Basics of Raising Cows
Feeding Cows: There is no such thing as a “free cow.” A healthy cow will consume about 2% of its body weight every day during the winter months. A pregnant heifer should be feed an extra 6-8 pounds per day. How much you need to feed your cows is influenced by a variety of factors. These factors include what you are feeding them, the quality of their feed, whether or not they are grazing, and the time of year. For example, grass hay has around 9% protein, whereas alfalfa has around 18% protein.
Watch your cow’s feeding habits during the spring and regulate the amount you feed them accordingly. Cows prefer the green grass that sprouts up during the spring. Alfalfa second and third cutting is most desirable for cows. As such, feeding your cows this in the early spring months will help keep them from grazing grass and give it time to grow to the point that it can sustain them. You can ease off of feeding your cows hay when the grass starts to get good growth. You will need about 1 acre per cow depending on your local climate.
When to buy/sell: This question is a lot harder than one would think. Many people say that late fall is the best time since producers are faced with the daunting task of having to feed their cattle out of a limited supply of hay.
Some say that buying in the spring is the worst time. The reason being that beef prices tend to be higher in the Spring. Another reason is that people who want to raise cattle tend to buy them in the spring since they can raise them on pasture.
In short, if you buy cows in the spring they will be more expensive but cheaper to feed. If you buy them in the fall they will be cheaper, but more expensive to feed.
A couple few years ago I met a local rancher who prefers to buy cows in the spring. The reason was that the local dairy farms don’t have much use for bulls for obvious reasons. As such, they are looking to get rid of them for cheap. The rancher in question was able to get them for a great price and sold them for beef to a butcher. The butcher was more price conscious than quality conscious due to the fact that he primarily sold beef to immigrants from Eastern Europe who paid more attention to price over quality.
Things you will need: Besides the obvious necessities of land, water troth, and shelter, there are a few small and less obvious investments that come in handy when it comes to caring for cattle.
Halter: A halter will come in handy if/when you want to move a cow. You may not need to use if often, but you will be happy that you have one when you do. You may also find it advantageous to also keep a smaller sized one on hand for calves since they aren’t a 1 size fits all kind of thing.
Balling Gun: A “Balling Gun” in used for giving cows large pills whether they are vitamin supplements or something prescribed by a vet. In any case, the last thing you want to do is to try and shove the pill down with your fingers.
Magnet: As cows graze around the field they are likely to pick up and consume small and sometimes sharp bits of metal. This can obviously have a negative effect on your cow as it passes through its digestive system. A special cow magnet administered by a “Balling Gun” prevents the metal from passing through the cow and cause aforementioned harm.
Cow diseases to watch for:
Milk Fever: All breeds of cows are susceptible to milk fever (some more than others). Milk Fever primarily affects dairy cows. Milk Fever is caused by a low calcium levels. This is usually caused when there is a rapid draw in calcium from the cows system. Signs of milk fever are characterized by dry nose, stumbling, lethargy, and general standoffish behavior.
Mild cases of Milk Fever can be treated with oral calcium supplements. However, severe cases of milk fever will require a vet and I.V. injections. It can also be prevent by feeding cows good quality hay and alfalfa along with supplements.
Tuberculosis: Tb is contagious and can be spread from a sick cow to other animals. It can be spread either through the air or from their waste. It can also survive in the soil for up to one month. Keeping you cows healthy, well fed, and giving them access to plenty of sunshine can reduce the likelihood of your cows catching and spreading tuberculosis.
Staph A: When purchasing a cow it’s wise to ask if it has been tested for Steph A. Especially if you are planning on consuming or selling milk or cheese. Staph A is commonly spread by flies. It can be treated with antibiotics provided that it hasn’t reached the cow’s utter. However, cows with Staph A are most commonly butchered.
Brucellosis: Brucellosis isn’t too common since dairy cows are tested for the disease at least once a year. When purchasing a cow it’s important to enquire as to whether or not it has been vaccinated. If not, you will want to make arrangements to see that it is. Cows are generally vaccinated for Brucellosis around the age of 6 months.
Johne’s Disease: When purchasing a new cow it’s important to make sure that it has been tested for Jones’s Disease. This is important since it’s a highly contagious disease and is somewhat common in the dairy industry. It’s most prevalent in herds that are kept in close quarters with one another. Jones Disease can also survive pasteurization. The most common visible symptom of John’s Disease is excessive diarrhea.
Milk testing: Ask if the cow’s milk has been tested for Salmonella, E.coli 157H7, Listeria Monocytogenes, and Campylobacter.