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.
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 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.
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.
A piece of land is worth as much as the person farming it.
-Le Livre du Colon, 1902
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.
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.
'Every time I learn something new, it pushes some old stuff out of my brain.'
Location: Northern Puget Sound, Zone 8A
posted 6 days ago
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.
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!
If you like strawberry rhubarb pie, try blueberry rhubarb (bluebarb) pie. And try this tiny ad:
It's like binging on 7 seasons of your favorite netflix permaculture show