Best Breed of Cow for Your Farm
What Kind of Cow is right for You?
Beef or Milk.... or Both?
To answer this question properly, you have to look at several different components before you can come to a good answer. For us, we hunt. So meat is not a necessity. We also have our chickens too. We are also going to have our goats for milk. So milk is not a necessity either. I know what you are thinking, so why get cows? Well, we want back-ups. A meat and milk back-up. So there is the answer to the question for us.
However, you also have to look at time and effort involved. Do you have a local dairy that will buy the milk from you? Do you have enough friends and family that will buy the milk? Some cows produce an average of four to five gallons of milk each day. Each cow needs to be milked twice a day. Other items can be made from the milk, such as ice cream, cheese, yogurt, and soap. Again, time and effort is what has to be planned and prepared for.
If you are thinking of going the meat route, less time and effort will be involved. You need to be mindful of due dates and watch for any calving issues. Otherwise, trips to the butcher may be the only major time spent with the cattle. It all depends on the size of your land and how much time you want to spend with them.
How Many Cows?
For us, this question was simple to answer. We need 1 bull, to be able to breed our cows. We don't need a big production, because we are not going to sell our cows for butcher or milk for a profit. Thus, we are looking at 2-4 cows. Because you can buy cows that are bred, we had considered our starting stock might be 2 cows. Two bred cows that we would HOPE would give us 2 heifer calves. We are playing the odds pretty bad, we know. And then purchasing an unrelated bull calf. Most bulls can be bred early, so he would be ready with the 2 mother cows were in heat again. Thus establishing our breeding stock. We have plenty of acreage to support up to 15 cows. But we are not going to keep that many.
The average acre per cow/calf pair is 1.5 to 2 acres. This is good pasture. If your pasture is of poor quality, you will need either more acreage per cow/calf pair or will have to supplement feed hay. Poor quality pasture typically means signs of poor forage growth, poor water quality, excess run-off or erosion, visible soil loss, and poor animal performance or growth.
Pasture rotation is a great way to help preserve areas and let your pasture have a chance to recover or "rest" from grazing. For example, we have 15 acres for grazing purposes. We are going to have 3 different pastures. One will be winter forage and holding. The other two will be rotated through as needed in the spring, summer and fall.
What Size Cow?
Micro-Mini, Mini, Mid, or Standard?
What size cow is right for you? For us, again with a smaller child, the standard and even mid-sized cows seemed large. Also, because we are not going into full production for a profit in meat or dairy, we looked into Mini's and Micro-Mini's. These tend to be heritage breeds that are hardier and work well as both meat and milk cows. This seemed like a really great option for us! And secondly because of their smaller size, they don't eat or poop as much either!
The smaller the size, the more docile in general the cows tend to be. We didn't want to have to work for days and weeks getting a cow to stand for us to be able to milk or assist with calving. We didn't want a bull that was super aggressive to other animals or us.
When you are looking at the size of cow breed, something else you might want to take into consideration is how much milk or meat they will produce. Take a standard cow, you are getting an average of 4 to 5 gallons of milk per day or 500 plus pounds of beef. This is typically more than one family can handle. However for a miniature, they produce an average of 2 gallons per day and 200 to 250 pounds of beef. This is a little more manageable for a family.
Polled or Horned?
Cows can either come naturally (genetically) polled or horned. They can also be polled or de-horned as calves. This is something to consider if you are going to be housing other animals in the same pasture for safety purposes. Also, if you are going to be milking your cows for your own safety as well. Horns can be trimmed or filed to make the tips blunt, but I personally think they are still dangerous.
When you get your cattle, talk to the breeder or farmer and see if they can show you how to poll a calf, or poll your calf.
Breed of Cow?
Now that you know what size, how many, and for what purpose(s) you want your cows to be, you need to start searching for your ideal cow. Hundreds of breeds exist, but now you have narrowed it down.
Lets review some of the top breeds in each category: Meat, Milk, Heritage (both meat and milk) and some different sizes of each.
Standard Meat Cattle
There are a lot of breeds of standard meat cattle. Most large scale farmers and ranchers find it more profitable to raise the larger standard size cattle for meat production. The most popular breeds of meat cattle in the United States are:
Average Bull Weight
Standard Dairy Cows
There are a lot of breeds of standard dairy cattle. Most large scale farmers and ranchers find it more profitable to raise the larger standard size cattle for dairy production. The most popular breeds of dairy cattle in the United States are:
Average amount of Milk per Day
6 to 7 gallons
4 to 5 gallons
Miniature Dual Purpose Heritage Breeds
Many small farmers, hobby farmers, and homesteaders are looking at Miniature Dual Purpose Heritage Cattle breeds for their farms. Not only do they handle smaller areas of land better, more docile, and can handle poorer quality forage, they are the best of both worlds. Check out three of the more popular Heritage breeds below:
Average Bull Weight
Average Amount of Milk per Day
After careful consideration, we knew we did not want standard size cows. We also did not want a cow breed that bull or cows can be aggressive.
So, what cow breed did we pick?
We chose to go with the Irish Dexter or Dexter Cow. It is a hardy miniature heritage breed, that calves easily, docile, produces a very creamy fatty milk that is even good for people with Lactose allergies, and a nice marbled meat.