Grass Fed Beef, Raise Your Own
We will have several calves this fall that have never had antibiotics or hormones and are completely happy on a diet of nothing but grass and hay. They will all be weaned by Christmas.
Rhino’s Black Angus™ like each other’s company as much as they like to eat. You may get along fine with them in pairs if we can put together a pair that already spends a lot of time together. Often, calves that are born in the same week will still be found grazing together a year later. They’ve been grazing together, starting with small scraps of hay, since they were four weeks old.
However, please consider these cautionary notes:
- Unless you have about 10 acres for warm-season grazing, you may find yourself buying supplemental feed even during the growing season.. However, if you are planning on finishing your calves on grain, you can get along with far less space. The less the space, the more of a mess you can expect your calves to make of their quarters, especially in a wet year. They can destroy even hardy native grasses in too small of an enclosure in a single season.
- Water can present as many challenges as food. The calves will need a constant supply of clean, fresh water to thrive. They will also need constant access to mineral supplement.
- Calves are either advancing or declining. A calf that’s not gaining is declining. If calves go through a rough patch, they may not readily recover like one would expect of mature cows.
- Finishing a couple of feeder calves in a small paddock can easily become less humane, less enjoyable and more work than keeping 15 or 20 calves. Our calves rely heavily on the presence of the rest of the herd, even when the rest of the herd is 1/4 mile away. A lone pair of calves may run into stress-related health issues they would not have had in the original herd. The persistence and spread of most cattle diseases can be tracked back to stress.
- If the calves do find their lives generally more stressful than being part of a larger herd, when they are slaughtered they will produce tougher meat than calves from a well managed herd. Even stress immediately prior to slaughter has been definitively tracked to tougher meat.
- Economies of scale are working against keeping a couple of feeder calves. You may be able to purchase high quality grass-fed beef cheaper than you can raise it yourself.
- The fencing necessary to contain a couple of beef calves will have to be more substantial than what is normally necessary to contain a standing herd of cattle. For one thing, a pair of calves on a small parcel will spend a lot more time on the perimeter than a herd of cattle in a large pasture. For another thing, there is likely to be an adjustment period when the calves are brought into their new environment.
- Finally, calves are naturally more curious and more energetic than mature cows, and can squeeze through small spaces a lot easier. Not many lawn mowers are more costly than building a good fence.
That said, this is America, land of the free and home of the brave. We have yet to meet the child who would be better off playing video games than feeding the calves. Great calves are waiting if you want to give it a try. (Check availability)
Your county extension is a free, comprehensive resource. Those people know what they are talking about it, and if they can’t answer your questions they know where to get answers. Also, YouTube has many credible videos on this topic. Most of the people in those videos are finishing calves on grain, but they have a lot of good ideas even for those who plan to finish on grass and hay.