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Beef and milk cows

Sebastian Hammer


Joined: Dec 07, 2011
Posts: 7
I am thinking a few cows (<5) would be good on the homestead. I am probably 2 years out, but do like thinking about this kinda thing any way. Well, we would like some cows for milk and for beef. I thought about just getting the best milk cow and then butchering the steers and replacing the cows with their young. I have heard meat production on milk cows is not the best and then thought maybe I should get some heritage breeds that would be good on both accounts. Some of the criteria I am thinking:

1) High milkfat content. I was shooting for 3.5% or better.
2) Able to produce well on grass only.
3) Able to withstand the heat of South Carolina in the summer time.
4) Good beef production.
5) Average to low production. I could make less than 3 gallons a day work well enough.

Obviously, these are not set in stone, just some thoughts I had initially. I came across the Florida Cracker that seemed like a decent cow and saw another place that had a few breeds that might fit the bill. I also heard about the miniature jersey, but they are really expensive (which is good and bad of course). I just wanted to toss it out to the general consensus and see what recommendations y'all had.
Amedean Messan
pollinator

Joined: Nov 11, 2010
Posts: 801
Location: Burlington, NC - Woodland, Clay - Zone 7
    
  26
I did some research on this a while back on miniature cattle which are much better for homestead than their giant relatives. I figure you may want to get some additional opinion with someone having more experience on cattle but I came across a breed of cattle which is the result of crossing low-line angus and miniature jersey. The breed is relatively new and called the "jeylow" or "jey low" (jersey/lowline angus). They are naturally polled (no horns) and mild temperament like their predecessors. I hear they have a good meat/milk characteristics, not as good as a pure mini jersey for milk and not as good as lowline angus for dress but a good inheritance from both qualities. I have heard generally positive reviews compared to dexter cattle, except on hardiness. Your not going to get much better butterfat content in milk than jerseys nor much better dress like angus. Again, because miniature cattle are not as common I would consult an expert before making a final decision. As for price, you are not going to get around paying a pretty penny for good genetics. I hope that was somewhat helpful.

Here is a decent intro to miniature cattle.
http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1154&context=libraryscience


Those who hammer their swords into plows will plow for those who don't!
Leila Rich
steward

Joined: May 24, 2010
Posts: 3735
Location: Wellington, New Zealand. Temperate, coastal, sandy, windy,
    
  78
Dexters and Murray greys are both small, hardy, dual-purpose breeds with good milk and great meat. They are lightweight (Dexters especially) and do much less damage to the land than larger breeds. They are also both easy birthers and good mothers, a really important thing as far as I'm concerned.
I don't know about heat tolerance though. Brahman cattle handle heat very well. You can get miniature ones...
kent smith


Joined: Sep 05, 2010
Posts: 211
Location: Pennsylvania
just a thought: around here you can buy day old calves from some of the dairies that have been cross breed with angus or another beef breed for $25-50.00. They are cheap and supply decent to good pasture raised beef.
kent


Kent
Kari Gunnlaugsson
volunteer

Joined: Jun 22, 2011
Posts: 308
    
    8
Are you going to keep a bull? How are you going to get them bred? It's just something to think about, the real miniatures might be a hassle if there's nothing around to breed them to.

Also the miniatures, and to a lesser extent some of the smaller breeds, can have some odd genetic problems associated with dwarfism.

+1 for murray greys or dexters... i think they would be a good match for a homestead. If it was me I'd stay away from the real miniatures, or even the dexters that have been bred down too tiny. If you can find a breeder who's into pasture raised animals they should have good genetics for you.

I love my Highlands, but I think they would suffer in your heat.

PS..don't forget that the real old breeds were triple purpose...beef, milk and draught...those breeds can also make excellent draught animals / small oxen and could be a real help if you're doing larger scale gardening. Use the animal traction for tillageand hauling stuff, the manure for compost, and you can use rotational grazing to manage your vegetation....if you google draft animal power network they have some folks hanging around there that know a lot about working cattle (or tillers international)

have fun
(if you have small cows or especially heifers be cautious about the bull you breed them to so as to avoid difficult calving)
Amedean Messan
pollinator

Joined: Nov 11, 2010
Posts: 801
Location: Burlington, NC - Woodland, Clay - Zone 7
    
  26
It's just something to think about, the real miniatures might be a hassle if there's nothing around to breed them to.


How is there any different from any other sized cow?

Also the miniatures, and to a lesser extent some of the smaller breeds, can have some odd genetic problems associated with dwarfism.


Where did you hear this because this? I have been told that there is a popular misconception that somehow miniature cattle are genetically susceptible to dwarfism. If my sources are correct, many miniature cattle breeds are actually the heritage breeds before selective breeding tripled the sizes of conventional cattle.

PS..don't forget that the real old breeds were triple purpose...beef, milk and draught...those breeds can also make excellent draught animals / small oxen and could be a real help if you're doing larger scale gardening.


I am not sure I understand what is a "real" old breed. I do agree that cattle were originally triple purpose animals but keep in mind a well worked animal produces some seriously lean and chewy meat. For meat production you usually don't use cattle as extensive working animals because the focus is on milk and beef production. Putting your cattle through extensive work is efficient, but the trade off in meat quality is often considered undesirable due to the absence of marbling and chewy texture.

If you have small cows or especially heifers be cautious about the bull you breed them to so as to avoid difficult calving


Very true.
Kari Gunnlaugsson
volunteer

Joined: Jun 22, 2011
Posts: 308
    
    8
well... regarding breeding miniatures.. I'm just thinking that you are definitely not going to want to breed them to a big simmental or anything full-size. So if you aren't keeping your own bull it might be wise to choose cattle that you can breed to what your neighbours own. There may or may not be miniature bulls in the area. Or better, just keep your own bull.

regarding dwarfism... it happens with all the breeds. In dexters and angus it is the result of a single point mutation. In the past it has been more common than it should be in Dexter populations but any reputable breeder will be on this and managing it..but i would check up on them.

i guess i'm not fussy about miniatures, because whenever you get people really emphasizing one trait in their selective breeding the overall quality of the animals diminish. The old heritage breeds I think of as small but not miniature. They were selected for generations for thriftyness, disposition, ease of calving, milk and meat production. They are good solid cows even if they are small. Lately there has been an effort to make everything even smaller for 'miniatures' and in the rush to select for that character I am afraid that breeders aren't always paying as much attention to the other important characters. Dexters and their like have been small statured and working well for hundreds of years of practical use. Miniature herefords got there pretty darn quickly and it seems mostly to satisfy hobbyists.

at the risk of offending even more people, you really see the effect in horses. Take thoroughbreds. Bred hard to win on the track. Now in the USA the breed tends to have a very short working life span, they break down easily, their feet are really really bad, and their dispositions are far from ideal for a working animal. But they are fast for a few years and they win races. In britain where the breeding has been more conservative, thoroughbreds still have nice feet, it's a world of difference.

so i'm just saying that super tiny cows haven't necessarily came from a breeding program that selects for good overall cows

it really depends on sebastion's space, meat requirements, aesthetics, etc. If you spend time with a good small heritage breed they can be docile and easy to handle even though they are a bit bigger. With proper rotational grazing management, hoof traffic can improve soil texture.

as far as working with them... he said around five cattle and i'm assuming he's only going to butcher one or two a year...i don't think it would hurt to put some of his stock to work a bit to help earn their keep. I get the impression that it's an acreage not a full farm, so I don't think we're talking about twelve our days out in the fields with them...I just though it would be a fun thing to learn, and a sustainable heirloom technology to keep alive and implement on a permaculture homestead....a few hours in the garden now and then..

cheers, kari

Sebastian Hammer


Joined: Dec 07, 2011
Posts: 7
Thanks for all the responses. I will definitely have to look into the Dexters and Murrays. I like the Dexter's 4% milkfat. Yeah, I am thinking about just putting them on some rented acreage and shift them weekly to 4 or 5 different paddocks. Most of my "neighbors" are commercial dairies with holsteins and jerseys. I am actually getting raw milk from one of the jersey dairies now.

I was considering keeping a bull. Admittedly, I know nothing about cow breeding, etc. and have a ton to learn. And I like the idea at least of a bull with horns and when I butcher put the horns above a door to the shed or something.

Crossing does seem interesting, but I would like something that is, more or less, self propagating. If I have a bull and a few heifers I would not need to worry so much about finding a breeder, semen, embryo, etc.

Btw, do you think grazing chickens and pigs with the cows would work? I have not fully thought out the logistics, but was thinking about getting some pigs and chickens as well and thought it might be good to graze them all together. Obviously, I would need larger paddocks than if I had just the cows alone, but thought it could be interesting.
Kari Gunnlaugsson
volunteer

Joined: Jun 22, 2011
Posts: 308
    
    8
If you have neighbours who keep cattle they will be a great resource for you while you're learning.

A bull is a bit of a nuisance for a small herd, as he eats just as much as if he was breeding a large herd...but if you're pasture rent isn't too expensive it may be worth it to you. You can get away without it but it is nice to be able to put him in a very solid separate pen for a while each year to help synchronize the breeding times for your herd..maybe a neigbour could help with that. I am a big fan of calving in late spring, it matches the enegy demands of the cattle well with the seasonal patterns of resource availability, at least up here...and you're not calving in terrible weather. It sounded like you were quite a ways down south so it might not be so much of an issue...see what the progressive locals do.

Mixed species grazing is great. It helps reduce parasite loads and it's a more natural regime that maintains a better diversity of plants on your grazing land. It's also more productive as the different species utilize different resources on the same land. Cattle and sheep work well mixed, or follow the leader through the paddocks, or rotate cattle through area A and sheep through area B and then switch areas on the next year. Probably for a little herd it will be less work to just have a mixed 'flerd'. Chickens like the bugs out of the cow-pies. How about heritage breed pastured turkey? With sheep and poultry a predator protection strategy becomes important...there are lots of options to mull over. I don't know pigs, but I believe they require more supplemental high protien food sources and won't really make a go on a pure grazing system...you might want to check on that...they can still be out on the pasture but you might need to figure out a movable feeder that only they can access. The chickens will want some supplemental feed as well...it should be possible to make a movable shelter for them with feeders inside that only they can access. I suspect it would be easier to let your large grazers clip the grass down and then follow with chickens in a chicken tractor or a moveable electric netting paddock with a little shelter. There are some logistics to scratch your head over but it's all very do-able. Portable electric fence is your friend.

I'd recommend reading through 'grass-fed cattle' by julius ruechel, 'all flesh is grass' by gene logsdon, and maybe googling a little newsletter called 'the stockman grassfarmer'.

good luck..

ps little detail...sheep can't have access to cow mineral as the levels of copper are toxic to them so you need to make a cattle mineral station that they can't reach...

Leila Rich
steward

Joined: May 24, 2010
Posts: 3735
Location: Wellington, New Zealand. Temperate, coastal, sandy, windy,
    
  78
I was brought up with Jerseys and the cows are the loveliest, friendliest animals. The bulls are usually pure aggressive testosterone with horns on. Very scary beasts.
Joel Salatin has a very successful chicken/cattle rotation. I thinkpeople generally keep pigs seperate as they root up the pasture; but I've never kept pigs. Walter Jeffries is a pig expert on these forums, maybe search his posts.
A Philipsen


Joined: Jul 10, 2011
Posts: 57
Location: OR - Willamette Valley
I love my Dexters For you, I'd look into whatever smallish breed is near you. Or, many times you can get culls from dairies that don't produce enough for a dairy but more than enough for home use, my neighbor got a sweet Jersey that way that transferred to grain-free with no problem. A bonus there is that they are already tame and used to milking, and you can always cross them to a beef breed for meatier calves. There's a bunch of good advice in here, I would add that, if you are going to milk your cow and you're looking for a heritage breed, try and find someone who is selecting for milk and if they are actually trained for milking, that's a bonus. Many heritage breeders breed for type or color or beefiness, or anything but milking ability and udder quality, even if it's a breed labeled "dual purpose". You do not want to make milking any harder on yourself than it has to be. I'm not going to say absolutely don't have a bull, but they are often more of a nuisance than they are worth. If you can get by with three gallons of milk a day, you should only need 2 cows (if you get something like a Jersey, maybe only one), keep in mind that their offspring take a couple years to mature so 2 milk cows means one calf and one yearling each so six head of cattle at any given time, and it's generally not worth keeping a bull as well to breed only two cows a year. We have had good luck borrowing or renting bulls for the most part. Also, if you expect them to produce on grass only, your pastures need to be very high-quality, no cow can make something from nothing. Also, a bull with horns - yikes. I hate horns. Dexters have pretty ones, but after having them just a few years, I got excellent bruises backing into my gentle cow's horns on a couple occasions, one steer killed a goat and nearly killed another (he was just playing), they do a lot of damage to stuff just itching their horns on it, I'm doing my best now to remove horns and avoid gaining any more "experience".

As for chickens and pigs, chickens are awesome in the field, they break up the cow pies and eat bugs. I can't say for pigs. No way would I let my pigs in my field, they do too much damage and their unofficial job is garbage disposal anyway which would be much more complicated if they're running free with the grazers. I've heard that some people are successful with them in the pasture though.
Fred Morgan
steward

Joined: Sep 29, 2009
Posts: 972
Location: Northern Zone, Costa Rica - 200 to 300 meters Tropical Humid Rainforest
    
  12
For the cost of maintaining a bull, I would suggest just going with insemination. I don't know how much it is up there, but down here it is around 80 dollars. Usually, we just borrow a bull from a neighbor.

I would be very careful about keeping a bull if you are new to cattle, and especially if you have children. Those horns aren't just for decoration. Even a heifer can turn mean if they are hurt somewhere, just assume a bull is mean, you will live longer.


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