Fetal bovine lung samples of 11 different gestational ages were assigned to a classical developmental stage based on histological morphology. Immunohistochemistry was used to characterize the morphology of forming airways, proliferation rate of airway epithelium and the presence of epithelial cell types (i.e. ciliated cells, club cells, neuroepithelial cells (NECs) and type II pneumocytes). Typical structural organization of pseudoglandular (84-98 days gestational age [DGA]), canalicular (154-168 DGA) and alveolar (224-266 DGA) stages was recognized. In addition, transitional pseudoglandular-canalicular (112-126 DGA) and canalicular-saccular (182 DGA) morphologies were present. The embryonic stage was not observed. A significantly (P <0.05) higher proliferation rate of pulmonary epithelium, on average 5.5% and 4.4% in bronchi and bronchioles, respectively, was present in the transitional pseudoglandular-canalicular phase (112-126 DGA) compared with all other phases, while from 8 weeks before term (224-266 DGA) proliferation had almost ceased. The first epithelial cells identified by specific marker proteins in the earliest samples available for study (84 DGA) were ciliated cells and NECs. Club cells were present initially at 112 DGA and type II pneumocytes at 224 DGA. At the latest time points (224-226 DGA) these latter cell types were still present at a much lower percentage compared with adult cattle. This study characterized bovine fetal lung development by histological morphology and cellular composition of the respiratory epithelium and suggests that the apparent structural anatomical maturity of the bovine lung at term is not matched by functional maturity of the respiratory epithelium.