What type of cattle (i.e. cow) do we usually get our "beef" from? There are different variations of cows - e.g. longhorn, bull, buffalo and more - but when I buy "beef" in the market I am never told what kind of cattle the meat is originated from - just say it's beef. There are a few restaurants who specialize in cooking a certain cattle meat and would tell you what specific kind of cattle the meat is from, but not when you're buying meat yourself.

So, generally when we buy "beef" in the market, what is the cattle?


When I says "beef" I meat "USA beef"

  • 3
    Generally buffalo -- assuming you mean bison and not some breed of cow named for the buffalo -- is marked, as it's an "exotic" meat. Feb 10, 2012 at 14:32
  • 4
    Holstein or Jersey are types of cattle common in the US. Bison (buffalo) is a different animal, as would be oxen. Bull means male, as "cow" or heifer means female. Steer are castrated bulls. Within beef, there is more variety caused by how the animal was fed and raised than caused by breed.
    – Scivitri
    Feb 10, 2012 at 16:51
  • does beef from castrated bulls taste differently? (may be from lower hormone in the meat..I don't know, just curious.)
    – KMC
    Feb 11, 2012 at 0:59
  • @KMC I would expect somewhat, yes. The purpose behind castration is to make the animals more docile. So I'd expect a bit higher fat content, and less tough meat.
    – Scivitri
    Feb 11, 2012 at 6:03
  • "Market beef" often = a disappointment in customer service and flavor. The decline of the butcher shop in America is lamentable. I recently moved into a town that still has butcher shops, it's awesome. They know what kind of cow the cut came from.
    – Paulb
    Mar 27, 2016 at 16:14

4 Answers 4


As someone who has raised beef cattle (here in Oklahoma) I must say the TFD is (unfortunately) mistaken, (at least here in the U.S.) Most cattle fall into one of two varieties, Beef and Dairy (there are also some breeds that are almost exclusively show cattle) The most popular (and common) Beef varieties are Angus, Limousine, Herefords, Longhorn; This list, including cross breeds (for instance, limangus, what I raise, is a cross of limousine and angus) and constitutes somewhere around 90% of beef production with in the US. (not include 'beef' used for things like dog food). I would consider that list to be in descending order of beef quality (but that is a matter of opinion...)

There are several varieties of cattle which are raised for dairy production, and these do not generally produce quality cuts of meat, but do produce copious quantities of milk. These breeds are led by Holstein-Friesian, Brown Swiss, Guernsey, Ayrshire, Jersey, and Milking Shorthorn.

Buffalo (or Bison) is a separate breed altogether and is no longer all that exotic. I regularly use bison to make chili.

Yes, cows are 'females' but not all cows are heifers, a heifer is a female that has not yet given birth to her first calf .

And @Scivitri while feeding and ranging cattle do make a difference the driving force in beef flavor is still the breed. I can tell the difference between breeds by flavor but the difference from feeding and ranging is really more about tenderness and texture.

  • So what happens to all the 'old' dairy cows, surely they don't end up as $5/Kg ground beef? :-)
    – TFD
    Feb 10, 2012 at 22:00
  • 4
    see my comment about "dog food" above and then try not to think about it...
    – Cos Callis
    Feb 10, 2012 at 22:08
  • 2
    actually, it worth adding to this conversation that young males from milk breeds are often the source of 'veal'. If allowed to age their meat becomes less valuable, where young beef steers are worth more at market the larger they get, so the 'economic' decision favors using young male holsteins and guernseys for veal.
    – Cos Callis
    Feb 10, 2012 at 22:18
  • +1 informative answer. I always thought Angus is named after a person who made good steak... Since "the driving force in beef flavor is still the breed", shouldn't meat seller labeled their meat so people can expect a flavor? Or, is there a way judging by the color or structure of the beef, can tell what breed the beef is? [if this should be a separate question, let me know]
    – KMC
    Feb 11, 2012 at 0:52
  • 2
    @KMC I think you missed the point. If you buy "beef" it is often left over cattle from the dairy industry. If you buy a speciality "beef" (Limousin, Maine Anjou, Wagyu etc) you will know, as it will be labelled as such and generally have a much higher price. Personally I haven't noticed a big difference between breeds, but have noticed a big difference with how the animal was raised and slaughtered
    – TFD
    Feb 11, 2012 at 1:41

What country are you in?

Most countries offer beef from all their cow varieties. Most are very similar, though some have slightly better properties for certain cooking styles. But these are mostly offset by condition on the animal, feed quality, and age

A good butcher would know not only what kind of cow it was, but what farm it came from (hopefully a local one!)

In countries with large dairy industries you will find plenty of very young beef from the excess stock of the milking cows

A free range, grass feed, happy and healthy cow, only a year or two old is generally going to have nicer meat than some "flash" brand cooped up and artificially feed

  • 1
    I have not met a butcher who knows where the cow is from. Even small local butchers in my tiny town surrounded by cattle ranches buy their primals from processors in Oklahoma. Feb 10, 2012 at 15:56
  • 2
    @Sobachatina, and I have not met a butcher (not a 'processor', but a real butcher, like those I take my cattle to..) who do NOT know where the cattle they butcher come from. I walk the cattle into the butcher's pens and pick them up 30 days later, table ready.
    – Cos Callis
    Feb 10, 2012 at 20:43
  • 1
    @Cos- That's wonderful. I'm really very happy for you. But that doesn't help the rest of us very much. I can sometimes buy half a cow locally but you have to know someone. Feb 10, 2012 at 21:15
  • 1
    @Sobachatina according to your profile you live in Texas. You can't swing a dead opossum in Texas without hitting a cattle rancher. If you like, I can sell you a whole cow from Oklahoma. :)
    – Cos Callis
    Feb 10, 2012 at 21:34
  • 1
    @Sobachatina and I didn't mean to 'argue' either, I was just offering a contrasting experience. I agree with you about the problems with large scale processing, but how else to you feed 300 million people? It is what it is...but I don't have to eat it :)
    – Cos Callis
    Feb 10, 2012 at 23:12

I was a butcher for 8 years in a grocery store. if you are not buying the animal for a speciality shop you are getting feed lot beef from a packing plant. If you are at a restaurant and they say they're serving Angus beef or Black Angus or Red Angus you ask him to prove it then I guarantee you that they can't.

  • 1
    ...that depends entirely on what your standard of "proof" is. You are right that the average waiter/waitress probably can't "prove" it...but an invoice marked "USDA Prime Hereford" from a reputable wholesaler would satisfy be enough evidence for me.
    – Cos Callis
    Mar 28, 2016 at 14:32
  • Herefords
  • Wagyus

My grandpa sells Herefords to the best restaurants in NYC his meat is highly sought after. He treats his cows like his children and they produce some of the best meat here in Ohio. Our neighbor raises Wagyu and grandpa and him are both known to have some of the best cows in Ohio. Both have articles written about them. I have loved petting the cows since I was a kid they're very docile.

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