Storey’s Guide to Raising Beef Cattle

Storey's Guide to Raising Beef CattleIf you are looking into raising beef cattle, there are quite a few things you need to consider before you purchase your first animals:

  • How do you choose sound cattle?
  • What types of fencing will you need?
  • What feeds and supplements will you provide your cattle with?
  • What if health problems arise?

Once you start searching for answers to these types of questions, you will discover that there are a bewildering array of possibilities.  For an easy-to-understand exploration of the basics, try Storey’s Guide to Raising Beef Cattle by Heather Smith Thomas.

The book proceeds in logical order, going from an overview of breeds and behavior to tips on buying and caring for your first cattle, to the issues of breeding, calving, weaning, and rebreeding.  Nearly everything you need to know to get started is clearly explained.  An extensive chapter on cattle health is also included.

Not so comprehensive as to be complicated, Storey’s Guide to Raising Beef Cattle is still complete enough to be a useful guide for beginners.  Well worth reading before (and maybe even after) you purchase your first beef cattle.

Black Baldy

Black Baldy

You’ve probably seen Black Baldies, the black cattle with the white faces. The Black Baldy, however, is not a true breed, but any combination of breeds that will produce the hallmark coloring.

White-faced black calves can be produced by crossing any black breed with any white-faced breed, such as Hereford or Simmental. Generally, though, Baldies are the offspring of an Angus/Hereford mating.

There is also a miniature Black Baldy produced by crossing a Lowline (a small Australian breed derived from the Angus) with a miniature Hereford.

Uses

The primary use of a Black Baldy is for beef. Some commercial cow/calf producers, however, keep their Baldy heifers to breed more beef cattle. While the resulting calves do not display as much hybrid vigor as their mothers do, this practice takes advantage of the enhanced reproductive performance that hybrid vigor imparts to Baldy cows.

The miniature Black Baldy is also a beef animal, but is more commonly seen on small farms.

Temperament

The Black Baldy is generally known for docility and good nature, though not for intelligence.

Health

Hybrid vigor is the main reason for crossing two breeds of cattle, and it is a trait in which the Black Baldy excels. The breed has earned a reputation for being healthier than either purebred cattle or more nondescript “mongrels.”

Pros

Black Baldy
  • Hybrid vigor.
  • Adaptability to most climates.
  • Suitability of miniature version for small acreages.
  • Longevity.
  • Fertility.
  • Good calf survival rate.
  • Mothering ability.
  • Good growth rate.
  • Efficiency of beef production.
  • Qualification for most premium beef programs, including Certified Angus Beef.
  • Acceptance at most sale barns.
  • Profitability.

Cons

  • Difficulty and expense of continuing a crossbreeding program if using Baldies for breeding.
  • Occasional calving problems.
  • Tendency to put on fat at the expense of muscle.
  • Bland beef.

Helpful Resource

Choosing a Breed of Cattle

Choosing a Breed of Cattle
Is the Black Baldy right for you? This book will help you assess your five needs and make that decision. Includes a brief profile of the Black Baldy breed. Free sample pages are available here.

Complete Series
Cattle Breeds

Cattle Breeds

How To Ground a Wayward Chicken

How to Ground a Wayward ChickenYou may have heard of the amazing escapades of pigs, goats, and cattle that get tired of their pens and pastures and decide to check out the grass on the other side of the fence.  Fortunately, the advent of electric fencing has made these animals much easier to contain.

But chickens are another story.  Electric fencing keeps predators out of the chicken pen…but what about keeping the chickens in?  Portable fences for chickens are designed so that the little birds can’t squeeze through the netting, but there’s still one difficulty.  Chickens can fly.

And once they’ve flown the coop the first time, they will do it a second time…and a third time…and a fourth time…and a fifth time….

Prevention is always the best cure, and in this case the ideal prevention is to keep your chickens happy.  Make sure they always have enough feed and scratch grains to keep them from going hungry, and enough fresh pasture to keep them busy.  A chicken’s life revolves around looking for things to eat, so if it can’t find anything in its pen, it will look elsewhere.

But some chickens go through spells of wanderlust for no apparent reason.  These must be dealt with, not only because they are easy prey for the first coyote that passes by, but also because they set a bad example for the rest of the flock.  One day you’ll have one chicken out; the next day there will be two or three.

Here is a painless, bloodless solution to the problem.  If you clip the offender’s flight feathers short enough on one wing, it will lose its balance and fly very poorly, usually in a circle with a crash landing at the end.  But since you are only cutting feathers, it doesn’t hurt the chicken in the least (except maybe its feelings).  And it’s super easy.

 

You Will Need

  • A pair of sturdy shears
  • A helper

 

How to Ground a Wayward ChickenInstructions

  1. Have your assistant hold the chicken so that you are free to operate the shears.
  2. Gently unfold one of the chicken’s wings and identify the primary and secondary flight feathers.
  3. Clip both the primary and secondary flight feathers as closely as you dare.  The shorter the better, but you don’t want to hurt the chicken.  You can always go back and trim a little more off later if you need to.

 

Caveats

Only trim the feathers on one wing.  If you trim both wings, the chicken is balanced again and will still manage to fly.  For the same reason, this haircut is pretty much useless on sparsely feathered chickens.

Don’t forget that once a chicken can’t fly, it is particularly vulnerable to predators.  Do not allow flightless hens to roam.  Keep them safely in their pen.  After all, that is where you wanted them to be in the first place, right?

Finally, remember that this is not a permanent solution.  The feathers will eventually grow back, and in a few cases the chicken will even master the art of flying with a stubby wing.  The idea is to keep it on the ground just long enough that it forgets its daily escape routine.  Keep it happy and well fed in the meantime, and hopefully by the time it is able to fly, the idea won’t even occur to it.  Remember, prevention is the best cure.

George Grant and the Victoria Colony

George Grant and the Victoria Colony

At the beginning of the 1870s, Scottish nobleman George Grant’s only idea was to retire to a country estate in England. Nothing quite suited him, however, so he traveled to America in 1872, still searching. The vast prairies of Kansas soon fascinated Grant. Clearly the plains were ideal for livestock, and slowly his plans for retirement were absorbed into a new vision.

Grant bought nearly 70,000 acres from the Union Pacific Railroad and hurried back to England. The prairies held promise; they were only waiting for someone to extract their potential. Grant was bound and determined that it would be the young men of England. They were going to introduce gentility to America.

George Grant and the Victoria Colony
Grant’s sheep pen

In May of 1873, Grant was back with 38 colonists, several fine horses, some Southdown sheep, and what are believed to be the first Angus cattle in America. The new colony was to be named Victoria. The gentlemen farmers set to work at once building a church, a depot, a general store, a grain elevator, and about 25 houses. Grant’s high hopes were infectious.

At least, they were at first. A few of the colonists were married men who brought their wives and children to America undoubtedly with the intention to work and prosper. Many, however, were well-to-do young gentlemen with absolutely no interest in agriculture. Suddenly finding themselves with plenty of spending money and no parental supervision, they set to work at once fulfilling their own vision of what Victoria should be. The next institutions of the colony were a hunt club, a cricket club, a race track, and a dance hall.

But the most ridiculous enterprise was yet to follow. The young gentry next dammed Big Creek, put together their allowances, and bought a steamboat. The boat was floated west on the various rivers until it reached the plains, where it was hauled to Victoria by oxen. Southdowns and Angus alike were forgotten amid the pleasures of boating on the new lake.

George Grant and the Victoria Colony
The majestic Cathedral of the Plains was completed by the later settlers of Victoria in 1911.

Not surprisingly, Grant’s grand colony didn’t last much longer after this. Word got back to England of the spendthrifts’ doings, and many of the young men were disallowanced. Those who might have had a remote interest in farming and ranching were further discouraged by fires, droughts, and winter storms, and by the time Grant died in 1878, most of the colonists were already on their way home.

However, Victoria’s story was not over. By 1876, Germans were immigrating to the region. Accustomed to farming and its accompanying hard work, they faced the challenges of the plains with much more success. Their town of Herzog, located just north of the failing colony, grew and prospered. Slowly it absorbed the British settlement, and by 1913 the two towns were combined into one—still named Victoria.

Pastured Poultry Profits

Pastured Poultry ProfitsPoultry is a fairly easy enterprise to start with, and it doesn’t require a great deal of space, either.  If you are considering raising broilers, either for sale or for home consumption, you may also want to consider reading Pastured Poultry Profits by Joel Salatin.

A wealth of information on a wide range of topics is presented in this book, covering the whole broiler-raising process from start to finish.  Whatever questions you may have on brooding, feed, portable housing, predator control, butchering, and the like are probably answered in Pastured Poultry Profits—in a unique way.  Although the focus of the book is on broilers, chapters are also included on layers, turkeys, and exotics.

Equally valuable and inventive are the suggestions on direct marketing.  (Please note that you should always check state and local laws before direct marketing poultry you have butchered yourself.)

In a world desperately craving something real, Joel Salatin offers creative solutions, challenging producers to look beyond the conventional way of doing things and to start thinking out of the box.  Learn how to produce healthy poultry and develop relationships with customers in this visionary, yet practical, book.

Belgian Blue

Belgian BlueLike most old breeds of cattle, the Belgian Blue had its humble origins in the local cattle of its native country. Of course, the native county in this case was Belgium, more specifically the central and northern parts of Belgium, where the breed was raised for both meat and milk.

Belgian cattle breeders, like most cattle breeders of other countries, eventually decided to take advantage of foreign genetics. As early as 1840, the Belgians began importing new breeds to improve both the beef and dairy qualities of their local cattle. There is some disagreement as to what breeds went into the mix that was eventually named the Belgian Blue, but common suggestions include Shorthorns, Holsteins, and Charolais. Evidently the results were satisfactory, at least until the end of World War II.

What happened to the Belgian Blue next was also typical of most cattle breeds. As the Belgian economy began to recover from the war, the citizens began to demand better beef and more of it. The breed split in two, some breeders still preferring to focus on dairy production, while others rushed to fulfill the demand for quality meat.

But the further development of the beef variety of Belgian Blue was anything but typical. Evidently the genes for double-muscling, a mutation causing uncontrolled muscle growth, had existed for some time in the breed, having been reported in Belgium as early as 1807. However, it was not until the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s that anyone began actively selecting affected animals as breeding stock to propagate the mutation.

This was the project of a certain Professor Hanset of the Province of Liege. Through careful selection and linebreeding (not genetic engineering, as is sometimes alleged), he was able to firmly establish extreme muscling in the Belgian Blue. By the mid-1970s, there was no mistaking the original dual-purpose type with the modern Belgian Blue. It was now solely a beef breed, and as such it was first imported into the United States in 1978.

Uses

The Belgian Blue is purely a beef breed, frequently promoted as the “Meat Machine.” However, in America it is generally not raised as a purebred beef animal, but is more frequently used in crossbreeding programs to increase the carcass yield of its offspring.

Temperament

Belgian Blues are truly gentle giants, valued for their calm, patient temperaments. With proper care and handling, they can even become very affectionate.

Belgian BlueHealth

The Belgian Blue is known for double-muscling, caused by a genetic mutation that prevents control of muscle development and leads to an increased number of muscle fibers. This mutation can create a host of problems in purebred animals. In some cases, calves die shortly after birth due to the inability to stand, cardiorespiratory problems, and jaw deformities and swollen tongues, both of which affect the calf’s ability to nurse.

Animals that do live to adulthood are vulnerable to a number of other difficulties. Cows are prone to birthing problems, although this problem can be reduced by avoiding overfeeding. Some Belgian Blues may have underdeveloped reproductive tracts. Laryngitis and bronchopneumonia are also concerns in this breed. Some of the cattle have leg problems, although this seems to be less of an issue than it has been in the past.

Crossbred Belgian Blues carry only one copy of the double-muscling gene, which eliminates most of the health problems while still increasing the carcass yield.

Pros

  • Impeccable temperament.
  • Strong mothering instincts.
  • High weaning and yearling weights.
  • Massive carcass with higher yield than any other beef breed.
  • Double-muscled hindquarters, which means more high-value cuts.
  • Exceptionally lean meat.
  • Better tenderness than Angus crosses.
  • Health claims such as high protein, low cholesterol, and a good balance of fatty acids.

Cons

  • Unsuitability for beginners due to special health needs.
  • Higher nutritional needs than other breeds.
  • Inability to thrive on pasture alone.
  • Unsuitability for harsh environments, particularly high temperatures.
  • Late maturity.
  • Some difficulties with natural matings.
  • Calving difficulties in purebreds.
  • Increased calf mortality.
  • Need for aggressive feeding to finish well.
Helpful Resource

Choosing a Breed of CattleChoosing a Breed of Cattle
Is the Belgian Blue right for you? This book will help you assess your five needs and make that decision. Includes a brief profile of the Belgian Blue breed. Free sample pages are available here.

Complete Series

Cattle BreedsCattle Breeds

 

5 Ways to Save Money On Seeds

5 Ways to Save Money on SeedsIf we avid gardeners were to be brutally honest with ourselves, we would all probably have to admit that we spend way too much money on seeds.  There are always new and exciting varieties to try, and we want to have some extra seeds on hand just in case, and sometimes we get carried away and plant too much of something, etc., etc.

We must allow ourselves some slack to experiment and make mistakes because that’s how we learn.  But we should also seek to be good stewards of both our seeds and our gardening budgets!

Here are some ways to cut down on the seed costs:

  1. Save your own seeds.  Homegrown seeds, almost free of cost.  How much better does it get than that?  Let your lettuce bolt and some of your pea pods dry up.  Rescue the seeds from your melons and pumpkins.  Let the seeds dry naturally in a cool, airy place, and store in bags or envelopes.  This will not work as well with some hybrid varieties.  In some cases you will also have to take steps to keep the cucumbers from pollinating the melons or Queen Anne’s lace from contaminating the carrots.  But if you have a favorite variety, by all means, save those seeds!
  2. Waste not, want not.  If the seeds are fresh and the soil is moist, you really don’t need to plant three or four seeds in every hole.  One or two will be quite sufficient.  Yes, small seeds are harder to handle, but with a little care it can be done.  And of course we should all try to avoid things like dropping seeds, carrying them around on windy days, and especially picking up seed packets by the bottoms when the tops are open.
  3. Know why before you buy.  Don’t just buy the “Certified Organic” packet unless you have a reason to.  For example, if you plan to sell certified organic produce, you will need to buy certified organic seeds.  On the other hand, if good farm-fresh produce is all you want, you will probably be just as happy with uncertified heirloom seeds.
  4. Check the store.  Sometimes you can get what you want from the grocery, dollar, feed, or home improvement store much cheaper than you can from a seed catalog (especially toward the end of gardening season).  True, the store may not have all the varieties you want.  If you specialize in rare vegetables, you’ll be better off buying straight from a seed company.  Standard varieties, however, are generally offered for very good prices at many stores.  But be forewarned—this is a general principle, not an absolute rule!  Always check the price of each individual packet, or you could be in for a surprise!
  5. Store seeds carefully.  Now that the growing season is finished, it’s a good time to make sure your seeds are safely stored for the winter.  Are they in a cool, dry, dark place?  Heat and moisture will damage your seeds.  You may even want to consider keeping them in the refrigerator or freezer.

Fortunately, saving money on seeds is not that difficult.  Just a little time and care will go a long way in reducing waste and making wise purchases.

 

Helpful Resource

VegetablesVegetables
Our own guide to growing vegetables includes step-by-step information on saving seeds.

What is Silage?

What is Silage?
Maize silage

Silage is simply fermented fodder stored in an airtight condition to be fed to livestock later on.  Any type of grass plant can be used, including cereal grains such as corn, sorghum, and oats.  Note, however, that the grain is not the only part being ensiled (made into silage); the whole plant is cut and fermented.

 

How Silage is Made

  1. When the plants have the ideal moisture content (50% to 70% depending on storage method), they are mowed and allowed to wilt slightly.
  2. The fodder is shredded into pieces about 1/2 inch long.
  3. The fodder is packed into a pile or a bunker silo as densely as possible.
  4. The fodder is tightly covered with plastic, which is usually weighed down with tires.
  5. The silage begins to ferment and will soon be ready for winter feeding.

What is Silage?
Building a silage pile

Pros and Cons of Feeding Silage

The point of feeding silage (or any other stored forage) to grassfed livestock is to supplement pastures in seasons when forage quality is poor, such as in winter or during a drought.  Storing forages takes advantage of those times when the grass is growing faster than the cattle, sheep, or other animals can eat it, and creates a reserve feed supply for times when there’s not enough to go around.

The main advantage of making silage is that it is generally easier and less labor-intensive to make than hay.  Hay requires perfectly dry weather to cure properly.  In an unusually damp year, silage may be a good alternative.

However, silage can reduce animal performance and weight gains when fed without further supplementation.  It is especially low in quality if stored improperly or cut during a drought.  Also, silage produces toxic gases during the first couple of weeks of fermentation.  Both people and animals should be kept away from the silo during this period.

 

Helpful Resource

Making Quality Corn Silage
Information from Iowa State University that gives a general idea of what goes into making this type of feed.

Natural Goat Care

Natural Goat CareGoat owners, if you can only buy one book on goat health, consider this book by Pat Coleby.  It is guaranteed to quickly become a favorite, one you will refer to often whether you raise goats for milk, meat, or fiber.

Coleby’s approach in Natural Goat Care to goat care is unique, based on the principle that if an animal receives the proper nutrients, it will not be prone to disease, or will be able to cure itself if it does get a disease.  This theory works hand in hand with the goat’s immune system to produce amazing results.  Pasture remineralization, vitamin cures, and a preventative stock lick are key parts of Coleby’s care program, based on years of experience with goats and other animals.

General information on such things as breeds, feeding, and buying goats is included.  However, the majority of the book is devoted to vitamins, minerals, and other natural remedies to health problems.  The chapter on diseases is particularly fascinating.  Coleby has included countless examples of vitamins saving the lives of goats otherwise incurable, providing an effective alternative to synthetic drugs.

So if you are currently dealing with health problems in your goats, or if you are just getting started and want to prevent future problems, you may want to peruse a copy of Natural Goat Care.  It’s an eye-opener!

Ayrshire

AyrshireThe Ayrshire breed is largely developed from cattle that have lived in the county of Ayr in southwestern Scotland for hundreds of years. Farmers began seeking to improve their stock after about 1750 and imported a variety of cattle from other countries in an effort to improve both milk and meat production. The resulting breed, the Ayrshire, was recognized in 1814 by the Highland and Agricultural Society.

Ayrshires first came to America in 1822. H.W. Hills of Connecticut needed a dairy breed that could utilize his rough, stony pastures and produce well in the harsh winters. At first his neighbors were extremely skeptical of Hills’s choice of breed. They highly doubted that a Scottish animal could do well in America and also played the Ayrshire down as a nervous, high-strung beast. The breed succeeded quite well, however, and more importations followed, especially after 1850, taking advantage of further improvements made in the breed’s native country.

Every dairy region of America, especially New England, quickly latched on to the Ayrshire. Its numbers skyrocketed at the beginning of the 20th century. In the ’20s and ’30s, farmers frequently established herds near cities so that they could deliver the nutrient-rich milk regularly.

However, the high-producing Holstein was already starting to catch the eyes of dairymen. The Ayrshire’s heyday could not last. Today the breed accounts for less than one percent of the American dairy herd. Breed enthusiasts have found cause for hope, however. Because of its efficiency in grass-based dairying, the Ayrshire is becoming increasingly popular with organic farmers.

Uses

The Ayrshire is first and foremost a dairy breed. The high levels of butterfat in its milk make it an excellent choice for value-added dairy products, such as butter, cheese, yogurt, and ice cream.

But the Ayrshire does have uses other than dairy. With proper training it can make a good draft animal.  Surplus bull calves can be raised for beef. The attractive Ayrshire is also a favorite choice with hobby farmers interested in showing livestock.

AyrshireTemperament

Ayrshires are known for their friendliness and mild dispositions, but don’t be fooled into thinking they have soft personalities. This is a breed with character! Those who work with them say they are smart, spunky, and maybe just a little stubborn at times. Aryshires command the respect of their owners.

Health

The Ayrshire is known for overall good health.

Pros

  • Adaptability to a wide variety of climates.
  • A knack at rustling a living on rough pastures.
  • Soundness.
  • Low maintenance.
  • Long productive lifespan.
  • Calving ease.
  • Calf health.
  • High average milk production on a forage-based diet.
  • Small fat molecules in the milk, which may make it easier to digest.

Cons

  • Strong personality, which may be difficult for beginners to handle.
  • Less milk than the Holstein, though higher quality.
Helpful Resource

Choosing a Breed of CattleChoosing a Breed of Cattle
Is the Ayrshire right for you? This book will help you assess your five needs and make that decision. Includes a brief profile of the Ayrshire breed. Free sample pages are available here.

Complete Series

Cattle BreedsCattle Breeds