There's a lot that goes on when raising cattle on the homestead. As we're expanding our herd, we're learning the ins and outs of how different owning one, nine, or 20+ cattle can be!
As you'll hear in the podcast, this is my last episode for 2023. But I always want to encourage you to reach out and let me know about topics or tutorials you're interested in. As I'm planning out the new year, I'm always taking your recommendations into consideration.
In the past, I've discussed my tips for raising livestock for food, as well as the pros and cons of raising your own grass-fed beef (including what you need to know on butcher day and the best cuts of meat to get from the butcher). I've also shared how we started raising Scottish Highland Cows on the Norris Farmstead, so be sure to check those posts out as well.
This past week, we were running our cattle herd through the system for getting tags (which helps track lineage), castration and overall well-being.
Having a larger operation has meant some changes to these practices. If you’re thinking about raising cattle, I highly recommend you listen to today’s podcast, as I’m sharing some of the differences between owning one, nine or 20+ head of cattle. I also discuss the differences between banding and cut castration and why we switched.
Enjoy this podcast, then be sure to check out some of my other posts below.
- Azure Standard – If you're a first-time Azure Standard customer, you can get 10% off your order of $50 or more by using coupon code “Melissa10” at checkout!
- Archer Valley Ranch – At last year's Modern Homesteading Conference we were able to see the Archer Valley Ranch squeeze chute in action!
More Posts You May Enjoy
- How to Preserve Dairy, Meat & Eggs
- 8 Things You Need to Know about Keeping a Family Milk Cow
- Stocking Up on Animal Feed (Buy Now, Save Later)
- Your Livestock Questions Answered
- How to Make Real Buttermilk (Cultured Buttermilk Recipe)
- Fermented Dairy: Why You Should Be Doing This Now
- How to Make Homemade Yogurt That’s Thick and Creamy
Hey Pioneers, welcome to episode number 413. Today we are going to be chatting about what things look like at the end of the year, very end of fall, beginning of winter when you are running a cattle herd, and then what we are up to right now as well as plans for next year. So it's like what's going on in the life of homestead. I had shared on Instagram last weekend, we were running our cattle through the system for getting ear tags, just your management of the herd when our herd was a lot smaller where we only had three cows that we were breeding back. So that usually meant about nine cattle in the herd total. So you have your three cows that are getting bred every year, and then you've got their three babies, as yearlings, and then we butcher at two years old.
So we would have, as you can see, three cows, three babies, three two year olds that's going to equal nine cattle. And that's been about the size of our herd, give and take. We've flirted as we have brought our fertility of our pasture up where we were running four cows, which do the math and you're at 12. But that was really the max that we could do. And depending on what the weather was like as far as drought conditions, growing conditions, etc. sometimes for the acreage that we had that was pushing it a little bit. So we would then pull back and bring the herd back to nine total with the babies being at varying degrees and stages.
So with the purchase of Norris Farmstead, one of the reasons we wanted to purchase that is it was 40 acres of mainly pasture, and then there was the farmhouse that we have is the farmstay. And we have that going to help us make the mortgage payment for a 40 acre farm, because when you are trying to increase your cattle and you're doing it as beef, you have that upfront investment of those cows, but you're not actually going to make money on the calves that will then be butchered at two years.
You've got a three-year timeline from where you first purchased, because you have a gestation period of nine months. So you get the cows if you don't buy them with already bred, then you've got that nine month, you've got breeding at about a nine-month gestation and then two years of age. You're looking at about three years before you're going to make any money when you're raising beef cattle upon that initial investment. So I share all of that with you because as our herd is growing, that also does mean additional cost once you get up to a larger size herd in order to manage them effectively. So in the past when you only have three cows that are calving and that's three new calves on the ground in a year it easy or is easier, maybe a better word, it's easier to manage and to be able to go out and as soon as those calves are born within the first two to three days, if they are male bull calves to castrate them.
So we would band them, because when they're so small, it's very easy to catch them, they're pretty docile, easy to handle, you can band them. Once they get about past two to three days old, it's a little calf, but I tell you what, they're pretty spry. They're really strong, they can run. It's much harder to actually physically grab them just out in the field. We don't have horses, we don't rope, et cetera. So you're literally just grabbing them, laying them down, getting them banded and then letting them go on their way. So as the herd grew and they were down at the other farm, it got to be a lot harder where they were calving, but we weren't able to get the calves. 40 acres is a lot bigger area also than 15 acres to go and search, because mamas hide their calves as a protection measure.
And so you can tell the mom has calved, but you're not necessarily sure where baby is hid. So we had some instances this summer where there bull calves were born, which is great because if you are butchering them, male cows grow to be larger. So at two years old, typically a steer is going to weigh more than a heifer, therefore you're going to make more money, because there's more meat. So when you're not wanting to increase the herd size, meaning you want more females in order to breed to increase the herd size, but you're just looking to maintain herd size and butcher, you are usually very excited when you get males.
Well, we had some males born and that was great, but we had one where we went to band him, but one of his testicles had not dropped yet. And so you can't band a calf if the testicle has not dropped, because banding is where you take basically it's like a really tight rubber band and it cuts off the blood flow like you put it around, it cuts off the blood flow and then those testicles fall off within a couple of weeks.
So when they're little, it's much easier to do. Not nearly as much risk as banding when a calf is older, around six months, just because then the area is a lot bigger, it's more blood flow has to be cut off all the things. So we knew if we banded this calf, there's no way to band just one testicle either, you have to get it far enough up it would cut off supply and both would drop, but then the testicle wouldn't have anything to actually drop down into because the sack would be gone. So we just left him, we're like, "We need to leave him. And if it doesn't drop..." Sometimes it can take a couple of weeks for it to fully drop, but if not, then you're going to have to call the vet out regardless if you want that to be a castrated cow.
Now this probably begs the question. I've seen different things on social media where people ask, "Well, if you're going to butcher it, why just leave them? Why are you banding them? Just leave them a bull." Well, for one, we're not butchering until they're two years old. And so if you have multiple bulls with one herd in ratio to females, they're going to start fighting and a bull is going to eat more because he's going to get bigger. And so it can pose a lot of problems. Plus quite honestly, not every male calf that is born genetically should be left as a bull. You want to be very specific with your genetics for your breeding program. And so there's multiple reasons why you would band them. Of course, back in the day when it was all open range and these huge herds and stuff, no, there would be natural selection and you would have bulls, they would fight, you'd have your dominant bull, you would have herds that would split, et cetera.
But in this day and age, at least where I live, it's not open range and there's not that capability. So you definitely do need to castrate your male calves and not just let them all be bulls until butcher age of two years. So that being said, there's the banding method, which works very well when the calf is very small. Once they are more than a week or two old, that depends, some people will do up to so many weeks, but once they're closer to six months, then we choose not to band because at that point you run the risk of tetanus developing because tetanus is a bacteria that develops in deep anaerobic environments. So without oxygen, so not surface cuts, but deep puncture wounds are known for tetanus, that type of thing. And the way that the banding works on larger bull, male calf, obviously then you're going to have more of a risk of tetanus and we don't vaccinate our herd.
And so you either learn how to cut castrate or you're going to band them when they're little. And we had reached the point with our herd that we weren't able to always grab them and band them or we had the issue, as I explained with the testicle, that didn't drop down in time to do it when they were little. So we made the decision to move to cut castrating this year as well as getting all of their ears tagged in order to keep track of lineage. So once your herd starts to expand, where ours is at twenty-two cows right now, so we've more than doubled where we were having the nine, it's a lot harder to just look at the cow and say, "Oh, that calf is this cow," and to keep track of all of that. So that's where you have the ear tagging and it's essentially like a human.
If you've ever had your ear pierced, it's exactly what it feels like. So it's like a pinch, a little sore for a day, but not that big of a deal. But it allows us to really track and to monitor the cows that are coming, the whole lineage part, and then which ones have really good growth, which ones have really good confirmation, all of those different things so that as you start to improve your herd's genetics, you've got a way of tracking all of that. So that's why, one, you want to do the ear tagging and then second, for the males that we're running through, we needed to cut castrate them. Now, I know a lot of folk when I shared this on my Instagram stories were like, "Oh my gosh, but that looks so severe," and all of this stuff. It is not.
So if you've never been around when they've castrated before, I am not exaggerating, they actually squirmed and a calf will ball when it's distressed more when we were doing the ear tag, which as I said, pain level wise is like you getting your ears pierced than they did during the castration process. So you do need to wait to castrate though until it is really cold out because one, you don't want flies. So it is a open wound when it's first done, so you don't want flies there laying eggs and bothering that. So you need to wait until it's cold enough where the fly population has went down with the winter once hard freezes, then the flies die back until spring. And two, think of when swelling and wound, cold is better. That helps to keep swelling down. So the late fall, early winter, depending on when your frost hit is really the ideal time to do that because most calves are born during summer and so you don't want them to get too old before you castrate.
So between that four and six month mark is just about right. That's where we prefer to do that for the cut castrating. So that is what we did. And when you first make the cut with the cut castrating, it is very minimal bleeding. I was honestly surprised. So growing up, my dad has always banded, he just caught them when they were little just like we did. That's who I learned how to do it from, my husband and I, and that was just always his practice on having to do it. But with having the older calves and increasing our herd size, we switched over to the cut castrating method this year. And one of the ways that has helped us do that has been getting a, which I will share some video here so that you guys can see that, is by getting a squeeze chute.
And so having an area and having your cattle trained where you can separate them out and if you need to do vet doctoring type things, an area where you can get them in, because most beef cattle are not halter broke. They're not tame where you can just go up to them in the field and be able to do whatever you want and to manhandle them so to speak. It's different if you have a cow that's halter broke like a lot of dairy cows or halter broke and you can go put a halter on them, lead them around or hold them still. They're used to being tied and if you need to do some type of vet administration, then you could do so fairly easily on them.
But the great thing with a squeeze chute and having a corral system that allows you to funnel them into the squeeze chute and then hold them still to allow you to work on them safely and do some administration really is key, especially once your herd starts to grow and you're going to probably have just, because the more you have of something more likely there's going to be something that comes up that you need to be able to work with them.
So we got our squeeze chute, actually we first saw the setup at the Modern Home Setting Conference last summer in Idaho, we got to see it set up. They will be back, it's Archer Valley Ranch. They will be back at the Modern Home Setting Conference this year, June 28th and 29th I should say of 2024. So it's almost this year. The time of this recording and release, it's in December of 2023. And so they had the whole system set up. They had cows in it on site, so it was really great. We got to look at the whole system, see it in action, and I am so happy that we got the system. It has a sweep arm, so it allows you to gently push the cows, not physically push them, but you're putting pressure on them so that they will then go through the system in the least stressful way possible to get them in and then allow you to do whatever you need to do.
So it was putting in ear tags for the young ones, both male and female, castrating the males, and then we actually had to put one of our highland moms through. She, bless her heart, had gotten in some cockabers and with that long highland hair she had, her ears were so matted with cockabers and I'm like, "I don't even know if poor Clara could hear. They're so matted." So we put her into the chute so that we could get in there with scissors and cut out all of the cockabers, she basically just got a spa treatment, she got her hair did so that she could hear and get her ears all cleaned out from those stupid cockabers.
So it can just come in really handy for a variety of things like that as well as if you need to get them loaded into a trailer, you can just use that system instead of actually squeezing them and immobilizing them in the chute. You can just use it as a way to narrow down into, then you would back your trailer right up to it and then you could funnel them through and get them loaded if you need to move them, take them somewhere else that way.
So one, I wanted to share that just because that's what the fall, winter looks like, as far as the cattle management. Really excited about that tool I had not seen in person for more small scale operations, which we definitely at like 22 cows are definitely considered a small herd. But really once you go up, at least from our experience, once you move up from about three cows or a herd of nine and start to get into that 20 plus, which we will as we improve the pasture down at Norris Farmstead we will be able to increase our herd size probably to about 30 at about 40 acres.
That's a little bit more than one acre per cow. So where we are with our growing season and growing climate and as that pasture increases as we're working on that soil fertility, that will be probably about the maximum that we would run on that amount of acreage. We'll see how much the soil fertility does increase with using mob practices and some more of that regenerative farming practice on the fields over the next few years. So that will be fun. But I just wanted to share how the different types of the year, what that looks like with specific livestock and some of those things that we're going to be doing. And then also share that this is the last podcast episode, not forever, but the last podcast episode of 2023.
So for those of you who have been listening to the podcast for a while, then you know that I just had neck surgery less than a month ago and I had a tumor removed. You can go back and listen to that episode if you want to hear more about those details. Very successful, so I was able to get the whole tumor out. No lingering nerve damage. Very, very successful as far as that goes. So that's been really exciting.
But it also put me in a space where reflecting on where I want to be spending my time and reevaluating what things I want to do I need to do, what things should I be doing? How are things going to look moving forward? So I'm really taking the rest of December to make some decisions on what that's going to look like. The podcast is not going away, don't worry. But I am taking a short break for the rest of this month, and I don't know if my microphone has picked any of it up, but we actually have some demo going on in our bathroom, just a couple walls over behind me. And so that's been exciting getting some house projects done. Our home was built, it's a manufactured home, but it was built in 2006. And so for those of you who've lived in a home for a while of a certain age, it feels like everything starts breaking right at the same time.
And so the main bathroom, which is also our kids' bathroom, had some work that needed to be done. So that is being done right now. It also happens to be right off of our kitchen, so you won't see any new tutorial videos from me on YouTube for a while either. Those are usually what we release on Wednesdays. And then the podcast episodes are released now on YouTube as well in video format. For those of you who are on the YouTube channel watching this or listening in, I am not going to be having any releases of Wednesday-type videos which are tutorial in nature for a while, because I can't really film and cook with a bathroom right there being under construction, and I'm hoping that you're not hearing saws and banging and all those types of construction things. Too much coming through here as I'm recording the podcast episode for you guys.
So just wanted to give you a heads-up and also say sometimes it takes what a major life event dealing with the tumor and all of that, that you can go back and listen to that episode if you haven't, to make us really take time to reevaluate. Are things still working that we're doing? In your home, in your homestead when it comes to livestock, maybe it's your day job, just all aspects of our life. You don't have to have that major event in order to sit back and evaluate. So I would encourage you, I know it's the holiday season and then coming into the new year, but to really take some time and evaluate what it is you're doing, if it still serves you well and to let go of things that aren't or make pivots and changes and maybe some things are working really well, you're like, "Nope, nothing needs to change, this is it."
But just to take some time to do some self-evaluation of where everything is at and make changes where and if need be. I know for me personally, sometimes I get so busy in the doing or I just caught up, this is the way things have went for so long that sometimes I am just doing things by rote or just habitually that don't really need to be done anymore. And so take that time. I'm going to be taking that time and just really looking at things. And sometimes it's big decisions, like for me deciding how many videos am I going to actually record and share. So that's something that I'm evaluating with as we come back. And also it could just be things like flow in your house. I have realized I had surgery and then I actually got really sick with a virus.
I was down for about two weeks, and so I feel like I've almost had this month of where I have been forced to do a lot of sitting, and that allows me to be reflective and to think and also looking at my space in the kitchen and realizing there is a lot of things that I have in my kitchen cupboards that I'm not using anymore, or it's not set up flow-wise in a way that is really the best. It's just been, I've always had these measuring bowls or these mixing bowls in this cupboard, and so they always just get put back there, but why are they here? I actually do the mixing and the cooking over on this side of the kitchen. This makes no sense. And so I am in the midst of reorganizing and our kitchen for flow and just getting rid of some things that I don't use anymore.
And I have to confess, I did one set of cupboards this week already, and you guys, there was so much that I'm like, "Oh my gosh, I didn't even know this was in the cupboard." I have three of these, because it was so inefficiently organized that I had no idea there were three of these in this cupboard because some of them were pushed so far to the back, I didn't even know they were there. And so of course I had bought it again and I'm realizing, man, being organized and knowing what you have and being able to see and find what you have, even when we're talking small things like spices and herbs, oh my goodness, knowing that you have it is great and then not buying three of it when you don't need three of it. Now, I do like having my bulk backup supply, but this I did not need that many of.
So that is my goal is to take some of this space too and to just do some reorganizing and getting rid of some things, getting the clutter down and so that everything is more streamlined in the kitchen for when the busy season happens to come back, which typically for us is really the end of winter, first part of spring things really start to ramp and pick back up just with seed starting, and garden, and breeding with the animals and then having the calving season starting and all of that. So I just thought I'd share a little bit. I guess it's a little bit behind the scenes, a little bit educational, a little bit tutorial all wrapped in one there. And to thank you for those of you who have been hanging out with me, and the podcast and are here on the YouTube channel for a long time now, I just want you to know I really appreciate it.
So many of you have reached out to me over the past month with the surgery and all of those things, sent cards, just I really thank you, and value you, and just want to share that and also would love your feedback. If there's certain things that you would love to see or hear more of when it comes to videos on the YouTube channel or podcast episodes, et cetera, would really love to have your feedback on the types and styles that you like the most, that you would like to see more of. All of those types of things will also help me as I plan out next year, and I hope therefore helps you as well. So I hope you have a wonderful rest of your December, a happy Christmas, Merry New Year, and I realized I just totally transposed those and I just really thank you.
So blessings in mason jars for now, my friend. We will be back in the new year, and if you are looking to buy, said I was talking about herbs and spices and going through all of our kitchen cupboards and making sure things are stocked with what they need to be stocked with. Our sponsor is Azure Standard. And Azure Standard has a huge plethora of non-irritated, mainly organic spices. I get most of my spices and culinary herbs from them that I'm not growing myself as well as all of our bulk baking supplies and needs from baking powder, baking soda, of course, flours, chocolate chips, sugars, different sweeteners. They have raw sugar, organic sugar, they have [inaudible 00:23:49] nut, my coconut oil, all of those things.
My pantry is mainly stocked with things from Azure Standards. So if you're a first time customer of an order of $50 or more, use coupon code Melissa10 to get 10% off of that and highly recommend that you check them out. They have got just an amazing quality as well as different quantities. So you can buy small if you're trying out a brand for the first time, but then they also have bulk, so you can get those big bulk and save money by buying those bulk supplies. So for real now, blessings in mason jars and I will see you in the new year.
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