4 Questions to ask when you are thinking of raising beef cattle! There are important things to consider like breed, age, feed, and timeline. Read more!
Being able to raise beef cattle is appealing to many people, especially if you have a little (or a lot of) land. I get asked about this all the time so here are a few things to think about if you’re considering raising your own meat. If you’re looking for a little more detail, check out this post.
First, what breed do you want?
Do you want a typical beef breed (angus, hereford, etc.) or would you be willing to raise a dairy breed (holstein, jersey, etc.)? Beef breeds make good beef more quickly because, well, that’s what we have bred them for! A beef breed will also be more expensive. A dairy steer can also make good beef, it will just take more time and more attention to feed. That being said, usually you can pick up a dairy breed for a cheaper price.
Second, how much land do you have?
Half and acre? An acre? 10 acres? This matters a lot! If you have a small amount of space, you will have to purchase all of your feed. My general rule of thumb for grazing animals on irrigated pasture is an acre per animal. There are calculations you can do to determine the approximate production of your pasture and figure more precisely how many animals you can keep. But for our general purposes, this is usually a good estimation. If your land is not irrigated, you will have to purchase feed once the land goes dormant in the summer heat. You will also need to purchase feed during the winter.
Third, what do you want to feed?
Do you want to only feed grass? Or is alfalfa ok? Or are you trying to graze? Or do you want a grain fed steer? What you feed will determine how your beef will taste. What you feed will also be the largest cost of raising your own beef. There is no right or wrong answer here, it is all up to you and your personal preference. Just make sure you do your research and understand the basic energy requirements for growing/finishing cattle.
Fourth, what age will you get your steer and how long will you keep it?
This is all up to personal preference as well. Generally 18 months – 2 years is a sufficient amount of time to finish a beef animal being fed high energy feeds. However, if you are feeding less energetic feeds (pasture or hay) your animal will take longer to finish. If you are feeding a dairy breed vs. a beef breed your animal will take longer to finish. Age will also determine if you need to vaccinate, deworm, and castrate your steer. How long you keep it will determine how many times you need to provide healthcare. How long you keep it will also determine how you will need to manage manure and parasite load on your land.
The most common question I get asked is if raising my own beef was cheaper than buying it. My answer? Nope! There are many reasons why this was the case this year but I’ll just list the two main reasons. I wasn’t feeding high energy feeds and I ended up not being able to irrigate my pasture and had to buy the majority of my feed. Also, our meat system in the U.S.A. is just super efficient. It would be hard to beat the grocery store prices. But for me, raising my own beef is fun an I like having a lot of meat in my freezer so the extra cost is worth it.
I don’t have a method I like to use for raising steers yet, I’m still experimenting with different breeds, ages, and feeds. If you have raised beef, how do you do it?
I plan to experiment differently next time and see if I can’t make it a little more cost efficient. My ultimate dream would be to have my own herd of beef cows one day!