Once you start looking at cattle you need to choose the option to go for. Things to take into consideration are:
- The number of head you can graze depends on acreage and quality of grazing
- Time available: raising calves is much more labour intensive than grazing replacement dairy heifers where to owner takes responsibility for animal health. If you want to produce all your food, you might want a house cow - this is a tremendous commitment as she will need milking twice a day when in milk. You will also get a lot more milk than you might want - so consider a milking goat.
- Capital investment available: the pedigree stock is going to cost a lot initially, grazing other people's stock requires no initial investment
- Aesthetic qualities: if you have a nice smart block you are very proud of, you might not want a mixed bunch of cattle, of different colours and sizes. With different-sized animals, the smaller ones can get picked on, especially if horns are involved. You might find a particular colour of stock more pleasing to your eye. If you find your stock attractive you are more likely to take more effort with their husbandry.
- Temperament: If you have great animal handling facilities, you might be game enough for some of the more “flighty” breeds, otherwise if you are part-time farming, more docile breeds will be less time and emotion-consuming!
- Personal values: how will you feel if every animal you farm ends up on a meat hook? Would you feel happier to have a base stock of breeding cows that become more part of the family, with their offspring going off to market? Or how does the idea of raising high BI (breeding index) dairy cows for the cow shed and a longer life appeal. There may be one member of your family for whom this will make the difference between “partnership” in the lifestyle and not.
Work out the livestock units of your block, and calculate what stock you can carry. Knowing the numbers you can carry for cattle will make a difference in your decision. You probably need to be able to carry 20 head minimum to consider dairy replacement grazing. Dairy farmers do not often want to break up a mob into less than that. Generally, a dairy farmer keeps 10% of his herd for restocking, so on a 200-head herd, he will have 20 replacement heifers usually grazed off his property. This type of grazing usually runs parallel to the dairy year, from 1st June to 31st May. It is often difficult to organise grazers after this start date.