Cattle Farming on Smaller Parcels: Building the Perfect Environment for Your Herd

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Ranching may evoke visions of wide-open spaces and endless cattle breeds, but what if you live on a smaller parcel of land? Can you still create a suitable environment for cattle farming? The answer is a resounding yes! With the right infrastructure in place, you can raise a small herd of beef cattle on limited acreage.

The Foundations of a Cattle Farm

Before delving into cattle shed designs, take a moment to assess your property. Identify two spacious areas that can be fenced. While these areas need not be completely devoid of trees, it’s essential to provide enough clear space for the cows to graze and roam comfortably.

Determining the Ideal Herd Size

The number of cattle you can keep largely depends on factors such as available pasture land and local conditions. In some cases, an acre of healthy grass and forage can support a single animal. However, drought conditions may require more acreage for each cow. Seeking advice from your local extension agent or connecting with experienced cattle growers can provide valuable insight when starting a cattle farm.

Consider the quality of the growth in your pastures. For optimal results, focus on consumable grasses and avoid unwanted plants like burdock, milkweed, goldenrod, and thistle. Additionally, ensure that you have sufficient hay during the winter months, even if the pastures are available year-round. Fresh water, salt licks, and supplemental grain are also necessary to maintain the well-being of your cattle.

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Establishing Secure Fencing

Proper fencing is crucial for the success of your cattle farm. A well-designed fence will save you from countless weekends spent mending and maintaining it. Well-fed and content cows are unlikely to attempt any daring escapes. However, as they grow and mature, they may test the boundaries if their grazing needs are not met.

While there are various fencing options available, high tensile steel wire fencing is widely considered the best choice for cattle farming. It can be electrified to discourage grazing and pushing, withstands damage better than wooden boards, and is commonly used in cattle-raising operations. Alternatively, board fencing can be used successfully if properly maintained. It’s recommended to incorporate electric lines at different heights within the boards to prevent cows from pushing against them.

Lightweight fencing, such as netting or cattle panels, is not suitable for grazing areas. Cows can easily become tangled or injured in electrified netting, while cattle panels are better suited for small holding pens or temporary quarantine areas.

Creating an Ideal Cattle Shed

The design of your cattle shed plays a crucial role in providing comfort and protection for your herd. Most cattle shed designs are variations of run-in sheds, with some regions opting for simple pole sheds in warmer climates. It is important to position the sheds in a way that utilizes prevailing winds, offering optimal protection for the cows.

When choosing a cattle shed design, ensure it provides shelter from wind and rain while allowing ample ventilation to prevent overheating. Factors to consider include the size and weight of your cattle, as well as their need for space to lie down, ruminate, and move without hindrance. Cattle can be tough on infrastructure, so durability is key. We constructed an open-sided pole barn for our small herd, ensuring it was tall enough to promote airflow and covered enough to shield the cows during storms. Interestingly, not all cows require shelter and some may prefer grazing in the open field even during inclement weather. However, it is still advisable to provide some form of protection for your cattle, even if it is not always utilized.

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Efficient Waste Management

Proper waste management is essential, especially on smaller homesteads. Allowing manure to accumulate without a plan can quickly lead to overgrazing and limited grazing areas. It is essential to have a manure management strategy in place. For example, on a property with two fenced pastures, partially cleaning one while the other is in use can be an effective solution. Remember that cows produce around 50 pounds of manure daily, so staying on top of waste management is crucial. While manure in the field can act as natural fertilizer, cows generally avoid grazing near their own waste. Keep this in mind when raising cattle on a homestead rather than a large ranch.

Starting from scratch and developing the necessary infrastructure for cattle farming is a fulfilling journey. By learning about cattle shed design, installing DIY fences, and providing essential resources like water and shelter, you are laying the foundations for a successful venture. The satisfaction of knowing that the meat your family enjoys was raised humanely, fed well, and given adequate room to grow is truly rewarding.

So, do you have a preferred cattle shed design, or do your cows prefer the great outdoors?

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