Most livestock producers know the challenges that come with raising cattle for profit. There are many components to consider, such as feed, land, equipment, and the health of the animals. Understanding the most effective way to raise cattle can lead your enterprise to success.
But how do you go about it?
Here are some helpful tips and information for raising cattle:
Select a High-Quality Cattle Breed
When selecting cattle, you’ll want to ensure they’re healthy, meaning you should have the animals evaluated. That entails inspecting their body, weight, and performance. The last thing you want is to purchase livestock that cannot get you the profit you want.
Every bovine breed has its own set of traits. These traits are important to producers as they provide much-needed information regarding what breed is best. Beef cattle breeds are divided into maternal and terminal breeds.
Maternal breeds are moderate-sized cows mostly recognized for the healthy calves they give birth to. Terminal breeds are a bit larger and commonly used for meat production purposes.
There are also composite breeds of cattle. These breeds are made up of both maternal and terminal cows, combining genetics fit for diverse markets and environments.
The more common breeds of cattle include:
- Maternal: Angus, Hereford, Red Angus, and Shorthorn
- Terminal: Charolais, Gelbvieh, Limousin, Maine-Anjou, and Simmental
- Composite: Beefmaster, Braford, Lim-Flex, Maintainer, and SimAngus
Producers evaluating cattle will look for the following:
- Measurable Traits at Birth: Birth weight, weaning weight, yearling weight, and meat yield
- Breed Characteristics: Ear length, colour, polled status, and possible defects
Some additional considerations include:
- Cattle that can withstand the climate
- Crossbreeding different types of cattle
- The local market trends
- Selecting breeds that produce quality calves
Properly Maintain Your Land and Feed
You must assess your land and forage needs to ensure your livestock is raised to be healthy. Remember, different types of cattle breeds eat different types of forage. It’s integral that you know what kind of forage will sustain your livestock and how much of it you’ll need.
That’s why breed evaluations are pivotal. Knowing everything you can about your specific cattle breeds can help determine the type of forage needed. Furthermore, you should consider how the weather will affect forage needs.
Enforcing a well-structured land management system can help enhance forage production needs. Start by doing soil tests to see if any amendments are needed to improve forage production. In some cases, soil tests can help you with budgeting your expenses. Many producers use pasture grazing techniques to improve forage quality and production for their cattle.
Moderate Your Cow Size
The average cow size is 631 kg/1390 lbs. If your cows are on the larger side, they’ll need more forage to sustain themselves day-to-day. You must ensure they receive the right amount of water, protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, and minerals in their daily diet. That means creating a well-balanced nutrition plan.
Pastures and hay feed often meet the nutritional requirements that livestock producers need when raising beef cattle. However, cows need a little more sustenance to grow healthy, which may require soybean meal or distillers grains to provide more energy and protein.
For mature cows, pasture may provide the best food source. Cattle usually graze pastures to retain the best quantity. The best time for cows to enter a pasture is when the forage is roughly 15 to 25 cm/6 to 10 inches tall. When the forage has been grazed down to 10 cm/4 inches or less, the cows should rotate onto the next. If you can’t account for how much forage you need to feed 635-kg/1400-pound cows, you’ll have to decrease the number of cows you own.
The best way to manage and moderate your cattle’s size is by maintaining your pasture sizes and calculating how much you’ll need to feed your cow herd.
Prioritize and Protect the Health of Your Animals
While well-balanced diets and nutrition are the foundation for raising healthy cattle, other health factors should also be a priority. Any experienced producer can tell you that an injured or sickly cow can be bad for business. You must always keep up with preventative measures to keep your cattle healthy.
When developing strategies to maintain your cattle’s health, be sure to include your veterinarian. They’ll be able to stay on top of vaccinations and treat injuries or illnesses.
Vaccinating your cattle is a good practice to keep. Your veterinarian will know the correct vaccines based on cattle life stages and disease risks. Treating illnesses or potential diseases can minimize the risk of common diseases spreading among the herd.
If you want to protect your beef cattle from contracting diseases, it’s imperative to implement biosecurity practices on the farm. For example, if one or more bulls have to leave and return to the farm, you may want to consider quarantining them for three to four weeks to ensure they aren’t carrying any diseases. You should also change your clothing and shoes after contact with another farm or cattle.
Cull Old, Open, and Ornery Cows
Culling may be a tough practice, but when a cow is old, open, or ornery, it can greatly affect your operations. Some older cows have difficulty maintaining their weight and wean smaller calves.
When a cow is “open,” it means that they are not pregnant. Many cattle producers wind up with open cows at the end of the breeding season. There are numerous reasons a cow may be open, such as disease, age, nutrition, etc. For some cattle producers, the cost of keeping those cows might not be worth it if they can’t birth new calves.
An ornery cow is what you may expect: An animal with a bad temper. When one cow in the herd is ornery, it can potentially damage your farming equipment and injure people and nearby animals.
Maintain Your Equipment
It’s paramount to maintain and manage your equipment and facilities to keep your cattle safe. Yes, it’s an investment, but think of it as a way to protect your main investment: Beef cattle. Equipment can improve and support safe cattle handling practices and reduce the stress of your animals, which is good for their health.
Ensure you have the following equipment to safely manage your herd:
You can use feeders to keep your cattle from wasting hay and other forage. Well-crafted feeders that hold round bales of hay will ensure no feed spills onto the ground and keeps potential parasites away from your cattle.
Feeders come in many sizes and can accommodate hay and grain. Cattle producers must keep the feeders in good condition and know when to put them out. If you’re okay with your cow herds eating throughout the day, you can use smaller feeders to distribute the right amount of sustenance.
Like food, water is a necessity for beef cattle. Not enough water can decrease food consumption and affect animal performance. That’s why raised beef cattle require troughs or automatic watering systems. There are many different styles of watering systems, but what’s important is that the water is clean, fresh, and available to your cattle at all times.
Your beef cattle will likely graze pastures throughout the spring, summer, and fall seasons. You must pay close attention to the pasture height and ensure it’s divided to provide enough forage for your cattle during grazing times.
Each cow should get moved to new pastures once the forage has been grazed down to ten cm/four inches. By rotating pastures, you’re ensuring each cow or bull receives enough nutrients. If an area is used too often for grazing, it can cause forage stand damage and encourage weeds to grow.
Installing a high-quality perimeter fence can keep livestock in the correct pasture areas. It also keeps them from wandering away and separates them from predators. Many livestock producers prefer a perimeter with high-tensile fencing or subdivision fencing that divides larger fields into smaller, more manageable areas for forage growth.
As with food, access to water is a must-have in a fenced-in pasture. Whether it’s a mobile watering system or a permanent underground system that can provide water, it’s essential to maintain the equipment and keep it all in working order, especially during colder weather.
Health Care Equipment
As we mentioned above, keeping your cattle healthy is vital to your operations. Routine healthcare practices can prevent diseases or injuries from occurring. The most common practices include vaccinating, tagging, deworming, and dehorning cows, while also castrating bulls.
These practices typically require the following equipment:
- Tagging pliers
- Band expander
- Elastrator bands
- Drench syringe or gun
In some instances, livestock producers may dehorn their cattle to prevent horn growth and injuries to other animals or handlers. The process can be performed with an electric dehorner and typically happens after the horn buds break through the cow’s skin.
A hoof trimmer is another piece of healthcare equipment necessary for safety concerns. It isn’t a routine healthcare practice but might be needed when raising beef cattle.
There are other types of large equipment necessary for raising cattle. Livestock producers will need a scale to monitor animal growth and weight. A scale can also help calculate dosages for medical treatments.
There are generally three types of scales that most producers rely on:
All scales must get tested for accuracy.
Cattle handling equipment is also a necessity for producers who want to effectively handle their herd. A handling system works by placing the cattle in a group pen and getting them to move into a chute. After they walk down the chute, they’re placed between two gates where they’re held for health care or sorting needs.
The chute features a head catch that restrains the cattle for specific procedures. It’s mainly for the sole purpose of ensuring safety for the human handler and animal.
Develop a Well-Defined Breeding Season
The gestation period for beef cattle is roughly nine months. Managing a well-defined breeding season can improve the efficiency of your herd and boost the marketability of the calves.
The estrus cycles and age at puberty can vary between breeds. If a heifer (a female cow that hasn’t had a calf before) gives birth, it should weigh at least 70% of its mature weight by the start of the breeding season and 85% at calving. Heifers that meet this weight are usually ready to breed between the 11 and 15-month marks in the following season.
Some producers will try to synchronize their cows to breed at the desired times. The synchronization is significant for artificial insemination procedures, which are often accomplished using a CIDR (a T-shaped device that collapses to form a rod for insertion).
For other consumers, increasing the number of calving cows born early can increase the average weaning weight in the fall season. Let’s say the calf gains 1 kg/2 pounds a day. By fall, they will potentially weigh 23-27 kg/50-60 pounds more at the same weaning date. This way, the calves grow bigger by your desired date, all by starting the breeding season a bit earlier.
The Birthing Process
Several signs can indicate when a cow is ready to begin the birthing process. Before calving, the cow’s udder will tighten as it becomes filled with colostrum. Colostrum is the first milk that contains antibodies that protect newborn calves from disease and illnesses.
When a cow is ready for birth, the muscles around the hips will relax, and the vulva changes colour. The cow will most likely refuse to eat and move further away from its herd.
A water bag will suddenly appear, exposing the feet and nose of the newborn calf. After the female cow has pushed for long enough, the newborn will be released. The mothering cow will lick the calf clean and spend time encouraging it to stand and nurse.
Most cows don’t need much assistance when giving birth. Assistance may only be necessary if the calf has not been delivered within six hours after the water bag appears. If the bag has already ruptured and the calf hasn’t been released, the cow may be straining and require additional help delivering the calf.
Consider Employing a Marketing Plan
There is a vast amount of markets available for beef cattle. The key is to create a strong marketing plan that increases your profits. Are you interested in selling live cattle or marketing meat? While many livestock producers focus on marketing their beef directly to consumers, others will focus on selling healthy, grown cattle to meat packing companies.
If you’re unfamiliar with marketing plans, your plan should include strategies to promote your product. That includes pricing details regarding your sales channels and information about your cattle. Networking is a large part of thriving in the marketplace. Making new connections has its advantages, as it can link you to partnerships or related businesses that may be interested in your beef cattle.
Additionally, you must think about budgets, insurance, and business reinvestment strategies. When it comes to budgeting, utilities such as feed, facilities, equipment, labour, fertilizer, and marketing are all included in the cost. Create income projections to make wise financial decisions when crafting a strong marketing and business plan.
Insurance protects your entire operation from awry situations. The insurance should cover your land, facilities, cattle, and handlers.
Consider reinvesting your business profits to help grow your cattle operation. The investments might include:
- Facility upgrades
- Increasing herd size
- Acquiring more land
- Diversifying the operation
Keep Records of Your Expenses
We cannot stress this enough but always keep records of your expenses. That includes how much feed and hay you’re feeding the cattle, the weaning weights, and which calves are weaning. These records can aid the decisions you make for your operations.
Develop a Contingency Plan
Contingency plans may seem like a negative thing, as some individuals think it means throwing in the towel if things don’t work out. However, contingency planning is a smart business practice. These types of plans can cover who takes over if you’re suddenly unable to run the cattle-raising operation, what type of financial resources you need when unforeseen circumstances arise, and other strategies that address farming challenges and hardships.
If an unexpected incident occurs, plan for someone else to take over operation management. That might include a spouse, business partner, family member, or friend that can take the reins if need be. You can also make arrangements with other livestock producers when support is needed.
Raising cattle is a challenging profession. Many of those challenges can result in financial stress. It’s important to plan ahead and be ready to avoid negative scenarios. Maintaining a special fund for emergency expenses is always a good idea when raising cows and/or bulls.
Your contingency plan should also cover market fluctuations and include actions to address incidents such as animal disease or injuries.
The process of raising cattle can turn into a promising enterprise when implementing the right strategies. While every cattle operation is different, it’s crucial to have a well-defined plan to ensure you reach success. Contact our knowledgeable team at Real Industries Ltd. today if you’re looking for more tips regarding cattle farming.