, humped or very round shoulders on their backs, and a lot of musculature.

Cows have wider midsections and hips, the latter obtained by growing calves inside them and giving birth. Of course, these physical differences are complemented by some elements of sexual dimorphism, such as cows having udders and female reproductive organs. The male reproductive organs of the bull are intact, they are prominent and easily distinguished from the udders and reproductive organs of the cow.

Bulls and Cows: Age

cow and calf
Cows are usually at least 2 years old, and male calves can turn into bulls before they are 1 year old.

© iStock.com/Diane Kuhl

By definition, a cow is an adult cow who has given birth to at least one calf. This means that when heifers become cows, they are usually two years old or older. Calves turn into bulls when they reach sexual maturity, a process that can begin as early as one year of their life. Therefore, bulls are younger than cows when they reach that level of maturity.

However, farms usually allow cows and bulls to start breeding at different ages and take into account the size and growth of the animals.

FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

What is the Difference Between Bull and Steer?

Bulls are bulls that are bred to breed with cows and produce more cattle. Steers, however, are neutered bulls raised for beef production. Another type of bull is called a bull. Cattle are castrated bulls used for jobs such as pulling carts or carrying heavy loads.

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What do bulls eat?

Like other ruminants, bulls eat grass, silage and leaves of different plants. The bull's teeth help them grip low plants and then chew them. From there, they'll regurgitate the plant into cud. They will chew and regurgitate the cud again until they are ready to digest.

Bulls living on the farm may be fed a unique diet that will help them reach their physical peak without needing to eat as much grass, or they may simply receive supplements to their food.

Where does the bull live?

Bulls live on every continent on Earth except Antarctica. They are believed to have originated somewhere in Europe, possibly Turkey, and were then domesticated, bred, and spread throughout the known world. These animals are very popular for helping to expand herds.

Cattle are a very popular species used all over the world for meat, milk, leather production and more. However, keeping large numbers of these animals can be problematic.

Cattle and bull herds, for example, emit large amounts of greenhouse gases everywhere they are raised. One of the greatest challenges facing humanity today is how to reduce these emissions while satisfying consumers' cravings for cheap, tasty meat.

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I'm a freelance writer with 8 years of experience. I've written in various fields such as Managed Service Providers, Animals and Retail Distribution. I graduated from Rowan University in 2014. When I'm not working, I enjoy playing video games, reading and writing.

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