A Beginner’s Guide to Raising Cattle
Published: November 14, 2022
There’s nothing more rewarding than developing a relationship with the land and owning your means of food production. Whether you’re looking to go into ranching full-time or you want to start with a few cows, it’s important to come into this pursuit with plenty of background knowledge. You could research this topic for months and still have questions, so we made things a bit easier with the 5 things you absolutely must know before going into cattle ranching. Start here, then check out the resources we’ve listed at the end of this blog for further reading.
1. Know why you’re raising cattle
Every year, millions upon millions of cattle are raised in the United States. But depending on the types of cows and the purposes of each operation, the uses of these cattle vary widely. Before you get started, take the time to do your research and make sure you understand your purpose for raising cattle. If you start out with the plan to raise beef cattle and then realize that you’d rather raise milk cows, you could end up wasting valuable time and resources.
Many people who raise cattle for beef will purchase calves and raise them to market weight. But there are also people who raise breeding stock and sell these calves to the beef ranchers. Of course, there are also dairy farms and combination operations.
After you finish reading this guide and understand more about what goes into raising cattle, you’ll have a better idea of what you’ll need for each kind of cattle ranch and can make a better decision about your overall objectives. Getting clear on the outcomes you want will help you prepare for a successful cattle operation.
2. Choose your cattle based on your objective
There are different breeds of cattle to fulfill different purposes. Once you’ve established your reason for raising cattle, you’ll want to decide if you want a purebred herd or if you’re going to work with crossbred animals. Raising purebred animals allows you to sell to registered cattle through purebred sales, while a crossbred herd has benefits of its own, such as the ability to grow faster, larger, and healthier.
If you’re planning to raise calves to sell for beef, then consider starting with the Black Angus or Hereford. Popular breeding stocks include Gelbvieh and Holstein, which make excellent milk and beef cattle.
Check out this article from Livestocking to see an extensive listing of cattle breeds.
3. Be prepared to get on a health maintenance routine
Just like any other animal, you’ll need a plan in place for preventing disease and health problems before they start. It’s more affordable to stop diseases with preventative measures than it is to treat your entire herd once an outbreak begins.
Calves will need to be dewormed and receive several vaccines, and mature cows will need annual booster vaccines.
In addition to preventing disease, you’ll want to check over your herd regularly to look for signs of mites, lice, and mange, as well as any injuries. If you do find injuries such as cuts, inspect your property carefully and take measures to ensure that your fencing, troughs, and pasture are safe and free of sharp objects.
4. Cattle need plenty of space and feed
How much space does your herd need? That depends on a few factors, including the amount of available forage in your pasture. Generally speaking, the more space you can give your herd in both the pasture and the barn, the better. Comfortable cows are more likely to enjoy better health, and show increased weight gain, milk production, and safer pregnancies.
If you want to do the math to get as many cattle as possible in your space while still ensuring safety, you can figure that out by reading this guideline released by the Natural Resources Conservations Service.
When it comes to feeding, the amount you give your herd is dependent on your location and the purpose of your cattle. Most herds will eat hay, grass, grain, and silage, but the specific amounts will depend on whether you want to fatten your cows or increase dairy production. The best way to keep costs down is to have plenty of land for grazing. Research which types of grass grow best in your area and include a variety of plants and legumes in your grazing field. If your cows are standing and eating all day, that means they are not getting enough nutrients. When they spend several hours a day resting, you know that they are satisfied with the pasture.
Calves and breeding cows require shelter in the form of a covered barn. But every type of cow will need adequate shade from the elements, so make sure there are plenty of trees or manmade sources of shade in the pasture.
5. You’ll need a foolproof way to manage your cattle records
Nobody joins the cattle industry because they want more paperwork, but keeping careful records can save you from headaches and heartache down the road when you have each cow’s complete history. When buying, selling, and breeding cattle, it’s important to take notes of the date of purchase, the sire and dam, health records such as vaccines and treatments, dates of insemination and birth, and several other records that will help you make informed decisions.
Some people use the old school method of pen and paper, and then spend hours transferring everything into a spreadsheet, but most modern ranchers have embraced apps and other technology to remove the multiple steps from record-keeping. Thanks to modern technology, managing your cattle records is easier than ever.
For example, with the RANCHr app, you have access to all your records at the tip of your finger. With the premium version, you can take records in offline mode and upload multiple documents from outside sources. The basic version has fewer capabilities, but it’s a great way to take note of your cattle, and since it’s free, it’s even cheaper than replacing pens and notebooks.
Start your free two-week trial of the premium version to check out the advanced features.
Raising cattle can seem daunting, but it all comes down to having a solid plan in place and being proactive. It can be a highly profitable enterprise, or it can be a rewarding way to take back the means of your food production.
In order to learn more about raising cattle, check out these resources:
How to Get Started in Cattle Ranching by Farm and Animals
16 Ways to Grow All of Your Livestock’s Food and Save Even More Money by Morning Chores
Basic Beef Production Guidelines by Penn State Extension