There are several ways to maximize the use of your land if you have a few acres available. It really doesn’t take as much land as you might think to raise beef steers. You can purchase one or two cows to breed and calve out and sell the resulting offspring for some extra cash for those items you can’t grow yourself, or you can do what homesteaders have done for centuries… raise them for your own freezer.
What You’ll Need
Besides a few acres, you’ll need some form of shelter for your cattle. This doesn’t have to be elaborate. Even a lean-to will do for the steers, although if you purchase a cow to do it all from start to finish and have the ability to create a continuous self-sustaining supply of beef, you may want a more permanent shelter for winter use in colder climates. This isn’t really necessary for the cattle, as they can do very well even in cold, snowy climates as long as they can get out of the wind, but their human caretakers usually prefer to have something more substantial.
You need typical livestock requirements like feed tubs, water buckets, and tubs or troughs. Most of all, you need to find a good source of hay if you do not have enough acreage to grow your own or enough grazing land to support the number of cows you have. To pasture raise your steers you will need one acre of pasture only (no other buildings) to feed up to five steers. However, that number supposes adequate rain, a good rotation system of fences to allow portions to rejuvenate while grazing other sections, and most of all—a year-round growing cycle.
If you live in a cold climate where plants go dormant or an area prone to heavy droughts during the summer, the number of steers per acre drops significantly. In all but the very best of circumstances, you will still need a hay supply during some portions of the year.
You can raise steers on pasture only (many organic growers prefer to do that) and seek out organic hay for those times when pasture is scarce. However, keep in mind that pasture-fed beef gains weight more slowly. If you have the ability to plant a few acres of oats, you are a step ahead of the game and can even ensure that your grain is organic.
The last thing you will need is sturdy fencing. Even though steers are not aggressive like bulls, they can still be pushy if there is some tasty looking weed (or flower bed) on the other side of the fence. Cattle panels are a good, easily affordable type of durable fencing. If you have plenty of strong timber on your property, you can create wood fences, but beware that this type of fencing is prone to rotting and should be checked regularly for breaks or weak points.
Raising beef cattle on a small homestead gives everyone in the family a lot of satisfaction, and you’ll be happy knowing you have a pure, healthy source of meat for your freezer. It is also a great way to teach children responsibility by letting them help with the chores they are physically capable of handling.
Do always be aware of the fact that these are large animals that can hurt small children without even meaning to, so always accompany small children when they are around the cattle.
Where to Buy Feeder Steers
If you don’t want to have the year-round responsibility of cows to give birth to your steers, you can buy young steers to raise and slaughter. This is not self-sustaining, but it does make it possible to produce large amounts of beef for far less cost than supermarket beef and also lets you guarantee it is raised more natural way. Livestock auctions and local farmers are a good source of feeder steers.
Feeding Your Young Steers
If you own the steer’s mother, she’ll do a lot of the work for you early on. Even if your calf is still nursing, you should provide grain in a creep feeder that the mother cow can’t get into to help your steer grow well. He will likely eat hay or graze alongside his mother from a very young age as well.
Once weaned, the feeding requirements step up, and you will need suitable grazing land, or enough hay to feed your growing steer about fifteen pounds of grass or hay per day until they reach about 800 pounds. After that, you should increase the hay and grain levels to twenty pounds of dry matter and three pounds of grain per day. You can slaughter at any time after they steer reaches 800 pounds—less if you want young beef, but you will get far less product.
The Best of Both Worlds
If you have enough land or hay resources, you may want to raise a few extra steers per year. It is a great way to supplement your income and help you provide for extra items around the homestead. Even just raising two steers per year can feed a family of four and provide several hundred dollars to cover the expenses of raising the pair. That can reduce your total expense for putting beef in your freezer to very little or nothing at all.
©2011 Off the Grid News