If you’ve ever been next to a cow, any cow, you already know they are pretty huge. So it’s only natural to wonder how much they weigh.
Cows are among the largest mammals on Earth, and although most people rarely pay attention to them driving by, some breeds can be absolutely immense, talking huge!
So, how much does a cow weigh exactly?
An average cow weighs about 1,400 pounds across all breeds and other factors. An average adult bull will weigh about 2400 lb, and an average adult cow will weigh around 1600 lb.
No matter how you slice it, that is a whole lot of beef! But, if you look beyond averages there’s actually a tremendous amount of variability when it comes to the weight of a given cow.
This is important stuff for owners to know, because the weight of a cow is actually a significant metric for tracking and measuring its performance when it comes to the production of milk or beef.
Keep reading and I’ll tell you what you need to know about the weight of a cow…
Are Bulls or Cows Heavier?
Bulls are heavier, hands down. Across all known breeds, invariably a bull will weigh more than a cow except for extreme edge cases.
That’s because bulls benefit from male physiology and of course testosterone, which helps them grow larger, denser skeletons and pack on considerably more muscle than female cows.
Generally speaking, assuming they are on the same kind of diet and given the same care, a bull will weigh anywhere from a third to a quarter as much again as a comparable female cow of the same breed.
And some breeds, males can actually weigh considerably more than females, and the size differences can be quite dramatic!
How Much Does a Calf Weigh?
A typical calf will weigh about 80 pounds when born, give or take a few pounds depending on gestation period, the health of the cow, and the breed.
That is still humongous for a baby, but truly tiny compared to the adult cow that it will become.
And speaking of growing up, calves grow surprisingly fast, and most will nearly double their weight in the first month alone.
Imagine how you feel if you put on your body weight in just a single month!
Calves will continue to grow quite quickly after the first month, but this explosive growth does slow down somewhat as they close in on their first birthday, though they aren’t fully physically mature by this point.
At the end of month 12, when a calf is still technically a calf, it will weigh anywhere between 450 and 800 pounds, again depending on the breed. That’s a massive toddler alright!
Do Dairy Cows or Beef Cows Weigh More, All Things Equal?
Although there is considerable variation between breeds and the type of cow depending on its age, diet and other factors, if you are comparing apples to apples then beef cows will weigh more than dairy cows.
This is for a number of reasons. First, a cow that is selected to be a beef producer is probably of a breed that is especially suitable for the purpose.
These breeds are invariably bred for size, particularly muscle, so that they can produce more beef when they are slaughtered at any given time.
Plus, beef cows tend to be fed diets that promote weight gain, both lean muscle and fat, and the ideal proportion to yield a superior cut of beef after slaughtering.
Accordingly, you can generally depend on your average beef cow weighing more than a dairy cow.
How much more, precisely, varies, but it is generally anywhere from 150 to 200 pounds heavier than its comfortable milk-making cousin.
Do Cows Gain More Weight as They Age?
Yes, generally until they reach their nominal maximum size.
Cows gain weight if fed an appropriate diet until they reach physical maturity which usually happens at about a year and a half of age, though some slow-growing breeds take a closer to 2 years.
Assuming that cows are being fed excess calories, they’ll continue to put on weight in the form of fat after this point…
It should be pointed out that many cows are slaughtered before they are completely mature, physically, and this date doesn’t necessarily coincide with their maximum, nominal weight by breed.
Do Some Cow Breeds Weigh More Than Others?
Yes, of course. There is a considerable amount of variation when it comes to the weight of a cow, young or old, male or female, across breeds.
Some, like the Mini Zebu, are truly tiny animals that only weigh a few hundred pounds.
Others, like the monstrous Chianina, are colossal, and bulls may tip the scales at more than 3,500 pounds!
Of course they don’t start out that big, but even as calves you will see quite a bit of difference.
Check out this chart comparing the weight of giving cow breeds at different ages below:
|Holstein-Fresian, weight in pounds (appx.)
|Brown Swiss, weight in pounds (appx.)
|Milking Shorthorn, weight in pounds (appx.)
|Guernsey, weight in pounds (appx.)
|Jersey, weight in pounds (appx.)
|Ayrshire, weight in pounds (appx.)
How Much Does a Cow Usually Weigh When Slaughtered?
A typical cow that is intended for beef will weigh anywhere from 900 to 1,400 pounds when it’s slaughtered.
This significant variation is dependent on a couple of factors, namely the age and breed of the cow, but also the objectives of the rancher or processor, and sometimes the customer that is purchasing the beef.
Veal, that is meat that is taken from a calf, will necessarily come from a younger animal that won’t weigh as much.
Conversely, maximizing the yield of a given carcass means allowing a cow to grow up to its full or nearly full size.
To a point, there is not much to be gained from allowing a cow that has reached its maximum size to keep living or “stay on the hoof” if it is going to be slaughtered for beef.
Generally, the best beef comes from younger, fitter animals, and after a certain point the quality of a cow’s beef will degrade, generally becoming tough and stringy the older it gets.
Accordingly, most operations tend to avoid this outcome by slaughtering as soon as a cow has reached a suitable weight.
How Do You Weigh a Cow, Anyway?
After reading all of this, you are probably wondering just how you weigh a cow in the first place! After all, it would certainly bust any scale that we have at home or even one at a vet’s office!
As it turns out, there are a number of ways to properly weigh a cow. First and most obvious is to use a livestock scale.
A livestock scale is exactly what it sounds like: a large, durable scale that is suitable for weighing horses, pigs and of course cows.
There are a variety of styles, both analog and digital, capable of weighing an animal accurately. Of course, getting the animal positioned on or in the scale is more than half the battle, and can be difficult.
The other way to do it is to use a simple formula where measurements (in inches) are taken on the cow using a measuring tape, typically the body length from breast to base of the tail and then the “heart girth”, or circumference, measured from just behind the front legs all the way around the cows torso.
Then all you do is multiply heart girth by heart girth, and then multiply that result by body length before dividing the final figure by 300.
This will give you a surprisingly accurate weight for a given cow, in pounds.
This is fairly straightforward if you are able to approach your cows but in the case of cows that are unruly, skittish or downright dangerous, like many bulls, this can be anything but easy!
Tom has built and remodeled homes, generated his own electricity, grown his own food and more, all in quest of remaining as independent of society as possible. Now he shares his experiences and hard-earned lessons with readers around the country.
Find out more about the team here.