twelfth-year molar

Cattle age determination

The age of cattle is determined chiefly by examination of the teeth, and less perfectly by the horn rings or the length of the tail brush. The temporary teeth are in part erupted at birth, and all the incisors are erupted in twenty days; the first, second and third pairs of temporary molars are erupted in thirty days; the teeth have grown large enough to touch each other by the sixth month. Temporary incisors or "milk" teeth are smaller than the permanent incisors.

Cattle have 32 teeth, including 6 incisors or biting teeth and 2 canines in the front on the bottom jaw. The canine teeth are not pointed but look like incisors. The incisor teeth meet with the thick hard dental pad of the upper jaw. Cattle have 6 premolars and 6 molars on both top and bottom jaws for a total of 24 molars. The teeth of cattle are designed primarily for grinding, and they use their rough tongues to grasp grass and then nip it off between their incisors and the dental pad.

There is controversy over telling the age of cattle by their teeth and this can be caused by the country that is grazed. For instance drought or sandy grazing will increase the wear on teeth.

The following is a guide:

  • 12 months - All the calf teeth are in place.
  • 15 months - Centre permanent incisors appear.
  • 18 months - Centre permanent incisors showing some wear.
  • 24 months - First intermediates up.
  • 30 months – Six broad incisors up.
  • 36 months – Six broad incisors showing wear.
  • 39 months – Corner teeth up
  • 42 months – Eight broad incisors showing wear.

The development is quite complete at from five to six years. At that time the border of the incisors has been worn away a little below the level of the grinders. At six years, the first grinders are beginning to wear, and are on a level with the incisors. At eight years, the wear of the first grinders is very apparent. At ten or eleven years, used surfaces of the teeth begin to bear a square mark surrounded by a white line, and this is pronounced on all the teeth by the twelfth year; between the twelfth and the fourteenth year this mark takes a round form.

The rings on the horns are less useful as guides. At ten or twelve months the first ring appears; at twenty months to two years the second; at thirty to thirty-two months the third ring, at forty to forty-six months the fourth ring, at fifty four to sixty months the fifth ring, and so on. But, at the fifth year, the three first rings are indistinguishable, and at the eighth year all the rings.

The brush of the tail is only useful as a guide when assessing small, stunted or young cattle. A brush that is about fetlock length or longer is an indication that the beast is 12 months old or older.

Cattle age in a carcase is determined checking the physiological skeletal maturity (ossification) (red) of the tips or “buttons” of the thoracic vertebrae. The size and shape of the rib bones are important considerations as well as the colour and texture of the flesh.

The use of number (year) branding, tattoos or ear tags with numbers or different colours are good methods of identifying the age of cattle, if they are used according the usual standards.


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