How to Raise Cattle on Small Acreage?

how to raise cattle on small acreage

During the last twenty years, our family has slowly increased the production of food for our dinner table. This includes veggies, eggs, berries, and now meat. We chose to raise beef cattle because we had the available space, and frankly, we love steak and roasts.

There is nothing that compares with the flavor of fresh beef and previously we had been purchasing a half a steer at a time for our freezer, from a local farmer. Our first three calves were Black Angus feeder calves about four months old. We later added two more, another Black Angus and a Hereford/Angus cross. Starting with feeder calves, you can expect a minimum of one year to butchering, but the time is mainly dictated by the amount of space you have to store the beef in the freezer.

It is possible to raise your own beef on small acreage. What are the factors to consider if you plan to add beef cows to your family homestead?

Space Requirements

The amount of acreage does not need to be large and extensive. We are not talking about ranching or creating a South Fork here. If you are planning on grazing the cows on pasture you need about 2 acres per animal. Cattle can be raised in a feedlot situation where you provide all the roughage and concentrate feed for them in a smaller enclosed space. Neither of these situations fit our picture of how cows would fit into our homestead farm. We like our animals to have a bit of space for roaming around so we are using two separate one acre fenced in areas.

Most of our acreage is in a Tree Farm program so we do not have a lot of cleared land. We also raise Pygora goats, sheep, chicken, ducks and turkeys so all the cleared space was not available for the cows. But we used to have horses so the two fenced in areas were already set up. Having two separate fenced in areas allows us to move the cattle from one area to the other to let the ground rest and to help with parasite control. Each area has an open shed for shelter, which is a Steel Building, although the cows seem to prefer being outside. Electric fencing was run along the inside of the post and board fencing.

Safety Considerations

Cattle are large and consideration should be given to who will be taking care of them. While the cows may be docile, the size of any 1000 to 1500 pound animal should be respected. Animals react quickly and can seriously hurt a caretaker if precautions are not taken. Gentling the cattle with feed is one way to gain some control over your small herd.

But beware! The cows will follow you, enthusiastically, for grain and you should know where they are in relation to you , at all times. Have a plan in place should veterinary care be needed. A chute or some other suitable method of restraint should be thought out before disaster strikes.

Nutrition

Water is the most critical nutrient to provide for your cattle. The average full grown cow will consume an average of twelve to twenty gallons of water each day. We provide water in stock tanks in the fields. If you plan on relying on a stream or pond, be sure it doesn’t dry up in the heat of summer or freeze over in the winter. Because our area suffers from frequent power outages, we keep extra tanks filled with water, in the event the power is out for an extended time. If the power goes out, the electric pump for the well does not work.

Grain can be costly but we feed a small amount once a day, mainly to keep the cows gentle and willing to come to us. The majority of their diet is hay, which is provided using large round bales. With no real pasture, our cows eat through two large round bales each week. You will need to provide a salt or mineral block also.

Costs

Since these vary greatly by region it is hard to give a good estimate of the cost to raise beef cattle on the homestead. In our situation, we try to barter for the needs using other products from our farm and businesses. I will tell you that I don’t think this is the economical approach to take to add meat to your freezer. But if you are looking to control what goes into making that meat, the peace of mind that comes from knowing no chemicals were used, and that the animals lived a good life before providing food for your family, then, the cost may be worth it. To us, the answer was yes. It is worth every dollar spent.

Raising your own beef for the homestead may not be the most economical project you choose, but, to us it is a fair trade off for the knowledge that the animal was fed wholesome food with no chemical additives. The taste is above anything a super market can offer. If you haven’t had the pleasure of dining on fresh local beef, give your local cattle farmer a call and see if he has any to sell.

More on Fencing

Good fencing is a must. The weight of cattle pushing against a flimsy fence is a recipe for … well, escaping cows. We learned this the hard way, early on. The first area we put the cows into had been used for years for our horses. Some of the fencing should have been replaced prior to the cows being placed there. They pushed on a section of fence and it gave way, allowing the cows to roam freely for an afternoon. By the time we realized they were missing it was evening feeding time. While we could see hoof prints at many locations, such as the vegetable garden, we could not find the cows. We looked for hours and even canvassed the two nearby neighborhoods. As darkness approached, I placed a call to the non-emergency number for the local police department hoping someone had seen the cows roaming and called in a report.

Our farm is in a rapidly growing suburban area and it took a few minutes to convince the dispatcher that I was not making a prank call. Guess that was a first for her. No one had called in reporting cows on the loose. Up until this point, we had kept the dog in thinking (mistakenly) that he would cause the cows to run if he found them. Giving up for the night, we let the dog out and he immediately found the herd not too far from the barn, hiding in some tall growth behind a shed. The electric fence was added within a few days. Since then we have not had any roaming cattle.

Janet Garman with Timber Creek Farm. Timber Creek farm is located along a river in Eastern Maryland, we are farming a large family tract of land.  The tree farm property has been in the family for generations and we have added the animals and vegetable gardens.  We are raising Pygora fiber goats, Border Leicester sheep, Black Angus cows, chickens, ducks and turkeys. Our fiber from the sheep and goats is processed into yarn by local fiber processing companies and spun into beautiful soft yarn.

Our chickens and ducks supply eggs for our family and many of our neighbors, too.  Every day brings a new challenge as we work towards being self sufficient in our food needs.  Our jouney towards self sufficiency is hard work, but it’s work we love.  Our mission, through the work on our farm, is to be able to provide food for our family and to encourage others in their journey into their own farming projects, big or small. Follow us on our journey –  we have a blog and a Facebook page.

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melissa
 

Melissa has a background in marketing, brand management, graphic design and photography. She left corporate America to pursue her dream of living a simpler life. Simpler doesn’t always mean easier but she enjoys every minute on her small homestead. She loves to cook, practice herbalism and gardening. Her passion is spreading the word about sustainable living and sharing her love of herbalism and living from scratch.

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