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Considering a beef cow, maybe

 
Posts: 224
Location: Northern Puget Sound, Zone 8A
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Personally I'm more interested in smaller ruminants like sheep or goats, but my wife is interested in maybe raising a beef cow.  I know essentially nothing about what a cow needs, beyond the obvious like food and clean water, so some basic things to consider would be appreciated.  E.g. what kind of shelter do they need, what should I plant for forage, how much land does 1 cow require, is there a breed that might work better for my situation than others, etc?  

I know that with sheep and goats you can't have just 1 due to their social nature.  I wasn't sure if cows were similar, or if they are happy as a single animal.  Unless we got a miniature breed I can't imagine being able to eat more than 1 cow in a year, even with 4 kids (2 of them teens).

I former classmate and his wife raised a beef cow, and I remember the problems they had keeping it contained.  My wife grew up seeing some family members raise them, but never really paid attention to the details.  I've heard that if trained on hot poly-wire fencing as a calf they do a good job respecting it, but otherwise it's really hard to keep them in and fencing can be tough to get strong enough.

Also, while I would like to go grass fed all the way, she's had a hard time enjoying the flavor of entirely grass fed beef.  Maybe it was the grass those particular cows were on, maybe it was something else about how they were raised.  But is there a good way to raise beef without grain where it will taste better to a typical American palate?  If not, how long would the beef need to be finished on grain to have that preferred flavor?

FWIW, I live about 80 miles north of Seattle.  It's pretty temperate for climate.  I have nearly 5 acres, and about 2-2.5 is in grass at the moment.  Should wind up with more grass eventually, maybe another 0.5-1 acre worth.  Currently we have chickens and turkeys.  The meat poultry is, of course, a temporary addition to the landscape, but does help to fertilize the lawn.  We also have a couple dozen laying hens (or will once the new chicks mature and we cull the roosters).  So I could potentially do a Salatin style rotational grazing with the cow and follow that with the hens a few days behind.  
 
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I had started with two small calfes.They are social animals and want company.Do not worry about the meat.Leave it to a good butcher and get it packed,inform your friends at Facebook and you wished you had more meat to sell.It is vey popular with meat produced close to the consumers.
When you have your calves,cuddle them and they will love you all their lives,almost like a dog.Green grass is the best fence.Electricity will be good and train them two or three times to the electric fence and they never touch it again.
 
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Hi Andrew,

You could raise two cows on your available acreage, plus have five goats and five sheep in the same pen. Though I would recomend mobile paddocks for rotational grazing.

You may need to buy hay for your winter though, at about 4 tons per month when your grass isn't growing. Essentially your feilds need to produce about 50 lbs of dry matter per day, or supplement with hay to reach the equivalent.

You want a breed that does well on grass forage, and isn't to crazy large. I would recomend the Devon breed. They are known as being extremely hardy, good daily gains on grass, extremely tasty and mild tempered. They are big, but not crazy big.

Two months of grain feeding should be equivalent to a feed lot, but maybe try sprouted whole grains during that fattening period. So you can get the best of both worlds, flavor and health.

For shelter they don't need much. A three sided dirt floor shed with a roof leaning away from the entrance, so they can escape from wind and rain. You'll just want to make sure you have drainage from the shed, so they aren't standing in mud or water.

Beyond proper rotations for paracite control, and a vets number in your phone book, you shouldn't need to much beyond that for a few beef cows on their way to freezer camp. That is if you understand how to properly feed and care for rumens.

P.S. For goats I would recomend Kikos, and for sheep, a hair sheep with good paracite resistance like St. Crox; however, there are a couple other good hair sheep breeds like them.

Hope that helps!
 
pollinator
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A single cow will be lonely and more prone to trying to get past the fence, so that may have been part of the problem.  You also have to train animals to respect electric fencing as it's not a physical barrier, so that may have contributed as well.  To do that, you need a good physical fence that they can't get through and an electric fence inside that.  It's best to have them drawn to it with something visible and conductive, like pop cans.

 
steward
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We are very much enjoying our Dexter cattle, their smaller size makes them great for beginners, and you can have more of them on less land.  We have more than 15 acres of pasture (I think) so more than what you have to work with, but I very much think that cattle need friends to be happy.  You should be able to have two - I'd buy a yearling steer and an older steer, and then get a new young steer every year.  Dexters are easy keepers, tend to be friendly and finish well on grass.
Dexters-in-spring.jpg
[Thumbnail for Dexters-in-spring.jpg]
Dexter cattle Oregon May
 
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A work colleague had Belted Galloway cattle - they come in miniature and mid sizes, and good for mixed climate and rough pasture. Very good meat.



 
Andrew Mayflower
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Awesome info.  

I do like the idea of the Dexters given their smaller size as that would be not only easier on the land, but easier to home slaughter rather than having to send it to a processor.

The Devons sound really interesting too.

I was chatting with a friend about this and he mentioned that another person he knows would get the bull calves from a local dairy.  Apparently they literally give them away, but then you have to bottle feed them for 9-12 months or so until they are capable of living on grass.  So not sure I'm going to be up for that, unless it's a significant cost savings over buying them weaned.  I guess that person my friend knows gets the excess milk from the same dairy (also for free, as it would otherwise would thrown away), but I'm not close enough to any dairies to make that feasible.  Also, not sure I want to put that much work into a cow for 9+ months.  I suppose if I wanted veal it would be a good way to go, but I've eaten so little veal that I'm not sure I'd want to go through the trouble of raising a cow for such a purpose.
 
pollinator
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Bottle feeding is a pretty big chore!  Also both the human and bovine tend to get fairly attached like mom and baby - it's harder to slaughter an animal that you've raised that comes to greet you for a head scratch..
I would agree getting two weaned calves and raising them - you can raise a heifer calf for meat also.
Keep in mind that winter feeding in our area can be expensive, so planning ahead to buy hay from the field in the Summer will help on costs.

As for breed and  taste, we settled with the Wagyu (Kobe beef) genetics for getting a nice marbling in grassfed beef -- I highly recommend that!
 
Andrew Mayflower
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What is a reasonable estimate for expenses to buy and raise a couple steers?  This is important as that expense is all up front, and then it takes quite a while to eat all the meat and realize the value in terms of lower grocery bills.  Plus, I don't want to wind up raising $20/lb beef.  It's fine if it winds up a little more than I could buy it for at the store, I just have to keep it close.

Let's say Dexters just to keep the breed variable down.  Don't include things like fencing, as that is highly dependent on local factors, both specific to my property and my geographic area.  Mostly I'm interested in the price of the steers, feed costs (assuming sufficient grass except from late-October to early/mid March, and finishing on grain for 1-2 months), parasite control or other vet type care, and anything else that's a potential driver on costs.  

My hope would be that if we get any steers that by the time slaughter is upon us I'll have a CoolBot type of chiller set up and the ability to do all the slaughter and butchery myself.
 
master pollinator
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I think the best advice for a homesteader is to go to a local dairy farm and ask if they have bull calves. They are useless on a dairy farm, yet get many of them. After all the fees are paid, they might make $10 on a bull calf...and no, I did not leave out any zero's.

With dairy farmers you have two options, you can either take the young calf and feed it yourself. or let the dairy farmer feed it for you, and pay more money since they have milk replacer invested in it. Either way is fine, just more of a gamble if you immediately take it home because if it gets sick, you have to care for it. I have done the latter several times, and had a calf die which saved me some time and money. The key is talking to a dairy farmer, if you are cordial, they will set aside a nice big healthy bull calf for you. Just be sure to reiterate that you will properly take care of it. Big dairy farms, despite having thousands of cows, really want an animal to be treated well, and far too many times we have seen nice calves get mistreated by homesteaders and die. So reiterating that you really will take care of it, will go a long way to getting a nice bull calf for very little money.

As for the breed. Stay clear of bull Jersey cows. THEY ARE MEAN. Period. Drop the mike, Do not bother at all with them. If that is all you can get, then be sure it is at least cut.

But Holsteins...people do not know this but about 14% of the beef on the national food chain is Holstein. But Holstein cows actually taste better than Black Angus...the latter is just a marketing ploy. In national beef taste tests, Jersey has won for 8 consecutive years, with Holstein being second all those years. The reason Black Angus has the reputation is that they get more pounds of meat per animal. A Holstein has big bones so its meat to weight ratio is less, and it is a milk producing animal. But it does not mean they do not taste great.

For a homesteader, good gracious, paying $10 for a Holstein bull, and then slaughtering it will give you excellent beef for the least amount of money. What little bit more meat you get for a beef breed, will be lost in how much is paid for it as a calf.

As far as companion animals; that is a myth with cows. They are not like flock animals like sheep, and will thrive alone. I know because I have got multiple bull calfs off our dairy farm, and raise them on my farm as single animals. I have also used cows (Holstein Steers) as companions with my sheep to co-graze and act as a guard animal. They do not work as well as a guard dog, but having size in the pasture means a coyote will think rwice about dining on lamb, or just trying to find lunch somewhere else. But there is a downside. The cows tended to chase the sheep in playful antics, and so their grazing was disturbed at times, meaning they could have grew bigger, faster without a cow in the pasture, but it was rather a minor thing.

As for grass fed beef. That is more of a marketing and ethical thing than anything. I have raised grass fed lamb and beef, but myself think it tastes disgusting. That has been from both my own animals I have raised, but also from grass fed beef at expensive restraunts. But I grew up eating our own livestock that got grain, so I got used to the flavor. I have no issues with people who raise grass fed only animals, heck I did, but they do taste drastically different. For me, I never grain livestock while on pasture, but in the winter, when they are just getting hay, and at a time when their feed needs are higher, I will give them grain, just because a little bit does so much for them. And with only a few animals, the cost is cheap.

Another thing a homesteader can do, is buy a dairy calf every year, and not even bother to over-winter a cow. In that way there is no hay to buy. Yes, the cow will not be nearly as big as waiting until it is fully-grown, but still will yield 100 pounds of meat...not bad considering the low cost to purchase and just some fence. Or buy two calfs in the spring, over-winter one, and slaughter the other so that in a few months there is some meat in the freezer. Then the next spring buy a third and so there is now a rotation of cows so that every year one can be slaughtered keeping meat constantly in the freezer.
 
Travis Johnson
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Rolf Olsson wrote:I had started with two small calfes.They are social animals and want company.Do not worry about the meat.Leave it to a good butcher and get it packed,inform your friends at Facebook and you wished you had more meat to sell.It is vey popular with meat produced close to the consumers.
When you have your calves,cuddle them and they will love you all their lives,almost like a dog.Green grass is the best fence.Electricity will be good and train them two or three times to the electric fence and they never touch it again.




You are absolutely right. years ago I used to go out every day and feed my Holstein Bull Calf, roll it over, tackle it, rub its belly, and just mess with it. We slaughtered him at 2 years old...uncut, and you could go right up to him and say, "Come on Steak, let's go for a walk", and he would go anywhere I wanted too.

Ove the years I have had many cows like this. They are really tame if you treat them like dogs, and is why back in real homesteading days, it was rare for them to have a horse. They used oxen because they pulled more, were hardier, and could be eaten if required. The fact that they were slower than horses did not matter. I love my tractor, but in another life, I might have had a team of oxen...I really like cows.

 
Travis Johnson
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Oh...one more important point.

I mentioned fencing...NOT NEEDED!

Cows cannot chew through rope, so on many of my cows, before I got fencing for my sheep, I would just tether them out.

I made a metal plate that had to plates welded to it at angles, then a eye pad that swiveled at the top. I would just bury this metal plate in a shallow hole, attach a 50 foot rope to it, and then to the cow. As it neared the end of the rope, it would pull on the metal plate causing it to dig harder into the ground, yet the swivel kept the cow from winding up its rope. I never had any problems, and as the cow grazed down all the grass. I would just dig a new hole, bury the plate, and then have him graze that down. I had to move it every week, but that was not so bad. Just be sure to place the water bucket where the cow can drink, yet not within the circle so it would ensnare the rope. It will likely knock it over anyway.

A welding shop could make the swiveling deadman for about $20.

In the end it would be very cheap to graze a single cow. Just be sue to always check on the cow once per day for water needs, and amount of feed it is grazing on.
 
Posts: 686
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This year is unique in that there is a serious feed shortage developing in many parts of the US. This means that you can probably get livestock cheap or free if you aren't fussy about the breed because there will be a lot of animals being put into the ground shortly.

I'm not kidding. Small square bales of hay were selling at auction for $65 last weekend in Ohio (that isn't a typo).

If I were you I would be all over a mob stocking type of setup.

Oh any you are right about handling them. Remember that young cattle are literally children. They love to play and are intensely curious. They get big before they tone down their playfulness so you need to be wary of getting accidentally hurt during their rambunctious greetings.
 
gardener
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Good points Nick. Expect grain prices to skyrocket soon due to all the flooding in the midwest.

If a goat steps on your foot it might break your toe. If a cow steps on your foot it might be deadly.
 
gardener
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Hey Nick;
What we call "small" square bales around here weigh #60-80 each.
Lets hope your referring to the "larger, small" square bales... If not , then even a pickup load of hay is very valuable!  
 
Andrew Mayflower
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Travis Johnson wrote:Oh...one more important point.

I mentioned fencing...NOT NEEDED!

Cows cannot chew through rope, so on many of my cows, before I got fencing for my sheep, I would just tether them out.

I made a metal plate that had to plates welded to it at angles, then a eye pad that swiveled at the top. I would just bury this metal plate in a shallow hole, attach a 50 foot rope to it, and then to the cow. As it neared the end of the rope, it would pull on the metal plate causing it to dig harder into the ground, yet the swivel kept the cow from winding up its rope. I never had any problems, and as the cow grazed down all the grass. I would just dig a new hole, bury the plate, and then have him graze that down. I had to move it every week, but that was not so bad. Just be sure to place the water bucket where the cow can drink, yet not within the circle so it would ensnare the rope. It will likely knock it over anyway.

A welding shop could make the swiveling deadman for about $20.

In the end it would be very cheap to graze a single cow. Just be sue to always check on the cow once per day for water needs, and amount of feed it is grazing on.



If you could post a photo of that deadman that would be appreciated.  I think I understand your design, but a picture would be nice.
 
Nick Kitchener
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thomas rubino wrote:Hey Nick;
What we call "small" square bales around here weigh #60-80 each.
Lets hope your referring to the "larger, small" square bales... If not , then even a pickup load of hay is very valuable!  



I'm not actually sure. The article I read talked about the average price they usually go for is $5-$6 if that is useful to you. Either way it represents a tenfold increase in feed prices. Granted, it's a localized situation as far as I know, and people are probably already moving to fill the supply void.

How big of a problem this is exactly yet to be determined (30 million acres of corn not planted for starters) but if you happen to live in an area where there is plenty of feed, it could be a good time to build out your herds.
 
Timothy Markus
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Nick Kitchener wrote:

thomas rubino wrote:Hey Nick;
What we call "small" square bales around here weigh #60-80 each.
Lets hope your referring to the "larger, small" square bales... If not , then even a pickup load of hay is very valuable!  



I'm not actually sure. The article I read talked about the average price they usually go for is $5-$6 if that is useful to you. Either way it represents a tenfold increase in feed prices. Granted, it's a localized situation as far as I know, and people are probably already moving to fill the supply void.

How big of a problem this is exactly yet to be determined (30 million acres of corn not planted for starters) but if you happen to live in an area where there is plenty of feed, it could be a good time to build out your herds.



As of last week the cash croppers around here had half the soybean in and no corn, due to too much rain.  
 
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