Webster 1913 Edition



, goods, property, OF.
, LL.
, goods, property, esp. cattle, fr. L.
relating to the head, chief; because in early ages beasts constituted the chief part of a man’s property. See
, and cf.
Quadrupeds of the Bovine family; sometimes, also, including all domestic quadrupeds, as sheep, goats, horses, mules, asses, and swine.
Belted cattle
Black cattle
See under
Cattle guard
a trench under a railroad track and alongside a crossing (as of a public highway). It is intended to prevent cattle from getting upon the track.
cattle louse
any species of louse infecting cattle. There are several species. The
Hæmatatopinus eurysternus
Hæmatatopinus vituli
are common species which suck blood;
Trichodectes scalaris
eats the hair.
Cattle plague
the rinderpest; called also
Russian cattle plague
Cattle range
, or
Cattle run
an open space through which cattle may run or range.
[U. S.]
Cattle show
an exhibition of domestic animals with prizes for the encouragement of stock breeding; – usually accompanied with the exhibition of other agricultural and domestic products and of implements.

Webster 1828 Edition



Beasts or quadrupeds in general, serving for tillage, or other labor, and for food to man. In its primary sense, the word includes camels, horses, asses, all the varieties of domesticated horned beasts or the bovine genus, sheep of all kinds and goats, and perhaps swine. In this general sense, it is constantly used in the scriptures. See Job 1. 3. Hence it would appear that the word properly signifies possessions, goods. But whether from a word originally signifying a beast, for in early ages beasts constituted the chief part of a mans property, or from a root signifying to get or possess. This word is restricted to domestic beasts; but in England it includes horses, which it ordinarily does not, in the United States, at least not in New-England.
In the United States, cattle, in common usage, signifies only beasts of the bovine genus, oxen, bulls, cows and their young. In the laws respecting domestic beasts, horses, sheep, asses, mules and swine are distinguished from cattle, or neat cattle. Thus the law in Connecticut, requiring that all the owners of any cattle, sheep or swine, shall ear-mark or brand all their cattle, sheep and swine, does not extend to horses. Yet it is probable that a law, giving damages for a trespass committed by cattle breaking into an inclosure, would be adjudged to include horses.
In Great Britain, beasts are distinguished into black cattle, including bulls, oxen, cows and their young; and small cattle, including sheep of all kinds and goats.
In reproach, human beings are called cattle.

Definition 2024




An angus farm in the US.


cattle (countable and uncountable, plural cattle) (usually used as plural)

  1. Domesticated bovine animals (cows, bulls, steers etc).
    Do you want to raise cattle?
  2. Certain other livestock, such as sheep, pigs or horses.
    • 1848, William Makepeace Thackeray, chapter 29, in Vanity Fair, page 246:
      Mr. Jos had hired a pair of horses for his open carriage, with which cattle, and the smart London vehicle, he made a very tolerable figure in the drives about Brussels.
    • 1859, Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities, Book the First, chapter 2:
      The Dover mail was in its usual genial position that the guard suspected the passengers, the passengers suspected one another and the guard, they all suspected everybody else, and the coachman was sure of nothing but the horses; as to which cattle he could with a clear conscience have taken his oath on the two Testaments that they were not fit for the journey.
  3. (pejorative, figuratively) People who resemble domesticated bovine animals in behavior or destiny.
    • 1961, Gerald Hanley, The Journey Homeward, page 155:
      "I always knew it, but I always denied it, because I'm one of them, and I'm like them." ¶"We're just cattle," the Prison Governor said, relieved now.
  4. (obsolete, English law, sometimes countable) chattel
    goods and cattle
    • 1552, Parliament of England, An Act for the Uniformity of Common Prayer, and Service in the Church, and Administration of the Sacraments:
      That then every person so offending and convict, shall for his third offence, forfeit to our Sovereign Lady the Queen, all his goods and cattles, and shall suffer imprisonment during his life.
    • 1684, Records of the Colony of New Plymouth, in New England, published 1856:
      1684 July. Mistris Dorothy Gray, Adminnestratrix of the Goods and Cattles of Mr Edward Gray, late of Plymouth, deceased, []
  5. (uncountable, rare) Used in restricted contexts to refer to the meat derived from cattle.
    • a. 1964, Stephen Henry Roberts, The Squatting Age in Australia, 1835–1847, Melbourne University Press (1964), page 315:
      The temptation of a lone white man was too great for any gathering of myall-natives, and sheep-fat and cattle-steak seemed there for the spearing, so that a stockman always ran the risk of attack, especially if his shepherds interfered with the native women.
    • a. 1978, Barry Hannah, “Eating Wife and Friends”, in Airships, Grove Press (1994), ISBN 978-0-8021-3388-5, page 137:
      “But you cooked a human being and ate him,” say I.
      “I couldn’t help it,” says she. “I remember the cattle steaks of the old days, the juicy pork, the dripping joints of lamb, the venison.”
    • 1996 April 3, Emmett Jordan, "Re: AR activist arrested for spreading 'Mad Cow' disease in US", in, Usenet:
      Believe it or not Big Mac is one of the ultra radicals who provide fast food cattle burgers to interstate vehicles who drive all over the place providing scraps for rats, cats, flies, etc, so that the Mad Cow Disease might spread even faster than it would otherwise do.
    • 2005 June 25, "Serge" (username), "Re: WOW!!!! WHALE BURGERS...... McDonalds Don't You Get Any Ideas", in aus.politics and other newsgroups, Usenet:
      If a particular whale species isn't endangered, then there's not a blind bit of difference between butchering them or cattle.
      Whale burgers. Cattle difference!

Usage notes

For the animals themselves, "cattle" is normally only used in the plural.

  • I have fifteen cattle.
  • How many cattle?

There is no singular generic word for "cattle", apart from archaic neat. Gendered words such as "bull" and "cow" are normally used for adults, "calf" for the young, etc., though especially children will use "cow" for all three

  • There are five cows and a calf in that herd of cattle.

Where the gender is unknown, "cow" is often used (although properly a cow is only an adult female).

  • Is that a cow in the road?

The phrase "head of cattle" may be used without regard for gender.

  • One head of cattle' '
  • He sold 50 head of cattle last year.

Occasionally "cattle" may be found in singular use:

  • First I saw the mandible, which looked a bit like a strange-shaped cattle; then I saw the cervical vertebrae, which looked like a horse ("Intact Ottoman 'war camel' found in Austrian cellar", BBC, 2015 April 02)


  • For usage examples of this term, see Citations:cattle.


  • (domesticated bovine animals): neat, Bos (scientific)
  • (people who resemble domesticated bovine animals in behavior or destiny): sheeple (pejorative)

Derived terms

Related terms


See also