Raising beef cattle can be a rewarding and educational experience. Not only will you gain a variety of skills along the way, but the end result will be a freezer full of fresh meat. Even though much is learned best through trial and error, it can be helpful to educate yourself before jumping in with both feet.
For this article, fourth-generation farmer and rancher (he’s also my brother-in-law) Konrad Krispense shared his thoughts on a variety of mistakes people might make when raising beef cattle. Here are seven suggestions we have compiled to help make your experience more pleasant!
1) Starting with the Wrong Animal
Beef cattle can be bought and started from a variety of ages, all the way from a few-days-old bucket calf to a several-hundred-pound animal. It really is dependent on the amount of money and time you want to invest.
Sure, it might be cheaper to start with a young bucket calf and raise it over a longer period of time. But this will require more feed and care as opposed to a larger, already started animal.
No matter what the age of the animal you start with, make sure you look for a healthy, good-quality calf. Even healthy calves can eventually have problems that can be tricky to deal with, so avoid buying a small, sickly calf at a local cattle auction.
While rescue animals certainly have a time and place, if you’re intending to raise this animal to butcher you will want to start out with a healthy one.
2) Poor Pasture Management
As your steer grows, the amount of feed and space it needs will grow too. Cattle are herd animals and prefer to stay in a group. But it’s not always possible to maintain and care for an entire herd.
Consider keeping a pair of calves (as long as they will be butchered within a short amount of time so as to avoid loneliness) or a couple of goats for companionship.
Another concern to watch for will be the quality of grass in your pasture or grassland. Try to avoid overgrazing the grass to where it appears like a golf course landscape. If possible, it’s helpful to have more than one fenced area to allow for livestock to be held in a separate pasture while the previous one regrows. Basic rotational grazing is a common sense approach to grazing and can be very helpful.
Maintaining the grassland via the occasional prescribed burn and removal of noxious weeds and unwanted trees are also important to keep your pasture functioning as it should.
3) Poor Water Quality
Access to fresh, clean water is extremely important for almost any animal. Whether you have a stock tank that water is hauled to (or pumped into via a windmill) or a continually running stream or river, the water source should be one of the most carefully watched aspects of your pasture.
If your cattle are kept in a dry lot or pen, be careful to avoid access to stagnant mud puddles (such as after a rain), as cattle often will choose to drink from the puddles as opposed to a clean water tank. Bacteria that can cause coccidiosis can be picked up in these puddles and cause sickness in the herd.
4) Misunderstanding Nutritional Needs
Cattle require not only fresh water, but a source of energy (such as grain, which will help to fatten them), roughage (hay) and protein, although this can be dependent on the quality of grass they’re fed and the season of year.
If cattle are out on grass as opposed to in a pen, they might need a protein supplement when the grass has lost a majority of its nutritional value. “Just like people, a well-balanced diet is essential for a healthy animal,” Konrad points out. “Beast cannot live on salad alone!”
5) Poor Parasite Management or Treatment
Even a single animal or pair of calves should receive worming. While a generic wormer can be given, it might only kill specific varieties of worms and leave many left over.
It’s good to talk to a trusted local cattle rancher or veterinarian to get their recommendation for a good parasite prevention plan or treatment, should the need ever arise.
6) Lack of Education on Common Illnesses
It’s important to gain some education on common illnesses (bloat, foot rot, coccidiosis, pneumonia, etc.) before you run into a problem can be extremely helpful. For example, bloat can be caused by overfeeding grain (or even alfalfa), so it’s important to make sure your feeding rations are appropriate for the animal.
Books on cattle nutrition or care can be helpful. So can people working at the places from which you source your feed (local feed mill, co-op or vet). A feed mill is likely to have a nutritionist on hand or know of a contact that can help you.
7) Overthinking the Entire Experience
As Konrad puts it, “Cattle are more self-sufficient then you think. If it’s eating, pooping and displaying normal behavior, it’s probably fine.”
If given the proper feed, water and care, cattle can withstand quite a bit. They don’t need to have every scrape treated or constant scrutiny. Consistent care and a watchful eye can go a long ways.
With some common sense, a bit of preplanning and education, and a knowledgable local vet or rancher to contact with questions, you should have a great experience raising beef cattle!