Sun rays begin to pierce through the early-morning fog as hens coo softly in their coop. The Guernsey cow waits patiently by the gate, ready to be let inside the barn. She swishes her tail as a couple of flies dance around her. The chilly fall morning makes you shiver inside your warm coat, but a feeling of satisfaction soon fills you as your hands work a steady stream of warm, frothy milk into the pail.
Keeping cattle on your homestead is a big step towards self-sufficiency and less reliance on the supermarket for all of your family’s food needs. If there is an issue with the food supply or a weather-related reason that you can’t make it to the store, it won’t cause as much concern. You’re already used to going to your backyard for meat and dairy needs!
Whether you have a dairy cow or raise a couple of butcher steers for beef, you will find that raising cattle can offer a multitude of benefits. Here are some reasons you should consider adding cattle to your homestead.
Fresh & Safe Homegrown Products
How much more peace of mind do you feel knowing the farmer down the road raised your produce, as opposed to seeing it shipped in from another country and placed on a store shelf?
By raising your own cattle, you can control not only what the animal is fed but also the medications, vaccines and treatment it is given. These can all play a huge part in the quality of meat after it is butchered.
Another reason to enjoy butchering a whole beef is that when you eventually take your steer to the butcher, you will be able to come back with not only ground hamburger, but a variety of steaks, roasts and other cuts of meat to stock your freezer with. If you cook a lot, you’ll greatly enjoy having a good selection of meat in the back freezer.
Each time I come back from the butcher, I race to stuff all that frozen meat in the freezer. While I love having plenty of food, it can be stressful dealing with such a large quantity at one time.
If you don’t plan to use a whole beef, consider selling some of it after it comes back from the locker. Or you can make a plan with a neighbor ahead of time to divide it in half.
It might be a good idea to also check with your local meat locker before you butcher, too. That way you make sure that each party can call in with their own cutting instructions for their half of the meat.
Given our ever-changing world, I’ve been pondering more and more what life might look like if we were to face shortages, whether in the food supply or other physical products.
By keeping a flock of chickens and some cattle, you can continue to collect fresh meat, milk, cream, eggs and poultry, no matter what’s going on in the surrounding world. If times ever do get hard, your animals will not only provide fresh food for your family, but you can have something worthwhile to trade with those around you.
While manure can be rather unpleasant to look at, it’s a matter of simply changing your perspective. Look at it as the all-natural miracle dirt that it really is!
After manure has dried completely in the pen, you can add it to a garden bed and till it in. If you prefer not to rototill your garden and practice other methods (such as lasagna gardening), manure can also be used in it as well. Just keep in mind that if garden in a metal stock tank, manure can rust and eat away at the tank eventually.
Along with keeping your pasture trimmed down and looking pretty, cattle will help reduce fire-risk by grazing the grass to a shorter height.
Having animals in an area can also encourage you to get outside and work on trimming back the trees and brush, removing noxious or harmful weeds, and keeping up any outbuildings or fences nearby. I don’t know about you, but sometimes I find it helpful to have motivation to get moving and tackle a project!
Learning Opportunities & Personal Growth
As your homestead grows, so does the work load. Keeping animals requires you to put a routine in place to feed regularly, and, for dairy cattle, milk them on a good schedule.
For example, feeding cattle in an irregular manner can lead to health problems as they become so hungry that they gorge themselves when feed is finally made available. If the grain upsets their stomaches it can lead to bloat and, in some cases, even death.
As your time spent around cattle grows, your knowledge of them will also grow. You’ll learn basic care, feed and nutrition needs, health maintenance and more. Homestead cattle provide a great opportunity for individuals and families alike to learn and grow together.
How to Get Started
For a family looking to raise their own meat, you’ll likely have two options to consider:
1) A young calf that can be bottle-fed and raised around people
2) A larger animal that won’t need as much hands-on care, such as a 300-500 pound steer
There are pros and cons to both. A young calf can be raised by hand and grow up tame and used to people around it. Eventually, some “pets” become so used to humans that, when they are bigger, they become hard to manage and will push people around.
On the other hand, a larger steer will be ready to go to the butcher sooner and not require all of the care that a young calf would. But they can still be dangerous to keep around young children.
Before you purchase your first cow or calf, it’s good to do some reading and studying to make sure that you have at least a basic understanding of what will be required.
Study up on topics such as:
Feeding & Nutrition Needs
A basic feed ration should include a source of roughage, energy and protein. Access to clean, fresh water is required.
This will vary dependent on whether you get a small calf, a larger butcher steer or a milk cow. You might need everything from bottles and buckets for feeding to syringes and pill pushers for treating sickness.
Cattle require a much bigger space commitment than chickens. Plan accordingly for a shelter, pens, working facilities (unless you will haul them somewhere when they need something done), feeders, waters, pasture area, etc.
I would suggest anybody looking to keep cattle get a copy of Heather Smith Thomas’s Cattle Health Handbook to have on hand and study.
Long-time cattleman Ora Hett suggests several things that can be a common ailment or problem among cattle, such as:
- pneumonia (or shipping fever, as it can be known)
- pink eye
- foot rot
- scours (typically a problem in younger calves that are being bottle fed)
- warts (although they can be typically left alone unless they become too large or problematic)
If you have the space and willingness to put in the effort and work needed to keep your herd healthy, cattle can be a great addition to a homestead. They offer the enjoyment of having more animals around, as well as the security of access to fresh meat and dairy. Plus, you get the opportunity to connect with others around you by trading or selling excess product.