The basics to raising your own beef!
If you own your land, have an area of pasture or dry lot, and are within your zoning regulations, then you should be able to raise your own cow. There are several advantages to growng your own beef. You can control your cow’s diet, keep check on the safety and health of the animal and decide at what point to have it slaughtered.
Let’s start with some basics,…
Selecting the Calf:
It’s best to purchase a calf, (baby cow) when the calf weights between 400-675 pounds. A smaller calf would take longer to raise and would cost more in terms of feed and care of the animal. A larger cow would cost more to purchase and you wouldn’t be able to take advantage of what your pasture has to offer. You should purchase either a male (steer) or a female (heifer). A steer would gain weight quicker but they are harder to manage. Research has shown that steer’s might give you the best growth rate per feed consumed and produce good quality meat but they can’t produce young and can be territorial at times. Either breed will make a good animal for beef production. Remember, the healthier the calf, the faster it will grow. Calf’s are available year round but to take advantage of your natural resources, purchase one during the late Winter and early Spring months. You can purchase a calf from your local Animal Auction, Ranches, State and County Agricultural Guides, and from most local farmers. Be attentive when picking out a calf. Look for signs that the calf might have health conditions, diseases, and be inbred. Avoid calf’s that drag their feet, move slowly, have dull coat’s, droopy head, discoloration in the eyes and discharge of any kind. These signs suggest the calf might have a condition. A healthy calf will be alert, eat well, act vibrant, be very attentive and have shiny, glossy hair.
Feeding the Calf:
Your calf’s weight gain will depend on a number of factors. Depending on it’s genetics and the amount of feed it consumes, It can gain weight quickly or slowly. Daily gains average 2.25-3.25 pds for an animal fed a good quality high-vitamin and protein ration that contains large amounts of grain. Grass fed calf’s gain at a smaller ratio of .50-1.25 pounds per day. Otherwise, the period you will have to feed your calf will range from about 90 days to more than 225 days depending on the weight at purchase and at what size you want to have it slaughtered. The best slaughter weights range from 850 to 1250 pounds for males and 800 to 900 pounds for females. Animals larger than this can be excessively fatty.
Your calf can be kept on a diet of grass and feed, just remember the fastest way and most inexpensive way to produce gains is to have at l half an acre of pasture available for grazing per calf. This is sufficient to support one calf with supplementation of grains or hay.
If you have good quality grass, you should have 80-140 days of good grazing during the warm months, normally early Spring to middle Summer. After this time, you need to supplement your calf’s diet with other nutrients to keep the calf growing healthy and gaining weight. Keep your pastures irrigated, this will help keep mold down and give you 4-6 good months of grazing for your animal(s).
There are categories of feed. The most common are grains and roughage (hay, silage). For animals to gain at a healthy weight, it must eat in one day enough energy and protein for body growth, weight gain, and proper body maintenance. Normally the only other is salt in the form of a salt block or salt dispensed in their troughs.
Normally a calf will eat from 2.25 to 3.25 percent of it’s body weight in feed, roughage daily. For best performance, about 75% of this feed should be a concentrated mix, the remainder 25% should be roughage. A 500 pound will eat 10-15 pounds of feed a day so this means it should eat 7-12 pounds of concentrated mix and about 3 pounds of hay or roughage.
You will find an abundance of different kinds of feed and most can be purchased at local feed stores. Some are high in different kinds of protein which can be beneficial during the first part of the feeding period. Others are high in energy for use during the last part of the feeding period.
The most common forms of grains that are used are Wheat, Rye, Corn, Barley and Milo. Wheat should not make up more than half other the grain portion of the ration but these other grains can be used in any combination or alone. The grains should be cracked, ground, or rolled to help aid digestion.
You should feed your calf concentrated feeds gradually. Feed 1-2 pounds the first day gradually increasing this amount every couple of days. if your calf experiences loose bowel movements or stops eating, cut back on the concentrate. Calves can become very sick if overfed concentrates, so be aware the first few days, calves can overeat so be attentive to signs of body irregularities.
Points to Remember
- Feed your calf twice a day
- Have water accessible at all times
- Supplement Feed with salt when necessary
- Don’t change feeds drastically, introduce your calf to new feeds gradually. Mix a little of the old with the new until the calf has completely transitioned.
- Keep feeding and sleeping areas clean, mold free as this can damage the digestive tracts of the animals
Where’s your beef:
There are professionals who will come to your place to slaughter the animal for you. They can do it at your location or haul the animal off to a slaughterhouse. It can cost anywhere from $25.00 to $50.00 per slaughter. Add an additional .25-.35 cents per pound it you want the meat cut and wrapped for refrigeration. You should get 50-65% of the weight back of the animal. There are a few packing plants that can provide slaughtering services for individual and smaller animals. Check with local farmers, livestock traders, and classifieds for slaughtering services in your area. Be sure to contact the slaughtering house before delivering the calf or carcass to ensure they have proper equipment and staff available to prepare your meat.
Hope this has helped!