Who knows? It might be fun raising a small herd of cattle – and really, it isn’t that demanding of your time.
If you have a few acres or own a small hobby farm – even if you are farming another animal type or agricultural endeavor – you can easily add a few head of cattle to the mix to feed your family or share with friends and family.
Cattle make excellent use of feed stuffs that have minimal alternative use. They will munch on fields of crop leftovers, can pasture on land not suitable for tilling and plowing, and make good use of pastures that have been unattended for 10 years or more.
Keeping a small herd of cows is also light on chore time for those of us who can’t farm full time and are away from the homestead for many hours of the day. For the more intense times – such as calving season, weaning, veterinary visits for vaccination and castration, manual laborers are often available to manage the tasks at minimal cost.
Just because raising cows and cattle are light on the responsibilities there are some potential hardships or difficulties you want to be aware of before you embark on the endeavor. I always suggest each person write out a list of pros and cons before making the decision or purchasing a dairy cow or beef breed. Identify first why you’d want to raise cattle, then set your satisfaction or financial goals as you define your small farm strategy.
Top Three Cattle Raising Strategies for Small Farms
- Growing Strategy employs buying calves or weaners simply to raise them for the family freezer.
- Breeding Strategy employs keeping a breeding herd to produce calves for sale to other farmers as breeding or feeder animals.
- A Combination Strategy is to grow, feed, and breed cattle for sale – often requiring more of a commitment to the breed and involvement in related associations.
The most common purchase of calves or weaners are anywhere between 10 to 15 months of age. The animals are well fed, then sold less than a year later. The investment on each calf is returned within a short time realizing a quick profit with a steady cash flow. Not much land is required in this operation but essential needs must be supplied to ensure the cattles’ comfort and control.
Weaned calves – purchased in early spring – are set on pasture and sold when the pasture season is over. If you are faced with purchasing calves in the winter, the initial start up costs will be lower, but without fresh pasture you’ll be supplementing their feed with purchased hay. Your purchase price and your selling price greatly influences profitability.
The breeding strategy has more of a long-term objective. It requires more land based on your proposed herd size, and more water, feed, and fences will be required over the course of the year. You’ll need to first decide whether to have registered purebred cattle or the more common crossbred commercial cattle. Sale of breeding stock is the main source of income from registered cattle. The sale of calves and old or cull animals are the expectedincome from a commercial beef herd. Keep in mind as well that the care and management of registered cattle is more intensive than for commercial cattle.
If you have decided to raise registered cattle to supply breeding animals to other farmers, you will need more money to start your operation. Development of a registered herd means that both the sire and dam must be purebred and registered with the same national breed association. You will need to keep accurate records and register the best offspring to be retained for breeding stock.
Furthermore if your selected breed is targeted to the beef industry, you must develop a selection program based on characteristics of economic importance: fertility, mothering ability, ease of calving, growth rate, and carcass weight.
A good precursor to raising purebred is to have some experience with the crossbred herd. Success with crossbreds are based on size, quality, age, condition, stage of pregnancy, and market price. Select the breeds involved and cow size to match your feed resources and topography. Local extension offices will give you an idea of what breeds are best suited to your region. Crossbreeding is a definite advantage when raising a commercial cow herd. You will be taking advantage of the best of at least a few breeds, added vigor in the calves, plus many other positive aspects.