Cows are massive! Apart from a horse, cows are probably the largest land animal most people are likely to see. If you’ve ever seen a cow calf, it almost seems impossible that such a small calf could end up as a 1200lb cow within a few years, but it’s true!
When cows are born, they grow at a staggering rate, adding at least 1.5lbs to their weight every day. Growth slows as a cow ages, however once a cow reaches puberty at around 12 months, they are still only at half their adult weight.
In this article, we’ll look at how fast cows grow in different stages of their lives and explore the factors that contribute to their growth rate.
Cow Growth Rates
Grow at different rates throughout their lives. Calves grow extremely quickly until they reach the point of puberty, after which point their growth slows considerably until they reach their maximum weight as an adult.
Cow growth rate is measured by mass, using a metric called DLWG, which stands for Daily Live-Weight Gains. Basically it’s a measure of how much weight a cow puts on each day.
Read More: How Heavy are Cows?
Calf: Rapid Growth Stage
Cows grow the fastest from when they are calves up until they reach puberty at around 12 months.
According to the University of Edinburgh, from birth until a cow reaches puberty, they grow in mass by approximately 0.7-0.8kg per day. This equates to a DLWG of 1.65lbs.
Adult: Slow and Steady Growth
A cow reaches puberty at between 55% and 65% of their maximum adult weight, so even once they are no longer a calf they have a lot of growing still to do.
It takes approximately 18-24 months for cows to reach the ideal weight for slaughter, however they are not fully grown until they are around three years old.
Cows grow more slowly once they are past puberty, up to an average weight of roughly 1,200lbs at 3 years old.
Read More: When Are Cows Old Enough to Give Birth?
What Affects Cow Growth?
How fast a cow grows depends on a number of factors including the breed of the cow, the diet the farmer raises them on, and the genetics of the individual cow.
Bulls tend to grow faster and larger than heifers, and beef cows tend to grow faster and larger overall than dairy cows.
Read More: Can You Eat Dairy Cows?
Beef breeds like Angus tend to grow larger overall, and tend to have a faster growth rate than dairy cows.
This is because dairy cows have been selectively bred to increase their milk production, which uses a lot of energy from the cow.
By comparison, beef breeds have been bred to put on as much weight as possible to maximize meat yields.
Some breeds have additional qualities that mean they grow even larger than most beef breeds, such as the Belgian Blue which has a rare genetic condition called double muscling, which accelerates its muscle growth, and the Chianina which was bred for thousands of years as a draft animal, so is much larger and stronger than other breeds.
Read More: 10 Exotic Cattle Breeds and their Uses
Farmers carefully manage the weight of their cattle by controlling what they eat.
Grass fed beef may grow more slowly than grain fed beef, but they will develop more lean muscle than grain-fed beef, meaning their meat commands a premium price.
Farmers who want to fatten up cows quickly may use energy-dense feed like corn or soy, which accelerates a cow’s growth at the expense of adding more fat to the animal, reducing the overall quality of the meat.
When cows are still young, many farms now use a type of electronic cattle collar that measures the amount of milk or food a cow eats, so the farmer can keep track of his herd,
Related Article: Why Are Cows Called ‘Doggies’?
Certain genetic lines of cattle are faster growers than others.
Sometimes farmers will specifically choose a fast-growing line of cattle when they are buying in replacement heifers, to speed up the growth of their cows.
Other times, farmers want to keep the meat as lean as possible (for example in premium grass-fed beef farms) so a slower growing animal is preferable to ensure the cow can get enough nutrients over the winter solely from grass.
Related Article: Can Cows Walk Backwards?
How Fast do Cow Hooves Grow?
According to the University of Kentucky, cow hooves grow at a rate of around 2 inches (5cm) per year.
While this seems like a lot, cow hooves get worn down as they walk on hard ground.
In modern farms, cows can spend most of their lives in soft fields, and don’t always get enough wear and tear to keep their hoof growth in check.
To combat this, farmers routinely check cows’ hooves to make sure they aren’t too overgrown and can trim them before they cause problems.
Read More: Cow Hoof Trimming Explained
How Fast do Cow Horns Grow?
Cow horns aren’t ubiquitous. Some cows have them, and some don’t.
Even among cows that do have horns, they range in size from a few inches to several feet in length so there’s no one answer for cow horn growth.
One of the largest horned breeds in the world is the Texas Longhorn. One bull from Star Creek Ranch, a longhorn cow-calf operation in Texas was measured with 75 inch long horns (from tip to tip) at only 25 months old.
Related Article: Do Cows Eat Their Placenta?
To sum up, cows grow at a rate of roughly 1.6lbs per day, until they reach puberty at around 12 months old when growth begins to slow.
Cow growth rates are measured by the DLWG metric, which stands for Daily Live Weight Growth.
Different breeds of cow grow at different rates, and even within breeds genetics plays a role in how fast an individual cow will grow.
Farmers have some control over cow growth, since they can control what their cattle eat. Grains and cereals like corn, barley, oats, and soy can help cows grow more quickly.
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.