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What Is A Head Of Cattle?

A head of cattle is a way of describing a group of cattle according to how many individual cattle are in the group, which is usually a ranch or farm. For example, a dairy farm with 120 head of cattle means the farm has 120 cows in its dairy herd.

In this article, we’ll be exploring the term “head of cattle” more closely, seeing where the term came from, when you should use it, and how to use the term correctly.

What Is A Head Of Cattle

Head of Cattle Definition

The definition of a head of cattle is a given number of cattle, usually describing the number of cattle on a farm. For example, if a farmer says he has a 140 head of cattle herd, his herd of cattle contains 140 cows.

Head of Cattle Usage Examples

Here are some usage examples of the phrase and how you might use it in a sentence:

“Five hundred head of cattle are exported each year.”

“The farmer has 20 head of cattle more than his son.”

“The ship was carrying 350 head of cattle, and 2800 chickens.”

Read More: How Many Head of Cattle does it take to make a Living as a Farmer?

What Is The Plural Of Head Of Cattle?

“Head of Cattle” is a plural-only noun, meaning there is no difference between one head of cattle and two head of cattle.

If you say “Heads of Cattle” you would be referring to the actual heads of the cattle, and not the number of cattle.

Is “Head Of Cattle” Slang?

The term “head of cattle”, when used to describe the size of a herd of cows may have started out as a slang term when it was originally used, but it has made its way into the modern lexicon as a formal term.

The term “head of cattle” is used today by national agricultural organizations such as the US Dept of Agriculture in its annual cattle inventory report, and the Food and Drug Administration in the relevant legislation for meat and dairy farming.

How Much is a Head of Cattle?

The phrase “head of cattle” is always preceded by a qualifying number, for example “Five hundred head of cattle” means five hundred individual cattle. 

Each “head” of cattle represents one individual animal.

Can you get one head of cattle?

One head of cattle would mean one individual cow, although the phrase is rarely used to represent a single animal. 

Instead, it’s mostly used to represent the number of cattle in a herd, on a ranch, on a farm, or any other grouping of cattle such as the number of cattle in a certain area for statistical purposes.

What Does Head of Cattle Mean?

Head of cattle means one single animal in a group of cattle. The term is preceded by a number and is never pluralized to “heads” of cattle. For example “five head of cattle” means a group of cattle which contains five cows.

When counting cattle, it’s often described as (number) head of cattle because it’s a catch-all term that includes both dairy and meat cattle, calves, bulls, and cows.

Is “Head of Cattle” the Collective Noun for Cattle?

Although “head of cattle” is frequently used in the agricultural industry to represent a specific number of cattle, the collective term for a group of cattle is herd, not head.

A herd of cattle means a group of cattle. Herd can be used to represent a dairy herd, beef herd, or an entire farm with a mix of cattle.

Related Article: Cattle Brands Explained

Head of Cattle vs Herd of Cattle

Head of cattle is a noun representing a specific number of cattle and must always be preceded by a descriptive number. For example, one hundred head of cattle.

On the other hand, a herd of cattle is a collective noun of indefinite size, and simply represents a single group of cattle. For example, a large herd of cattle.

One herd could contain 12 head of cattle, or 120 head of cattle, or even thousands of cattle on some of the larger ranches.

Read More: Cattle vs Cows vs Livestock – Explanation of Terms

What Does Five Head of Cattle Mean?

Five head of cattle means a group of cattle consisting of five animals.

How Many Head of Cattle are in the US?

According to the US Department of Agriculture’s annual cattle report, as of January 2021 there are 93.6 million head of cattle in the United States.

Head of Cattle Etymology (Why do we say Head of Cattle)

Head of Cattle is an example of a synecdoche, which is when we use a small part of something to represent the whole thing.

The term of course comes from the term head. Since each cattle has one head, ranchers and farmers use the term to refer to the whole animal, similar to a headcount.

Although it sounds strange, this is common in English and is used to count lots of different things.

Some other examples of this are:

  • Boots on the ground” to represent deployed soldiers
  • Wheels” to represent a car or truck
  • Hired hands” to represent hired workers
  • Suits” to refer to suit-wearing business people


To sum up, “head of cattle” is just a simple way of describing the number of individual animals in any group of cattle. For example, there are just under 100 million head of cattle in the United States.

Similar to how we might use “wheels” to refer to a car, or “boots” to refer to soldiers, “head of cattle” doesn’t literally refer to only the heads of the cattle, but represents one entire animal. This type of figure of speech is called a synecdoche and is quite common in English.

The collective term for a group of cows is a herd, however this may exclude certain cows who are outside the herd or on another farm. When talking about a group of cows, we use the term “head of cattle” because it includes every animal within the group.

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