Goat-fil-A - Part 2
Raising cattle on a small farm
Raising cattle on a small farm
Last week we covered the basics of raising goats on a small farm. We’ll do the same today for Cattle. In preparing this article, I quickly realized the world of cattle is much, much larger than Goat World. I’m looking for a cattle rancher who would like to provide even more alpha in a future post, stay tuned for that! Since I’m fairly new to cattle, I can at least share some basics and my perspective on the matter. Here we go!
Cattle, Bos taurus, are large domesticated bovines. Estimates put domestication around 10,000 years ago in Iran. However, there is evidence of cattle being used as currency dating back to as early as 9000 BC. The word cattle is derived from the word chattel which meant a unit of personal property, closely related to the word capital. Cattle have been a source of meat, leather, and milk for many years all over the world.
“In-tact” - uncastrated males are referred to as bulls, with the sire being the father of young cattle. Females that have had a calf are referred to as cows. Dams are referred to for the mother of a calf and usually kept around for repeat breeding as opposed to heifers who are sold off sooner. Heifers are female cows under three years of age that have not had calves before.
Young cattle are referred to as calves until they are weened, and then referred to as feeders or weeners until they reach 1 or 2 years old when they are called yearlings. Castrated males are referred to as steers. The term cattle refers to 2 or more, when referring to one animal, the proper term describing the sex is used, steer, bull, cow, or heifer. If the sex is unknown at the time, one can use the term “one head of cattle” or “two head of cattle”. Castrated draft cattle are referred to as an ox or oxen.
Cattle are large, ruminants with 4 chambered stomachs. Ruminants, meaning they are well adapted to digest plants as food. Cattle, like most ruminants, are known for regurgitating their food and re-chewing. Their food is stored in their rumen for later when they can lay down and rest. They then regurgitate mouthfuls at a time and “chew the cud” even more to break up the tough plants. The cud then enters back into the digestive tract where microbes break it down further and turn it into a high quality source of protein.
Cattle breeds range in size from smaller breeds at 600 pounds to larger breeds reaching 2500 pounds for full grown bulls. The heaviest steer was an 8 year old shorthorn/Hereford named “Old Ben” weighing in at 4720 pounds back in 1910. Cattle weight has steadily increased since 1970, around that time the average weight averaged 350 pounds, with averages today ranging around 1300 pounds.
Most breeds have horns, however, with specific genetic selection, polled or hornless cattle have become widespread. They have cloven hooves like goats, deer, and pigs. Cattle sleep around 4 hours per day, and they sleep lying down. “Cow-Tipping” is a psyop.
Gestation period for cows is about 9 months long. Calves weigh between 50 -100 pounds at birth. Most steers are slaughtered before reaching 1600 pounds, with breeding stock usually kept around for much longer with their lifespan reaching 25 years. The oldest cow on record died at age 43.
Heifers usually become able to give birth at two to three years of age. The calving cycle is usually 391 days (gestation period through weaning). Cows have single births, with twins being very uncommon.
USA is by far the largest producer of beef with Brazil being the second largest. According to the USDA, there are between 25-33 Million feed cattle moving through custom or commercial feed yards annually.
Certain breeds of cattle are primarily used for dairy production, specifically the Holstein, which can produce up to 7 gallons of milk per day. Heifers are induced into milking either by birth, psychological stimulation, drugs, or a combination of these methods. Young calves of dairy cows are usually castrated and slaughtered at an early age for veal.
There are three types of feeding methods for cattle.
Grazing - is practiced on large pastures and grasslands. 60% of the word’s grasslands are occupied by grazing cattle. However, grazing systems only makes up about 9% of the worlds beef production.
Integrated Crop Grazing - in this setup, cattle are fed on pastures, crop residues, and fallows, this makes up the largest portion of cattle feeding/management in beef production terms.
Lot-feeding/Intensive Finishing - This is an intensive form of feeding where cattle are often “finished”. They are brought in from the grass and pasture into smaller stock yards, pens, or feedlots with little to no grass and fed nutritionally dense feed referred to as concentrate for the last months before slaughter. This achieves maximum rates of weight gain. It also causes the fat marbling and taste most American are familiar with and prefer.
Common types of feed
Grass Fed - grass and other forage consist of most of the diet. There is debate on whether cattle should be raised on grass or fed grain and other concentrated feed. Cattle that are fed only grass are termed grass fed, however this only applies to what they are fed, not where. So beef can be labeled pasture raised, and not be “grass fed” being fed grain or other concentrated feed.
The term grass finished is supposed to be beef that is 100% grass fed without any grain or concentrate feed, however, this term is unregulated by the USDA. Grass fed beef contains less fat and less marbling. Grass fed cattle have been shown to have up to 80% less e coli in their guts than grain fed beef.
Corn Fed - Refers to corn fed, grain fed, or corn finished, and are typically raised on maize, soy, and other types of feed. Some corn fed cattle are raised in concentrated animal feeding lots known as feed lots. In the U.S., dairy cattle are often supplemented with grain to increase production. Grain finishing is the process that adds fat and marbling to steaks and give it a more desirable taste.
Antibiotics and Supplements
Cattle are routinely given antibiotics called ionophores to reduce Coccidiosis which is an intestinal parasite. Ionophores help to increase weight gain in beef cattle by increasing water and food intake by increasing digestive system efficiency. Antibiotics are also used in the cattle industry as a prophylactic against potentially harmful bacteria. There are regulatory agencies that have come up with “safe” levels of antibiotics that are present in meat and dairy for human consumption. Nothing to worry about here, we’re safe!
Growth stimulants are another trick the cattle industry uses to maximize beef production. The industry claims growth stimulants cost $1.25 per pound and increase production by a rate of 50 pounds at slaughter which equals at least $25. Prosilac (rBGH) ,recombinant bovine growth hormone, is a genetically modified growth hormone introduced in the USA by Mosanto in 1993.
Bovine Growth Hormone is also used to increase dairy milk production. It has been banned in several countries. But don’t worry, the WHO and the FDA has found these genetically engineered hormones to be safe for human consumption, we’re good ya’ll! Nothing to worry about here! This is just another reason why you should be finding local sources for milk and meat without these antibiotics and genetically modified hormones. (in my opinion)
Despite being legal in the US, there are many studies showing these supplements and antibiotics cause many problems in humans. DYOR
Lets say we’re using the same 20 Acre pasture we used last week on a small farm for beef. 1 cow and calf will use 1 acre per month based on the AUM. So you could have maybe 2 cows and 1 bull on your pasture, you would want to be able to keep the cows separated from the bulls most of the time. Let’s say your two cows are both already bred. The gestation period is 8 months, so in 8 months you would hopefully have two calves.
Here is where you have a decision to make - how are you going to raise your beef and what you plan to do with it. Here’s how the game works from what I can tell, you have 3 options: Grow the cattle for sale at an auction, try to market the beef direct to a customer, or simply grow your own cattle for personal beef source.
Sale at Auction
When selling cows at the auction or sale barn, the price is based on current market prices. From what I can tell, the cattle industry seems to works like this:
Ranchers with large pasture land breed and grow cattle. The heiffers are bred or sold off. The established cows are kept around for breed stock. You would keep a couple bulls around for breeding. All male calves are castrated since they bring the most money at the sale.
*Most* ranchers apply medicine, antibiotics, and supplements to the steers in order to get them fully grown as quick as possible. Typically, these animals are raised on grass with supplemental feed in a large pasture. It takes at over 1 year to get the steers grown to a good size for the sale barn this way.
When the steers get to around 500-600 pounds, they are taken to a sale barn where they are bought and taken to feed lots where they are finished off with grain feed for butcher. From there the beef goes to the grocery stores and other markets for sale.
There is a somewhat complicated ranking scale for determining the frame size and muscle definition of the cattle. The sale barn will determine the class of the cattle prior to the sale.
Here is what the list of some of the prices looks like on the sale report.
Steers weighing around 500 pounds are bringing approx. $850
Bulls weighing around 500 pounds are bringing approx. $725
Heifers weighing around 500 pounds are bringing approx. $750
Cows weighing around 1000 pounds are bringing approx. $1000
As you can see, healthy steers bring the most money at the lowest weight. Cows are not selling at any weight less than 700 pounds.
The sale will take bulls as you can see, but steers fetch more money due to the desired taste of the meat and temperament of a castrated bull. Steers need to be castrated at 1 to 3 months of age. Even at this age a chute is required to safely perform the procedure. This adds significant cost to your farm setup.
So if your two cows had bulls, you could castrate them and you would have 2 steers ready for the sale in a little over 1 year. Bringing you about $1500.
Your startup costs would be minimum if you already had the land and it was fenced in properly.
However, you would need some items to facilitate these cows properly:
Chute to castrate bulls properly= depending on how you build these, this is a considerable expense.
trailer to haul the cattle to the sale - $3000-$10,000
two heifers or cows to start your herd - $2000-$4000
bull for breeding $1500-$2000
After these initial costs to set up your *grass fed, no antibiotic/supplement* operation costs would look like this after growing the steers for at least one year:
de-worming medicine for 2 steers-$300
hay - winter months, a steer will eat up to 34 pounds of hay per day, = $300
Total Operating Expense = up to $600
Sales at the barn= $1500
As you can see, after everything is said and done, you are definitely not flush with cash profits raising two steers to take to the sale barns on a small pasture. Also, you’re having to keep a bull around to breed your two cows adding costs. The calves could come out female, which take longer to reach market size and bring less money.
Raising Steers for Beef (Farm to Table)
The way I see it, the only way to go when raising steers for a small farm is to sell the meat directly to a consumer. Or simply raise one for your family.
The best way I can see to do this is to find a large cattle farmer and buy 2 young steers from him. He probably already has the facility to castrate the bulls. You can find a farmer who will sell you a young steer for $300, if you buy two, you’re out $600.
You bring them home and let them eat the grass on your pasture for about a year. Most ranchers recommend de-worming cattle, which is rather low cost. This is different than the ionophore antibiotics that large cattle farmers are administering.
Low-cost ivermectin pour -on treatment is a simple way to keep your cow healthy from worms. Safeguard is another rather low cost de-wormer that you can buy in small feed pellet bags to help your steers stay healthy while you’re growing them. I would do both of these to reduce worms.
When they get around 800 pounds you can begin to finish them off by giving them 15 pounds of corn per day each. By now you would have already hopefully found a buyer for the beef. It would be important to ask the customer how they prefer their beef, and if they want grain finished. If you are raising the cattle for your family, finish the steer how you prefer. You may prefer grass only beef, you may prefer thick marbling. The choice is yours.
When you’re done finishing the steers and they are the proper size, you take the steers to the butcher and the customer pays you for the a set price for the hanging weight of the steer. Typically steers weigh 1000-1200 pounds at the butcher.
You pay the butcher fees which end up being around $500 for a 1000 pound steer. Most farmers charge the customer around $3.75-$4 per hanging weight pound which is around $2000-$2800 for a 1000 pound steer. They would get ribeyes, T-bones, ground beef, brisket, roasts, sirloins, and any other beef cuts they prefer.
With this setup, you will still need proper fencing, water source, and a livestock trailer for this type of operation.
Operating Cost breakdown for (2) steers direct to customer is as follows:
Steer Purchase - $600
De-worming - $100
Supplemental Hay (if over winter months) - $250
Grain Finish (if desired) - $1200
Butcher Fees - $1000
Total Expenses = $3150
Sell Meat for $4 per pound hanging weight - $4800
Profit = $1650
This process takes about 12 months if you buy decent calves.
Some risks with this method include:
Meat quality/unhappy customer
Finding/Selling/Marketing to customers
Poor butcher quality
Finding quality calves that have been castrated
As you can see, the costs associated with cattle farming are very high. If you had easy access to hay on your property some of the supplemental hay requirements would be minimized. Access to bulk corn/grain/feed would also reduce some of your costs.
Cattle are bigger, heavier animals that are not easily handled. They can be dangerous in certain situations. They require large trailers for transport.
Next time, we’ll compare meat goats and cattle and the pros and cons of farming them in detail.