Self Sufficiency Links: Cattle
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Journey to self sufficiency

The cow

Before we started thinking about self sufficiency or homesteading or anything we had decided that we would like to have a cow around. Our first thought was maybe a nice old milk cow since the boys could burn through a gallon of milk pretty quick.

However our first cow was actually 2. My friend had stumbled upon a farmer willing to sell his bull calves for $75 apiece. Not a bad price at that particular time. We bought T-Bone and Chuck Roast. That is their picture I use for the background on this site.

We were not really prepared for them so I quickly sawed between two studs on the back end of our yard barn, installed a couple of hinges to make a door to their pen and slapped some 2x4s up inside to keep them from roaming out the front door. Luckily the pen was allready there since the previous owners had kept dogs in the barn.

I ran into town and bought a bag of cheap milk replace and an elasticator for banding them to make them steers and I was set. Ha ha.

For 2 days my calves refused to suck their bottles. I had no idea what was going on. The stuff was the right temperature, it was mixed properly. Turns out they didn't care for the cheap soybased milk replacer. My friend stopped by with a bag of more expensive stuff and they sucked it down as quick as they could. I have not cheaped out on any feed for any animal since then. I shop around but don't buy the cheapest variety if a choice is available.

That fall I added the open lean-to on the back of the barn to help keep the wind from whistling through and to give them a bit of extra room. Next spring I made fence on our back acre and gave them about 1/4 to roam around in. I had to expand that to 1/2 and finally to all of it as they got bigger.

We steered them a week or so after they showed up. We had T-Bone dehorned by the neighbor who runs a beefer operation. One boy spent a day helping him out and he did it for us for free. Chuck never really grew horns. He grew one sort of and knocked it off on an old car the landlord had left out in the back.

We learned a lot about fence that year. But it was good to have them around eating grass instead of us having to mow it.

We sent T-Bone to the sales barn and sent Chuck to the butchers when they were about 18 months old.

I had to relearn a lot of things. When you spend all day on the farm with 40 or so cows and have facilities and feed set up to handle that amount, you kind of take things for granted. I never payed attention to exactly how much feed it took to feed a cow, we had acres of it. Raising a couple with no farm to back you up was quite a different experience. Using a fork to clean out the barn instead of just turning on a barn cleaner was an experience as well!

Since then we have raised a few more cows and now our routine is pretty set. Our facilities change a bit every year as we try different things but we still enjoy having a cow around and I can't see ever not having one.

After those 2 we got a little crazy. We still wanted a milker and found ourselves at a farm auction buying 2 and trying to fit them into the back of a Chevy tracker. 1 of them was 4 months old. We had to have help lifting her in. Got a lot of funny looks too. So Belle a little Holstein/Jersey cross and Lady a big ol who knows what kind of cross came to live with us. Soon after, we also picked up Gem a 20 dollar lightweight heifer and Stupid a 20 dollar lightweight bull calf. 4 cows on an acre was a bit much but we had planned on getting Gem up to a decent weight and selling her off anyway. Which worked out OK. Lady turned out to be such a beefy looking cow that we put her in the freezer. We kept Belle and Stupid around since they were smaller. We ended up selling Belle because we couldn't get her bred and put Stupid in the freezer at 12 months instead of 18 because hay supplies were getting short.

Picking up lightweight or pass calves at the sales barn is OK if you have the time and facilities to handle them. I don't recommend it to beginners.

What you really want is a calf that is 3-4 days old and has had it's share of the cows first milk called colostrum. This stuff is loaded with antibodies and good stuff that calves need to survive. A calf at the sales barn may or may not have had that. And colostrum replacer is expensive.

We feed a good quality milk replacer. Our mill sells Doughboy so that's what we use but other brands are probably just as good. I do not use the soy based replacers anymore. We get the medicated kind. We also keep a bucket of 18% medicated calf starter in front of them. We make sure they have a bucket of water and we rinse and refill the bucket twice a day. Our calves get one bag of milk replacer or about 50 days and then we wean them if they are eating their grain well. We used to keep a slab of hay in front of them as well, but after some research we decided that it was better to keep hay away until they were weaned off milk.

After that they are put on pasture and fed a 16% mix till about 400 pounds and switched to a 14% mix.

We have tried some other methods that work well. Toby was raised exclusivley on goats milk and looks great. T-Bone and Chuck were switched to a straight corn diet with a pellet called Tend-R-Lean for the last 6 months and did quite well on that. With Lady, Belle, Gem, and Stupid we did quite a bit of tethering out. We used the largest dog cable we could find and some heavy screw in anchors. We would also tether them to the arbor-vitea that ring our property and the occasional tree. We put halters on them for that and they looked quite neat. It also allowed us to work with them twice daily at least and they turned very gentle and easy to lead. This year due to problems with the neighbors dogs we didn't tether and went with movable hutches. So far they seem to work OK but I really like the tethering system and plan on going back to it next year if our new neighbors can control their dogs.

For winter The cows get moved to the chicken yard and use the open lean-to and the bushes along the back for shelter. We have moved an 8x6 shed in there as well and they should fit in there the first winter. Cows are pretty hardy and a good windbreak will see them through most winters. We may up the energy in their grain mix if the weather turns really cold, but most times it's not neccessary.

We raise Holstein steers becasue they are plentiful in this area. A real beef breed cow and calf would be nice I suppose but then we would have to feed a full grown cow year around.

If we do ever get to milking a cow we would probably go with a nice little Jesey or maybe a Brown Swiss. The Milking Shorthorn looks good too and their bull calves would make better beef than a Jersey. A Holstein would provide way too much milk now that we're down to one kid left running around. There are a few other breeds that might fit into a small homestead type operation, a Dexter might but I do not know anything about them except I can't find any easily.