If you have the land, the feed, and the fences, raising beef cattle is a profitable, and fun occupation. However, if you are just starting out, with little land, no feed, and no fences, you can still work towards owning beef cows. I just want to encourage you to start small. Let’s talk about beef cows and calves! Overall, beef calving season is exciting and easy.
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As a child, I enjoyed spending time on my Uncle’s dairy farm. I loved to bottle feed the Holstein calves. Each summer, I would tame a calf enough to lead it around by a halter. I loved farm life, but I never dreamed someday I would live on a farm. Nor did I want to spend hours milking cows.
But with beef cattle, you do not have to spend hours milking cows. Beef cattle are pretty self-sufficient on a day to day basis. Before I met my husband, I honestly never spent any time around beef cattle. I had no idea what owning beef cattle entailed. But now that I have lived on the farm for 14 years, I love beef cattle (most of the time).
You will learn 3 reasons to raise beef cattle. Specifically beef calves.
- Beef cows are excellent mothers
- Beef births are usually low maintenance
- Calves are low maintenance and tough various weather conditions
Before we talk about the many advantages of having beef calves, let’s talk about what you will need to have beef cattle. You will need 3 large investments: land, feed, and fencing. The amount of land you have is going to depend on many factors that are too complicated to address in this article, but the Natural Resources Conservation Service has a helpful handout to calculate land requirements per cow.
Beef Cows Usually have Excellent Motherly Instinct
Overall, beef cows are excellent mothers. Mother cows will protect their calf from predators. However, we also have a pair of donkeys to protect calves. Our main predators are coyotes, but we have never had a problem with them killing or even chasing our calves. If you live in an area with mountain lions or wolves, predators will be a much bigger issue for you.
The Bonding Experience
When a calf is born, the mother will learn its smell as she cleans it off. She will also give a soft series of moos as she licks the calf. The calf learns the moo of its mother. This event bonds the mother cow and calf. It is truly an amazing process to watch. Most mother cows will stay with her calf in the area where it was born for about 12-24 hours. The calf will learn to stand and almost immediately learn to nurse. The entire time, the mother is smelling her calf and mooing to it.
As the calf becomes stronger, the mother will move around and start to graze again. The calf will stick very close to its mother for the first couple of days. The mother will continue to do her short mood to find her calf and warn it of danger. As the calf grows, the mother will graze further away from the calf. The calf spends much of its time sleeping, just like all newborns.
One amazing thing I have observed over many years of owning cattle is the babysitter phenomenon. We have about 25 cows. As more and more calves are born, the mother cows stick together, while those cows without a calf, go off and do their own thing. The calves stick together too. They sleep in a group and play when they are awake.
The mother cows actually take turns watching the group of calves. Most of the cows will go off and graze in other areas of the pasture, while one or two cows will stay with the calves. This appears to be an instinctual protection behavior. If trouble arises, the babysitter cow will alert the herd with a particular moo and the other mother cows will come running to investigate.
Once in a while you will have a cow who doesn’t exhibit strong, protective motherly instincts. For example, she doesn’t stand to let her calf nurse. She is constantly walking away as her calf tries to nurse. She loses her calf when she goes off grazing. I highly suggest you sell these types of cows. You do not want poor mothering skills passed down through her calf. Poor mothers become a lot of work for farmers and their calves are usually not as strong due to having to chase their mother to get a meal.
Beef Births are Usually Low Maintenance
Beef cows rarely have trouble birthing their calf. I would say about once or twice a year in a herd of 25 do we need to intervene in birth. It is best to let the cow try as long as you think it is safe. Once you intervene she becomes stressed and it becomes even harder. A cow will not simply stand to let you help her unless she is really tame. You will have to get her into a head gate or wait until she goes down.
Heifers (a female, who has never had a calf) are more likely to sometimes have trouble. For this reason, we stagger the calving of cows and heifers. We do not let our heifers with the bull until about a month after the cows have been with the bull. That way the heifers will calf later in the spring when the weather is a little nicer.
Beef Calves are Low Maintenance and tough
Beef calves rarely need any intervention at birth. Beef calves learn to stand and nurse within minutes of birth. They quickly gain strength over a couple of days. You can really only catch them within the first couple of days. After that, they are too fast. Some farmers choose to catch them and work them right away. By work them, I mean castrate bull calves and vaccinate and tag all calves.
We choose to wait to do this until fall. We catch all the calves in a pen and wean them from their mothers. We run them through a headgate, tag and vaccinate and castrate bulls at that time. There are advantages and disadvantages to both methods.
Catching calves at birth is good for the calf because you can vaccinate it right away and castrate it while it is small, but it is dangerous because the mother may attack you.
Waiting to work the calves until the fall is safer for humans as far as mother attacks, but calves are bigger when you try to castrate them, which can be dangerous. Also, calves could become sick because they are not vaccinated. Also, you need a headgate or a visit from the vet to work calves in the fall.
Beef Calves are Tough
It amazes me how tough beef calves are. They are able to withstand a lot of harsh weather. However, it is important to monitor them during cold, wet weather. The hardest weather on a beef calf is when it rains and then becomes very cold. If the calf doesn’t get a chance to dry off before freezing temperatures, they may experience hypothermia. It may be necessary to move calves to shelter or provide extra bedding during these conditions.
We do not have a barn or lean-to building where calves can be sheltered. Therefore, we have solved this problem by calving later in the spring: late April to early May, when conditions are warmer. It is important to plan your calving season based on where you live.
Will your Beef calves be tame?
Will your calves be tame? Probably not. In order for a calf to be tame, you must handle it A LOT. Given the protective nature of beef cow mothers, you will not be allowed to touch the calf. The mother will either run away with it or attack you. If you would like tame cattle, check out my article about the advantages and disadvantages of having tame cattle.
Once in a while, we have a cow that doesn’t have enough milk to feed her calf and we supplement with milk replacer. These calves tend to become tame. However, it is a lot of work, but it is nice to have a tame calf now and then. Overall, beef cows will take care of their calf and you don’t have to do much intervention at all.
Are Beef Calves right for you?
If you have the land, the feed, and the fences, raising beef cattle is a profitable, and fun occupation. However, I highly suggest you start with one or two cows, rather than buying a herd to see if it is right for you.
The biggest advantage of caring for beef cattle is that they are pretty self-sufficient on a day to .day basis. There are three big advantages of owning beef cows. They are excellent mothers. Their births are usually low maintenance. Finally, calves are low maintenance and tough various weather conditions.
I hope this article has helped you determine if beef cattle is right for you. One way to acquire beef calves is to buy bottle calves. You can read more about bottle calves in my other articles.
- Is Raising Bottle Calves Profitable?
- 5 Steps to Raising a Bottle Calf
- The 6 Best Places to Buy a Bottle Calf
How about you? Do you own beef cattle? What is your favorite part about owning beef cows? What do you wish you would have known before you purchased them? Let me know in the comments below!