Preparing Facilities & Feed Plans For Beef Cattle

Before bringing home cattle for the first time, you should make sure your facilities are stocked and you have an adequate feed regimen. You'll need to re-evaluate now and again, as well.

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by Ashleigh KrispenseJuly 11, 2022
PHOTO: Annie Spratt/Pixabay

In my previous article, we discussed how important it is to choose carefully when selecting your next beef cattle. Buying from a trusted individual can greatly increase your chance at a successful experience raising cattle. 

Once you’ve found the ideal animals, it’s important to make sure facilities are prepared and ready to use before actually bringing them home.

Don’t Buy Everything

Keep in mind not to overwhelm yourself and avoid trying to purchase every single item when you bring home the first calf or two. A lot of new cattle owners (or even just small operators) will borrow or rent some items (such as a dart gun or stock trailer) from a friend in the cattle business rather than fully stocking their facilities.

This can be a great help to avoid purchasing expensive tools that you might only use once or twice a year.

Sometimes it can even be helpful to simply haul your cattle over to a neighboring ranch to get them vaccinated or treated for any issues you might run into. Oftentimes, in order for ranches to accommodate the large volume of animals they run through their working facilities, they will have not only a reliable squeeze shoot and fresh medications handy, but an entire building or area dedicated to the care of their herd. 


Read more: Here’s how to get started when choosing cattle for your homegrown beef.

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Consider Your Cattle Facilities

When it comes to your own facilities, be sure that you have some of the most basic items covered for your cattle.

Fencing

Make sure you have a sturdy fence around the pasture or lot that will keep your animals inside. (Nobody likes when cattle get onto a road.)

Safe Pasture

You need a pasture or other grassy area for them to graze in (unless you’ll be keeping them on a dry lot), free of noxious or unsafe weeds. Dangerous weeds include poison hemlock, nightshade, lupine and several others.

Shelter

A shelter will not only protect from the bitter cold and wind but offer some shade during the heat of summer. It’s helpful if there are windows or portions of walls that can be opened on either side of the building to help promote good airflow and ventilation. You won’t want a fully enclosed building for cattle to stand inside during the summer.

An Emergency Setup

A strong, separate pen or enclosure should be available in case of a veterinary emergency and the need to separate or confine an animal.

Feeders

Cattle need hay feeders as well as mineral feeders, depending on the time of year and current feeding regime. Dedicated places for salt and mineral blocks to sit up off of the ground can also be helpful.

Water Trough or Tank

A clean water trough or tank is also an absolute necessity. Regardless of the time of year or current temperature, cattle will need access to good, clean water. If the temperature is over 95 degrees, cattle will need more than 4 gallons of water per 100 pounds of body weight (according to cattle writer Heather Thomas). This means that a 500-pound animal can drink over 20 gallons of water a day.

There are a variety of ways to provide fresh, accessible water for your cattle. Functioning windmills can pump fresh water into a tank, provided you have enough wind to keep them pumping a sufficient amount.

If turned out in a pasture, dependable ponds can also provide a supply of drinking water, as well as a place to swim and cool off. Streams and rivers can also be good sources of water, so long as they continue to flow and don’t become contaminated. As a last resort, you do always have the option of hauling water to fill a stock tank.

Supplements

Also consider what supplements or items you might need right from the beginning, such as a means of fly control and wormer. If you’re bringing home a smaller calf, you’ll also want to think of grain or other feed that will be required. 


Read more: Look out for these things when checking on pastured cattle.


Think About the Future

My husband, Kolton, raises cattle both on grass and in a dry lot. When it comes to the care and feeding of your cattle, he recommends you carefully consider your future plans with them when stocking facilities. This will help determine what you should feed animals.

He suggests that you ask yourself these questions: Do you want solely grass-fed beef? No hormones used? A large quantity of meat? (This will mean that you keep them longer to feed and fattened to a larger size.) Or are you more concerned with the quality of the meat?

These will all play a part in your feeding decisions. 

In general, there are a few t`hings that all cattle need to grow:

  • Fresh, clean water to drink
  • A source of roughage (which could be hay and/or green grass)
  • An energy source (this will help to fatten them and is oftentimes some variety of grain)
  • A source of protein (how much your cattle need this will depend on not only the time of year it is, but the quality of the grass in their pasture/pen) 

It’s best to put your cattle on a feeding schedule and stick to it pretty close. If they get too hungry and gorge themselves once feed is finally available, the grain could upset their stomachs, causing them to bloat (which can in some cases lead to death).

Re-evaluate Regularly

After you’ve had your cattle for awhile, reexamine your feeding regime and look for any signs of their nutritional requirements not being met right by your facilities.

For example, to determine if they’re getting enough protein in their rations, you can simply look at their manure. If it “stacks up” with some firmness, they’re getting enough. If it just kinda drops into a pile, they’re likely lacking protein and will need their rations adjusted. S

ome sources of protein can include alfalfa, soybean meal or even cotton seed meal. 

As the boy scouts say, “always be prepared”. During the warmer months you should prepare and gather hay (small squares or large round bales) to feed during the winter months. If you live in an area that can be inaccessible at certain times, it’s a good idea to go ahead and purchase extra feed and store it in a dry, rodent-proof container.

Don’t wait until fall or winter to purchase the hay and feed you need. Prices might go up, other people will be looking for the same things, and (during any time of the year) freak weather can prevent you from getting to town to purchase supplies if you’re buying them on a short-term basis. 

When it comes to preparing for your cattle, just take a moment to think through the basic scenarios of what might happen after you get them home. Think beyond daily care and feeding to questions like when they will get turned out on pasture and what to do in the event of a storm, illness or injury, etc.

Do your best to stay prepared! 

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