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Where There's a Will, There's a Way: I Want to Raise Cattle
Call me Crazy but I do!
I've been around cattle all my life, and there's just something unexplainable about them that I can't get away from. I've helped raise stocker steers since I can remember, have had a few bad experiences with them as well that would've made someone less stubborn, somewhat stupid, and ornery than me begin to hate them. I don't hate them; hell they're really the only large farm animal species that I feel comfortable around. I sure have a lot of respect for them now than I did when I got them bad experiences like I did.
When I helped Dad raise stockers, I thought I knew everything there was to know about cattle, be it breeds, temperment, and how to feed them. But when I went to university and took some courses through my Animal Science degree program, there was WAY more to cattle than I could've imagined! Before then, I didn't even know things like EPDs, heterosis, calving ease, heifer bulls, etc. even existed! I even thought that Herefords were crazy wild buggers you couldn't even get near! Well, I've sure learned a lot since then. I was even able to teach Dad a few things too to better our stocker operation.
Now that the farm has kind of changed hands after Dad passed away a couple years ago, the plans I had made when he was still alive had to be revamped a bit, as other plans for the farm had come up; some already taken into effect. I'm still working on them, little by little, but basically I know what I want and what I would like to have done once our farmland is no longer leased out.
The thing of it is is that I would like to get back into cattle. But instead of going stocker like before, I would like to try to build up a cow-calf herd. And make that a one-man (or rather, one-woman) operation that makes the cows work for me instead of me working my tail off for them, like Dad had done with the stockers. That means I would like to have a low-cost operation that does not require constant every-day feeding of grain or other supplements just to keep the cows in condition, nor have to feed hay during a 200 day period of winter. Having the cows on pasture for as long as possible, with rotational grazing, and implementing winter grazing techniques like stockpiling and bale grazing to extend the period that the cows are in the dry lot over the winter.
Ultimately, I want my cows to be able to gain on just grass, and feed them only hay with no other supplements (except the usual salt and mineral mix of course). With a good grazing plan, ability to soil test when necessary, and matching the needs of my cows with the patterns of nature, can I achieve the goal of a low-cost, grass-fed operation.
Matching cows to my management plan will also determine my bottom line. I want smallish cows that mature no bigger than 1200 lbs or less (I like cattle I can see over!), and a breed or breeds that will do well on just grass, maintaining condition, have good forage convertability, be good protective mothers, do well under minimal management, have small but growthy calves, have good milk, need little help calving out on their own, flesh out and slick off well, have great fertility, a calm, docile temperment, and good carcass merits. I would rather have a commercial herd than a purebred herd, though having a uniform herd of cattle may be nice to work with. I have come across a number of breeds that might be able to meet my criteria, including Murray Grey, Speckle Park, Red Poll, Hereford, Red Angus, Shorthorn, and Angus. Speckle Park seems to be the breed that I am really starting to like, as they are animals that are small, and have everything I mentioned above; plus I am quite partial to the colouration of these creatures. But I still have to do some more research on this breed, as it is relatively new and not as popular as Red Angus and Angus.
Right now, on this farm I have around 360 acres to work with. Not 20 acres, one half section. It's not as much land as a 5 000 acre ranch, but to me it's quite a bit of land to work with. Right now it's tilled up and being converted into cropland, but I want to someway, somehow, turn this used crop land into permanent pasture that does not need to be plowed up every few years due to poor pasture management. That is a goal. My objectives of how to get that done are still under review, though having it contract-seeded may be my best option. What I am going to do with some of the extra pasture that won't be used for grazing? Most of it I would like to take hay off of; some I may leave to try some stockpiling techniques. But I'm not to sure as of yet.
There's so many things to think about and so many other things I could talk about on here, but I won't because of the time I've taken up already just thinking about and discussing the basic things I want first. There are still somethings I haven't even mentioned that I am considering, like handling facilities, keeping the weaned calves until they are ready for slaughter, selling calves through auction versus direct sales, etc. I've still got a lot of learning and researching to do yet!