Raising cattle can be fun and can also generate financial returns if done correctly. Cattle are an important part of the economy, and are farmed extensively for milk production and beef production; but they can also be kept on a smaller scale to keep a meadow mowed in return for providing you with a regular supply of milk. The type of cattle you choose will depend largely on your farming goals. However, whether you are planning on raising cattle for beef or dairy, the basic animal husbandry practices are similar. The following tips will help the beginner cattle farmer get started.
- Start off small. Select your cattle carefully, choosing healthy, well covered animals that have bright, alert eyes. Rather have fewer good quality cattle than a large herd of inferior quality animals that will need a lot of resources to fatten up or get healthy. Avoid purchasing a bull if you have less than 10 cows – rather opt for artificial insemination, or use the services of a local stud bull. If you have limited space, consider a small breed of cattle, such as dexter or miniature jersey cows, which are good milk producers, docile and easy to handle.
- Determine the carrying capacity of your land, and only keep as many cattle that your pasture can adequately support. Split your pasture into at least two camps, so that you can rotate your herd, allowing one camp to rest while the cattle graze on the other. Alternatively, you can use a portable electric fence for cattle to contain your herd while allowing them to strip graze smaller sections at a time, moving them around more frequently as necessary.
- Feed costs equate to roughly a quarter of all cattle farming running costs, so be prepared for this expense if you do not have sufficient grazing to sustain your herd throughout the year. Decide whether you will be growing you own hay to supply your herd during the winter months when grazing is limited; if you are not going to be growing your own hay, you need to plan where you will be getting this from, how much you need, and where you will store it. Buy the best quality hay you can afford – skimping on quality will affect the condition of your animals. If you are farming beef cattle and are wanting to fatten them up, or simply need to hold/improve the condition of your cows during the lean winter months, you may need to factor in supplying high calorie supplementary feeds, such as grain or concentrates.
- Ensure that you have a sound herd health program in place. Livestock needs to be dewormed and dipped regularly to prevent internal and external parasites from causing health issues – cattle are no exception. Check with your veterinarian to determine what vaccinations are required to prevent illness and disease – prevention is far better than cure. If you introduce new animals to your herd, quarantine them before allowing them to mix with your herd to prevent spread of infectious diseases.
- Keep your cattle happy. Make sure they have sufficient food, vitamins, and minerals to keep them healthy, and that they have a constant supply of fresh water. If your pasture does not have a natural water source, ensure that there is a water trough filled with fresh water at all times. Provide your cattle with a run in shelter to offer protection from sun, wind and rain; face the open end away from prevailing winds and driving rain.
Farming livestock involves plenty of hard work, but it is extremely rewarding and lots of fun – so plan carefully, care for your animals well, and most of all, enjoy the experience.
Feature Image By Uberprutser (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons