Calf growth and maturity are important to understand for any farmer who deals with cows, whether at a small or large level. Maturity in cattle is marked by a few different factors and can vary due to several reasons.
Generally, a calf reaches full maturity in about two years. Certain breeds of cattle take longer to grow, while others mature quickly. Other factors such as nutrition and castration also influence how quickly maturation occurs. Most cattle are considered mature at the steer or heifer stage of life.
For more information on how long it takes for calves to reach maturity and knowing when it has happened, continue reading below.
Factors That Can Influence How Long Reaching Maturity Takes
Many different factors can influence how long a calf takes to mature fully. Among the factors, there are a few significant ones that will allow you to predict or influence the growth of your cattle more accurately.
It is important to remember that maturation is an individual process. Within the same breed of cow or even lineage, some will mature slower or quicker than others. Generally speaking, so long as it is within a few months of the expected timeframe, there is no issue.
Many scientific studies have been performed analyzing different factors on cattle growth, especially as it relates to beef cows. One such example is this study highlighting several different factors and their influence.
Certain factors matter more than others when it comes to maturation time in cattle. It is best to keep this in mind while reading about specific influences on growth time.
Different Breeds of Cow Take Different Amounts of Time
As expected, different breeds of cattle will require different lengths of time to mature. Full maturity across breeds is still expected around the two-year mark but can also change.
Analyzing the time when a specific breed undergoes puberty is a good reference for how long full maturity will take. Like in humans, these are different numbers; cattle continue to grow and undergo changes after puberty.
The differences are important to note, especially for those looking to raise cows for reproduction or beef. In general, either breeding a cow or killing a steer should be done after puberty but before full maturity.
This video from Texas A&M explains the general timeframe for when different breeds reach puberty. As expected, this data can be extrapolated to correspond with full maturity time generally.
To keep it simple, breeds have been grouped into areas of origin.
For example, here are the stats of Calf reaching puberty in various parts of the world:
Some overlap is expected here. Similarly to humans, the exact time that growth and puberty stop is difficult, if not impossible, to predict. If you have a cow on the extreme edge of its expected puberty time, there is a good chance it will also be fully mature later.
Larger breeds also take longer to mature in general due to increased nutrition requirements and room to grow.
Undernourished Cattle Will Take Longer to Grow
If cattle are not fed a proper diet or receive enough nutrition, they may take longer to grow than normal. This will delay their maturity and puberty time while decreasing their general health.
If cattle are undernourished enough, they may never reach full maturity or usefulness. This could mean severely limited milk production in females or low sperm count in males, making breeding almost impossible.
In essence, poor nutrition stunts the cattle’s growth. Even if it does undergo a proper puberty cycle and produce, there is a good chance that it will not be as large or effective at producing as others in the herd.
The above is rare; malnourishing cattle to the extent that they cannot produce is not common. However, their growth and growth rate may be affected by their diet.
Cattle should predominantly eat grass and hay for the best nutrients. While corn feed is growing in popularity in the United States, it can lead to some health issues for the cows.
Nutrena states that growing beef cattle consume between 8 to 10 pounds of grass for every pound they gain. If feeding your cows hay, ensuring that protein percentage is relatively high is a good idea to ensure consistent growth.
When Is A Cow Considered Mature?
There are a few different growth phases or names for cattle at various stages of life. Across parts of the United States and the world, some names are used interchangeably or represent different growth levels.
Most farmers would consider cattle fully grown at the steer, bull, heifer, or cow stages. These are four distinct terms that differentiate between castrated and uncastrated males and females that have or have not birthed a calf.
These are the stages that most cattle reach after roughly two years of growth. However, cattle are not considered calves until these stages of life; there are additional interim levels.
It may be beneficial to draw comparisons to human growth cycles, such as baby, toddler, child, teenager, and adult. While not an exact match, it is similar enough to help with conceptualization.
The Different Growth Levels of Cattle
Different levels of growth in cattle come with different names, often marking how the cow is growing at the time. It is important to note that some of these growth cycles may have different names depending on your location and may overlap with another cycle.
Identifying different growth levels is not an exact science. One farmer may consider a calf to have already moved to the “feeder” moniker, while another farmer may regard them as still early enough to be a calf. These are meant to be helpful, not confusing.
The general stages of growth are as follows:
There are also terms for later life stages, but this covers the entire cycle up until full maturity. Additional names for these growth cycles can be found here.
Where multiple names have been grouped together, the terms are largely interchangeable or represent small differences in size and maturity. The final selection of steers, bulls, cows, and heifers represents different sexes and cattle uses.
Calves mark the first 3 to 4 months of life, occasionally extending to month six. They are considered calves until they start weaning. When this occurs, the next stage of growth is marked.
It is important to note that most castrations occur before weaning. This is a vital process for beef cows, as the production of hormones can ruin the flavor of the meat. Castration can affect growth and should not be done to cattle who will be bred.
The weaning, feeding, and growing stages can be subdivided slightly more. Weaning occurs first when the young cattle are taken from their mother and weaned. They begin to instead feed on grass and hay, entering the feeding stage. As feeding continues and they grow larger, they enter the growing stage.
This next stage of life continues well into puberty. Around this time, female cows can be bred - this is normally done around 15 months old but may vary due to breed. When breeding occurs, the cow is then considered a heifer.
By breeding the cow at the 15-month mark, they will be ready to give birth and care for their calf as soon as they are mature, around the 2-year mark.
Steers meant for beef production are generally slaughtered around the same time, before full maturity, to reduce disease risk such as mad-cow disease.
Calves reach full maturity around the 2-year mark, undergoing a few different stages of growth first. There are several different factors on growth, such as breed, nutrition, and castration.
The time when cattle reach puberty can directly influence when they have fully grown, so tracking that is a good way of knowing when the cow is matured. Heifers can be bred around the 15-month mark, and beef cows are slaughtered around the same time.