lot of us learn the basics of animal husbandry while growing up on a
farm or ranch, from 4-H projects, or from a patient uncle with a
pasture or two. But these days we're in the minority and there are a
whole lot of newcomers in rural America who don't know the difference
between alfalfa hay and straw, have never tried to herd cows, and don't
realize how important the first few hours after birth are to a calf's
survival; still, they insist on buying a a calf or two to raise for
Guide to Raising Beef
by Heather Smith Thomas
Storey Publishing, 1998
Many rural landowners have felt the
self-sufficiency, growing vegetables for their own table, canning fruit
to fill the pantry and splitting firewood to warm the household
throughout a long winter. Some have even been inspired to raise broiler
chickens, pigs or beef cattle.
Raising an animal for meat, you quickly learn, is much more complex
than it appears. Keeping the critter fed, watered, free of disease and
properly penned in is just the basics. You've also got to provide the
right protection from foul weather, deal with insect pests and
virulence, and come to terms with the animal's instincts and social
When the animal starts out weighing a quarter ton and soon grows to
more than 1,000 pounds, you know you've got your hands full.
Guide to Raising Beef Cattle,"
a handbook authored by Idaho cattlewoman Heather Smith Thomas and
published by Storey Books, will save animals a lot of unnecessary
discomfort, spare cattle owners plenty of frustration, and bring a
better cut of meat to the table. The basics of the craft are all here
in black and white, from fencing pastures and sorting cattle to weaning
calves and selecting bulls.
raise one or two animals for your own meat, you will probably start
with a purchased calf that is newly weaned," Thomas explains. "Most
beef calves are sold at weaning or soon after. It is generally best to
buy two: they will keep each other company and be easier to handle;
they will be more relaxed and gain weight better because they are not
as insecure; they will spend more time grazing and less time worrying."
The entire handbook is delivered with the same straightforward and
practical approach, with specific advice on what size of calf to
purchase ("at least 350 pounds"), what to do in cold weather ("feed
extra hay"), how to recognize illness ("the sick animal has less
interest in its surroundings, less response to external situations"),
and what to avoid (don't use scented hand creams, shampoo, aftershave,
or deodorant when working with calving cows and babies, and don't wash
With an intimate
understanding of cattle behavior borne of may years in the barn and on
the saddle, Thomas details the "flight zone" of each animal that
determines how close you can get before it feels threatened and moves
away from you. Using this zone, a cowboy can herd a group of cattle
with minimum fuss and exertion, as Thomas explains:
cattle, walk (or ride) on the edge of the flight zone, penetrating it
to make them move away from you and getting farther from them to slow
or stop them. When they go in the proper direction at the proper speed,
ease up as a reward and only press closer again if they stop.
Guide to Raising
Beef Cattle" is not just a handbook for the novice. Chapters
breeding and genetics, buying and selling, identifying an treating
diseases will be of interest to cattle owners at all levels of
experience. At the back of the book is a handy glossary, a
rebreeding, and directories of Cooperative Extension offices and Breed
Organizations throughout North America.
move a cow forward, approach from behind the shoulder û her
balance. If you approach ahead of the shoulder she will turn away or go
backward, defeating your purpose. To keep her moving forward, stay to
the side at the edge of the flight zone, at a position behind the
shoulder. Never follow directly behind; if you approach a cow in her
blind spot she may kick you."
Photos and drawings help illustrate concepts and techniques that will
be difficult to find in print anywhere else.
Finnish Refugees herding their cattle
The Encyclopedia of Country