(Continued from Part 1. This concludes the article.)
We started out not owning a trailer. We bought calves from someone who would deliver, borrowed trailers to purchase hay, and used a mobile butcher who killed and quartered the animals on site. I think it is possible to limp along in this manner for a while until one figures out whether or not beef production is going to be a permanent thing. We have since purchased a new Maverick stock trailer (from Quality Trailer Sales of Boise, Idaho), which seemed the best quality for the price. We bought a new trailer only after looking at used ones, sold at high prices, with various issues–rotten floors, rusted frames, poor bearings or brakes, cracked rooftops, just to name a few issues to be aware of. We can use the trailer when we purchase breeding stock, take them to the vet, purchase hay, and when we take them to the butcher. The trailer is also useful for trips to the dump, obtaining firewood, making large purchases, and a lot of other tasks that we previously avoided.
During the summer, our cows graze on the field. Daily tasks involve making sure they are on the right pasture and watering them. Also during the summer, we make silage that we feed to the cattle the following winter. Our land produces grass faster than the cows can eat it, so we cut it (low tech here) with a lawn mower and put the grass clippings into a 55 gallon contractor bag, squish the air out of it, and tape it shut. This is about as low-tec as you can get, and no more effort than mowing a suburban lawn. In the ensuing months, the grass in the bag ferments, like cabbage into sour kraut, and gives the cattle nutrients that they would not otherwise get. Year-round, we also provide trace minerals in the form of a block, or granules, that you can purchase at any ag-supply place, such as Cal Ranch or Big R stores.
Then, of course, when the garden is done, the cows love the pea plants, carrot tops, and other garden remains. It all goes into the compost eventually, anyway, so why not; they enjoy it!
During the winter, the cows eat alfalfa hay that we purchased the prior summer, as well as the silage we produce. They eat about 1.5-2 % of their body weight daily of combined hay and silage. Typically, we spend about $600 per year on alfalfa hay. In a pinch, we purchase some grass hay from local folks, when we run out of alfalfa; but the grass hay provides much less nutrition, and it doesn’t sustain the cows as well. Some people will add to the alfalfa hay some barley or wheat straw (the stalks that remain after the grain is harvested.) In doing this, the cows’ digestive systems work harder and less efficiently, but it helps keep them warm–or so we’re told.
Chart: Per Head Costs and Benefits
|Winter water requirement||5-10 gallons/day|
|Summer water requirement||20-30 gallons/day|
|Winter alfalfa hay requirement||1.5-2% of body weight (about 60 85-lb bales per cow for the winter)|
|Hay storage requirement||100 s.f. per 60 bales|
|Hay cost per ton (22 bales per ton)||$150.-200.|
|Cow shed requirement||100 s.f. per 1-2 head|
|Summer Grazing requirement||1-2 acres per head for 10-12 weeks|
|Initial cattle purchase cost||$400-1,000. ea.|
|Vet bills (castration, shots)||$200. each, on average|
|Compostable manure production||2 cubic yards per head per winter|
|Amount of beef per 1000 lb live weight||450 lbs (40% steaks and roasts, 60% ground)|
I’ll stop short of saying that having all the manure we want is almost as good as having all the beef we want, but it’s close. We have raised beds for our garden, which use a considerable amount of soil. For those of you who grow food crops, you would likely agree that having good food to eat begins with having good soil. We used to use our own compost, peat moss, and a little vermiculite to grow food. But we didn’t produce compost fast enough, didn’t like buying peat moss that we didn’t know anything about, and vermiculite became way too expensive. All that has changed now that we raise beef. Our garden soil is amazing, and we produce new soil for growing that keeps up with our gardening demands. We see our beef/garden operation as an integrated whole that is far more healthy and productive than what we used to be doing.
When the cows graze during the summer, we leave the manure on the fields to fertilize the land. But during the winter, the cows are in a smaller winter pen. Typically, our two cows produce about four cubic yards of manure each winter, which we put into a single pile. In the spring, we clean out their winter pen and put all that in the pile as well. Then during the summer, we periodically turn and remix the pile. Sometimes we add water to it, depending on what it looks like. This pile becomes an amazing microbe factory that will digest just about anything.
As a side note: We saw one YouTube video of a farmer that put ten slaughtered hogs under a pile of manure. Ten days later, the hogs were completely digested. By the fall, the manure has turned into the most luscious soil one could imagine. We put the fall manure onto our garden beds, which sit under the snow all winter, and are then planted the following spring. In that process there is about a year and a half between the time that the manure comes from the cow to the time we plant in it. We have had no problems with this whatsoever, and we are thrilled with the soil in our garden beds.
When we first started raising beef, we did it for the tax break, the land management and weed control, and the beef. Now, I have to say that the manure that results is of equal value to at least two out of three of those original reasons.
Butchering and Storage
To me, the whole point of raising cattle is to get it on a plate in front of you in the form of ground beef, roast, or steak. And there is no doubt in my mind that home-raised grass-fed beef is in a whole different league than store-bought beef of any cut. The critical stage, of course, is butchering the beef. Some people butcher their own, but we chose to bring a mobile unit on-site to have them slaughter and quarter the beef. They then take the quarters, age them for a couple weeks, and cut them to our specifications. We then pick up the meat and store it in one of a couple freezers. For emergencies, we have a generator and stored gasoline dedicated to those two freezers, so we don’t lose 1,000 lbs of beef if the power goes out.
In the event of a Schumer Hits The Fan (SHTF) scenario, we figure that at any one time we have 300-1000 lbs frozen meat available, and about 1000 lbs of meat stored on the hoof, which we could dry or smoke if we couldn’t get to a butcher. Even if we couldn’t continue to raise beef in a grid down situation, that 1300-2000 lbs of beef will last a very long time and contribute mightily to our stores of beans, wheat, rice, and oats, in addition to whatever our garden produces each year. And until that time occurs, we get many years of a large bulk of nutritious compost that will fuel our gardens long into the future.
When we started preparing our homestead to raise Highland cattle, we knew very little. After talking to folks and reading articles, we built up the confidence to develop our place and bring cattle on site. We now have a significant pipeline of beef into our freezers, a fantastic reservoir of garden soil that will serve us long into the future, and the quality of our land has improved. While there was some initial outlay, the steady-state costs (see chart, below) for these benefits are very nearly supported by our property tax break for having livestock on our land. This is something that any small-scale homesteader, prepper retreat owner, or rural self-sufficient small farm can do.