When is a cow not a cow? To a layman, it probably doesn’t matter whether a cow is a dairy cow or an angry bull, but farmers need to know these things! (Don’t try milking a bull!)
That’s where nicknames and slang terms come in.
Farmers have specific terms for all types of characteristics, from calves with no mothers, to wild bulls with no owners. Each nickname usually describes a specific characteristic of a cow, for example, the term “Doggie” is used to refer to orphaned calves, whose emaciated bodies looked like dough bags to early American cattle ranchers.
In this article, we’ll be looking at the etymology of some lesser-known cow nicknames, including Doggie, Bertha, Maverick, and Bossy, and learning what they mean and how the names came about.
9 Cow Nicknames
‘Dogie’ or ‘Doggie’ is a term thought to have originated in the late 1800s, referring to starving and emaciated orphaned calves whose pot-bellies looked like dough sacks.
The phenomenon was caused by drought or famine when mother cows could no longer find enough food to feed themselves and died, leaving their calves helpless because their rumens were not yet developed enough to eat grass.
Read More: What Do Cows Eat?
The term ‘Dogie’ was popularized in song by the famous American folk song ‘Git along little dogies’ (Whoopie Ti Yi Yo) which recounts the tale of a cowboy venturing out into the frontier looking for dogies to rescue and bring back to Wyoming.
2. Bertha (or Big Bertha)
Bertha is a term of endearment for a large, female cow.
The name derives from Big Bertha, the oldest cow in the world (She was 48 when she passed away).
Big Bertha was much beloved in her home country of Ireland, and admired the world over for her record-breaking age and calving records.
Read More: When are cows too old to give birth?
Nowadays, Bertha lends her name to anything large, slow, old, and lumbering.
Leppy is a similar descriptive name to Dogie, and is usually used to refer to an orphaned calf.
According to the Cowboy Showcase Dictionary, the term ‘Leppy’ was also used as a pejorative term for an inexperienced cowboy.
Maverick is the name given to any unbranded male cattle.
Mavericks don’t belong to any farm and roam the land as they please. The term was first used for wild horses but was also used for cattle.
In cowboy parlance, a Slick was the same as a Maverick. Slick is used as a name for a cow that doesn’t have a brand and thus has no owner.
Not to be confused with the ‘Slick gene’, which is a desirable trait in cattle, that helps prevent them from overheating in hot climates.
6. Cut / First Cut
A cut is a slang term for a selection of cattle that have been chosen or selected to be sold.
When a buyer picks the cattle they want from the herd, those cows are “cut” off from the rest of the herd.
The “first cut” is the first choice of the best cattle and is sometimes used more generally to refer to the highest quality selection from any group of things.
Read More: How Many Steaks come from One Cow?
Bullock has a few meanings.
In Australia and some parts of the UK, ‘bullock’ has the same meaning as ‘Steer’ in North America (castrated male cattle).
Occasionally the word bullock is also used more broadly, to refer to any young, male cattle.
8. Boss or Bossy
Boss comes from the Latin term “Bos” (which means cow) and has been used to refer to American Bison and other cattle since at least the 1800s.
“Bossy” is a diminutive version of the same term Boss.
Since the history of Mexico (a former Spanish colony) and the United States are so intertwined, lots of Spanish terms have made their way into the American lexicon.
This includes the term Vaca, which is the Spanish word for cow.
In the early 20th century, many of the farmhands and workers working in the southern US came from Mexico, and as a result the term vaca stuck around and is still used today in the border states of Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico.
There are many names and slang terms for cows, most of which originated in the Western United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Each term has a specific meaning, usually describing the set of circumstances or state of being surrounding specific cattle (either individually or as a group).
The most well-known slang term for a cow is Dogie (sometimes spelled Doggie) which is a term for a wandering, orphaned calf from the old west.
Dogie was popularized by the classic American folk song “Get along little dogies”, which was voted as 46th out of the top 100 American folk songs of all time by the Western Writers of America.
Stuart is the editor of Fauna Facts. He edits our writers’ work as well as contributing his own content. Stuart is passionate about sustainable farming and animal welfare and has written extensively on cows and geese for the site.