Tag Archives: Cattle

Which Draft Animal is Right for You?: Oxen

Considering adding animal power to your farm? Many who seek sustainability in their fields love the idea of working with a living team that is not dependent on fuel and that can contribute to the fertility of the soil. Once you’ve weighed the pros and cons of draft animals in general, you are ready to consider what type of draft team will be most suited to your farm—oxen, horses, mules, or those all-too-often-overlooked donkeys. Over the next few weeks, we’ll delve into the pros and cons of each option.

Which Draft Animal is Right for You?: OxenAn ox is a steer that has been specially trained for draft work. Oxen have been used as draft animals since the most ancient times, but they fell out of favor with the rise of mechanized agriculture. Fortunately, they have been enjoying renewed interest among small-scale farmers.

Most cattle breeds ideal for training as oxen fall into the dual-purpose category, although there are beef and dairy steers that are quite suitable. Examples of breeds that can be used as oxen include:

Crosses of many of these breeds can also be used for draft work.

Pros

  • Dependable temperament. In general (because individual animals vary widely), oxen are less flighty than horses and less willful than mules. Good oxen are calm, docile, and very trainable.
  • Power. Oxen can pull some amazing loads! A well-conditioned team can pull up to 2-1/2 times its own weight for a short distance. Oxen tend to have a strong advantage when it comes to really heavy-duty work, such as clearing land.
  • Stamina. Oxen are known for their ability to work all day.
  • Low feed requirements. While oxen may face some stiff competition from donkeys in this regard, they definitely require less feed to work well than horses. They are far more forgiving when it comes to pasture quality, as well.
  • Robust health. Oxen are far less prone to some of the ailments that can force a draft team to take some sick leave. When genetically sound and properly cared for, oxen are much less likely to go lame than horses and also are not prone to colic.
  • Simple harnessing systems. Oxen typically require relatively simple yokes, rather than the elaborate harnesses used on horses. This is due to the structural differences between the two animals—an ox’s strength is in his head and neck, while a horse is stronger through the chest. A well-made neck yoke is quite comfortable for an ox, while it would tend to choke a horse. This translates to less expense, less confusion, less maintenance, and less time spent getting ready for work in the morning.
  • Associated enterprises. If you decide to raise your own oxen, you can easily complement the draft team with other enterprises. For instance, the mothers of your draft steers could be milked, and any surplus calves could be finished for beef.

Cons

  • Susceptibility to heat. In general, oxen like cooler climates than horses do. Working an ox team in very hot summer conditions can be detrimental to the health of the animals. (Using a Brahma or another zebu-influenced animal helps.)
  • Susceptibility to ice injuries. The hoof structure of oxen is very different from that of horses. Oxen are more prone to ugly cuts when walking on icy surfaces.
  • Horns. Most oxen have horns because horns can be necessary for holding a yoke in place, depending on the yoke design. However, horns can be dangerous to humans.
  • Slow pace. Slow and steady describes the ox. While he may be able to outlast the horse, he will certainly move at a much slower pace. Besides the fact that fieldwork will take longer with oxen, some implements, such as no-till seed drills, may not operate properly at such low speeds.
  • Lack of precision. Unlike draft horses, which are guided with bits and reins somewhat like saddle horses, oxen are trained to voice commands, and possibly to taps on the sides. Tight control cannot be attained with this system unless the teamster is on his toes and the team is very obedient. While this lack of precision won’t matter in many applications, such as pulling up stumps, it can be a problem when working in tight spaces, as when cultivating.

Conclusion

For truly heavy farm work, such as clearing land, the patient, hard-working ox is difficult to beat due to his impressive strength and great stamina. Keeping oxen is also a relatively low-cost way to enter the world of draft animals compared to some of the other options. Furthermore, if you are already keeping a family milk cow, you may be able to raise your own draft team!

However, not everyone will enjoy working with oxen. Some people simply prefer the speed and mettle of a good horse team, and they will likely be very dissatisfied with the plodding pace of oxen. Also, oxen can be cumbersome to handle in very small spaces or precise applications.

But for truly low-input systems, oxen are often a good fit.

Next week: Horses

Helpful Resources

Cattle Breeds
Have you decided that oxen are right for you? Now it’s time to weigh the pros and cons of the different breeds!

Choosing a Breed of CattleChoosing a Breed of Cattle
Includes considerable information on making sure your breed of choice will meet your needs, along with profiles of most of the ox breeds listed above. Preview free sample pages.

Top 10 Reader-Favorite Books

Vegetable Garden Planting Guide

We love curating helpful reading material for country living enthusiasts!

If you are looking for a variety of useful books on everything from starting a farming enterprise to planting crops to drawing horses, we highly recommend the Homestead Bookshelf as the place to find what you’re looking for. We have collected public domain classics, modern paperbacks, free extension service PDFs, and even a few books published by Homestead on the Range to help you learn important facts and skills.

New to our site? Allow us to recommend some of the books our readers purchase or download after visiting.

Continue reading Top 10 Reader-Favorite Books

Getting Started with Livestock Part 4: Breed

Getting Started with Livestock Part 4: BreedIf you’ve looked into breed options at all, you’re probably bewildered. What are the differences between all these breeds? How do you narrow it down to just one or two?

These are not always easy questions to answer. For one thing, it will depend on your particular set of circumstances. For another thing, no two individuals within a breed are exactly the same.

Defining Your Expectations

The best place to start is with a list of characteristics you definitely want and definitely don’t want in your chosen livestock. To narrow your options down, ask yourself these questions:

  • What am I raising this animal for? Eggs? Milk? Meat? Fiber?
  • What type of environment will my animals need to adapt to?
  • What kind of temperament will I best be able to get along with?
  • What is my price range?
  • What breeds are readily available in my area?
  • What breeds interest me the most?

Most prospective homesteaders will probably want to look for animals that are disease-resistant, parasite-resistant, and suitable for low-input pasture-based production. In Kansas, don’t forget to factor in the climatic extremes! If you are selling either animals or animal products, you may also want to think about traits that might give you a marketing advantage (popular, heritage, rare, health benefits, etc.).

Doing Your Research

Once you know what you are looking for, choosing a breed largely boils down to extensive research. Every breed has pros and cons, and every breed was developed to fit a particular set of conditions and expectations. The right breed for you will typically be a breed developed for essentially the same environment and production system you are dealing with.

What about crossbreeds and assorted mongrels? These may work great for you, or they may not. Again, it depends on your circumstances and the nature of the individual beast. A good rule of thumb is that crossbred animals are usually a great fit for production systems (hybrid vigor) and a poor fit for breeding systems (inconsistency). But this is a very general principle—the applications and pitfalls of crossbreeding are explained in more depth in our Breeding Toolbox series.

Ready to check out some of your options? Arm yourself with your laundry list, and spend some time with one of our breed guides. Also be sure to check out some of our other online resources for posts, books, and links relevant to your species of interest:

If you find a breed or several breeds that meet your requirements, you’re well on your way to having a great country adventure. Have fun!

Helpful Resources

Breeds of Livestock
An Oklahoma State University website featuring the histories and characteristics of all types of livestock.

Heritage Livestock Breeds Comparison Charts
A free online resource covering all types of heritage-breed livestock.

Choosing a Breed of CattleChoosing a Breed of Cattle
This book will walk you through the process of assessing your five needs, deciding whether purebred or crossbred cattle are right for you, and choosing from 40 beef, dairy, and dual-purpose breeds. More information and free sample pages are available for Choosing a Breed of Cattle.

Cattle BreedsCattle Breeds
Our online guide to popular and heritage cattle breeds, covering history, uses, temperament, health, and pros and cons.

Horse & Donkey BreedsHorse & Donkey Breeds
Our online guide to popular and heritage equines, covering history, uses, temperament, health, and pros and cons.

Goat BreedsGoat Breeds
Our online guide to popular and heritage goat breeds, covering history, uses, temperament, health, and pros and cons.

Chicken BreedsChicken Breeds
Our online guide to popular and heritage goat breeds, covering history, uses, temperament, health, and pros and cons.

Murray McMurray Chick Selector
This handy tool lets you filter chicken breeds by egg production, meat production, heat tolerance, cold tolerance, disposition, free-range suitability, and much more.

Getting Started With Livestock Part 3: Diet

Getting Started with Livestock Part 3: DietKeeping your animals on pasture obviously has financial benefits, and you’ve probably heard of the numerous health benefits, as well. Even nonruminants like pigs and poultry can derive a great portion of their diet from the pasture, although they will need some type of supplemental feed. So how do you make it all work?

Pasture

The key to using pasture as your sole or primary animal feed is to keep it in good shape. This means you can’t let your livestock trample or graze it into the dirt. The best way to avoid this is to ration pasture out just like you would feed—you give the animals a small space for a day or maybe a couple of days and then move them onto a fresh paddock. You keep working your way across your pastures in this fashion.

This is just a very superficial overview of rotational and management-intensive grazing methods. There’s actually a whole art to it, which is way beyond the scope of this post. Check the Helpful Resources below for more information.

Another thing you’ll have to think about is how many animals you can safely keep on your land. Stocking rates vary widely (sometimes even on the same property). Five acres per cow-calf pair seems to be the average in most parts of Kansas.

The cow-calf pair can in turn be used as a standard of measure, known as the animal unit, to calculate stocking rates for other types of livestock. Thus, on our average five Kansas acres, we could place one of the following options:

  • 1 cow-calf pair.
  • 1 stocker calf.
  • 3 ewe-lamb pairs.
  • 5 mature goats.
  • 1 pony (not a full-sized horse).
  • 1 bison.
  • 1 elk.

Stocking rates for pastured pork production have not received as much attention as those for other animals, so be prepared to do your own hands-on field research. A good starting point is to plan on about 10 pigs for every acre. Young, newly weaned pigs can be stocked more densely, while sows with litters will require more space.

Note that there are many variables that will affect your stocking rate. A 1,500-pound beef cow will require 1-1/2 times as much pasture as a 1,000-pound beef cow, for instance. Irrigation can squeeze more forage production out of your land. Also, simple attention to good grazing management will almost certainly raise your stocking rate above that of your neighbors!

Always err on the safe side when it comes to stocking rate. If you have a little more grass than your livestock need, it’s not a serious problem, but if you’re stuck with hungry animals, you’ll find yourself either buying hay or selling animals. Both can be painful, especially in a drought when everybody else is doing the same thing. A good rule of thumb is that if you don’t have enough experience to look at your land and roughly gauge how many animals you can put on it, you probably don’t need very many animals (at least not yet). Some experienced graziers recommend starting with herds as small as two to five head when learning grazing management.

Even in the winter, you may be able to keep your animals on pasture with proper planning. Stockpiling forage and planting cool-season grasses are two techniques for extending the grazing season and minimizing hay and feed consumption. Some animals, particularly dry beef cows, may even be able to thrive on dormant range grass in the winter with a protein supplement.

Harvested Forages

Of course, winter brings an end to the grazing season. Then what? Fortunately, hay and silage offer grain-free options.

Keep in mind that the quality of your harvested forage is very important. Animals cannot thrive on moldy hay, which can be a problem if the hay was improperly harvested or stored. Furthermore, blister beetles are toxic and can be a major problem in hay, particularly if you are feeding horses, so keep an eye out. Finally, remember that any pungent odors or flavors in hay for dairy animals will end up in your family’s milk supply!

The nutrient profile of the hay will depend on the types of forages that went into it. Legume hay is particularly noteworthy, as its high protein content can be absolutely essential or a needless expense, depending on what types of animals you have in what stages of production. Lactating animals will require more nutrition than dry animals (which is why it’s generally advisable to time breeding so that livestock will give birth when the weather is warm and the pastures are lush).

When it comes to sourcing harvested forage, you have three main options:

  • Harvest it yourself.
  • Have it custom-baled on your land.
  • Purchase it.

Determining which option is best for you is largely a matter of putting pencil to paper to work out the dollars and cents of the question. Also keep in mind that harvesting your own hay offers you more control over the quality but can be very expensive on a small scale. Purchasing hay, provided that it is good quality, offers an opportunity to bring in a natural source of soil fertility from outside, but it can also introduce noxious weeds and similar difficulties.

Getting Started with Livestock Part 3: DietFeed

Some animals will need feed to perform well and stay healthy. With these animals, you will have to be careful to keep your costs down without sacrificing the quality of their diet. Poultry and swine typically need some grain for peak health and performance. While ruminants are generally healthier without grain, some genetic lines (particularly among dairy animals) are bred for high production levels and may require feeding to avoid a breakdown. Horses may require supplemental feeding in winter or if working hard on a regular basis.

All this said, many animals are fed far more than is strictly necessary or even healthy. When determining whether or not your livestock will require feed, it is important to take genetics into account. If your goal is to minimize feed costs as much as possible, you will do well to seek out low-maintenance breeds, and low-maintenance genetics within those breeds. Thankfully, every livestock species still has breeds (typically heritage breeds) adapted to rustling their own living off the land.

Also consider your production system. Minimizing feed costs requires good attention to grazing management, and the smaller your property, the more important grazing management becomes. Furthermore, avoiding feed will often require some sacrifices, such as breeding in sync with the climate and accepting lower production levels.

What about growing your own grain for feed? Well, it just depends. Not only can creating a balanced ration be something of an art, the cost of making the feed can quickly add up to more than the purchase price elsewhere. Do the math. Does it make sense financially? Also, can you consistently guarantee the quantity and quality that your animals will need to stay healthy, particularly when first starting out?

Supplements

What kinds of supplements (if any) you need will largely depend on what kind of animals you have and where you live. Two people rarely agree on one magic formula. Many advocates of natural ways of raising all types of ruminants swear by kelp, and free-choice salt is also recommended in many situations. But what if your chickens are laying hens? Then you might want oyster shell or a feed that contains oyster shell. And what if you have dairy animals? You may need to consider a variety of vitamin supplements to keep them in top form. And what if your pastures are particularly poor? You may need a general-purpose stock lick.

The only way to know for sure what supplements will be necessary for your livestock is to do your research and then try it out. See what deficiencies are most common in your area to get off to a good start, but also be prepared to adjust down the road.

Planning a healthy diet for your animals is probably the most critical as far as your finances and their health are concerned, so take your time. Once you have a rough plan to reach your production, animal health, and food quality goals, you are ready to start looking into your breed options.

Helpful Resources

What is Management-Intensive Grazing?
An introduction to meeting the needs of both pastures and animals. Includes plenty of additional reading material.

Intensive Grazing: An Introductory Homestudy Course
For those who just want the basics of grazing management, this bulletin packs a great deal of essential information into a concise format.

What are Animal Units?
How to figure out how many animals your land can support.

Vitamins
Our own guide to the functions and natural sources of vitamins, along with symptoms of deficiency and toxicity.

Getting Started with Livestock Part 2: Fencing & Facilities

Getting Started with Livestock Part 2: Fencing & FacilitiesThere really is no one right way to fence and shelter your animals. It’s a subject that will largely depend on your individual circumstances. But it’s also a subject that must be addressed, so here goes.

Fencing

What type of fencing and where to put it is going to depend a great deal on what kind of livestock you have. Nearly all grazing animals respond well to electric fencing, which is great because a portable electric fence makes rotational grazing easy. Even goats, which are notorious for their scorn of conventional fencing, can be contained with an electric fence if properly trained (more on that in just a minute) and if the fence is always kept in good working order. There may be particular cases when you might need to use barbed wire for cattle, such as along a property line; just keep in mind that even cattle don’t respect a barbed-wire fence the way they do an electric one.

For the more vulnerable animals, such as sheep and chickens, you may want to consider electrified netting to exclude predators. Just be aware that this type of fencing isn’t as easy to handle, and the weeds must be kept away from the bottom strands. Also, even electric netting cannot contain a lightweight chicken in the habit of flying out. The best way to avoid escapes is to move the pen often enough to keep the birds busy and contented and to avoid placing potential launch pads near the fence. Stubborn cases may need to have their flight feathers trimmed.

With the exception of chickens, newly purchased animals will need to be trained to respect electric fencing. Training consists of placing the animal in a safe enclosure, such as a pipe corral, with a short strand of electrified fencing set up at about nose level. Once the animal has received a shock on the nose, it will develop a healthy respect for the fence. Animals that have been born on your pastures do not need to be trained to the fence if kept with the rest of the herd or flock, as they will be taught by their mothers and the other animals.

So where do you put fencing? Some type of permanent fencing should definitely go around the boundaries of your land, but the rest is a little more subjective. Many regenerative agriculture experts advise against fencing in straight lines because this practice does not take into account the natural landscape and its needs. Instead, fences should follow natural contours, keeping similar forages and areas of terrain together to ease management (see Water for Every Farm by P.A. Yeomans for an in-depth explanation; read our full review here).

In the beginning, however, you may want to keep permanent cross-fencing to a minimum while you practice grazing management techniques and learn how to “read” your land. A good rule of thumb—if you find you have left a temporary fence in the same location for about three years, you are ready to replace it with a permanent fence.

Getting Started with Livestock Part 2: Fencing & FacilitiesShelter

Shelter, too, largely depends on the type of animal you are raising. A short drive through just about any part of Kansas will tell you that beef cattle get along with little more shelter than a draw, a shelterbelt, or perhaps an artificial windbreak, depending on how far north and west you are. Sheep, on the other hand, can benefit from a simple shelter during lambing and after being sheared. Goats like to have someplace dry to go when it rains. A llama just wants a shady spot to lie down during the heat of the day (and maybe a kiddie pool). Chickens need shelter from rain, heat, cold, and predators, as well as a clean, dark, private place to lay eggs.

Of course, in no case does the shelter have to be elaborate. The simpler the better, especially if it’s only for seasonal use. If you can put it on wheels or skids and tow it around the back forty, so much the better.

Other Facilities

For most small animals, unless you’re starting in on a huge scale (not advisable), you probably aren’t justified in building elaborate facilities of any sort. If you have several dairy goats or cows, you may need to consider a portable milking parlor, and having a small corral for handling newly purchased beef cattle will probably make your life much easier. But for the most part, think simple. What are the bare basics you can start out with? One horse may require a field shelter, but almost certainly not a stable. Likewise, processing your own broiler chickens for personal consumption will not require you to build a professional abattoir. As you expand and gain experience, you’ll probably find it worth the money to invest in a better setup, but start small and grow into it.

Once you have a rough idea of the fencing, shelter, and other facilities you’ll need, you’ll be ready to juggle pasture, harvested forages, feed, and supplements as you put together a healthy diet for your livestock.

Helpful Resources

HomeMadeHomeMade
This handy book offers guidelines on building a number of structures for housing and containing livestock of all types. Great for the do-it-yourselfer! Read our full review.

Free LSU Building Plans
Although the plans at this site are free, they are generally more elaborate and geared toward commercial production. That said, there is quite a bit here that could prove useful to those getting started with livestock.

Getting Started With Livestock Part 1: Water

Getting Started with Livestock Part 1: WaterWhen it comes to keeping livestock, the water supply of your land base can be a major limiting factor. Therefore, before you invest any money in farm animals, it is crucial that you take stock of your water situation first.

Supply

Let’s start by examining the water resources you have available:

  • What water sources do you have? Wells? Springs? Creeks? Ponds? Cisterns?
  • How much flow or capacity does each water source provide?
  • How reliable is each source, especially in a drought?

You might want to consider writing out a water source inventory and keeping it in a handy place for reference.

Quality

As you write down the different sources of water available to you, also make a note of the general quality of the water. There is a saying that if you wouldn’t drink it, you shouldn’t make your animals drink it, either, but this is not necessarily always either true or practical. While you obviously want to avoid contamination as much as possible, and you should always strive to be a good steward of the water on your property, the importance of quality varies a great deal with the type of livestock you are raising. For dairy animals, clean water is an absolute must for quality milk production. Sheep also need reasonably clean water, or they won’t drink it. Chickens and beef cattle, on the other hand, seem to care very little about the state their drinking water is in. Yes, you should definitely give your livestock water that’s as clean and fresh as possible. But fit for human consumption? That may be a little over the top in most cases.

Water quality problems that are not acceptable include:

  • Unpleasant odors.
  • A pH below 5.5 or above 8.5.
  • Excessive salinity.
  • Fecal contamination.
  • Bacterial contamination
  • Blue-green algae.
  • High nitrate levels.
  • High sulfate levels.
  • Heavy metal contamination.

If there is reason to suspect that your water sources are less than ideal, some testing and remedial action is in order.

While you’re already thinking about water quality, you may also want to take a moment to think about extremes of temperature. Your animals will need cool water in the summer and unfrozen water in the winter. How will you get it to them?

Demand

Now that you know what you’ve got to work with, you need to find out how much water your chosen animals will drink in a day. Will your water resources limit the number of livestock you can keep? Bear in mind that there are many variables at play here. For example, a lactating cow will drink more than a steer, a milk goat more than a meat goat, and a European sheep more than a Navajo sheep, especially in summer.

For a starting point, consider the following estimates of daily water consumption per head:

Beef Cattle:

  • Calves: 5 gals/day.
  • Stocker calves: 15.
  • Dry cows and heifers: 15.
  • Cow/calf pairs: 20.
  • Bulls: 20.
  • Finishing cattle: 25.

Dairy Cattle:

  • Calves: 5 gals/day.
  • Heifers: 10.
  • Dry cows: 15.
  • Milking cows: 40.

Equines:

  • Ponies: 5 gals/day.
  • Light horses: 10.
  • Heavy horses: 16.
  • Donkeys: 6.

Pigs:

  • Weaners: 1 gals/day.
  • Feeders: 3.
  • Boars: 5.
  • Gestating sows: 5.
  • Lactating sows: 6.

Sheep and Goats:

  • Lambs and kids: 1 gals/day.
  • Rams and bucks: 2.
  • Gestating ewes and does: 2.
  • Lactating meat ewes and does: 3.
  • Lactating dairy ewes and does: 4.

Exotics:

  • Bison: 6 gals/day.
  • Elk: 6.
  • Llamas and alpacas: 3.

Please be aware that this is not intended to be a definitive guide to animal water consumption. The amount of variables that can affect the amount of water any given animal drinks on any given day is staggering. Until you get a better feel for your livestock and your water supply, think in terms of worst-case scenario.

So does your projected water use match your available water resources? If not, you will need to plan to either reduce your water use or increase your water supply.

Getting Started with Livestock Part 1: WaterDelivery

Water delivery methods vary by species, but there are a few golden rules that always apply:

  • Your animals should never run out of water at any point during the day.
  • They should have a fresh supply at least every 24 hours.
  • Their water should be protected from soiling as much as possible.

This means that you may be breaking ice at regular intervals in the winter. It also means that hanging poultry drinkers should be monitored for leaks periodically. And it means that livestock should not be allowed to swim in the pond (ducks, geese, and swans are the exceptions, as they benefit from having water to bathe in).

Other logistical factors unique to your situation will apply. For example, moving cattle to fresh paddocks daily will likely necessitate a portable stock tank.

So do you have enough water to supply your animals? If so, you’re ready to take a look at fencing and facilities.

Helpful Resource

Waterers and Watering Systems
Free PDF from K-State that provides an overview of water sources, power sources, drink delivery options, livestock water requirements, and permits.

Top 10 Reader-Favorite Cattle Breeds

Top 10 Reader-Favorite Cattle BreedsLooking for the right cattle breed for your small farm or ranch? We have plenty of resources to help you make that selection, including our online guide to cattle breeds and the first book in our new Practical Country Living series—Choosing a Breed of Cattle by Michelle Lindsey.

But if you’re curious to know what breeds like-minded homesteaders are researching, we can answer that question, too. Here are the top 10 breeds our readers have been investigating.

10. Brangus

This composite breed is about 5/8 Angus and 3/8 Brahman. It combines the beef-producing efficiency of the former with the tropical adaptation of the latter. While its excitable temperament and limited cold tolerance make the Brangus a less-than-ideal choice for many, its incredible resilience under hot, humid, and buggy conditions have ensured it a dedicated following in the southern states.

9. Highland

The picturesque Highland is a favorite on many homesteads, and not just because of its looks. This breed is exceptionally versatile, able to provide meat, milk, fiber, draft power, and land-clearing services, among other uses. Furthermore, it is both docile and hardy, making it a superb choice for cooler climates.

8. Holstein

The Holstein is the iconic black-and-white cow that dominates the global dairy industry today thanks to its incredibly high milk production levels. While purebred Holsteins require too much maintenance to thrive in a low-input, pasture-based situation, crossbred Holsteins do have potential for the organic dairy business.

7. Shorthorn

Traditional dual-purpose Shorthorns are hard to come by these days, but specialized beef and dairy bloodlines still provide options for the modern homesteader, farmer, or rancher. The health and hardiness of this breed have suffered in recent years. However, it still retains its docility, its adaptation to cool climates, and its ability to produce high-quality beef or milk on pasture with proper care.

6. Charolais

The Charolais is primarily used to produce beef calves for the feedlot in America. Unfortunately, this breed has numerous problems that make it unsuitable for beginners, including a difficult temperament, multiple health problems, high feed requirements, and the potential for calving issues. Crossbreeding is the standard tool of choice to minimize these challenges while taking advantage of the large size and rapid growth of the Charolais.

Top 10 Reader-Favorite Cattle Breeds5. Brahman

Although most American cattlemen think of the Brahman as a tool for producing crossbred calves with excellent heat tolerance and insect resistance, this breed is actually quite a bit more versatile than commonly given credit for. In other counties, the Brahman is frequently used as a dairy or draft animal. It is also a common ingredient when developing new dairy breeds for tropical climates.

4. Simmental

Here’s another dual-purpose breed that is commonly associated with crossbred beef production. While the Simmental is a large breed with high meat yields when adequately fed, it can also make either a productive dairy cow or a docile, sturdy work ox.

3. Hereford

Hereford varieties abound these days. You can choose from the long, tall modern Hereford developed for feedlot finishing, the classic mid-sized Hereford ideally suited to grass feeding, or the miniature Hereford, which is a good option for feeding a family on really small farms. There is also a polled Hereford for safer handling, and even a Black Hereford bred for producing Black Baldies without the risk of the occasional red calf.

2. Angus

The Angus is one of the most popular cattle breeds in the world today. Black Angus beef is associated with a quality eating experience thanks to marbling genes and an exceptional breed promotion program. The Angus has also won favor in the crossbreeding realm thanks to its ability to consistently pass on its hardiness, fertility, and beef quality to its offspring. While a quest for larger frames and heavier carcasses has led to the sacrifice of docility, calving ease, and forage efficiency in many Angus, the moderate-framed Lowline Angus has fortunately emerged to correct some of these issues.

Top 10 Reader-Favorite Cattle Breeds1. Black Baldy

The most popular breed here at Homestead on the Range is, incidentally, not really a breed. A Black Baldy can technically be any crossbred animal that is black with a white face; most commonly, however, it is the result of a cross between an Angus and a Hereford (a miniature Black Baldy usually comes from a Lowline Angus and a miniature Hereford). The Black Baldy is primarily used for commercial beef production, as its fattiness and bland flavor do not make it an outstanding candidate for gourmet grass finishing. That said, it brings a great deal of hardiness to the table, along with a docile demeanor.

Helpful Resources

Choosing a Breed of CattleChoosing a Breed of Cattle
Not sure which breed is best for you? This book will walk you through the process of defining your expectations and narrowing down your options, wrapping up with profiles of 40 common beef, dairy, and dual-purpose breeds. More information and free sample pages are available here.

Cattle Breeds
Our online guide to the history, uses, temperament, health, and pros and cons of common and uncommon cattle breeds.

Choosing a Breed of Cattle

Choosing a Breed of Cattle

We are excited to announce the release of a new book—Choosing a Breed of Cattle: 5 Needs and 40 Breeds for Selecting Cattle That Fit Your Purpose by Michelle Lindsey!

When you start by assessing the five needs of every future cattle owner, choosing between the many breeds of cattle available today suddenly becomes much easier. This book will walk you through the process of defining your expectations and then arm you with key information on 40 common cattle breeds, including beef, dairy, and multipurpose types.

With a little research, you will know:

  • Whether to choose purebred or crossbred cattle.
  • What genetic, geographical, and historical types of cattle are best suited to your purpose.
  • Which beef, dairy, or dual-purpose breeds are most likely to succeed on your homestead, farm, or ranch, no matter how big or small.

Once you have picked a few favorite breeds, we’ll even show you where to go to find more information.

Choosing a Breed of Cattle is the first book in our new series—Practical Country Living. The Practical Country Living series will offer country living enthusiasts the information they need to master new skills quickly. By the time you have finished one of our concise Practical Country Living books, you should be ready to take your newly acquired knowledge into the real world, whatever your area of interest.

More information on Choosing a Breed of Cattle is available here, along with free sample pages.

Adding Value to Milk

Adding Value to MilkLooking for ways to expand your small-farm dairy business? Milk offers many opportunities for diversifying your product offerings!

Here are some common ways to add value to farm-fresh milk.

Cream

Cream is not one of the more popular value-added dairy products around, but it does have a loyal following among health-conscious customers. Fresh, raw cream is often touted as nature’s ultimate health food due to its vitamins, minerals, enzymes, and beneficial bacteria. Good cream can also provide quite the gourmet cooking experience.

Butter

Because butter requires a great deal of milk fat to make, selling butter is typically a better fit for dairy farmers with cows rather than goats or sheep.

Another pitfall with butter is that it is often harder to sell to the public. Many customers (even those who aren’t necessarily health-conscious) won’t think twice about sampling homemade cheese or ice cream. But the market for farm-fresh butter is much smaller.

Buttermilk

Old-fashioned buttermilk is the milk left over from the butter churn, in contrast to grocery-store buttermilk made from skim milk, cultures, and thickening agents. Buttermilk is one of the less common dairy products sold on small farms, but it may be a way to salvage an otherwise wasted byproduct.

Or, to take the value-adding a step further, make buttermilk soap! Handmade soap can be a truly artisan product that commands high prices. It also has a major advantage over many dairy products in that it can be sold online and shipped across the country, enabling the soapmaker to find markets anywhere at all. The usual rules apply when selling soap—check the laws (soap is regulated by the FDA) and make sure you produce a quality product every time. If your customers are paying top-dollar for handcrafted soap, they expect more than a run-of-the-mill cleansing agent.

Cheese

Whether you keep cows, goats, or sheep, cheese offers a magnificent opportunity to the artisan entrepreneur. At the same time, it is a very popular product to eat across America! And another bonus? Cheese made from raw milk is typically regulated much less stringently than raw milk itself (but please check your state regulations before starting on your cheese venture).

Another advantage of selling cheese is that it allows for considerable variety, as there are many different types of cheese that can be made. Cheese made from raw milk must be aged prior to sale in some states, which means that the cheeses many small farms will be able to offer fall into the hard cheese category. Fortunately, hard cheeses do include some very popular varieties, such as cheddar and Gouda. Pasteurization will enable you to add soft cheeses like mozzarella and ricotta to your lineup. Another option for adding still more variety is flavoring your cheese with herbs and spices.

A few words of advice—trying making cheese for home use before turning this project into a business. Cheesemaking is very time-consuming, the equipment is expensive, and quality is the key to maintaining customer interest, so it’s a good idea to test your interest level and build your skills before committing. The good news is that instructional materials abound these days, making the learning curve much less steep.

Also keep in mind that specialty cheese sales usually peak around Christmas—near the lowest ebb of seasonal dairying.

Whey

Whey is a byproduct of cheesemaking. Hard cheeses are pressed to remove the fluids, which can in turn be sold as whey.

So what do you do with whey? Bottling flavored whey drinks is one option. Also, if you happen to know any other small farmers, you may be in luck. Whey can be marketed to pig farmers as feed, and it can also be sold as a very effective fertilizer for organic pastures and fields.

Ice Cream

Ice cream is an extremely popular value-added product, partly because it is readily accepted by the public whether sold by the gallon or by the cone. It’s also portable—some small-scale creameries set up shop in trailers at fairs and other special events, allowing them to capitalize on existing crowds in a festive mood.

The demand for gourmet ice cream is particularly high among older, wealthier customers. Hand churning and indulgent flavors can command an impressive premium—just be aware that choosing this marketing route will make your product a luxury and will consequently reduce your customer base.

Yogurt

Yogurt can be a favorite product among health-conscious consumers, who tend to view it as a positive snack choice.

One potential pitfall to be aware of is the fact that not all areas have a large enough interest to support a yogurt business. Even in areas with access to interested buyers, it would be quite easy to oversupply the market, since a pound of milk makes a pound of yogurt! Yogurt makers will definitely want to have another outlet for milk and dairy products besides yogurt.

Another factor to consider is that tastes vary. Most Americans prefer heavily sweetened yogurt made from low-fat milk. The thicker, less sweet product is more likely to be enjoyed by a few select groups.

Some Final Thoughts

Adding value to milk invariably requires expertise and special equipment. It also requires commitment, and preferably an artisan bent. Before undertaking any value-added dairy enterprise, assess your financial situation, your workload, and your level of enthusiasm carefully and honestly. Many successful dairy entrepreneurs start out learning to make their chosen product on the kitchen stove and sharing with friends and family for free.

One way to reduce the startup costs is to purchase used processing equipment. If you do want to buy new equipment, keep in mind that some manufacturers now make dairy equipment sized for smaller farms—industrial machinery is not necessary these days.

Also note that, in niche dairying, quality is all-important. Off flavors must be avoided, which requires close attention to grazing management. Furthermore, dairy products must be moved fairly quickly to avoid expiration.

Are value-added dairy products right for your farm? If you have serious passion to see you through, maybe so.

Helpful Resource

Starting & Running Your Own Small Farm BusinessStarting & Running Your Own Small Farm Business
This handy book offers a step-by-step approach to business planning. It addresses many of the financial, legal, and marketing issues you will encounter when considering value-added dairy. Read our full review.

What are Animal Units?

What are Animal Units?When extension centers and other information sources discuss stocking rates, they usually make their recommendations in acres per animal (or animals per acre, depending on the climate and the type of animal). For instance, you might read a factsheet that advocates 5 cow-calf pairs to the acre.

There’s one problem with this method of calculating stocking rate—how big are those cows? A 1,400-pound cow eats considerably more than a 900-pound cow.

And what if you want to do mixed-species grazing? How do you figure out how much forage is required to feed both cattle and sheep, for instance?

Enter the animal unit.

Animal Units and Equivalents

A 1,000-pound beef cow with an unweaned calf commonly serves as a standard of measure in grazing management. That standard is the animal unit (AU). The hypothetical beef cow is considered 1 AU.

Because we know roughly how much other types of livestock eat compared to the 1,000-pound beef cow, we can easily make comparisons. We can take the basic AU and modify it to reflect a bigger cow, or a dry cow, or even a goat instead of a cow. The result is the animal unit equivalent (AUE).

Compare the following AUEs:

  • 1,000-pound beef cow with calf: 1.0 AUE.
  • 1,200-pound beef cow with calf: 1.2 AUE.
  • 1,500-pound beef cow with calf: 1.5 AUE.
  • Dry beef cow: 1.0 AUE.
  • Mature bull under 2,000 pounds: 1.5 AUE.
  • Mature bull over 2,000 pounds: 2.0 AUE.
  • Weaned calf: 0.75 AUE.
  • 2-year-old steer or heifer around 700 pounds: 0.8 AUE.
  • Ewe-lamb pair: 0.3 AUE.
  • Mature dry sheep: 0.2 AUE.
  • Yearling sheep: 0.15 AUE.
  • Mature goat: 0.17 AUE.
  • Yearling goat: 0.1 AUE.
  • Mature light horse: 1.25 AUE.
  • Mature heavy horse: 2.0 AUE.
  • Bison: 1.0 AUE.
  • Mature elk: 0.65 AUE.

Determining how many animals you can have on a given piece of land then becomes a matter of matching forage production to livestock needs.

Animal Unit Days and Months

So how long can a pasture feed a given type of animal? A 1,000-pound beef cow with an unweaned calf requires an average of 26 pounds of forage dry matter per day. This gives us the animal unit day (AUD).

Now we come to the animal unit month (AUM). The animal unit month reflects how much forage it takes to feed an animal unit for 30 days. Remember, the animal unit is a 1,000-pound beef cow with a calf, and she consumes 26 pounds of dry-weight forage per day. That gives us 780 pounds of forage for a 30-day period.

The AUM can be used to help you determine the stocking rate for a pasture. Let’s say you have a 40-acre pasture estimated at 0.2 AUM/acre. That means that every acre of the pasture can support 0.2 AUE for 30 days—the entire pasture can support 8 AUE for a month. So for one month you could graze your choice of:

  • 8 beef cow-calf pairs at 1,000 pounds each.
  • 5 beef cow-calf pairs at 1,500 pounds each.
  • 10 steers at 700 pounds each.
  • 26 ewe-lamb pairs.
  • 47 mature goats.
  • 6 light horses.
  • 4 heavy horses.
  • 8 bison.
  • 12 mature elk.

You can also use the AUM to figure out how to mix species in your grazing plan. Just to give you an idea of a few possible combinations, in this scenario you could graze:

  • 4 beef cow-calf pairs at 1,000 pounds each + 13 ewe-lamb pairs.
  • 6 beef steers at 700 pounds each + 2 light horses.
  • 10 ewe-lamb pairs + 29 mature goats.

How do you determine the AUMs for your pasture? Check online for average AUM data in your area. If you can’t find anything specific, you may have to keep your own forage production records. If you determine how much dry-weight forage your pastures produce over a 30-day period, you will have no problem calculating the AUMs, as one AUM uses 780 pounds of forage.