Beef cows can provide a homestead with meat, hide and fertilizer. They can also provide milk, although not as much a dairy cow. Cows can be beneficial for some homesteads, but are they right for yours?
What are meat cow breeds?
Angus are by far the most popular breed of beef cattle. They are at least 80% black. They can be registered through the American Angus Association. We had several bulls and they were all generally as well-tempered as a bull can be.
Herefords are the red cows with the white face. Here's the American Hereford Association!
Charolais are typically white. In my experience, they are super protective moms and can be a little hairy at times. This can be a great thing on a homestead that is prone to predators. This is the American International Charolais Association.
They are typically a light red cow, not to be confused with the red Angus. Find the National American Limosuin Foundation, here!
Dexter (dual purpose)
This is a popular breed among homesteaders, since they are about half the size of the average cow. They are dual-purpose, which means they produce milk and meat. They are popular because they produce less meat than an Angus or milk than a Jersey. Read more about them at the American Dexter Cattle Association website!
I'd like to add that many, many people run mixed herds or breed for mixes. On the farm I grew up on, we ran Charolais cows with an Angus bull. A Hereford/Angus mix is common, producing the black baldies. (black with the white face, instead of red like a Hereford.) I'd also like to add that many people run herds that are not registered, so this isn't a necessity to success.
Why does my homestead need a meat cow breed?
For beef! No, really. An 800lb cow can provide a family with around 300lbs~ of beef. To put it another way, if you grounded it all up, this is enough for 150 meals, all using 2lb of beef. So, one cow could provide a family with dinner for about five months.
Besides meat, raising cows can provide a source of income for the homestead. A bull and a handful of cows will not only produce a cow for the family to eat, but other cows that will bring money at the sale barn, or sold to individuals. Especially registered breeds! On top of this, a nice, well-bred registered bull can produce income from a stud fee or by selling straws.
Do I really save money by raising my own beef?
You tell me! Let's break it down.
Here, currently, ground beef is $3.24 a pound. Organic, grass-fed ground beef is $5.78 a pound. If a family consumes 1lb of ground beef over 6 month's time, that's going to run you about $583. For organic, grass fed, that number is: $1,040.
Now, there's a few different ways to play out this scenario, so I'm going to work through a few of them. In my area, a bred, unregistered cow is going for about $900/head. A decent looking young bull is going for about $2500, but it may be worth just waiting for the herd to calve and keeping back a bull calf.
Scenario #1: On an upfront purchase of 5 of these bred cows, I'm looking at a total cost of $4,500. Come spring time, I'll have 4 calves. I like to estimate for the loss of at least 1, since you just never really know what's going to happen. By the time fall rolls around, I will have my first home-grown cow to butcher and 3 others to take to market.
Heifers(never been bred, young cows) or open cows(not-pregnant,) here are going for about the same price as bred cows, so I'm looking at bringing in around $2,700 from my heifers.
So, instead of spending between $583-$1,040 on meat for five months, I have made an investment that will bring me $2700+/- yearly and keep my homestead in supply of beef for a chunk the year. After the next breeding season, I will have not only paid for the price of my herd, I will have made a profit and supplied myself with beef.
Scenario #2: Trading/purchasing a cow to take directly to market. Already raise pigs? Someone may want to trade a few pigs for a cow. Want all the beef but not the cow? Purchasing a cow and having it shipped to the butcher may be a better option, especially for grass-fed beef. This depends on local prices and what the butcher charges.
Scenario #3: Crossing a milk cow with a beef cow. I have personally never done this, but I've read from others that Jersey/Angus does produce a decent meat. This could be an option if you only have space for a few milk cows. With this method, you're getting milk/dairy products and beef from the same cow.
This is obviously going to vary based on local prices, feed/vet expenses. My point is, that a herd can possibly provide a homestead with a long term income and supply of beef.
What's the best type of beef cattle for the homestead?
That depends on your preferences, purpose, how much space you have and if you're wanting to raise registered stock or not.
If you're raising mainly for an income, on a smaller scale, you may want to consider the possibility of raising registered stock. This may bring a little more "bang for your buck." A registered, Angus bull calf could typically bring you more than a stock bull calf. A Dexter may be a great option for a smaller space, too.
If you're raising mainly for milk and meat, a Dexter could suit your needs, but a mixed herd may, as well. This all depends on what you're looking to do and your preferences. I have listed some common meat breeds and linked to their respective association at the top of this post. You can find more information on a breed that interests you, there.
What should I look for before purchasing my first cow?
This entirely depends upon the type of cow you're looking for and your preferences, but here's a list of what I generally like to see in meat cows:
Solid legs. Not thin and definitely not toothpicks. Especially in bulls.
An even, proportionate confirmation. I generally like them to look "boxy"
A straight back, without a hunch or sway. Not too uphill or downhill (this looks like they're standing on an incline when they're on even ground)
I don't want to see limping, a yellow or thick fluid coming from the nostrils, hoof problems, or an uneven stride
Different people will have different opinions on what they like to see in a cow. As far as temperament goes, it's important to keep in mind that cows can be protective and unpredictable. That's typically their nature. Cows are super protective of their calves. They typically don't want humans near the calf. Even cows nearing the end of their pregnancy can act this way. Some cows and bulls also act this way about their herd. It's important to learn the behaviors of cattle and the safe way to handle them before purchasing your first cow.
When I go to look at a cow for sale, I generally don't like to see:
Charging at or trying to chase humans through the fence.
A cow that I can't get in the pen with or work without being charged or chased.
Excessive pawing, pacing or snorting or other signs of agitation.
Terrified of humans or excessive nervousness
I would advise spending some time with experienced cattle(wo)men. Spend some time around cattle, learn what's normal, what's crazy behavior and how to handle them safely. No blog post or article can replace proper hands-on learning.
Checking with your local cattleman's association can set you on the right path.
Are meat cows right for my homestead? Let's break it down.
-Healthy beef raised your way, finished your way. Grass fed, grain fed or even fed veggies from the garden.
-Selling heifers/bulls born on the farm can an bring in an additional income
-After initial investment, possible low-cost beef for life
-Bulls can be studded out for yet another income stream
-Requires significant space. Just how much space depends on the area, but can range from 2 cow/calf pairs per acre, to 1 cow/calf pair per 100 acres or more. This depends on the area.
-Can be a stress on rainwater collection systems. Cows drink tons of water, especially in the heat. If your homestead has a natural water source or well, this may not be an issue.
-May require hay and feed in the winter. This can be more difficult to obtain on 100% self sufficient homestead, but not impossible.
The answer to this question depends on a lot of variables and the individual situation. Cows can be great way to bring in an extra income and a sustainable source of meat, or they might not be for every situation! That's OK! It's up to you to do your due diligence, research and make the best decision for your homestead!
I do suggest spending time with an experienced cattle owner before getting cows of your own. Cows can be aggressive and unpredictable. They are big, dangerous and they can really hurt someone.
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I am in no way affiliated with the National Cattlemen's Beef Association. My views are my views alone.