Due to it’s ease in getting started there is no wonder why when starting to raise beef cattle for the very first time most individuals think of starting with a cow-calf enterprise. Here are a few items to help you determine if such an enterprise will be best suited for you, your facilities and acreage. A little advance research and study may help you solve most of the problems before they happen.
- A cow weighing approximately 1100 pounds will consume 22 to 33 pounds of forage or 1/2 a square bale of grass hay each day. Determine the typical stocking rate for land in your area to find out how many cows your acreage will support. Locate a source for the additional feed and hay you may need. If your typical stocking rate for native range is 10 acres per animal unit, then it would take 100 acres to support ten animal units, assuming all 100 acres produce grass and are grazable. One cow and calf is typically considered one animal unit.
- Most cattle breeders consider it may not be economically feasible to own a bull for fewer than 10 to 15 cows. Bulls require even more feed than cows and are hard on facilities and fences.
- A cow/calf enterprise is not something you can easily discontinue today and start back up next month with the same exact genetics. When drought reduces available forage, producers must either buy expensive feed or sell some cows to prevent overgrazing. This is the time when cattle prices are lowest. Then, after rains have come and grass has grown, producers buy more cows when prices are highest. It will not always be easy to avoid this sell low/buy high strategy on every operation.
- Safe and secure facilities will be needed for managing large animals and the expense is pretty well fixed at about the same total cost for a large or small herd. This may make the cost per animal for small herds pretty high.
- A cow/calf operation requires considerable animal husbandry skill. A beef cow represents a fairly large investment per animal. Naturally, the owner is economically and humanely compelled to care for the animals. Some newcomers may discover that illnesses, injuries, birthing complications and preventive health programs often intimidate them or require more training than was expected. Competent large animal veterinary services close to your farm may be hard to locate in some areas. Animals must be transported to a veterinary clinic in a trailer or the producer must find a veterinarian willing to make “house calls.”
The one thing not mentioned above is how much enjoyment you will get from being a cattle rancher. Many times this alone can make everything else seem very minor. Do your research though and it will help you get more enjoyment out of the beef cattle farming if you decide it is for you.