A single female is a cow
A single male is a bull
A castrated male is a steer
An unbred female is a heifer
A juvenile is a calf

All of those terms can be pluralized according to normal conventions.

There is also the collective cattle

But what I don't know, is if there is a word for a single individual of the species that can be applied regardless of sex. Something like "pig" which can be applied to any individual swine.

  • 3
    According to Wikipedia: no universally used singular form in modern English of "cattle" exists, other than the sex- and age-specific terms such as cow, bull, steer and heifer. I mean, I guess you could say a head, but it'd be weird for a kid to point out the window of a car and say Hey Mom, Dad, look, there's a head over in that field!.
    – Dan Bron
    May 6, 2016 at 17:15
  • 7
    In nontechnical use, 'cow' is the word: "3. A domesticated bovine of either sex or any age." (American Heritage)
    – JEL
    May 6, 2016 at 17:55
  • 5
    As @JEL points out, the word is cow. Draw a picture or show a generic photo, and any English-speaking child will tell you it's a cow. May 6, 2016 at 18:31
  • 3
    @John: any English-speaking child who didn't grow up on a cattle farm. May 6, 2016 at 21:39
  • 4
    The fact that the generic name for the animal in English is cow, which also means 'female cow', is exactly parallel to the fact that the generic name for another animal in English is man, which also means 'male man'. This is not exactly an unknown semantic phenomenon, and does not mean that English speakers are incapable of distinguishing sex. Just that not all of them feel a constant necessity to defer to it. If you want a reason why it should be female, consider how humans interact with cows, and which ones they interact with (as animals, not as meat). What you see is what you get. May 7, 2016 at 13:52

5 Answers 5


From my experience working on a cattle farm, it gets too pedantic to keep on saying "cattle," so we just said "cow" when the context made it fairly obvious that there was no specific reference to gender. However, one tends to avoid the use of that word by simply using the correct gender form, as in "bull" or "cow."

  • So what would you call beef cattle? In Britain farmers usually call them bullocks, (the name also used for a young male).
    – WS2
    May 7, 2016 at 5:45
  • 1
    Beef cattle in the US are usually steers, which is a neutered bull. Jun 21, 2018 at 20:16

"Neat" is a bit archaic, but is the correct word. As in neatsfoot oil. That is the English word for a neutral gender of a single animal from a herd of cattle.


Aside from the common, general nontechnical use of the word 'cow', the word is 'ox':

  1. A bovine mammal, especially one that has been domesticated.

(American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition. S.v. "ox." Retrieved May 6 2016 from http://www.thefreedictionary.com/ox )

  1. (Animals) any bovine mammal, esp any of the domestic cattle

(Collins English Dictionary – Complete and Unabridged, 12th Edition 2014. S.v. "ox." Retrieved May 6 2016 from http://www.thefreedictionary.com/ox )

  • 1
    Ox is the only word that satisfies the gender neutral requirement. The OED definition 1a is a. A large cloven-hoofed, often horned ruminant mammal, Bos taurus (family Bovidae), derived from the extinct Eurasian aurochs and long domesticated for its milk, meat, and hide; a cow, a bull; (in pl.) cattle. Freq. spec.: a castrated adult male of this animal, esp. as used as a draught animal; a bullock. NOTE that the term ox is most frequently used for a draught animal.
    – WS2
    May 6, 2016 at 18:24
  • 1
    People who do not know much, especially people who did not grow up in the country will refer to a castrated male as a cow. Cow tends to get used as a gender neutral term. Indeed some very well-educated people have no idea that beef does not come from a cow - at least good quality beef doesn't. (Hamburger chains, I feel quite certain use beef from old cows that have ended their milking lives.) Castration of animals is not a subject well understood by people who eat their food with little fingers extended. Incidentally in the UK what you call a steer generally gets called a bullock.
    – WS2
    May 6, 2016 at 18:29
  • 1
    @WS2, Yes, I've found that the use of 'cow' as the nonspecific term is a shibboleth for many.
    – JEL
    May 6, 2016 at 18:35
  • 1
    OED calls neat in this sense "Now arch. and regional" except in combining forms such as neat's-foot-oil or neat-herd. And kine is plural too. So they're no help. May 6, 2016 at 22:55
  • 2
    Are we not inverting definitions here? The OED definition for "scarf" is "A length or square of fabric worn around the neck or head", but that does not mean that every length or square of fabric worn around the neck or head is therefore automatically a scarf (e.g. a turban).
    – Flater
    Jul 24, 2017 at 14:02

The singular form of beeves dictionary.com, beef

"an adult cow, steer, or bull raised for its meat."

  • 1
    Why about dairy cows? Or like feral cows which have escaped captivity? Are those also beeves?
    – Dan Bron
    May 6, 2016 at 22:13
  • 1
    @DanBron, dairy cows are turned into beef when they are no longer milk producers.
    – fixer1234
    Jul 24, 2017 at 22:09

As someone who minored in agriculture during university, I'm just gonna let y'all know that according to my profs and textbooks, the gender neutral term is "cattle beast." It's weird, I know, but that's what it is apparently. 🤷🏼‍♀️

  • While that may be the modern term, it feels more cumbersome than the archaic "neat." Personally, I'm going to go with neat from now on. Dec 19, 2021 at 15:01

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