Start a Cattle Farm

There are various reasons why a person might want to raise cattle. Some raise large herds to sell, others, in the case of dairy, raise them to sell their milk. Many raise cattle to show in fairs and other local events. In today's economy, many families are deciding to raise cattle for their personal use. Whether you want to have a few head for your family's needs or raise a herd to sell, there are a few basics about how to raise cattle; from purchasing land to selecting the cattle you want to raise.


  1. Make a business plan. Do a SWOT analysis of yourself and the cattle industry you will be entering. Plan what kind of cows you want without looking at any breeds, and what kind of farm you wish to operate.
    • Keep in mind to start small. Don't spend your money in the first 2 years after buying or inheriting the farm or ranch. If things need repairs, repair only the fencing or facilities that are top priority over other things, such as renovating the barn or the house, or redoing the handling facilities to what you plan on doing. Buy machinery at an auction, not brand new. Buy the equipment and other items that you need right now, not what you want. You will get what you want over the next 5 to 10 years as you grow your new operation.
    • Try to aim for being a low-cost producer, as that is the surest way to make money, and the best way to start if you don't have much to begin with!
  2. Locate the area where you want to raise cattle for the next 10 to 30 or more years. This is important because you need to find a location that you are used to or really like and are confident you can raise your animals in.
    • Location can range from as far north as Alberta, Canada, to as far south as Uruguay, South America. Factors such as climate, seasonal variances, markets, vegetation and topography differ for every location that you may choose.
  3. Once you've made a decision where you want to start up, find land that is up for sale. Keep in mind that you may need to invest in a down-payment, Mortgages and Loans for the land you wish to buy, if you do not have enough money to pay it off within the year you buy it.
    • Land prices tend to increase in areas where there is a higher population, or land is in higher demand than in other areas.
    • Try to buy a farm or ranch that already has the facilities and fencing laid out for cattle, rather than buying a farm that needs to be converted for cattle.
  4. Find out more about the land location you are interested in. Contact the local extension office for that county to get more information on previous use, soil type, vegetation, stocking rates and carrying capacity for pastures (tame grassland) or rangelands (native grassland), cattle market demands, etc. Visit the neighbors that are in the area you wish to start farming/ranching in, and talk with them.
    • Often the neighbors will provide you with more information than what a government agency office can give you.
  5. Research then purchase the type of facilities, equipment and machinery necessary for the type of cattle you have chosen to raise. Analyze your operation and your financial situation to see what you need (not what you want) for current facilities, equipment and machinery. Fencing, watering facilities, feed bunks/troughs or bale feeders is priority above all other assets needed. A tractor, haying equipment, trailer, handling facilities and other buildings are also important.
    • If you have chosen a dairy operation, you will need multiple buildings and a milking parlour with stanchions to be able to run your operation, in addition to calving facilities, a calf barn, and a barn to hold cows when they're not being milked.
      • When deciding upon the type of stanchion to use for milking, there are several items to consider: first, have the cows been milked before and what are they used to? It is best to keep the same type of stanchion. If you will be raising them yourself, research the different types to determine what would work best in your situation.
    • With beef cattle, quite often fencing, some sheds and water sources are all you need, especially if you are wanting to raise a grass-based beef operation, be it finishing beefers on grass or a cow-calf operation. The exceptions are if you are willing to spend extra money on winter feeding costs and supplementing your cows with grain, or if you are wanting to run a feedlot.
  6. Determine the type of cattle you want to raise according to your budget and goals. The most popular choices are dairy or beef. Keep in mind that starting up with and raising dairy cattle is much more time consuming and costly than with beef cattle, and there will be more equipment requirements for dairy than beef as mandated by government regulations.
  7. Research the various breeds that you can or wish to raise. Determine the type of breeds you want according to your goals for your farm or ranch are, not what you like and what you are willing to do to work around the fall-backs of a particular breed.
    • If you are into beef production start with a breed that is known for good temperament and is not labour intensive. Herefords, Identify Red Poll Cattle, Shorthorns, Identify Galloway Cattle and Identify British White Cattle are such breeds that are renowned for their docility.
      • If you are insistent of raising Angus cattle because of what the markets in your area are demanding, please be very careful in selecting the type of cattle you want. See How to Raise Black Angus Cattle for further information.
    • If you are into dairy production though, the most best and most popular breeds for dairy are Holstein, Jersey and Brown Swiss. Guernseys and Ayrshires may also be popular for you if you are not located in North America.
  8. Start off with a handful of cows. Don't go whole-hog and buy as many cows as you can stock on the land you bought for a whole year. Buy good cows, ones that have great conformation, temperament, mothering ability and forage convertibility (among other things), and avoid those that look thin and are close to breaking-down. Heifers may be an option if you wish to wait for 2 years until you sell their calves; 3-fers/3-in-1's or bred cow with calf at side is another option, since you can sell the calf in a month or two, and wait for another few months before the cow calves out. Experienced cows tend to be easier to manage and handle than heifers.
    • Avoid buying a bull if you only have 4 or 5 females; buy a bull only if you have at least 10 cows, or do not wish to use AI (artificial insemination) any longer. If you have only 2 or 5 cows, AI is the cheapest and best (but not always the most effective) option for breeding all your cows. If you don't want to use AI, then rent a bull or find another cattle producer that will agree to keep your cows for a couple months to have his bull breed them for you.
  9. Determine the amount of pasture that will be required for the breed of cattle that you have selected. Decide whether the land you already own is sufficient or if you will need to purchase or rent additional pasture.
    • Determine whether you will be growing hay for the cattle yourself or purchasing it. Make sure that you use only the highest quality hay that you can afford.
    • Keep in mind that feed costs comprise almost 26% of the cost of raising cattle. Having sufficient acreage in the summer months for the cattle to graze on reduces those costs immensely, as does raising higher quality hay. Also keep in mind your plans for grazing, such as winter grazing if you don't want to get caught up in buying or making hay all the time. Winter grazing plans differ from area to area, so be aware of your options.
  10. Start keeping good records of finances, breeding/calving, health/vaccinations, purchases/sales, and assets in your operation. The most important records are your financial records, because these records determine whether your operation is giving you net income or loss. In Canada, it is mandatory that you have records of all the animals on your farm in addition to RFID tag information for each and every animal that is bought, sold or born on your farm.
  11. Most of all, have fun! It's a stressful and demanding lifestyle, but you will forever be learning lots and be kept busy with feeding and maintaining the health of your cowherd.


  • Start small. Start off with only a few cows or heifers, then build your herd from there once you've gotten more experience with the cattle you currently have.
  • Try to keep your operation as low-cost as possible; try to implement a year-round grazing program, if possible, to keep the cows out of the drylot and keep them on pasture all year.
  • Keep good records, from breeding and calving to health and financial records.
  • Fences, water, and feed are priority, and should be operational before you buy your cattle. Use the types of waterers that are best for your area: for example, areas where winter predominates for 4 to 6 months of the year, automatic waterers with heating elements in the bowl are the best for wintering cows.
    • Be sure that cattle have access to water at all times. In winter, check water several times per day for icing over.
  • Talk with the local vet about herd health programs and incentives for your cowherd. This should be done right after you've bought your animals.
  • Buy more hay than what you will need. There's no such thing as having too much hay.
  • There is no best breed to own. Buy the breed you are most attracted to or you believe will give you the most in terms of profit. Angus may be good if you live in areas where markets demand Angus and Angus-crossbred cattle. Brahman may be best if you live in areas where heat, humidity and insects are a common occurrence.
    • Keep in mind the standards set by organizations such as the FFA (Future Farmers of America) when selecting and purchasing cattle. Look for the healthiest animals in the group if you are buying private-treaty (one-on-one buyer to seller), or the healthiest and best-behaved groups of cattle at an auction mart. Consider such things as conformation, alertness, balance and desirable characteristics specific to the breed[s] of your choice.
  • Buy what you need, not what you want.
  • Test your feed for nutritional value. Know the times when your cows will be at their peak nutritional needs and when they will be at their lowest.
  • Avoid getting a bull as much as possible. AI has been invented for the purpose of avoiding the costs and dangers of caring for and looking after a bull.
  • Don't keep any calves from your first-calf heifers. They will be less thrifty and not as good as calves that are kept from older cows.
  • Ask questions, and have the local large animal veterinarian on speed-dial in case any health concerns or emergencies come up that you cannot handle on your own.
  • Visit local yard sales for used equipment. Check the bulletin boards in feed stores and other area stores for good deals.
  • PLAN, plan plan! Plan what kind of cattle you are looking for without looking at ANY breeds, what kind of farm or ranch you want and how you want to operate it, and write about your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, from what you are capable of doing to the cattle industry as a whole.


  • Always keep your eye out for trouble when working with cows and bulls. Know the signs.
  • Remember Murphy's Law: Anything that can go wrong, will.
  • Raising cattle is not a 9-5 week-day-only job. It's a 24/7/365 day job. Cows and cattle never know when statutory holidays occur, when you should take a two-week holiday, nor even when Christmas holidays begin; nor will they ever care.
  • Raising cattle can be a tough, rough, tiring job at times. It can be very stressful, you will be spilling blood, sweat and tears, and there will be times when you regret getting into raising cattle.
  • Don't spend all your money in the first two years on the newest farm equipment or the most expensive handling facilities. You will go broke sooner than you think. Try to keep out of debt as much as possible.
  • Don't get into something you think or know you can't do nor handle.
  • Never get complacent around nor trust a bull, no matter how docile he may seem to be.
  • Cattle are much faster and stronger than you are. Cows can be very dangerous when protecting a new calf; bulls can be unpredictable if you don't see the warning signs or don't know what to look for. Bulls tend to be most dangerous when in amongst a herd of cows and when it's breeding season because they may see you as a potential rival wanting to take over their harem.
  • Avoid sick, emaciated, and all-around unhealthy animals on your first purchases, even if you feel sorry for them and feel the need to "rescue" them. There's a reason that they're being sold for slaughter, most of the time the reasons are that they cannot be saved at all.

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