Getting Started with Livestock • Instead Home Steading

When we moved to the country, we never planned to raise and raise a herd of cattle. Most of the time we bought cattle to keep the grass on our property and (hopefully) pay some horses – the animal we thought we wanted. Fifteen years later, the four horses came and went, but the cattle are still there.

We bred cattle without any experience. Neither my husband nor I grew up on farms. We did not even have grandparents or other relatives who owned farms. We only knew that we liked the idea of ​​using our property for our needs.

We had no idea what we were getting into, and we learned many things the hard way. We started from scratch and found out what we did, and although it's hard to do it that way, it's not impossible.

Start small and slow

If you've never had livestock, start small. Buy two or three crossbreeds as an appetizer. Remember, these are the animals you will learn. Would you rather make mistakes if you have $ 2,000 or $ 20,000 on the line? Be patient as you learn to handle your herd – and take your time.

I recommend cattle for dairy for beginners for several reasons. First, cattle are, in my experience, harder and tougher than dairy cattle. Second, finding a good crossbreed is easier and cheaper than finding a good dairy cow, at least near me.

Mom cow
April Freeman / Instead

Third, milking a cow has its own learning curve. It is probably best to learn about cows and their needs without the pressure of daily milking, mastitis and the high-quality diet that good dairy cows need. Fourth, finding a buyer for a few cattle is easier than getting rid of some dairy cows if you later find out that raising cows is not for you.

My recommendation for beginners is to buy two or three weaned cubs. You want some young cows (heifers) and maybe one or two bulls (castrated bulls). Most farmers wean their animals at the age of about 6 months, so this is a good age to start. At 6 months, they have to eat less and you can learn as they grow. Do not buy bulls, not even boys, until you have more experience with cattle.

How to choose a healthy cow

If you do not have a friend who knows cows, you need to research how to find a good one. First, the cows should have shiny, healthy coats, bright, cheerful eyes, and no wounds or nudges on their coats. You do not want a cow that easily scares and pierces, though most bovine animals will not allow you to get too close.

Cows with a good temper will be careful, but do not be afraid. The animal should walk calmly and without limping and have a symmetrical appearance. Female animals should look girly and steers should look like males.


Cows have very simple needs. You need grasses or hay in the winter (so that the breeds work well) and lots of fresh water. You also need a mineral supplement to provide missing trace elements for your body.

This is something like an animal vitamin supplement that you can buy at your local farm shop. We have been buying mineral blocks for our livestock for years, but we currently use loose minerals. Both have advantages and disadvantages and can be a good choice for your animals.

winter cows
April Freeman / Instead

You do not have to feed the grains of your animals to keep them healthy. The debate on grass-fed and grain-free beef continues, but you can have healthy, strong animals that only feed grass, or you can give them some cereal. Just do not overfeed the grain. Too much grain can cause stomach ache and lead to acidosis and flatulence, two serious health problems.

We feed some cereal to improve the body condition of our lactating cows in winter, and I feed my milk cow's grain to prevent it from being a bag of bone. But it's not something you have to do to have healthy animals.

Establishment of your farm: fields and fencing

The most important thing about fields is that cows do not necessarily eat it just because it's green. I assume that if you think of owning livestock, you want it to thrive and not just survive. Do your homework before bringing your first pet home.

Cows feed on grasses and legumes. For my area, plants like fescue, clover, lespedezaBermuda grass and Timothy are fine dining spots for cattle. Even plants that are considered as weeds such as Johnson grass and crab grass can provide good pasture. However, things like sedge, blackberry, honeysuckle and thistle – while they are green and cover the ground – do not provide everything a cow needs for good performance.

If you are not sure what you have in your field, you can contact your local agricultural advisor. Typically, these helpful staff will be happy to look at your fields and give you suggestions on how to improve your livestock farming fields. Also ask how many animals can support your fields each morning. Cows eat much more than you might think, and grass yields vary depending on the area of ​​the country in which you live. Do not overfill your fields as you risk damaging the land and affecting your pet's diet.

Fencing is the second need for beginners. If you live on a farm that is already fenced, carefully check your existing fences for gaps and holes. I promise you, if there's a gap in your fence, your cows will find it. Probably, when you're all dressed and getting in the car to drive to your cousin's wedding.

One thing that has surprised us in keeping cows is how hard they are at fencing. For this reason, we prefer fences with electric cables. Yes, you can use fences without electricity, but you have to wait a lot more fences than if you had added a hot wire.

Your animals must have access to water at all times in winter. Ponds and streams are a good solution, but remember that the animals are probably standing in the water and clouding the banks. We have automatic irrigation systems but when we started we used a water hose to fill up large storage tanks. A lactating cow can drink between 20 and 30 gallons of water a day during the summer. Therefore, plan to provide your cattle with water.

winter care

If you do not just keep some animals in the warm months and sell them when it gets cold, you need to have a plan for the winter months. Cows need massive hay in winter. If you have few animals, square hay bales may be enough, but big buns are probably cheaper.

The disadvantage of rolling, however, is that you need a tractor with a heispuss to move it. In winter, cows can eat between 20 and 30 pounds of hay per day, plus waste. If you know that a typical square bale weighs 50 to 60 pounds, you can see that feeding the cows in winter is a big job!

hay feeding
April Freeman / Instead

If you do not live in an extreme climate, many cattle breeds get along fine in winter without a barn. We also leave our cattle in the fields in winter, unless we have a sick animal or a newborn calf. They are doing well as long as they have a way out of the wind. However, they eat much more when it is very cold.

Do not forget to attach a plan for watering your animals in winter. You can buy heaters for water tanks or install insulated automatic water tanks. If you rely on ponds, you may have to go out and break the ice on the water when it's cold enough to freeze.


The gestation period of a cow is nine months, and most farmers breed their cows so that they get the first calf at the age of 2 years. This means that a heifer must be bred at the age of 13 to 15 months.

Mother cow and calf
April Freeman / Instead

The easiest way to breed a cow is to find a bull and let nature take its course. Farmers who own cops may be able to lease their animals. This is the most reliable way to bring your cow to the calf.

Alternatively, you can use artificial insemination (AI) to breed your cows. This breeding method requires careful monitoring of the heat cycle of the cow. Some AI technicians synchronize the breeding cycles of a cow herd by administering hormone injections. This means that you have a general idea of ​​when your cows get into heat and can decode the AI ​​a bit. A good AI technician can explain the process in detail and tell you exactly what signs indicate the fertile phase of your cow is imminent.

April Freeman / Instead

However, it can not be every cop who needs a calf. Try to pick a bull that has smaller calves at birth. The selection for this feature can mean the difference between stressful, difficult and easy calving.

Do not forget to foresee when your calf will be born. Here in Middle Tennessee, January, February and March are terrible months for calving, as the weather is so cold and wet. We also try to avoid calving in mid-July and August as the heat and flies of the summer can be hard on very young animals. Our calves are usually scheduled for September or October when the weather is temperate and dry.


When a cow approaches calving, her body begins to change to prepare for childbirth. The udder swells and colostrum – the first nutrient-filled milk for calves – can emerge from the cow's teats. In addition, the muscles and ligaments begin to relax around their vulva and pelvic bones.

Calving is an exciting time, and many new farmers may be nervous. Most of the time, calving is quite good. In all the years we have had calves, there have been only a few times when the cow needed extensive help in the birth of her baby.

In a normal calving, the calf with the head on the forelegs first comes out of the fore feet. If the feet show more than an hour and the cow stops progressing, you should call your veterinarian and ask if you need to help the cow. For most veterinarians, you can send them a video or pictures of what you see. You can avoid a vet bill if she does not come out and care for the cow.

April Freeman / Instead

When the calf is born, the mother lies down to push the baby out. In general, the cow can launch the baby unaided. Once the calf slips out, you may need to rip the fruit bag off your face so it can start breathing as quickly as possible. In a few moments, the mother will probably get up and start licking her calf.

Healthy calves usually try to get up and walk less than 30 minutes after birth. Most calves start to lay around their mother's stomach and look for a teat and a warm meal. Young mothers who are here for the first time may be silly and chase their calf, but you can not do much about it. Mostly she will calm down as soon as the calf breastfeeds a bit.

We've found that it's best to leave them alone for a couple of hours and then come out and check on them. As a rule, one of the mother's quarters is smaller and it is clear that the baby had the opportunity to breastfeed. We keep a close eye on the calves of beginners for a few days. If the calf is dehydrated with dull eyes and appears weak, it may need a bottle of milk replacer to spice it up. Mostly, however, everything is going well.

Research: Read Books!

Livestock is exciting and you will probably be interested in reading everything about it. Our family has a whole collection of agricultural literature. Note, however, that you need to treat the advice in a book with common sense.

Some of these books are written for the commercial farmer. Others are written by farmers who live in a climate different from that in which they live. Be open and flexible with your cattle plans. Do not marry too much with ideas that an "expert" recites in a book.

Our favorite cattle books are written by Heather Smith Thomas. She is a veterinarian who wrote Guide to the rearing of cattle and The essential guide to calving, These two books guide you through almost everything you need to know about raising cattle.

Rearing cattle is a lot of work, but we could not help it. When we walk through our fields and watch the cows chew peacefully in the grass, or when we stand at the window on a cool autumn afternoon and watch calves on our heels, all the work is worthwhile.

Interested in livestock? April Freeman guides beginners through the first stages of animal husbandry. She and her family have been raising cattle on their farm in Middle Tennessee for over 15 years.

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