Choosing Cattle For Your Own Homegrown Beef

There's never been a better time to start raising your own beef cattle for homegrown meat. These tips will help you find the right animal for your dinner table.

by Ashleigh Krispense
PHOTO: Felix Wolf/ Pixabay

Nothing quite compares to sitting down for a meal that includes beef raised in your own pasture. Whether you’re just getting started with raising cattle or you’ve done it for years, it’s always enjoyable when you can provide a freezer full of fresh meat for your family to use in the months to come. 

Know What You’re Looking For

Choosing the animal(s) that you want to raise for meat can be challenging when you first get started. You won’t have your own herd to choose from. So you either have to go buy a calf at a sale barn or find somebody locally that you can trust and buy it from them.

Some people prefer to start with a young calf and raise it up. Others might want to get a 300-500 pound steer. 

According to local rancher (and my brother-in-law), Kordell Krispense, buying bucket calves can be risky. They can be very prone to illness, despite whatever preventions you use.

Read more:Check out these 7 reasons to get started with beef or dairy cattle!

Benefits of Bucket Calves

Krispense has raised many bucket calves over the years and, while they can be a challenge, they can also provide a great experience for kids to work with. Although they’ll have to keep up with the daily feedings, there’s a lot of fun that can be had with some calves.

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You can sometimes halter-break calm ones (training to walk around while wearing/being led with a halter and rope). These animals will enjoy playing around with kids while they’re small. For some people it is worth the risk of illness, as a calf that has been handled from the beginning will generally be calmer and more gentle.

This can be especially important to keep in mind if you have a family or small kids that it will be around. 

Breed Concerns

When it comes to the breed of cattle you want to raise, be observant to what kinds are already being raised in your area. There might be a reason that people keep a majority of just one or two different breeds. Find a local farmer or rancher and see if they have a minute to visit with you. 

Some people raise Angus cattle for beef, as their meat is well marbled, making it more desirable. Our family tends to find it too greasy for our taste. We generally try to have Holstein cattle ready to butcher around the time our dates at the locker plant come up.

Jersey will produce leaner meat, as well, with a distinctly sweet taste. 

Cattle Auctions

Buying cattle from a sale barn can be challenging, even for an experienced buyer. The action at a sale barn generally moves pretty quickly. Unless you’ve been out walking through the pens beforehand and know which group you’re waiting for, you will need to be able to make fairly quick decisions when the animals are brought into the sale ring. 

Unfortunately, one of the downsides of buying at a cattle auction is that, unless you already know the owner that the cattle are coming from, you have no idea why they’re being sold. You don’t know what the rest of the herd looks like that they’re coming out of, what they’ve been exposed to, and so on.

It can be a bit of a gamble.

If you’re just looking to buy a few steers to put out on grass it can be one thing. But when looking to invest in a quality animal to eventually feed your family, it’s good to be a little more particular. 

Read more: Keep these 9 things in mind when considering cattle for your farm.

Buying From an Individual 

If you live in any sort of a rural community, it shouldn’t be too hard to find someone that is selling beef cattle.

But folks that live in larger cities probably won’t be able to house beef cattle in their backyard. If this is you but you still want some fresh meat, look for online groups such as the Facebook group Shop Kansas Farms. Here, people list a variety of locally-raised products for sale.

You can buy a quarter of beef, some fresh chicken, eggs and so much more in one of these groups. Plus you get to partner with and support the farmer!

As you look for someone to purchase your cattle from, visit with people and listen for any names that pop up over and over again in conversation. Try to find someone that is honest and has a good reputation in business management as well as producing quality cattle.

Picking Out Your Cattle

When you finally go to meet the seller, pay attention to how they portray their animals. Do they appear to be upfront with you about the cattle as a whole or are they trying to push things under the rug?

Look at the rest of the herd if possible and ask yourself:

  • Are any of them sick or injured?
  • Do you see a lot of snotty noses and hear constant coughing?
  • Are there lame ones?

By looking at where your prospective new cattle are coming from, you can get a good idea of what problems you might be dealing with in the future. 

Keep an Eye Out

While you don’t need to buy show-quality animals, look for ones that appear healthy with decent confirmation. If you’re planning to keep them for awhile, you don’t want ones that are lame or already look poorly.

They should have some width between the front shoulders as well as the hindquarters, which will indicate good muscle development. Ideal cattle should have a straight back (no humpbacks!) and hooves that are free of cracks or any abnormalities.

Hooves can be an indicator of other structural problems that the animal might have to face in the future. 

Take your time when picking out your next beef cattle. Don’t rush into it and be sure you have all of your preparations in place before bringing them home. In the end, you’ll have not only the rewarding and educational experience of raising cattle but a freezer full of homegrown beef, too! 

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