Interested in getting started with cattle? There’s a lot to learn about caring for these large but productive animals!
Whether your interest is raising meat and milk for your family, putting oxen to work in your fields, raising commercial steers for the sale barn, or starting your own grassfed beef business, you’ve come to the right place. Below you will find links to numerous resources to get you started off right.
A Step-by-Step Guide to Getting Started with Cattle
Step 1: Determine Your Objectives
There are many reasons people raise cattle. Some want to grow their own milk and meat. Others are interested in the possibilities of a grassfed beef business. Still others enjoy preserving rare breeds. Whatever your interest, it’s important to set your expectations up front, because this will determine what type of cattle you will need, how many, and what type of management system you will need. Write your objectives down so that you can refer to them later.
Read more: Building a Sustainable Business »
Step 2: Develop a Sales and Marketing Plan
How will you sell your cattle or cattle products, assuming you are not raising cattle strictly for your own use? You have numerous options, so be sure to spend some time researching this. Beef and dairy products can be sold on-farm, at farmers’ markets, to restaurants, and even online in some cases. Live cattle can be sold directly, at organized auctions, or at sale barns. Find out what is required for each sales venue to determine whether it will be a good fit for you. Also spend some time considering advertising, setting up a website, and other marketing possibilities. Be sure to keep notes on your findings and decisions.
Read more: How to Direct Market Your Beef »
Step 3: Plan Your Management System
Are you planning on raising cattle strictly on forage, or perhaps with some grain? What type of health program do you expect to implement? How many times a day do you want to milk your cows? For breeding stock, what genetic defects do you plan to test for and select against? You will definitely be learning as you go, but it doesn’t hurt to have some details ironed out in the beginning, as it will help you in selecting cattle and in preparing your facilities. A rough plan will do. Again, be sure to do your research and take copious notes.
Read more: Grazing Systems Planning Guide »
Step 4: Choose a Breed
Once you have a clear picture of your purpose, scale, environment, marketing plan, and personal preferences, you’re ready to choose a breed or combination of breeds that will best fit your needs. First consider whether purebred or crossbred cattle are right for you—purebred cattle excel in genetic consistency, while crossbred cattle win out in hybrid vigor. Then research the various breeds available to you. Different breeds have different purposes, temperaments, climate preferences, health issues, production characteristics, and more. Even if you are considering crossbred cattle, you will still want to do this research to choose a breed combination that will work well in your operation.
Read more: Choosing a Breed of Cattle »
Step 5: Set Up a Water System
Now it’s time to get outside and get to work! Before you bring your cattle home, you will need to have a water system in place. Giving cattle direct access to creeks and ponds is convenient but unsanitary, so you may want to install a pump to deliver water from these sources to a stock tank. Watering from wells and springs may also be an option, depending on where you live. Be sure to give some thought to how you will keep water fresh in the summer and unfrozen in the winter.
Read more: Waterers and Watering Systems »
Step 6: Set Up Fences and Handling Facilities
The next step in your preparation is to set up permanent fencing, purchase temporary fencing, and prepare your handling facilities. Keep the permanent fencing to a minimum in the beginning—fencing the perimeter of your property should be sufficient until you have a handle on how grazing management works. Make sure you have temporary fencing, line posts, a fence charger, and a fence tester on hand so that you can get your grazing program off to a good start. To safely handle your cattle and train them to respect electric fencing, you will also need a sturdy corral with a squeeze chute. For dairy cattle, you may want some type of milking parlor, even if it is very simple.
Read more: Free LSU Building Plans »
Step 7: Purchase Your First Cattle
You’re ready to buy some cattle and bring them home! If you intend to buy cattle from a breeder, do some homework first and make sure that his philosophy aligns with yours. If you’re making a trip to the local sale barn, make arrangements for payment and transport. Either way, be sure to choose cattle that are healthy and have a good disposition. It is often better in the long run to spend a little more for fewer quality cattle than to pick up culls for cheap.
Read more: Beef Cattle Talk: A Glossary »
Step 8: Introduce Your Cattle to Your Property
So you’ve got your new cattle. Don’t just dump them out in the pasture. Put them in a sturdy pen for a few days to observe them and give them a chance to get used to you. Transition them from whatever feed they were previously eating to their new diet. Worm them, either with a conventional wormer or a natural solution. Put up a short length of temporary fencing at nose height and electrify it so that they learn to respect it in a safe and controlled way. If any cattle show signs of illness, take immediate action as required.
Read more: Natural Cattle Care »
Step 9: Practice Grazing Management
Grazing management is an art, and it will take some practice to acquire this skill. You don’t want your pastures to be grazed down to the soil, but you want your cattle to stay healthy and productive, as well. Furthermore, every environment is slightly different. Rainfall, terrain, and forage species all have to be taken into consideration. However, the best way to learn is by doing. Give your cattle a fresh paddock every day to start and see how closely you can estimate what they eat in a day. As you learn, you can adjust paddock sizes, rest periods, and rotation frequency as needed.
Step 10: Keep Records
What records you need will vary depending on what you are doing. At a bare minimum, you will want to keep track of your income and expenses. Keeping records on pasture condition and forage production can help you improve your grazing management skills. Basic notes on what vaccines, wormers, and other treatments your cattle have received are also handy. Those who raise seedstock will need to keep extensive records on pedigrees and animal performance. The key is to find a record-keeping system that meets your individual needs.
Read more: The Farm Journal: Complete Series »
Choosing a Breed of Cattle: 5 Needs and 40 Breeds for Selecting Cattle That Fit Your Purpose
by Michelle Lindsey
Ready to take the confusion out of selecting the right cattle breed for your family? This book will walk you through the process of defining your expectations and then arm you with key information on 40 common cattle breeds. Read more »
Draft Animals: 100 Answers for Harnessing Animal Power
by Michelle Lindsey
Acquire the skills and knowledge necessary to choose and purchase a draft team, and then learn to work them in the field, woodlot, or market garden. Draft Animals: 100 Answers for Harnessing Animal Power uses a unique Q&A format to deliver concise answers to your most pressing questions. Learn more »
When choosing a breed of cattle, there are many factors to consider. Each breed has its own advantages and disadvantages, and what works well for one family probably won’t suit another. With this in mind, it is wise to learn about the history, uses, temperament, health, and pros and cons of each breed before making a selection. This guide will answer your questions. Read more »
Although no one fully understands vitamins and their functions at present, scientists continue to make breakthrough discoveries in this important area of study. In this guide, we will summarize the findings to date. We will examine the known functions of each vitamin and its natural sources. We will examine the causes and signs of deficiency, as well as the symptoms of toxicity (overdose). To wrap things up, we will briefly discuss some of the medicinal uses people have found for each vitamin. Read more »
Grasses of Kansas
This guide contains key information on the many diverse grasses of Kansas, whether they come from the tallgrass prairie, the sandsage prairie, or just the average roadside ditch. For each plant, you will learn characteristics, distribution, life cycle, ecology, uses, hazards, and similar species. Whether your interest is as a nature buff, an ornamental gardener, or a dedicated grazier, we hope you’ll find the information you need to identify and properly manage the grasses on your property. Read more »
- What breed is more efficient—British or Continental?
The answer to this question largely depends on how efficiency is defined. British cattle are efficient in that they finish quickly and easily in low-input systems. In a feedlot scenario, however, Continental cattle can be efficient at producing large quantities of lean meat.
- How are Charolais to raise?
Charolais cattle can be difficult to raise in low-input systems due to their rapid growth and correspondingly hefty appetites. Furthermore, their difficult temperaments and frequent calving issues make them less-than-ideal choices for beginners.
- How many years do Guernsey cows stay fertile?
Guernseys rank among the best of the dairy breeds for longevity. They can commonly stay in the dairy herd until 6 to 8 years of age, and occasionally longer.
- Is Guernsey beef lean or fatty?
Guernsey meat is generally lean. However, it is by no means too lean for an enjoyable eating experience. Some producers find that allowing a Guernsey steer to continue nursing for as long as possible helps ensure a good finish without the need for grain.
- Is little bluestem good for cows?
Little bluestem is a superb cattle forage when young and actively growing. It is nutritious and high in protein. Be aware, however, that as the summer progresses, it will quickly lose its palatability and protein content.
- What is TDN in feed?
TDN is short for “total digestible nutrients.” It is a measure of the energy contained in any given feed.
- How does a milking machine work?
A milking machine pulls a vacuum on the teats of the cow, causing milk to flow. A receiving jar collects the milk from all the cows attached to the system. This milk is then pumped into a bulk tank for refrigeration.
- What are the advantages of oxen over draft horses?
Oxen are much more low-maintenance than horses overall, being far less prone to soundness issues and requiring much less feed even when working. They also have greater stamina and are less prone to spooking. As an added bonus, an ox’s yoke is easier to use and maintain than a horse’s harness.
- Can dairy bulls work?
Dairy breeds are sometimes used as oxen due to their intelligence and athleticism. However, a bull would not be recommended for this purpose, as dairy bulls are notoriously dangerous. A steer would be a much better choice.
- What type of wood is used to make ox yokes?
Many different woods are suitable for making yokes. Traditionally, the sturdiest wood available locally was the wood of choice for the beam, or the horizontal part of the yoke. Common choices included ash, cherry, elm, maple, and oak. The bows, or the part that goes underneath the neck of the ox, are typically make of something extra durable, usually hickory.
- When can I put a yoke on oxen?
Ox training begins at 6 to 12 months of age with teaching the basic commands (get up, gee, haw, and whoa). Once the ox team is completely reliable, they can be fitted with a calf yoke and taught to respond to the commands while wearing it.
- What is upgrading in animal breeding?
Upgrading is the process of improving an animal breed through crossbreeding to another breed with desired traits. The crossbred offspring are then bred back to the original parent breed for several generations until they are virtually indistinguishable from purebred animals.
- British and Continental Cattle Breeds
- Choosing a Breed of Cattle
- Getting Started with Livestock Part 4: Breed
- Heritage Livestock Breeds Comparison Charts
- Pros and Cons of Dual-Purpose Livestock
- Pros and Cons of Horned Livestock
- Pros and Cons of Miniature Livestock
- The Breeding Toolbox
- The Two Subspecies of Cattle
- Top 10 Reader-Favorite Cattle Breeds
- What are Heritage Livestock Breeds?
- What is a Composite Breed?
- What is a Landrace Breed?
- What is Hybrid Vigor?
Fencing & Facilities
- Free LSU Building Plans
- Getting Started With Livestock Part 1: Water
- Getting Started with Livestock Part 2: Fencing & Facilities
- How To Make Osage Orange Fence Posts
- Waterers and Watering Systems
Feed, Forage & Pasture Management
- Body Condition Scoring: Complete Series
- Getting Started With Livestock Part 3: Diet
- Grasses of Kansas
- Grazing Management by Species: Cattle
- Grazing Systems Planning Guide
- Intensive Grazing: An Introductory Homestudy Course
- Lessons From the Bison
- Parts of a Grass Plant: A Glossary
- Red Cedar Invasion
- The Backyard Homestead Seasonal Planner
- What are Animal Units?
- What is Management-Intensive Grazing?
- What is Silage?
- What is TDN?
- Diatomaceous Earth and Parasite Control
- Natural Cattle Care
- Recommended Remedies
- Veterinary Guide for Animal Owners
- What are Scurs?
- What is Endophyte-Free Fescue?
- Ranching Full-Time on 3 Hours a Day
- Beef Cattle Frame Scoring
- Beef Cattle Talk: A Glosssary
- Beef Tenderness and the Shear Force Test
- EPDs for Beef Cattle
- How to Direct Market Your Beef
- Milk Production in Beef Cattle
- Reproduction & Animal Health
- Salad Bar Beef
- Storey’s Guide to Raising Beef Cattle
- What is Kobe Beef?
- What is the International Letter Code System?
- 7 Tips for Storing Bulk Beef
- Adding Value to Milk
- How a Milking Machine Works
- What Are A1 and A2 Beta Casein?
- What Are Milk Components?
- Why Are Dairy Bulls More Dangerous Than Beef Bulls?
- Draft Animals
- Ox Yokes and Collars
- Pros and Cons of Draft Animals
- Which Draft Animal is Right for You?: Oxen