The Livestock Book by W. R. Thompson and John McKinney, 1952, was intended as an introductory/overview of the potential of raising livestock as a career. Its sections on pasture, beef, dairy, sheep and hogs were written by those who were considered to be among the foremost authorities in each area at that time.
The sections on pasture and beef offer the following tips for beef cattle farming for beginners. While they are oriented toward someone considering a career as a farmer/rancher, many would still apply to anyone homesteading today.
Tips for Beef Cattle Farming for Beginners
- The shortest route to prosperity is across green pastures with livestock grazing them. Pastures make the best soil conservation crops. What is soil erosion and why is it important? There are several strategies that go into proper soil conservation, but at its core it is a combination of practices used to protect the soil from degradation, essentially treating the soil as a living eco-system.
- You cannot wear a farm out in grass. The longer you use it the better it gets.
- The way to restore a worn out farm is through maintaining the number of livestock which the available forages will allow. Increase herd size only as forage quantity and quality permit.
- Beef cattle farming for beginners starts with planning your pastures. Begin with a soil map (available from local Soil Conservation Services Office); perform soil contamination testing to determine the minerals and trace elements which may be lacking; apply sufficient fertilizer, other minerals and elements to get the desired results and seed the pasture to the appropriate forages for the type of soil and climate.
- Don’t try to produce pastures on poor land without fertilizer (limestone, nitrogen, phosphate and potash). It won’t pay off.
- Management is the secret of keeping good pastures good. It won’t pay to fertilize and seed a pasture and then not manage it to get the most from the work and investment.
- A mower is one of the pasture’s best friends. Mowing pays three ways: getting off weeds and brush, clipping what the animals don’t want keeps it tender and making hay from the good, extra grasses and legumes.
- Beef cattle farming tips that accelerate the learning process: 1) Work with cattle on your farm or on the farm of a good cattle producer, 2) Contact your county agent, club agent, agriculture teacher, extension livestock specialist and animal husbandry department of your state’s agricultural college, 3) Visit and discuss your problems with successful beef producers in your area, 4) Read livestock journals, homesteading magazines that outline beef cattle breeds; and, from all this, 5) Study and select only what can be applied to your farm.
- The best time of the year to buy commercial beef cattle is in the fall. Most beef cattle and calves raised on pasture are marketed then and thus bred cows offered for sale are cheaper at that time than in the spring.
- Most can start out with either commercial or purebred beef cattle. Most should start out with grade cows (and breed up through high-quality bulls). Grades take less capital, more animals are available, mistakes are less costly, less experience and training is needed and there are more ready markets.
- If you will treat beef cattle like you would like to be treated, you and the beef cattle will get along and do fine. Be calm. Don’t rush or fight them. This also applies to loading and hauling. Most wild, unruly cows or bulls are that way because no one took the time to get acquainted with them and to give them good, kind treatment. (Cited as an example is the Brahman. Considered to be rodeo bucking bulls in the U.S., in India, where they are worshipped, they are so tame they are actually a nuisance.)
- Several inches of sand makes excellent footing in a trailer. During hot weather, wetting it down first will help keep the animals cool.
- Beef cattle can stand very cold weather, snow and hot weather. Wet, cold rains are hard on livestock. Experiences in Tennessee showed that cattle left out on pasture all winter made better gains than those housed in barns. In the North, and under some other conditions, a low-priced cattle shed design with one open side may pay.
- Don’t use a small bull on first-calf heifers. This is the wrong way. Grow the heifer out well, not too fat or too thin. A rule of thumb is to not breed heifers before 15 months of age and weighing less than 700 pounds when bred.
- A good beef cow should have size. You don’t want big, horsy or rangy cows. Neither are the small “watch-charm” kind desired. Pick medium-sized cows which, as nursing cows, weigh 900-1,200 pounds.
- Cull! Most of the time a poor-producing cow one year will continue to be in the future. The feed and labor cost no more for a good cow than for a poor one and the return is much greater. (As Tom Lasater, developer of the Beefmaster breed, has been quoted as saying on hard culling, “You may send some good ones down the road but you will get all of the lemons.”)
- On the range an 80-90 percent calf crop may be good. On a farm no one should be satisfied with less than a 90 percent calf crop and should try to keep the average between 90-100 percent. (This would be even more critical for a small producer.)
- It is best to raise your own replacements. At home, the production, type, age, condition, health and uniformity are known and can be controlled much better than by going out to buy.
- The best type of foundation cow to start with is a “3-in-1” package of a two-to-five year old bred cow, with a good calf at her side, bought by private treaty from a respected cattle producer. They are worth the extra money and are the safest use of borrowed money in agriculture.
Everyone has to start somewhere, and now that you’ve decided to add livestock to your homestead, I hope this beef cattle farming for beginners guide will inspire you to add beef cattle to your pastures.
Originally published in 2003 and regularly vetted for accuracy.