The Book Stall

A Guide to Raising Beef Cattle

A Guide to Raising Beef Cattle
by Heather Smith Thomas

Storey Publishing, 1998

Many rural landowners have felt the urge to 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 behavior.

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.

A Guide to Raising Beef Cattle

A 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 freezer meat.

"A 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.

Beef Cattle Pasture Blend
"To 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 your coat").

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:

"To move 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.

"To move a cow forward, approach from behind the shoulder û her point of 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.

"A Guide to Raising Beef Cattle" is not just a handbook for the novice. Chapters on 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 guide to rebreeding, and directories of Cooperative Extension offices and Breed Organizations throughout North America.

Finnish Refugees herding their cattle
Finnish Refugees herding their cattle

The Encyclopedia of Country Living
The Encyclopedia of Country Living

The Backyard Homestead
The Backyard Homestead

Visit the Booths
Market Entrance
Reviews Archive
Search the Market
Lease a Booth
Book Search
Buy Direct Directory

Farmer's Market Online
Copyright © 2017 Outrider News Service. All rights reserved.