Raising Your Own Beef For Self-Sufficiency

For many individuals managing a homestead, the role of raising livestock is pivotal for the local household economy. The selection of livestock for your property depends on factors such as your region’s climate, homestead size, accessible food sources, the potential market (if you decide to sell some animals), and your personal preferences.

Some people contend that purchasing all your meat—beef, chicken, pork, lamb, rabbit, etc.—is more cost-effective than raising it yourself. Although this argument holds true in purely monetary terms, there are additional considerations when it comes to producing meat for personal use on a homestead.

When deciding whether to buy or raise meat, factors beyond the financial aspect come into play. These include the quality of the meat, the control you have over the raising process, and the satisfaction derived from producing your own food. While it might seem more economical to buy meat from external sources, the unique advantages of raising livestock on your homestead contribute to a holistic perspective on the matter.

In pursuit of good beef

In today’s world, red meat, especially beef, is often criticized as a major threat to our health and well-being. I want to highlight that it’s entirely possible to produce delicious and nutritious beef on your own property, and you can do so without the excess fat and chemicals commonly found in commercially raised beef.

Our beef primarily thrives on a diet of grass and hay, with minimal grain or supplements. Offering free access to trace minerals, high-magnesium blocks, water, and pasture contributes to the production of leaner beef, surpassing the quality of store-bought options and remaining cost-competitive.

When comparing home-raised to store-bought meat, the foremost consideration is quality. Home-raised meat is bred, nurtured, and processed with the sole purpose of serving as nourishment for the family. On the contrary, commercially raised livestock is focused on maximizing marketability quickly and at the lowest cost, often compromising on quality.

Those of us who raise our own meat have a clear understanding of the feed and additives used in the process. While occasional medication may be necessary for the health of an animal, we can confidently say that our future dinner entrees are not injected with massive doses of hormones or steroids.

An additional crucial factor to ponder is the potential food source in the event of a serious emergency, whether economic or otherwise. Livestock raisers would have a valuable resource at their disposal, unlike the uncertainty faced by supermarkets and grocers during challenging times. In emergencies, grocery shelves and meat counters could rapidly deplete, leaving customers without a reliable source of sustenance.

Children will gain valuable lessons

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If your family includes children, the significance of having livestock on the homestead cannot be overstated. The presence of animals contributes immensely to a child’s learning experience. Responsibilities such as feeding, assisting with hay, loading manure into the spreader, and similar tasks help instill a sense of self-esteem and a strong work ethic in young individuals.

Children learn the value of contribution and importance within the family structure. They understand that certain expectations exist, and their efforts play a vital role in family life. By engaging in these activities, we contribute to molding our youngsters into productive and responsible adults unafraid of hard work.

In addition, children grasp the no-nonsense life-death cycle of animals that were placed on Earth by God for wise use. Growing up on a homestead where animals are raised for food, a child has a clear understanding of the origins of their food, fostering direct appreciation and respect for the life cycle of meat animals, unlike their city-raised counterparts.

Many young people have learned fundamental life lessons by observing animals on the farm and homestead, often assisting in the miracle of birth. These experiences cultivate a deep respect for life and a profound understanding of the miracles bestowed by God.

While venturing into the cattle business, it’s crucial to remember that cattle are sizable animals. An old beef cow can easily weigh between 1000-1200 pounds, and even typically calm animals can unintentionally cause harm. Our personal experience with cattle has been enlightening and educational, though not necessarily highly profitable in monetary terms.

Cattle on smaller properties often serve the purpose of preventing overgrowth and providing butchering beef for personal consumption or sale. It’s important for small landholders not to anticipate substantial wealth from cattle farming. According to our veterinarian, small family herds with a modest number of cows and calves may not yield significant profits, but they can cover property taxes and maintain pasture upkeep.

In reality, selling a few fat calves, young steers, or butchering beef can potentially cover the program’s expenses, including property taxes, and assist in maintaining the homestead. Over the years, our experience with cows, bulls, calves, and steers has allowed us to form educated opinions on various methods of raising beef, including raising bucket calves and keeping cows with calves.

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Cattle breeds

When considering the type of cattle for your homestead, you’ll encounter two main categories: dairy and beef. Common dairy breeds include Jersey, Guernsey, Brown Swiss, and Holstein, while popular beef breeds comprise Angus, Hereford, as well as more exotic options like Limousine, Semintal, Charolais, Saler, and various others. Although dual-purpose breeds like Milking Shorthorns exist, they are less common nowadays but can still offer opportunities for homesteaders.

Both beef and dairy cattle have been selectively bred over time to excel in their intended roles, whether it’s milk production or meat. Dairy breeds are designed to efficiently convert feed into milk and lack the heavily muscled bodies seen in beef breeds, which are optimal for producing a meaty, well-muscled carcass.

However, this doesn’t mean that dairy calves cannot be raised for beef. Many Jersey bull calves, for instance, have been raised for steaks and roasts. Yet, when homesteaders breed their family milk cow, they often choose a smaller beef breed like Angus to ensure a renewed milk source and a calf more suitable for meat production. Breeding a Jersey cow to a smaller-framed bull helps facilitate an easier birthing process.

In my years around cattle, I hadn’t raised what we call “bucket calves” or “bottle calves” until we embarked on a project involving seven Holstein bottle calves from a local dairyman. In dairy operations, male calves are typically separated from the herd, and we acquired ours as day-olds or a few days old. The first week, closely monitored by the dairyman, allowed the calves to receive vital colostrum from the mother cow, containing antibodies and bacteria crucial for their well-being.

Our bull calves were raised on bottles with calf starter formula, incorporating dry feed at a few weeks old and being completely weaned off the formula by 10-12 weeks. The formula, a basic growing ration, consists of ground corn, calf supplement, molasses feed, and salt. As they reached 500 pounds, we engaged our local veterinarian to dehorn and castrate the calves, a procedure explained to enhance their growth during the initial months.

Though initially painful, the dehorning and castration were forgotten by the animals within a day or so. The procedure is not necessary but helps prevent accidental injuries and improves market value. Converting bull calves into steers, I recommend the “cutting” method as it is sure-fire and considered healthier for the animal.

Holstein cattle, bred for milk production, tend to focus on developing their frame in the first year and bulk up more in the second season. Despite not putting on muscle like beef breeds, Holstein beef rivals any in taste and texture, producing delicious steaks, roasts, and burger.

While raising bucket calves was interesting and educational, my preference shifted to letting the old cow raise the calf. Currently, we have beef-breed cows and calves on our property—Angus-Hereford cross cows bred to an Angus-Saler bull. In terms of birthing, problems have been few, with only one loss in dozens of calvings. Observing an old cow giving birth recently reinforced the notion that, in most cases, the cow is better at raising the calf than a person.

Hay is necessary for beef production

Ensuring a reliable hay source for your animals is essential. While summer allows grazing, winter necessitates the provision of hay. So, what exactly is hay? It’s essentially grass that has been cut and cured for later use as animal feed. Hay can be stored in various forms: loose, small square bales, or large round bales, with the latter coming in different sizes based on the baler used. Farmers can often provide the equivalent in square bales and adjust the price accordingly. However, dealing with loose hay is generally labor-intensive, and it’s uncommon in practice.

Addressing a common question, hay is distinct from straw. Hay serves as a vital food source for grazing animals, especially during winter. In contrast, straw is a by-product of the grain harvesting process, consisting of the stem and leaves of a grain stalk left behind after the seeds are harvested. Despite lacking nutritive value, straw proves valuable as bedding material. While wheat straw is prevalent, other cereal grains like oats, barley, and rye can also yield good straw after harvesting.

During winter or in the absence of pasture, a mature cow typically requires approximately a third to half a bale of hay per day. In our practice, hay is provided solely during winter, supplemented with a bit of mixed grain feed. Understanding the distinction between hay and straw is crucial for maintaining proper nutrition for your animals, especially when grazing is limited.

Fencing

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Having effective fences is crucial for containing cattle. Allowing a cow or steer to graze freely in the neighborhood may result in neighbors’ displeasure, and it’s a risk not worth taking. To avoid potential issues and maintain a positive relationship with both neighbors and the cattle, investing in sturdy fencing is essential.

For standard fencing, I recommend using robust woven wire on stout posts, with a height of 39 inches. When installing woven fencing, leave a couple of extra inches at the bottom and top. After erection, stretch and add a strand of barbed wire at both the bottom and top along the entire length. Cattle often stretch to reach tasty plants beyond their fenced area, and these barbed wire strands deter them from attempting to go under or over the woven wire, saving you on maintenance and repairs.

In some sections, our fence consists solely of barbed wire. I prefer using four strands, but three can suffice if necessary. Opting for four strands generally results in a more secure fence. Alternatively, electric fencing is a viable option, offering flexibility in movement to fresh pastures. Once cattle are trained to recognize its discomfort-causing potential, maintaining containment becomes manageable.

The training process involves allowing them to bump or brush against the fence while grazing. In one of our pastures, a single strand of electrified barbed wire effectively kept in four large steers without any problems or escapes. Electric fencing proves to be a practical and movable solution for containing cattle, particularly when appropriately implemented.

Pasture

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Maintaining effective pasture management is crucial for sustaining livestock. On fertile pasture, approximately a couple of acres can support one animal, although in drier climates, a larger acreage per head is necessary. The choice of plant varieties for pasture varies based on the region, and seeking advice from local farmers, ranchers, and the Agricultural Extension Service is recommended for tailored recommendations.

Ideally, implementing a rotational grazing system is beneficial. Rotating animals between pastures periodically allows each pasture to rejuvenate its plant growth and facilitates the natural decline of parasites. This practice not only supports the overall health and vitality of the pasture but also helps in maintaining a balanced and sustainable environment for the livestock.

Shelter

Providing proper shelter for cattle involves striking a balance between draft-free conditions and avoiding airtight enclosures. Initially, this might seem contradictory, but a well-designed shed with three enclosed sides and an open side facing away from the prevailing wind serves as an effective shelter. It’s crucial not to make the shelter airtight since cattle release a significant amount of moisture, and inadequate ventilation can lead to various health issues in the animals.

While the shelter doesn’t need to be extravagant, it does require sturdiness. The sheer size and movements of these large animals can potentially dislodge or damage structures if not securely built. Ensuring a shelter that is both secure and well-ventilated contributes to the overall well-being and health of the cattle.

Concluding

If you’re considering acquiring a calf or two for personal use and maybe even for selling to family or friends, then raising bottle calves could be a suitable venture. Alternatively, you might prefer purchasing a mature bred cow or a cow and calf. Evaluating your options and available resources is crucial in determining the most suitable operation for you. Whether you choose to raise a single animal for personal consumption or a small herd for potential sales, the rewards for your efforts are likely to be fulfilling.

This article was submitted by Jason N Clark.

Recommended resources:

Raising livestock for self-sufficiency

The #1 food of Americans during the Great Depression

The basic livestock vetting requirements

How to be completely independent while living off-the-grid

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