Just like many other jobs, the right tools can make a lot of difference when working with cattle. Whether treating a sick one or simply dealing with daily chores, it’s helpful to have some basic items already rounded up and on the homestead.
If it seems overwhelming to try to collect all of these things, don’t panic! Some tools don’t need to be bought right away and can be borrowed or rented, especially if you’re not raising a large number of cattle. Remember, making smart financial choices now can help free up money that can be invested in other projects around your homestead.
Here is a basic list of several tools you might find beneficial if you’re considering raising your own cattle.
While they’re one of the most basic things to suggest when it comes to raising cattle, a sturdy bale feeder will make an effort to contain loose hay and not have it scattered over the rest of the pen. This helps prevent even more waste.
Even if you plan to keep your cattle in a pasture with a pond, it’s important to have a backup source of water should the pond go dry. Here in Central Kansas, windmills started very shortly after putting grass cattle out, as our ponds were so low.
Whether you have a stock tank that you can fill from a well or windmill, a pond, spring or other means of fresh water, or you have to haul water to your animals, have a plan in mind!
Bunk or Area to Feed Grain & Other Rations
Having a raised bunk, whether made of metal or concrete, can help contain and keep any loose grain or other feed off of the ground. Keep a shovel handy, as occasionally you might want to clean out any rocks or leftover debris that they’re not eating.
This can be as simple as a round, rubber tub that is set inside out of the rain. In our pastures, feeders are set inside a stand that has a small roof above.
From sorting sticks and flags to a “rattle paddle” (which is a plastic paddle on the end of a stick with BBs in it that will roll around and make a noise) and other forms of cattle prods, there are a variety of tools that can be used to help move cattle through an alley or chute.
Tagger & Ear Tags
If you’re not raising multiple calves, you likely won’t need an ear tagger very often unless to replace a missing tag. However, if you do stumble across one, they’re not a large tool and can be set in a cabinet in the shed until you’re ready to use it.
Needed to give many medications, a syringe can also be cleaned and tucked away until needed again.
Bolus Gun or Pill Pusher
Giving pills to a calf can be a tricky business unless you have a pill pusher to pop them into. These also are not a very large investment and can be reused time and time again.
Regardless of what kind of medication you prefer to give your cattle, it’s good to have a plan in mind should you walk out to the pasture and find an issue with one of them. Even if you don’t keep a large quantity on hand, talk to your local vet to find out what they recommend for preparedness, then have their number saved in case you need help or advice quickly.
Bander & Bands
This suggestion is not something everyone will need to purchase, unless you end up with a bull at some point. Whether you’re raising your own calves (in which case you never know what you’ll get—heifer or bull?!) or just purchased some from the sale barn that need worked, it’s good to know how to castrate or where to take them to have it done.
Banding is a humane method for castrating a bull. The process generally doesn’t take long to do.
A rather large investment, a working chute is not something that needs to be purchased for owning one or two animals. Rather, look for local veterinarians or a trusted rancher that is willing to let you use theirs.
If you do get to the point that you’re looking to purchase one, do some research first and check out your options. Whether you choose to exercise your strength with a manual chute or spend a bit more for a hydraulic one, consider asking around to see if you can watch some others and learn how each work.
Another example of an investment that you won’t need to make right away, dart guns are helpful to treat a sick calf from a safe distance away. Whether he’s agitated and dangerous to approach, or he’s out in a pasture where catching him would be a challenge, a dart gun can make treatment go much easier.
The darts can be filled with medication, then darted into the animal. Then, easily enough, the dart will fall off after the medication has been administered.
A Small Loader Tractor
There are near endless ways to utilize a small loader tractor or skid steer around a busy homestead. Local rancher (and my husband), Kolton Krispense, shared that, if you’re keeping your cattle in an enclosed lot, you need to make sure to haul the manure out frequently to help reduce health hazards among your herd.
It can be helpful to wait until the manure has mostly dried out before removal, then proceed to fill in any holes with finely crushed rock or dirt. As he puts it, “Cattle grow better in a dry, clean environment!”
This last suggestion is, of course, one of my favorites as I love to have a full library on hand. For a couple of suggestions on books to add to your library, check out ones by Heather Smith Thomas, such as Storey’s Guide to Raising Beef Cattle or The Cattle Health Handbook.
For a list of book recommendations, check out the recommended reading roundup below.
Finally, make sure you’re well stocked with feed buckets and scoops. And a good pitchfork is a definite farm essential!