So, How Long Does It Take To Raise a Cow to Slaughter?

Raising a cow to slaughter is not a quick process. No matter what breed, no matter what you feed them, it just takes time. Time, and a whole lot of patience and diligence on your part to keep them alive and healthy until then!

brown Swiss cow with calf
brown Swiss cow with calf

Out of all the other livestock species we might own, cows seem to take the most time to raise, plain and simple. So, how long, exactly, does it really take to raise a cow to slaughter?

It takes 14 to 28 months to raise a cow to slaughter. This depends on their diet, breed, and your objectives for the resulting meat. Grass-fed cows typically take a lot longer to be finished than full-fed cows.

Even going as quickly as possible and sparing no expense, you should be prepared to spend at least one year and a couple months getting your cattle fattened up and ready to head to the slaughterhouse. But there’s a whole lot more to consider than mere calendar age.

Keep reading, and I will tell you all about the various factors in the rest of this article…

How Long Does it Take a Cow to Mature?

It depends on how you define “mature.” Cows are truly mature when they reach the end of physical development, usually around two years old on average. But cows reach sexual maturity at around 15 months of age; ready to reproduce!

It is about the time of reaching sexual maturity that cows start to really develop their muscle mass. Of course, a cow’s breed, inherent genetics, and diet all play a part in growth rate.

How Long Does it Take for a Cow to Reach Slaughter Weight?

Outside of a predefined target weight, at the times indicated above. However, cows are nominally slaughtered when they reach a weight of around 1,200 pounds.

This is why so many cattle ranchers strive to find the ideal combination of breed, diet and other factors that will allow cows to hit that mark ASAP while still possessing high-quality beef.

For instance, some well-known cow beef breeds like Angus and Hereford just tend to reach slaughter weight faster than other breeds.

Likewise, any cattle raised feedlot-style tend to get to market weight sooner than those raised on pasture alone, or predominately on pasturage.

Can You Speed Up Growth to Slaughter Quicker?

To a degree, yes. It is possible to accelerate bulking and weight gain to reach a suitable slaughter weight quicker, but this does nothing to quicken physical maturation of cows.

There are various methods to accomplish this, including providing cows with high-energy feed supplementation, or even administering growth-promoting hormones.

A “full feed” diet is one of the most common methods, and involves feeding cows large amounts of feed concentrates such as grains to speed up weight gain.

Hormones, on the other hand, are administered via injection, and act as growth accelerators that can lead to enormous weight increases quickly.

However, many consumers are increasingly concerned about the use of hormones in livestock and greatly prefer to buy meat raised without them.

Something else to consider in this equation is the cow’s welfare; strange to say about an animal facing certain death so we can eat, but bulking diets and hormones both can have seriously harmful side effects for the poor things.

Can You Slaughter a Cow At Any Age?

Strictly speaking, yes, but practically no.

While it is technically possible to slaughter a cow at any age, there are host of reasons why you should wait until it is optimal to do so.

The age of the cow will have a significant impact on its meat quality, and its development and growth on the amount of meat that can be harvested.

For example, a quarter of a cow should produce over 100 pounds of meat (45kg), which amounts to over 400 pounds(180kg) of meat for the whole cow that’s ready for meat harvesting.

Slaughtering a too-young or underdeveloped cow will result in a smaller yield of poor meat, never a good thing whether you’re looking to maximize profits or just fill your freezer with the good stuff.

Can a Cow Be Too Old to Slaughter?

Yes, a cow can be too old to slaughter – if you care about quality beef, at least! As cows age, their meat quality declines; taste, texture, nutrition, everything.

There are lots of reasons for this, including changes in the cow’s hormones and the stiffening of muscle fibers throughout the body.

Additionally, older cows are more prone to developing health issues that could make their meat unsafe for human consumption. For all these reasons, many cattle owners will choose to retire or cull older cows, not slaughter them.

When’s the Ideal Time to Slaughter?

The best time for slaughter is when a cow is fully developed, is at least 1,200 pounds and has put on enough fat so you can be assured of delicious, marbled meat when the deed is done. That’s really it outside of other considerations for your herd.

Depending on what you feed your cows, the intersection of these prerequisites might happen around the 14 month mark in the case of a full-feed diet, or closer to 2 years and couple months if strictly grass and pasture fed. Or, it might be any time in between!

What Happens if You Slaughter Too Early?

If a cow is slaughtered too soon, its meat will likely be blander or tougher than if it had been allowed to mature a little further. Too-young calves and adolescent cows may not have developed enough to produce high-quality beef.

Part of it is actually physical development, but the other part is living long enough to put on enough fat to marble the beef.

Is Age the Only Determining Characteristic for Scheduling Slaughter?

No, age isn’t the only factor for scheduling slaughter, but it is one of several important ones.

Like we discussed above, weight is a biggie, but so is the physical indicator of adequate fattening. This is actually surprisingly easy to identify!

All you need to do is inspect the brisket and tailhead of the cow for signs of plumpness.

The brisket is the area just beneath the cow’s neck between the front legs, while the tailhead is just what it sounds like- where the tail starts and joins the body.

If both of these areas are visibly full and rounded, full of fat, and your cow has reached an adequate weight, then you are good to go for slaughter.

A noticeably small or “deflated” brisket, or a visible spinal ridge at the tailhead, means you should fatten him up a bit more.

How Old Are Bulls When They are Usually Slaughtered?

Bulls are typically slaughtered according to the timetables we have previously discussed, but typically between 14 and 18 months of age, as they tend to be full-fed.

Another consideration for many keepers, and one you should definitely keep in mind if you are a small operation, is that bulls can become even more aggressive as they age, which can make them still more difficult to handle an even greater danger!

So by slaughtering bulls at this younger and, literally, tenderer age, you can get better beef and also eliminate the ornery sod before he turns into a true terror.

Are Female Cows Slaughtered for Beef, Too?

Yes, female cows are slaughtered for beef almost as frequently as male cows. In fact, female cows (true cows or heifers) produce the high-quality beef desired as long as all other rearing metrics are followed.

How Old is Veal When Slaughtered?

Veal is typically slaughtered between 5 and 6 months of age, significantly younger than the age when beef cows are slaughtered.

Remember that beef, meat from mature cattle, isn’t the same as veal: veal is the meat of young calves that aren’t even close to fully developed. Nonetheless, veal beloved around the world for its tenderness and mild flavor.

How Old Are Dairy Cows When They’re Slaughtered?

Yes, dairy cows get slaughtered too, usually when their production falls off, or when herd management dictates a downsizing.

Dairy cows usually get slaughtered between 3 and 7 years of age, depending on the cow’s health and production, and assuming they aren’t too old their beef can still be pretty good!

But, because dairy cows are not bred specifically for meat production their meat may not be as flavorful overall as that from cows bred and kept just for beef production.

For this reason, dairy cows headed for slaughter are often sold at lower prices compared to true beef cattle.

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