Farm Dictionary

The home of an ever-growing list of farming jargon. Ever wondered why sheep are fed ‘Cake‘? Find the answer below, among many others…

I’ll keep adding to them as I go, so please let me know if I’ve missed any, or if you see any mistakes- some of the phrases have different meanings depending on the region or country you’re in, so as I’m in England, I’ve used their most common meaning around these parts.

A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K, L, M, N, O, P, Q, R, S, T, U, V, W, X, Y, Z


Abomasum – A ruminant’s fourth stomach compartment. Young ruminants use this for digestion when most of their diet is milk.

AD Plant – Anaerobic Digestion Plant. Anaerobic Digesters turn food waste, plant matter, or slurry into biogas and organic fertiliser, called digestate, through fermentation. The biogas is then converted into green energy to use as electricity or heat.

A.I. – Artificial Insemination. Where semen, fresh or frozen then thawed, is manually deposited into the reproductive tract of a female, either the cervix or uterus, by a trained farmer, vet or technician.

A.I. Technician – There are DIY A.I. courses for farmers to learn how to inseminate livestock themselves, but there is also the option of using the technicians who work for the semen companies.


Bagged Up – The udder on the animal is filled with milk in preparation for giving birth.

Bale Band – A thick string which holds bales of forage together. It can be used to fix almost anything and is always handy to have in your pocket.

Baling – A machine called a baler is towed behind a tractor, it picks up rows of cut plant material (grass, straw etc.) and compresses it into a cylinder or cuboid shape held together with net or band.

BCS / Body Condition Score – An assessment of the condition of the animal by feeling for the level of fat cover. The score is from 1 to 5, with 1 being the thinnest.

Beef Cow – Cows which are used solely for producing calves for beef production. Beef breeds don’t have as much milk as dairy breeds, the milk they produce only feeds their calf/calves.

Beet Lifter – A machine (either self-propelled or trailed behind a tractor) used to harvest root crops, such as fodder beet and sugar beet.

Boar – Male, uncastrated pig.

Bolus – Object deposited down the throat of a cow or sheep which remains in its stomach for some time, and sometimes permanently. Used for long-term administration of minerals and vitamins or medicines, or as a secure location for an identifying electronic chip.

BPS/Basic Payment Scheme – The biggest of the European Union’s rural grants and payments to help the farming industry. Farmers apply once a year – normally in May – and payments begin in December. There are penalties for not following any of the scheme rules.

Breeding Cycle Lengths – Cattle and Pigs: 21 days, on average, all year round. Sheep: 17 days, on average, most sheep breeds are Seasonal breeders.

Broken Mouthed – A sheep which has lost some incisors, usually 6 years old+.

Bulling – A cow in oestrus, ready to be impregnated. Bulling typically lasts 24 hours.

Bulling/Tupping Period – The mating season for cows or sheep. Some bulls live with the cows all year round, whereas others have a 9- or 12-week bulling period. Tupping periods are typically 6-8 weeks.

Bullock – A castrated male calf.


Cade – See Pet Lamb

Cake – Animal feed made of grains, beets, pulses and molasses which is formed into a nut and fed to cows or sheep.

Calving – Cow giving birth.

CAP Payments – Common Agricultural Policy payments, see BPS.

Cast – An animal (usually sheep) stuck on its back, unable to turn itself over and get up, perhaps because of lying on a hill or hollow, or because of a heavy and/or wet fleece. (If you come across a cast sheep, always roll it back onto its stomach.)

Catch Crop – Fast growing crop planted between two regular crops grown in consecutive seasons or between rows of regular crops in the same season. Used to protect the soil and use available nutrients between harvest and sowing, to stop them leeching out of the soil. Typically kept for up to 2 months.

Chopped Straw – Some straw is chopped by the combine into short lengths to be incorporated back into the soil.

Clamp – A mound of harvested root crops, silage, or wholecrop, covered to protect it from the weather and preserve it for feeding.

Clipping – See Shearing.

Cluster – The claw shaped part of the milking machine that has the cups attached which attach to the cow’s udder.

Colostrum – The first milk produced by mammals, full of antibodies (immunoglobulins) to help build the immune system of the newborn and protect it from bacteria and viruses.

Combine Harvester – Machine that cuts, threshes and cleans arable crops in one operation, separating the grains and seeds into a tank, and leaving behind the chaff and straw.

Concentrate – Artificial feed which is high in energy, given to sheep and cows to supplement the other feed which is available, or given in times where their energy requirements are higher, e.g. when close to lambing or during lactation.

Continentals – Breeds or cows and sheep which originate from Europe.

Coulters – The part of a seed drill which makes a furrow for the seed.

Cover Crop – Crop planted between main crops to prevent nutrient leaching or soil erosion, suppress weeds, pests and diseases, improve soil health, and provide green manure. Like a catch crop but kept for longer, typically 3 to 4 months.

Creep Feed – Supplementary feed for young livestock, given alongside milk or during weaning.

Crush – A strongly constructed cage to hold cattle safely while they are being worked with.

Cubicles – Raised areas for cows to lie on with partitions between each cow space and a passageway behind to collect the cows’ dung and urine. Length and width of each cubicle space is determined by the size of the cow. The beds can be made of a range of materials, like deep sand, or concrete with a comfortable surface on top, like rubber mats or mattresses, and topped with other materials like sand, shavings or straw.

Cud – A bolus of feed which is returned to the mouth of a ruminant, from its rumen, to be rechewed into smaller particles before it can be digested.

Cull Cow/Ewe – An animal no longer fit for breeding which is sold for meat.


Daily Liveweight Gain/DLWG – A measurement of how much an animal is growing each day. Worked out as Current weight – Birth weight/Last known weight ÷ Days between weighing.

Dairy Cow – Cows kept to produce milk for human consumption. Dairy breeds produce a lot more milk than beef breeds, too much for just their calf.

Dam – Mother

Deadweight – Selling animals straight to the abattoirs and getting paid a price per kilo based on their carcase weight and shape.

Direct Drilling/Zero Tillage – Sowing seeds straight into undisturbed soil with the previous crop residues still present on the surface from harvest until sowing. The seeds are placed into a narrow slot in the ground made by the seed drill.

Discing – A disc harrow is used to till the soil where crops are to be planted, it’s also used to chop up unwanted weeds or crop residues. The disc harrow is made of rows of slanted, concave, metal discs.

Draft Ewe – Ewe too old to survive on a hill/upland farm which is moved to gentler, lowland grazing to carry on producing lambs.

Drench – Liquid given to livestock down their throat, usually containing minerals and vitamins or medicines.

Dropped in the Slacks – Relaxation of the pelvic ligaments can be observed in cattle in the 24 hours up to calving. The pin bones (bones visible either side of a cow’s tail head) appear to drop down and away from one another and the tail head looks higher and wobbly.

Dry Matter/DM – The dry matter percentage of foodstuffs. Typically, uncut grass has a dry matter of around 20%, the rest of it is water.

Dry Period – Period of time when cows stop being milked so their body can rest and prepare for their next lactation.


Ears (crops) – An ear is the grain-bearing part of the stem of a cereal or grass plant.

Ear Tag – A metal or plastic tag in the ear of sheep, cows and pigs which contains the farm’s herd or flock number and the animal’s identifying number, and/or an electronic chip containing this data. E.g. a cow’s tag could be UK123456 100001, the first part is the herd number and the last 6 digits are the individual’s number.

EID – Electronic Identification- Plastic ear tags containing an electronic chip.

EUROP Grid – The method of carcass classification used in the UK, with ‘E’ being the best shaped. The level of fat covering on the carcass is then assessed on a number scale of between 1 and 5.

Ewe – Adult female sheep that’s had her first lamb.

Ewe Lamb – Young female sheep before her first shearing.


Farmyard Manure – Manure produced by livestock, which contains bedding materials such as straw.

Farrowing– A pig giving birth.

Fat Lamb – Lamb reared for meat. Also, one which has reached slaughter weight and condition.

FEC / Faecal Egg Count – Examining the faeces of an animal under a microscope to determine their worm burden.

Feed Barrier – A long, straight barrier separating animals from the feed passage. They have to put their heads over or through it to eat. Some have a single horizontal bar at chest height and others have diagonal bars with a space wide enough for one animal’s head between each one.

Feed Passage – A passageway in front of the feed barrier where livestock feed is placed.

Field Margin – An uncultivated margin around the borders of field and crops which provides wildlife habitats.

Finishing – The finishing period is when cattle, sheep and pigs are fed an energy-dense diet so that they will grow rapidly and add muscle/meat to their frame and optimise fat cover in preparation for slaughter.

Fly Strike – An infestation of wool, skin and eventually flesh by the maggots of the blowfly.

Foster Calf/Lamb – Orphaned or spare calf or lamb, which is fostered onto an adoptive mother.

Full Mouthed – A sheep which has all 8 incisors, usually 4 years old+.


Gestation Length – Average length of time from mating to giving birth. Cattle= 279-292 days (around 9 months) depending on the breed, native breeds tend to have shorter gestations and continentals are more towards the end of the bracket. Sheep= around 147 days (5 months, less 5 days). Pigs= 113-117 days (3 months, 3 weeks & 3 days on average).

Gilt – A young female pig, usually under 1 year old, who hasn’t yet farrowed.

Gimmer – A young female sheep, up to the point of her first lamb.

Greening – Rules with a focus on benefitting the environment which farmers have to adhere to or else they lose part of their BPS payment.


Harrowing – A set of harrows is used to break up and smooth out the top couple of inches of the soil, and spread plant litter and animals’ dung around.

Hay – Grass which is cut and left to dry to until its dry matter content is around 85% (moisture content of around 15%), then baled into various sized bales for animal feed.

Haylage – The middle ground between Hay and Silage. Grass which is cut and left to dry until its dry matter content is usually anything between 45% and 75%, depending on the requirements of what it’s being fed to, then baled and wrapped in plastic to ferment and be preserved for animal feed.

Hefting – A traditional way of managing animals on communal land where they learn to stay in a small local area (or heft) without the need for fences and pass that instinct on to future generations.

Heifer – Young, female cow, from birth to before its second calf.

Hill Breeds – Breeds of sheep and cows which originate from the upland areas, they are much hardier than lowland breeds and are bred to survive living outside in all weathers.

Hogg / Hogget – A young sheep of either sex from the January after its birth, until it cuts 2 teeth at about 18 months old. The females are sometimes called Ewe Hoggs.

Hybrid Vigour – A genetic phenomenon from crossbreeding where the offspring have increased growth rates, size and fertility compared to its parents. It’s a natural occurrence across both crops and livestock.


Johne’s – Johne’s disease is a disease that mostly affects sheep and cattle, but also goats as well as other ruminants. It’s a bacterial disease of the intestinal tract that cause the animal to slowly waste away and develop severe diarrhoea.


Knacker / Knackerman – A person who removes dead, injured or dying animals and takes the carcases away to be disposed of.


Lactation – The milking period.

Lamb – Sheep in its first year.

Lambing – Sheep giving birth.

Leading Grain – The combine unloads grain into trailers and to be led away and tipped onto a heap.

Liveweight – Selling animals based on their live weight, usually through a market.

Lowland – A farm where the land is at, near, or below the level of the sea and where there are not usually moors or mountains.


Mastitis – Infection of the mammary glands causing inflammation.

Milk Fever – Hypocalcaemia. Where blood calcium levels are too low in a cow or sheep which has recently given birth or is in lactation.

Milk Tanker – Tanker which removes the milk from the farms and delivers it to the processing plants.

Min-Till/Minimum Tillage – A tillage method which establishes crops with minimal soil manipulation but not zero. It’s a tillage method that doesn’t turn the soil over.

Mule – A cross-bred sheep bred from a hill breed ewe and a longwool breed tup. Usually then crossed with a terminal sire to produce fat lambs.

Mutton – Meat from older sheep, usually more than 2 years old.

Moisture Content/Percentage – The Moisture content of foodstuffs (100% minus Dry matter content). Harvested grains, seeds and pulses must be within a specified moisture content range in order to be sold.

Moisture Meter – A device used to detect the moisture percentage of a substance. There’s a type for testing forage (hay, straw etc) and a type for testing grains and oilseeds.


Native Breed – Breeds native to Great Britain.

NVZ/Nitrate Vunerable Zone – An area which is under stricter regulations to prevent nitrogen applications, via artificial fertiliser or manure from livestock, contaminating the water sources.


Oestrus – In heat. Period where the female is fertile and receptive to the male.

Omasum – A ruminant’s third stomach compartment.

Organic Matter – A vital part of the soil, made from living organisms, such as bacteria, fungi, plant roots and tiny animals, and decomposing plant or animal tissue.

Out-Wintering – Where cattle spend the winter outside instead of being housed in a shed.


Parlour – Where the cows are milked.

PD – Pregnancy Diagnosis. Usually done by ultrasound, to determine whether the animal is pregnant, the stage of the pregnancy and number of foetuses. Also called Scanning.

Pet Lamb/Bottle Lamb – Orphan or spare lamb (e.g. the third of a set of triplets) reared on a bottle or teat feeder.

Plate Meter – Measures the height and density of the grass covering in the field.

Ploughing – Turning the soil over with a plough in preparation for drilling.

Polled – Without horns.

Pour-ons – An externally applied medicine applied along the backline, usually to prevent external parasites or to deworm the animal.

Pre-Movement Test – Before a cow or calf 42 days old or over is moved out of a herd in a high-risk area, it is tested for TB. It cannot be moved without a clear test within the last 60 days.   


Quarter – The pocket containing a milk-producing mammary gland on a cow’s udder.


Raddle – Device strapped to the chest of a Ram, marked with a coloured pigment, which marks the ewes he serves.

Ram/Tup – Male, uncastrated sheep.

Red Tractor Assurance – A voluntary, independently inspected, UK scheme which ensures increased animal welfare and food safety.

Reticulum – A ruminant’s second stomach compartment. A continuation of the rumen.

Rig – Male with only one descended testicle.

Risk Areas (TB) – The areas of the UK are broken into High-risk, Low-risk and Edge-areas, based on the likelihood of TB in the area. The different areas have different testing regimes, find more information here.

Rolling – Rolling the land with large, heavy cylinders, to flatten the land and break up large clumps of soil.

RPA/Rural Payments Agency – An executive agency of the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra). The RPA delivers the European Union (EU) Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) payments to farmers and traders in England.

Rumen – A ruminant’s first stomach compartment. The rumen is a huge, fermentation vat which digests food with the help of millions of bacteria, protozoa and fungi (microflora). The rumen allows animals to digest fibre. It develops with age.

Ruminant – Ruminants (inc. cattle, sheep and deer) are animals which have a four-compartment stomach- rumen, reticulum, omasum and abomasum. Find out more here.


Scanning – Scanning livestock to determine stage of pregnancy, and in sheep, an estimated number of lambs.

SCC/Somatic Cell Count – The number of cells per ml of milk. A main indicator of milk quality, dairy farmers are financially rewarded for low herd SCCs and penalised for high ones, the EU sets a maximum threshold of 400,000 for milk for human consumption. Most of the cells are white blood cells and a significant increase can signal an immune response to a mastitis-causing pathogen.

Seasonal Breeders / Seasonally Polyoestrous Animals – Animals who only have oestrous cycles during certain periods of the year, determined by day length (inc. horses, most sheep & goats).

Shearing/Clipping – Shaving the wool of a sheep.

Shearling – A young sheep between its first and second shearing.

Silage – Grass cut and allowed to dry to around 30%-35% DM before being baled and wrapped in plastic, or collected and deposited in a silage clamp, to be allowed to ferment and be preserved for animal feed. It is higher in energy and protein than Hay.

Sire – Father

Slats – A type of flooring with small gaps and a tank below to collect excrement from livestock.

Slurry Lagoon – A large pool which collects and stores cattle slurry, ready for it to be spread on the land as fertiliser.

Sow – Adult, female pig.

Spot-ons – Similar to pour-ons but are applied as a spot on the back of the neck and used solely to treat external parasites, such as prevent flies or mites from bothering the animal.

Spring Crop – Varieties of crops which can be sown from February onwards.

Springing – Relaxation and swelling of the vulva of a cow close to caving.

Staggers – Hypomagnesaemia. Low magnesium levels in the blood of a cow or sheep, usually one which has given birth and is feeding their offspring or being milked. Usually seen in Spring or Autumn.

Standing Heat – The stage of oestrus where a cow stands to be mounted by other cows or by the bull. Standing heat is the only really reliable indication of ovulation, and therefore, when to serve the cow. Typically lasts 10 to 15 hours.

Steer – See Bullock

Stirk – Weaned calf, up to around 12 months old.

Stomach Tubing – Feeding a tube into the stomach of a calf or lamb which is either too weak to suck a teat or refuses to, in order to provide essential nutrition or electrolytes.

Store – A lamb, calf or pig, weaned but not yet ready for slaughter, usually sold for further finishing.

Straw – The stalks of the arable crops, like cereals or oilseeds, which are either chopped and incorporated into the soil, or packed into bales for animal bedding or feed.

Straw Chopper – An implement which chops the straw/crop residues into short lengths before spreading it out, either behind it across a field, to rot down/be incorporated into the soil, or chops bales for livestock feed and bedding. It can be a part on the back of a combine or an implement attached to a tractor, either trailed or mounted.

Strutting – The teats of a pregnant animal often become firm and strut out when birth is near.

Stubble – The short stalks of the previous crop which remains after it’s been cut and harvested.

Stun – The process where an animal is made senseless immediately before slaughter, using an electric current or a penetrative captive bolt.

Suckler – A beef cow used to produce calves for beef or breeding.


Teg – See Hogg.

Terminal Sire – Certain breeds of males of a species used to mate with the females to produce animals to be raised for meat. They typically have good conformation.

Theave – See Gimmer.

Tillage – Preparation of land for growing crops.

TMR – Total Mixed Ration. A complete feed for the specific animals, containing all the different components needed which are mixed together and fed. It can be adjusted to suit different needs.

Tup – See Ram

Tupping Period – See Bulling Period

Two Tooth (sheep) – An 18-month to 2-year-old sheep. A lamb is born with eight milk teeth at the front (incisors); a pair of milk teeth is replaced each year starting with the pair in the middle at around 18 months old.


Udder – A bag-shaped organ consisting of the mammary glands and teats on female ruminants, like cows and sheep. Cows have 4 teats on theirs and sheep have 2. Also known as their ‘bag’.

Upland – An area of high or hilly land, typically a tougher climate to farm in than lowland farms.


Vernalisation – Plants or seeds gaining the ability to flower and therefore reproduce, or accelerating the ability, by exposure to a period of cold temperatures.

Vernalisation Requirement – Requirement for a plant to go through a period of specific low temperatures in order to trigger flowering and therefore seed production later on.


Water Bag – During calving and lambing, a portion of the placenta (Water Bag) is forced into the pelvis and aids in the dilation of the cervix. This Water Bag usually ruptures and the membranes hang from the vulva.

Weaning – Young animals are stopped from consuming milk, but only once they are able to eat enough of other foods to sustain them.

Wether – Castrated, male sheep.

Wholecrop – A crop where the stem, leaves and grains are harvested together, usually for animal feed.

Winter Crop – Varieties of crops which can be sown from August to February, depending on the crop and variety. They have a Vernalisation Requirement.

Withdrawal Period – A specific time period after the administration of veterinary medicines, where no products from the animal can enter the food chain. Used to prevent drug residues in food products.

Wrapping – Using plastic wrap to seal bales of forage into an airtight environment in order for it to ferment and be preserved for use at a later date. It prevents them from spoiling, preserves the nutrient content, and protects them from the weather.


YFC/Young Farmers Club – National Federation of Young Farmers’ Clubs (NFYFC) is one of the largest rural youth organisations in the UK.


Zero-Till – See Direct Drilling.

Zoonoses – Diseases which can be transmitted between animals and humans.

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