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The Ultimate Guide to Raising Cows

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Have you ever wondered how beef cows are raised before the meat lands on your dinner plate? This question may seem morbid, but the reality is that someone has to raise cattle both to source the milk you put in your coffee this morning and to put beef on the shelves where you do your grocery shopping. So how exactly are cows raised?

You can raise cows for either subsistence farming or commercial agriculture, both of which can include dairy or beef breeds.

To raise cows, you need to source healthy cattle to start a herd with. Then, provide them with adequate shelter, food, and water. Maintaining the health of cows is essential. You will need specialized equipment to raise cows.

If you’re considering trying your hand at raising cows, you’re in the right place! It may seem overwhelming at first, and the abundance of information available to you online can seem daunting. To help you navigate the process, I’ve compiled all the necessary information into one easy-to-read article. Don’t stress, take a breath, and follow this ultimate guide to raising cattle.

Why Do People Raise Cattle?

You can raise cattle as part of subsistence farming to stock up your freezer with quality steaks, roasts, and other cuts of meat. In this case, you would raise cattle for personal gain. Commercial farming can be used to make a profit and generate a steady stream of income.

Raising cattle for milk is also a common practice. Take note that only cows that have had a calf can produce milk. However, they can continue to lactate for more than a year after the birth of their offspring, as long as they are milked regularly.

Here are a few guidelines to follow when you’re getting started on your endeavor to raising these friendly animals either for milk or meat. The information in this article is not dependent on your reason for raising cattle.

group of cattle eating grass in the meadow

Selecting and Sourcing the Right Cattle

Selecting the right cattle can be difficult if you do not know what type of cow would make the ideal candidate for meat or milk and your desired purpose. It is a lengthy, intricate process, as this decision can influence the quality of your products. So, follow these steps to ensure you’re starting on the right hoof.

1. Assess the Health of the Cows

The health of cattle can influence the quality of your meat or dairy products. This means that it’s imperative to choose cows that are in good health. Specific aspects of the cow’s physical characteristics should be taken into consideration.

  • Eyes – The eyes of the cattle should be bright and clear.  Avoid buying a cow with any symptoms of pinkeye. Discharge or mucous surrounding the eyes of cattle is a telltale sign of pinkeye.
  • Nose – Similar to the eyes of cattle, there should be no discharge in or around the nose. The cow’s nose should be moist but not slimy or snotty.
  • Excessive panting – Panting is expected on a warm day, but a healthy cow should not pant all the time.
  • Fertility – Male animals of this breed should have a masculine appearance, while females should have a feminine appearance. This information may seem self-explanatory, but some females appear masculine, which can indicate infertility. Young castrated males (steers) should have both testicles removed.
  • Coat – Healthy cattle should have a smooth coat that is thick and full during the winter. Their coats should have no bald patches.
  • Body – Cattle being raised for beef should have well-developed bodies with defined muscles. Put simply, beef cattle should appear beefy. Dairy cows should be slimmer but shouldn’t be too skinny. They should be able to walk with straight legs, without swaying too much.

The health of the livestock you purchase will directly influence the quality of your products and the price thereof. High-quality products can be sold at a higher price. Unhealthy animals will also cost more due to their increased need for health care.

2. Sourcing Your Cows From Reputable Farmers

The best place to buy cattle is directly from a reputable farmer near you. Ask local farmers or use the internet to find the best cattle farmer in your area.

While purchasing cattle in this way can be pricey, farmers want to uphold their reputation with every sale they make. This means that you are less likely to receive an animal that demonstrates ill-health, which will save you a lot of time and money.

You can also purchase cattle from farmers who advertise their livestock on websites such as Craigslist. This method of sourcing cattle is a good option for individuals who want healthy, well-fed animals for a lower price.

Advertisements on these websites usually include photographs, allowing you to assess the health and condition of the animal before purchasing any livestock.

You may request to view the cattle in person, and Craigslist enables you to have open, direct communication with sellers.

The worst place to purchase cattle is at a livestock auction. At these events, it is nearly impossible to tell what kind of health the cattle are in. The conditions may be stressful for the animals and sickness or disease may be difficult to detect.

happy family in the cattle farm house

Transporting and Housing Your Cattle

Now that you’ve purchased your cattle, your next step is to transport them safely to a clean, secure holding place. This can be pretty tricky, but these few steps will help you transport your animals as ethically and hassle-free as possible.

1. Prepare Your Trailer

Preparing your trailer is an essential first step to transporting your cattle. Luckily, it is relatively easy to prepare the trailer for transport. Here are the things to keep in mind when you’re getting your trailer ready to convey cattle.

  • You should ensure that you clean your trailer thoroughly.
    The inside of the trailer should be immaculate to avoid the spread of disease.
  • Ensure that the floor is skid-resistant so that your cattle do not slip and injure themselves.
  • Keep the trailer well ventilated. Proper ventilation should be suitable for all weather conditions, so keep this in mind when you’re preparing your trailer.

2. Prepare a Suitable Housing Space

Congratulations! You have safely transported your new livestock home. The next step is to check for any livestock injuries from being in the transport trailer. Once you have established that they are in good health, it’s time to introduce them to their living space.

The Quarantine Period

You may want to house your cattle in a small, secure space for the first few days. This temporary house will ease their nerves and limit the opportunity for them to escape. Enclosures like these should be stocked with grass hay and an abundance of fresh, clean water.

While living in this small space, cattle should be separated from the rest of your animals to prevent the spread of disease. The ideal quarantine period is between 14 to 22 days. The longer they can be kept here, the better.

Your vet may be able to advise you on how long your cattle should be quarantined and the symptoms of any disease that you should look for.

Permanent Housing Arrangements

After your cattle have been through the quarantining process and have had time to adjust to their new way of living, they will be ready to live in their permanent housing structures.

One hundred fifty square feet of space will hold between five or six of these animals. Holding pens should provide around 20 square feet of space per animal. Usually, not more than 80 cows should be housed in one building.

You should arrange double row housing in such a way that the cows face out, meaning you should make use of the tail-to-tail system. Do not house more cattle than you and your staff can care for. On average, each cow will need between 100- and 150-man hours of labor.

farm workers feeding the cattles in the farm house

Caring For The Dietary Requirements Of Your Cattle

So you’ve transported your cattle and set up their living quarters. Now you should focus on their dietary requirements. Cattle should always have access to enough food and water to maintain their physical health.

What Do Cattle Eat?

Contrary to popular belief, cows eat more than just grass. A nutritionally appropriate bovine diet will consist of a mix of hay (50%), grain (25%), and waste products (25%) like citrus pulp, almond hulls, canola meal, and more.

Most farmers either make their food according to the needs of their cattle or buy formulated food from other farmers. Different mixes of food will contain varying amounts of grass, grain, and waste products. It would be best if you chose a combination that suits your needs.

If you decide to switch the mix that you are using, you should do this gradually over a week or two. If you suddenly change the type of feed you are using, it can cause stomach upset for your cattle.

Additionally, you should provide your cattle with forage by letting them graze pasture or providing them with a constant flow of hay.

How Much Food Do Cows Eat?

Cattle can consume up to 3% of their body weight in one day. This means that you will need to have storage space for large quantities of food mixes. Underfed cows produce less milk and make for poor-quality meat.

Adult bulls can weigh up to 2400 lbs, while adult cows weigh around 1500 lbs.

Watering Your Cattle

Cattle may drink up to 50 gallons of water per day, so you need to ensure that you can keep up with their watering requirements to prevent illness, dehydration, and in extreme cases, death.  Cows that are lactating need more water than those that aren’t.

cattles on the desert

Maintaining The Health Of Your Cattle

Prevention of health issues is better and less expensive than treating any possible complications or illnesses. You can prevent sickness and disease by following these simple guidelines.

  • Monitor the food consumption of your livestock. A decreased appetite is almost always an indicator of illness or stress.
  • Providing a calm, safe environment will decrease stress and prevent stress-related illnesses from developing.
  • Keep track of any signs of fever. The average temperature of a cow is between 101 – 103°Fahrenheit. Anything higher or lower than this should be considered abnormal.
  • Monitor your cattle’s vital signs. The resting pulse should be between 40 and 80 beats per minute. The respiration rate is between ten and thirty breaths per minute.
  • Maintain vaccination schedules. Immunization is an integral part of preventing respiratory diseases.

Required Equipment for Proper Care

Specialized machinery and equipment are needed to care for these animals. Below is a comprehensive list of any required tools and equipment that you may need.

Feeding Equipment

  • Feed mixer
  • Feed cutter
  • Self-feeder
  • Bunks
  • Mangers
  • Waterer
  • Watering tanks

Transportation Equipment

Take note that you may be able to use one trailer for both livestock and food, wood, etc.

Trailers are crucial if you need to transport an animal to the vet, as not all vets do call-outs.

Corral Systems

If you want to keep your cattle from wandering around at inappropriate times, you need a corral system. Corral systems are small enclosures that you can place in the middle of a field, near a grazing patch, or under some trees. These enclosures include an area of shade, for your cattle to take refuge from the sun on hot days.

A corral system explicitly designed for cattle includes an adjustable alley section, arena panels, a holding pen for cattle, and alley gates and frames that can be adjusted. They feed directly into a squeeze chute, making it easy for animals to enter and exit the corral. 

Ensure the corral you choose is big enough for your needs, so your animals don’t feel cramped.

Manure Spreader

Keeping livestock means that you will eventually need to use a manure spreader. This is a handy piece of equipment to have since your animals spend most of their time out in the pasture, and manure piles up quickly.

Manure can be used as a fertilizer to improve soil quality, reduce runoff, and keep flies at bay. These spreaders are tractor-driven and can carry significant amounts of cow waste in one trip, and are ideal when you have large numbers of cattle.

Manure spreaders are most beneficial when you have a herd that is out to pasture for a good portion of the day. Farmers who choose to stable only a few animals at a time may also find this equipment useful.


A headgate is one of the most important pieces of equipment to have when you are farming cattle. It should be sturdy, safe, easy to operate, and quiet while in operation. A headgate is used to hold cattle in place while they are tended to or if a vet needs to examine them.

Headgates are available in four main types: self-catching, scissors-stanchion, positive-control, and fully opening stanchion.  Self-catching headgates close automatically depending on the movement of the animal. 

In the shape of a pair of scissors, the scissors-stanchion has bi-parting halves that pivot from the bottom. 

An animal’s neck is firmly but not painfully clasped by the positive-control stanchion, while fully opening stanchions work like sliding doors with two bi-parting halves.

three cows looking on the fence


With all this newfound knowledge, you have everything you need to start raising cows. This information is accurate whether you’re raising cattle for meat or milk products.

The most important takeaway should be that it isn’t cheap or straightforward to raise cows, and many things need to be considered, such as the logistics and costs associated with the transport, housing, healthcare, food, water, and equipment of the cattle.

Raising cattle for subsistence farming is inexpensive compared to commercial agriculture. Whatever your reason for wanting to raise these hoofed animals, you should always consider the wellbeing of the animal more important than profit or personal gain.