Freshly churned butter spread over a fluffy biscuit, topped off with a spoonful of homemade jelly … mmm! This self-sustaining way of life that intrigues so many people sure is richly rewarding. But it can also be quite challenging.
In order to get that fresh butter, you of course had to go through the work of milking the cow and producing the butter. But for the rest of the year, you also had to keep the cow in good condition and healthy. It wasn’t just an hours-long process to get that butter.
That dollop came from months of diligent work and care.
So before you jump right in to owning your first few cattle or buying that bucket calf, here are some things you should know about raising cattle.
1. Do Your Research
There are differences between dairy cows and beef cattle. While you can enjoy the meat from some breeds of dairy cattle, don’t expect to buy a beef cow and have her produce an excess of milk.
Know your breed before you buy. Find out what local farmers raise near your area, and try to find an opportunity to learn from them.
2. Buy from a Good Source
While the sale barn can be an exciting place to visit, don’t get roped into the bidding and end up with the meanest cow at the sale.
Unless you have a knowledgable friend to go with you the first time or two, guiding you through the good and bad points of each animal, skip the sale. Instead, try to find a local rancher or farmer that has a few cattle they would be open to you buying.
3. Know the Source When Buying Cattle
Once you find an individual you want to buy cattle from, be sure to look at the rest of the herd. Notice the body condition, any sickness or poor confirmation, etc. Look at the facilities or area that your potential animals grew up in.
Ask questions, and be a sponge. Soak up the wisdom and advice shared. Be cautious, though, as sometimes it’s good to learn from multiple sources.
4. Calves Come, Too
If you decide to go the route of dairy cattle, understand that it’s quite a process. Milk doesn’t just constantly flow from a cow.
In order for a good cow to produce milk, she’ll need to have given birth to a calf. (This is why dairy farms end up with so many baby calves.) The calf will get the first milk and colostrum (essential to the calf’s wellbeing) before the cow is then milked for human consumption.
5. Selling Raw Milk Can Be Tricky
Depending on what state you live in, selling raw milk can be a challenging business. Some states allow it, and some only allow it on the dairy’s premises. In yet other states, it’s illegal to sell.
If your end goal with raising dairy cattle is to sell the milk (and not just keep for personal use), be sure to check into local laws and see what’s allowed.
6. Beef—It’s What’s for Dinner
Beef cattle can be enjoyable to have around and the babies are adorable. With beef cattle though, it’s more of a one-time harvest with each animal instead of a constant output of product.
Of course it depends on the size, but one beef butchered can generally produce a large amount of meat for a family. Roasts, steaks, ground hamburger and more can come from a single butchering.
7. Picking an Animal
Some of the same general guidelines apply when looking to purchase beef cattle. While you might look for different body confirmation traits, you still want to find a reputable source to buy from and carefully look at their herd.
Instead of buying cows, you might look more towards steers (castrated male cattle) for butchering beefs.
8. Have a Plan
Do you intend to raise the animal, butcher it, and then sell the meat? Or is it just for personal use?
Unless you want to butcher it yourself, keep in mind what locker plant you’ll want to take it to when it’s ready.
A while back, locker plants where overwhelmed with people wanting to get meat butchered, and the waiting lists where extremely long to get in. It’s good to have a rough idea of when you’ll be ready to butcher, then call ahead and set up the appointment several months in advance.
9. Enjoy the Process
It can sound overwhelming or daunting when you think of buying your first cow or beef cattle. So long as you do your research, have a plan (and facilities and space for them), and a trusted friend you can call with questions, it’ll be a rewarding experience!
You’ll come out with more knowledge and a wealth of fresh milk or meat.