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Purchasing a herd and health factors

 
neil vargas
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I'm looking at getting a small herd of cattle for the first time. I have had sheep, but don't have much experience with cattle and I'm not sure what to look for in purchasing animals. I have read some places that recommend getting animals 6-12 months old and avoiding bottle calves or very young animals. I'd like some tips on what things to look at to determine healthy cattle, and also what I could look for in terms of a productive beef animal. Any advice would be appreciated. Thanks!
 
Julius Ruechel
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I'm looking at getting a small herd of cattle for the first time. I have had sheep, but don't have much experience with cattle and I'm not sure what to look for in purchasing animals. I have read some places that recommend getting animals 6-12 months old and avoiding bottle calves or very young animals. I'd like some tips on what things to look at to determine healthy cattle, and also what I could look for in terms of a productive beef animal. Any advice would be appreciated. Thanks!


Hi Neil,

This is a big topic, so I will only touch on it briefly, but give you some links on where to get more information.

RE: what to look for in terms of a productive beef animal ... the Genetics and Breeding chapter of my book and the Selection and Culling article on my website go through a great deal of information about what characteristics to look for in both males and females, as well as specific recommendations on how to go about purchasing breeding stock. It's not just about picking the right traits that are visible to the naked eye - there is so much stuff that you can not ever expect to see, that you can only assess by learning about the herd management strategy (selection, culling, management practices, etc) on the farm that the animals come from.

And you are right about avoiding bottle-raised animals - they are often poor-doers for the rest of their lives. Calf formula, despite its many saving graces, just can't compete with the real thing.

And in some cases buying younger animals can be a good thing, but regardless of age, you always have to figure out if the calves or adult cattle are not just simply someone else's rejects culled or rejected because of a history of problems, or they didn't meet the cut for their own breeding programs because of low fertility or high maintenance traits, or a history of disease or calving problems.

If you are looking for a whole small herd, you may want to keep your eyes open for a whole herd dispersal sale - someone getting out of the business altogether - and buy their whole herd. But be careful that is the whole herd - many dispersal sales are simply a sale of the reject animals, what is not mentioned is that the herd has already been picked over by the in-laws/neighbors, or whomever, leaving the bottom of the barrel for sale.

You mentioned that you don't have much experience with cattle - perhaps consider spending some time working/volunteering with for someone (i.e. on weekends) who has the type of cattle operation that you admire - and get to know their cattle and let them show you the ropes. Perhaps you can even join them on one of their cattle buying trips so you can learn from them in a situation where breeding stock are under the magnifying glass. Buying a cattle herd has long-term consequences - not lease of which are calving ease, disease resistance, pasture performance, finishing age and weight, and so on, so it is very worth while taking your time with this and spending some time getting to know the business BEFORE jumping in with both feet.

And by making a good experienced contact in the business, that person probably also can help hook you up with cattle when the time comes so you don't end up at the cattle auction, buying someone else's rejects. If you do buy at an auction, make sure it is specifically an auction for breeding stock - announced as such - and not the Thursday auction that meat animals, and reject breeding stock are taken to. And yes, there are pure-bred breeding stock auctions, but if you are in the market for just a small herd of meat animals, buying purebred heifers is likely to cost a whole lot more than buying a commercial cattle herd without affecting anything that matters to your goals - save your money for buying good quality bulls.

Good luck!

 
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