How Do You Weigh a Cow?

While this isn’t likely a question that burns at you day after day, it does occupy a bit of our time. How the heck do you weigh a cow?

When we harvest our grapes, I weigh them by dragging the bathroom scale out to the shed, weighing myself with two empty 5-gallon buckets, then weighing myself with two buckets full of grapes. We’ve weighed thousands of pounds of grapes this way. (We’re totally into high tech around here.)

Weighing sheep is a bit more advanced because we have a walk-on scale, sized just for sheep. Some sheep stand there quietly so we can read the gauge; others dance around like crazy animals while the scale reads 50 pounds then 150 pounds then back to 50. Eventually we get a fairly accurate reading.

But our beef steers are too large to fit onto this sheep scale. I’ve resorted to asking advice. Our friend Joe stopped by and I dragged him out to the barn. “How big do you think these guys are?”

Joe shrugged. “450 pounds or so.”

When our neighbor Lyle stopped by, Melissa pulled him over to the steers. “How much do you think they weigh?’

Lyle eyed the cows. “500-600 pounds.”

We envied these men’s ability to eyeball an animal and know its weight, but we needed something a little more accurate. We could not, however, afford a $1000 cow scale.

Luckily there is a gadget in farming for every single thing a farmer needs to do, and Melissa discovered the Cow Weight Measuring Tape for $2.00.

Here’s how it works: You put the tape around the steer’s chest just behind its front legs. Here’s Melissa doing so with one of the Jerseys, and he’s not really sure he likes it.

You’ll come up with inches. Then turn the tape over, choose the line that corresponds to your breed (Holstein, Guernsey, or Jersey,) and you have the approximate weight of the steer.


Turns out our steers weigh between 450 and 600 pounds, just as our experts had predicted. But now we have the tape, so we’ll be able to estimate ourselves. Although I’m not sure how accurate the tape is, since I caught one of the steers sucking in his breath and trying to make himself skinny.

I can certainly relate. When a tape measure gets near my body, I suck it up and imagine myself as thin as possible. I totally surprised the nurse at the clinic the other day when she asked me politely if I’d like to step up on the scale.

I said ‘No.’

So even though we now have a great tool for weighing our steers, we won’t likely put them through it very often.

17 thoughts on “

  1. I’ve seen tape measures for just about every kind of livestock, had one to “weigh” the crazy pony we had in order to determine how much dewormer paste to give him. I don’t think I’d have been too keen on using the one to measure the important male parts of the bull we had, however. I relize people find that info important, but even a tame bull, down there way too close to powerful hind legs, nah, not me! He made really nice calves, enough info for me!
    Also, your calves look really nice, glad to see they’re easy to handle! I used to go inside the yard and open the gate on a ground-corn filled gravity box, which filled a trough next to it. I stopped doing that after the calves got much bigger, much pushier, and it hurt alot when you got stepped on. Being tame, they didn’t mind you pounding on them, trying to get them to step off of your foot! They were more like 600-800 lbs by then. Thankfully my husband made a feeder/divider that blocked off access to part of the barn, and I fed them from the safety of my side of the feeder.
    Love the pictures, looks like Melissa is happy to be out with her animals!

  2. You can get a cow sized scale like the one for the sheep. I’m pretty sure their pricey though. And yes, just be aware the tapes are not very accurate. Funny what a person worries about. lol

  3. We have the pig tape and the cattle tape, but since our Highland cattle are so shaggy (and their long horns limit our attempts to measure them) I’m never sure how accurate the reading is. We find ourselves tempted to set a butchering date based on, well, how ANNOYING the bull calf continues to be. (He’s a fence-breaker, or, as most farmers call them around here, “hamburger.”)

  4. Holy Frijoles! Look how many people already knew about the cow tape thing. I am ALWAYS the last to know anything really cool.

    CarolB, I’m with you. There are certain parts of an animal’s body that don’t need measuring.

  5. I just read Farm Tales and loved it. You and Melissa are very inspiring. I dream of a FARM and my true love dreams farmette. After reading your book, I feel confident we will find that happy medium!!

  6. lol, I had a check up the otehr day and the nurse raised her eyesbrows when my weight had gone up half a stone

    “half a stone of quality street” I replied, its true, I put on half a stone at christmas becuase I eat more and dont do the four mile a day school run (no car)by the end of january I work it off!

  7. That cow tape is quite ingenious. What amazed me though was Melissa’s ability to get it around the little steer–they must be pretty tame. I love the close-up picture of the one with dark brown “bangs” — very cute!

  8. Depending on how serious you are about wanting to know how much your calves weigh, you could do what my dad used to do, which is a variation on your weighing your grapes with the kitchen scale.

    He would load up the calves onto a truck, pickup or whatever, and take them to the nearest elevator. He would weigh the truck on their big truck scale, and take the calves home, and unload them. Then he would drive back to the elevator and weigh the truck.

    Then you divide by the number of calves, and you’re close enough!

  9. I found this post via Google images. I live in Zanzibar, Tanzania and also in Tacoma WA. I’m stateside now, but my dog’s vet in zanzibar asked me to bring him a weigh tape, since most of his practice is large animal. I just wanted to see who big this thing is (tiny, good), how much it was gonna cost me (a pittance) and understand how it works. Your post was SO helpful. Now I can go to a feed store and buy him one. The remaining problem will be what breed listed on an American weigh tape will be most similar to the Ceibu (aka Zebu, humped back) cattle we have in Est Africa.

  10. Juli,

    That a vet in Zanzibar will benefit from my farm story about weigh tape absolutely blows me away. Hope you can find a tape, and that the vet finds it useful. You’re right—you won’t find a tape with Ceibu on it, but someone should be able to compare sizes of animals and come close.

    Excellent. Thanks SO much for writing.

  11. HI,
    Thanks for the pics, it is really nice. what feeding program did you gave your calfs, did you use milk or formula. we are trying to raise calfs here in South Africa but did not had much success.
    help would be appreciated

  12. Hi, South Africa,

    We feed the calves formula. When they’re 8 weeks old we introduce grain, and keep them on that until they’re about 4 months old—then it’s all grass after that.

    I’m afraid I don’t know much about SA and calves. Isn’t there some sort of Agricultural organization that could give you advice?

    Good luck!

  13. Hi, we do have organisations and all has their own guidelines, we have come to know that raising calves is not as easy as it seems. we dont have a good survival rate and that is why I enquire. seems that every one keeps their secrets to them selves.
    how much formula does each get and how frequent.

    thanks for the information

  14. Thys,

    I’m sorry it’s so hard for you to get information. We just follow the directions on the back of the milk replacer bag. Don’t have one now so I can’t remember what they are. But I’m sure you could use a search engine to find stuff online.

    Good luck.

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