Off-Farm Income

Advice For The Beginning Cattle Farmer

I have had two situations/conversations recently that have really made me want to ask everyone to hit the pause button for just a second before putting cattle on their places.  And this has really made me think about this a little bit deeper.

Let me first start by saying that as a person who loves agriculture, wants to see agricultural land preserved, likes the diversity of people farming, and really enjoys cattle - I am all for people discovering this great animal and engaging in this industry.

However, cattle are not a species of livestock that you can just decide you want to raise and then begin.  You really need to know what you are doing here, both for reasons of being humane and because of the impact on your financials.

Small livestock like goats, sheep, and even pigs can be easy to start out with.  But cattle are just too big for you to start off with if you have no experience and you don't have the correct equipment.  The larger the animal, the less margin for error and less ability you will have to correct your mistakes.

Once you get a cow to shut off the thinking part of her brain and start running away from you with that thousand-yard stare, you are in big trouble.  My goal is for you to never hit that point.  But if you ever do, I want you to be able to handle it.

What I Have Been Seeing

This is what I have been seeing recently that has caused me to make this episode.  I have been seeing too many instances of folks with zero experience raising cattle but who have purchased a property putting some cows on it with no other planning.  I've also seen these folks get themselves in a bit of a bind when it comes time to doctor the cows, catch the cattle or separate the cows from the bull.

I think the mistake that so many people make is not seeing what is really going on around them.  As folks drive through the countryside you see cattle grazing peacefully on pastures or out on the range, and it is a pastoral scene that you would like to replicate on your own place.  But what you are not seeing is the time, experience, and planning that goes into achieving that scene.

There are a lot of very experienced cowboys and cowgirls out there who have loved cattle their entire lives and have been working with cattle their entire lives.  And if you get the chance to watch them work with cattle, they can make it look very easy.  But it is not.  This is one of those situations in which the person is so good at what they do, that they are making it look easy.

If you have never worked with cattle before, this like watching Stephen Curry hit a 3 point shot or Tiger Woods sink a 40 foot put and saying "I can do that".  They make it look easy because they are professionals.  You are not.  There is a lifetime of practice, desire, and intuition between the head of that putter and the hole that the ball eventually drops in.  You, as the new cow farmer, have a long way to go.

What Should You Do

  • Make Friends With Neighbors
  • Reinforce Your Fences
  • Be Picky About The Cattle You Buy
  • Get The Correct Equipment
  • Get Some Education
  • Learn About Flight Zones And Pressure
  • Teach Yourself To Walk Away
  • Get Some Experience
  • Start Slow
  • Spend Time With Your Cattle
  • Learn About Electric Fence
  • Know The Reasons That Cattle Will Push Fence
  • Rotate Your Pastures

You, Will, Get There

I am excited for you, and you are going to get there.  But let's not get in too big of a hurry.  You can get started pretty quickly with smaller livestock like goats, sheep, and even pigs.  But, if cattle are where you are headed, you need to really think about these things before you jump in.  If you don't, you might end up losing a lot of money.  Worse yet, you might wind up with a cow that needs help you cannot give it because you can't get it caught or can't control it.