Who’s Your Daddy? (Farm Style)

A mother and baby calf share similar white facial markings.

Calving season at Sawyer Land & Cattle is often a lesson in genetics. While most of our new babies are black or black with white on its face, we occasionally get a surprise, or a calf that makes you question who the dad is.

Like humans, cattle have dominate and recessive traits that determine hide and hair color. Most cattle on our farm have a black hide and black hair. We will occasionally have a calf with a white coat but look closely and you will find a black hide underneath (often given away by a black nose).

I took exactly one genetics class in high school and that’s the extent of my knowledge of the subject, but with the help of the farmer hubs I put together some notes to help folks better understand the genetics of cattle – and answer the age-old question of who’s your daddy?

A few notes as you look at the follow genetic formulas – and keep in mind, these are for beef cattle only:

  1. Cattle hides and hair will always be one of the three colors: white, black or red
  2. Red and black are dominate colors. White is recessive (that means you would have to have a white-haired-and-hided mother and father to have a white calf).
  3. Black will always dominate over red
  4. White coloring in the face is dominate. These calves are often called black crosses or black baldies. (I personally think they are the cutest of all our calves). Hereford is the breed that carries a white face and red hair. (See pic below)
  5. Just like in humans, bulls can carry a recessive gene and when met with a recessive gene from the mother can result in a calf of a different color from both parents.
  6. Cattle also carry dilution genes which will make black look grey and red turn to yellow.
This calf would have to be the offspring of a red hereford mother cow and a red bull.

So what are the most common pairings of cattle found on our farm: 

Black bull x black cow = black calf

Black bull x black/white-faced cow = all black or black baldie

Black bull x hereford (red/white faced cow) = black baldie

Black bull x white cow = 75% chance of black hide but white hair (smoky colored); 25% chance of all black calf (same if bull is white and cow is black)

Red bull x black cow = black calf

This is one of our rare white-haired calves. Notice the smoky-colored nose, which indicates a black hide under all that white hair.

It’s rare that we go a calving season without an “oops” calf – meaning a calf fathered by a bull that doesn’t belong to our herd and likely jumped a fence to mate with one of our momma cows. But no matter the color – or the dad – we love and enjoy all of our baby calves.


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