THE BEEF RANCHETTE
Florida Cooperative Extension Service
Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences
University of Florida, Gainesville
John T. Woeste, Dean for Extension
Table of Contents
Types of Beef Production .......................3
Finishing for Slaughter
Resources Needed to Start ......................3
Pasture Establishment and Use ................... 6
Beef Health Care.............................. 8
Finishing for Slaughter ....................... .13
Glossary of Term s ............................15
Other Information Sources ................... 15
The Beef Ranchette
M. C. Spelbring and R. S. Sand*
Producing beef on a small ranch can be an excel-
lent way of providing meat for your table and per-
haps a few dollars for your pocket. A small beef herd
is not for everyone. It requires several resources
and a desire to do the necessary work. It may be a
good idea for you, and this publication is designed
first to help you decide if you should raise cattle, and
second, to help you get started if you decide to. A
great deal of supporting information is available
and a list of other sources is included on the last
Types of Beef Production
Cow-Calf Production is the main beef industry in
Florida and can be done on a small scale. This
involves keeping breeding females (brood cows) on
your land and raising calves born to them each year.
When the calves are old enough (6-8 months) to be
weaned from their mothers, they are sold to someone
else who feeds them until they reach slaughter
weight. Therefore, you are keeping cows to raise
calves but are not feeding cattle for slaughter. Your
weaned calves should weigh 400-600 pounds when
This type of production requires pasture to keep
the brood cows on but does not require you to pur-
chase very much feed with the possible exception
of hay. It provides income for you but does not put
beef on your table unless you decide to feed one of
your weaned calves and then butcher it.
Finishing for Slaughter involves buying weaned
calves and bringing them up to slaughter weight
with feed and possibly pasture. No breeding stock is
needed since you buy all of your young calves to feed.
This could be done one calf at a time with the fin-
ished animal slaughtered and the meat kept for
family consumption, or on a larger scale to generate
a small income. You would be adding about 500
pounds to the calves over 6-8 months to get them to
around 1000 pounds.
This production system requires more feed and
less pasture than the cow-calf system and also
requires more constant attention by the manager.
Steers or heifers can be used in this system and you
could combine the systems and raise your calves
from birth to butcher.
Resources Needed to Start
If you are considering the purchase of some beef
animals, you must first decide if it is something you
can handle with your resources. There are several
things you will need and without them you might be
better off not trying to raise beef.
*The authors are Extension Agent II Livestock, Pasco County, and Extension Livestock Specialist respectively. This manuscript was
first written as a class project for AEE 6541 Developing Curricular Materials in Agricultural and Extension Education, Associate
Professor Jimmy Cheek, Spring, 1980.
Land is the logical place to start in taking inventory
of your available resources. For a cow-calf system of
production you should allow at least two acres to
support a cow and her calf. You probably need ten
acres for a small cow-calf operation. It gets more
practical for you if you have 20-30 acres to use as
pasture. For a finishing operation with a couple of
steers you would not need as much land since they
can be kept in a small pen. As little as one acre could
be used in this system but simply because you have
an acre doesn't mean it's time to buy cattle. Check
the zoning for your land to be sure that livestock are
allowed in your area.
Labor needed will depend upon the system you use
and number of animals you have. The only constant
labor a cow-calf system requires is checking cattle
and fences. Winter feeding and health treatments
are the major occasional labor efforts needed. Steer
feeding will require more steady attention since
animals need to be fed daily but this should only take
a few minutes if properly planned.
Facilities are important, and if you are not willing
or able to invest in adequate facilities, you should not
enter the cattle business. Pastures obviously need to
be enclosed by fence and should also be divided by
cross fences, so you can keep animals in one area for
a period of time and then move them to another to
allow the grass to grow. You will need some means
of containing the cattle such as a corral, and a way to
separate out animals one at a time such as a chute
with a gate controlling a "Y" into two pens. A
squeeze chute is useful for holding cattle still for
examination or treatment and includes a head gate
to hold the animal's neck and a moveable side on the
chute which can be squeezed up against the animal's
side. Some type of loading ramp may also be needed,
as well as feed and mineral boxes and automatic
water sources. Plans for these facilities are available
through the Florida Plan Service at each County
Extension Office. Examples are given in the publica-
tion AE-6, "Building Plans for Small Farms and
Loading Chute --
Capital is needed to begin raising cattle and care
must be taken not to overextend your financial
resources. For this discussion let's assume you own
the land so no purchase is required, but there is still
the opportunity cost of your own land. This means if
cattle were not on the land, you would have the
"opportunity" to do something else with it, such as
lease it out. Thus, the land isn't free, because you
must give up the other possible uses of the land to
raise cattle on it.
Whether you go into steer feeding or cow-calf
production, you will need to purchase some animals.
The average price per head for cows in Florida from
1970-76 was $212, while the price per head for the
average 308 pound calf was about $120. Prices are
higher now and likely will stay above those levels. A
good cow might cost $400-$600 and steer calves may
bring $.75 to $1.00 per pound or $300-$400 per head.
Fencing and facilities must also be paid for as well
as feed and pasture fertilizer. This will depend upon
your existing situation and the production system
you choose. Remember that the money put into your
cattle operation also has an opportunity cost since it
could be drawing interest for you.
It is noteworthy that much of the money you put
into your cattle operation is a tax deductible expense.
Tax considerations are often important in this type
of small agricultural operation.
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Pasture Establishment and Upkeep
Good pastures are essential to cow-calf production
and certainly beneficial to calf feeding as well. This
is often one of the reasons you have decided to raise
cattle in the first place: to use pasture land you have
available. The question then becomes, how do you go
about making it productive?
There are several ways to go in pasture manage-
ment. These include perennial grasses, annual sum-
mer and winter crops, legumes and combinations.
Details of these options can be found in the Extension
Circular "Florida Forages", but let's look at some
basics. The most basic action to take is to have a soil
test completed on your land, so you will know how to
make it productive.
Bahiagrass is a good choice for the new cattle
producer to use as pasture. It is a productive grass
which is much easier to plant than some of the other
grasses. Bahia can be grown from seed, is adapted
throughout the state, is drought tolerant, and offers
the potential of a seed crop. Recent south Florida
figures in Circular 466 estimate it would cost about
$80 per acre to establish Pensacola bahiagrass in a
pasture area as shown in Table 1, with annual
maintenance costs of about $46 per acre.
The land should be disked up to kill any weeds and
expose loose soil. Spread the seed on the surface and
scratch it in with a harrow and cultipack or roll it to
pack the soil and seed together. Rain is needed soon
after planting to insure a good stand of grass so the
summer is a good time to plant. Bahiagrass pastures
should receive 100-120 .pounds of actual nitrogen
split into at least two applications throughout the
growing season. Phosphorus and potash should be
applied as indicated by soil tests.
Table 1. "Pensacola" bahiagrass establishment cost in
previously established South Florida flatwoods
Cash Cost Item Quantity Cost/Acre
Graze to ground -
Plow custom 1 acre $ 7.50
Dolomite spread 1 ton 17.00
Disk custom 1 acre 3.25
Harrow & cultipack custom
similar job could be done with rotovator or heavy disk
adjust seed cost if using "Argentine" or "Paraguay 22" bahia-
CFTE 503 is a micronutrient mixture
Annual Crops can also be grown for pasture but
this will likely cost more than perennial grass pas-
tures. For summer pasture you might choose pearl-
millet, a fast growing relative of corn which does not
contain the dangerous prussic acid of its cousins
sudangrass and sorghum-sudan crosses. Any of the
three species can be used but millet is the best choice
for an inexperienced cattleman. Millet should be
planted in the spring after the last frost date and
will produce throughout the summer. Millet forage
is higher quality than bahiagrass but yearly plant-
ing and high fertilizer costs make it rather expen-
sive, something like $100 per acre each year, or
about twice the annual maintenance cost of bahia-
Winter annual grasses include ryegrass, and the
small grains wheat, rye, and oats. These are planted
in the fall and can provide grazing in the late winter
and spring. They fit well with bahiagrass, being
planted into the bahia after it stops growing. Grain
rye is most resistant to dry weather while ryegrass
takes excess water best and oats probably make the
best hay. Use whichever one suits your land best or
use a rye-ryegrass combination for longer grazing
and adaptation to unpredictable weather. Your
County Extension Agent can help you decide which
Legumes are plants which don't need nitrogen
fertilizer because they can take nitrogen from the
air, use it to grow, and even leave extra nitrogen in
the ground after they have stopped growing. Exam-
ples of winter forage legumes include alfalfa, sweet-
clover and many different clovers such as white, red
and arrowleaf. Summer legumes include alyce-
clover, aeschynomene and hairy indigo. These plants
produce high quality forage with higher protein
content than grasses.
These crops should have a place in your pasture if
you have the time and money to manage for them.
The summer legumes can be overseeded in bahia to
improve the quality of feed and reduce nitrogen
fertilizer needs. The winter legumes are alterna-
tives to ryegrass and small grains, and they may be
cheaper to grow because they don't need the nitro-
gen. Since the plants fit into different situations in
different parts of the state, check with your County
Extension Agent about which legume will be best
Publications with information on weed control
and insect control along with fertilization guides,
can help you plan a pasture program. Publications
from the list at the end of this circular can help you
in your forage production.
Pastures of any type must be managed properly to
be highly productive and fencing is an important
part of it. Your pastures should be fenced so your
cattle can graze one area at a time and move on to the
next area while the first regrows. This "rotational
grazing" system is much more productive than giv-
ing the cattle the run of the whole place all the time.
It also would allow you to keep the cattle completely
off a section and let you harvest hay or seed from it if
you don't need the pasture. One way to do this is as
follows. After setting aside room for your corral and
working pens, divide your remaining land into three
pastures. You should design your fences so that you
either have water in each pasture or you can easily
run water to each one. An excellent system is to put a
water trough and mineral feeder at the point where
fences meet so cattle can get to them from any of the
pastures. When the grass is almost all eaten in one
pasture, put the cattle into the second pasture. When
it's eaten go on to the third and then back to the first,
which should be ready to graze again. Each pasture
should be used about every 5-6 weeks.
Beef Health Care
Maintaining the health of your animals will be a
major concern once you decide to have a small herd.
The first two pieces of advice in this area are:
1. Get in touch with a local veterinarian and
work out a way to get his advice and assistance
when you need it.
2. Obtain a copy of the Beef Cow-Calf Health
Handbook if you are starting a cow-calf opera-
You need to know a veterinarian because he
knows the local situation and can be more specific in
what he recommends. You also need to be acquainted
so he will know who you are if an emergency arises.
Some general health care advice follows.
Diseases are a fact of life in beef cattle as they are
in humans. Prevention of diseases is the best way to
handle this problem because cures are expensive.
Vaccination against disease is important but it is
difficult to make blanket recommendations as each
cattleman's situation varies. All female calves should
be vaccinated against brucellosis between four and
twelve months of age and all calves should be vacci-
nated against blackleg and malignant edema after
four to six months of age. Optional vaccinations
for calves include IBR, BVD, PI, redwater disease
and calf scours but your veterinarian should help
you decide whether these vaccinations are needed.
Two vaccinations are recommended for breeding
animals: vibriosis and leptospirosis, given about 30
to 60 days before breeding. Several other vaccina-
tions may be desirable in your area so seek the gui-
dance of your local veterinarian.
Keep a close watch on your cattle and investigate
if any of them show abnormal behavior. This is not a
situation where you can expect the cows to take care
of themselves. Get up close to your stock every cou-
ple of days and see that they are healthy. Your cattle
should be alert and in good condition: not with bones
all showing and not very fat. They should have clear
eyes and a good hair coat. They should not be fight-
ing flies constantly, should not have running eyes or
a running nose or bloody urine or bloody feces. If you
see something that doesn't look right, find out what
it is quickly.
Internal Parasites or worms are an especially bad
problem in Florida because of the warm climate and
plentiful rainfall. These conditions favor the growth
of parasites which may infest grazing cattle. The
parasites live in the digestive tract of the cow and
rob her of nutrients she needs for good health and
growth for herself and her calf.
The following recommendations should help re-
duce problems with internal parasites:
1. Provide adequate pasture and good nutrition.
2. Do not overstock or overgraze pastures or lots.
3. Rotate cattle between pastures.
4. Raise feed bunks and water troughs off the
ground to keep them clean.
5. Drag something over confined pasture areas
to break up manure before putting cattle into
6. Have fecal samples checked occasionally by
your veterinarian to see how bad parasites
are in your cattle.
7. Deworm cattle at regular intervals as needed.
The last recommendation needs some guidelines.
In general, beef cows should be dewormed before
the breeding season and again about weaning time.
Calves should be dewormed when they start grazing
and may need treatment again three to four weeks
later. Steers you buy to feed should be dewormed if
they were not treated before you bought them. Con-
sult your veterinarian about a deworming program
and have him do it for you until you learn how.
Chemical dewormers anthelminticss) are available
in several forms and with several active ingredients.1
Examples are phenothiazine, thiabendazole, levami-
sole and some organophosphorus compounds which
come under various brand names and are available
from your veterinarian or farm supply store. An
excellent idea is to use a different dewormer each
time so parasites don't build up a resistance to one.
The method of use may be a big factor to you. Some
of these are injected, some are in paste form and
some are mixed in with feed, so set up a program
that is practical for you to use.
External Parasites also plague Florida cattle and
can cause serious problems. The pests which cause
the most problems are lice, flies, mosquitoes, cattle
grubs, ticks and mange. Several types of lice and
flies are present. These pests are more common at
particular times of the year. Figure 1 illustrates
when important pests are prevalent and can be
Figure 1. Control calendar for major pests of beef cattle
There are several ways to control external para-
sites. Dust bags containing insecticide, ear tags
impregnated with insecticide, sprays, pour-ons and
feed additives are all examples. The first method,
forced-use dust bags, has been especially effective
and economical. This involves hanging bags in
gateways or passages where cattle must pass by and
they treat themselves by rubbing under the bags
and shaking the insecticide dust onto themselves.
Table 2 lists the approved dust bag insecticides.
Table 2. Insecticides for use in dust bags.
coumaphos (Co-ral) 1%
famphur (Warbex) 1%
methoxychlor 2%, 10%
stirofos (Rabon) 3%
Proper use of the dust bag is essential. Hanging
bags in gates to the water supply or mineral box has
worked well. Placement between two pastures which
cattle are grazing will also work but the first idea is
probably the most practical. Figure 2 shows how
this might be done.
FENCE MINERAL STATION
LNOR WATER TROUGH
Figure 2. View of dusting station construction.
The new insecticide coated ear tags are also an
excellent method of controlling external parasites.
As the cow turns her head, the tag brushes the insec-
ticide onto her shoulder. One tag can be effective for
up to five months and can then be replaced with a
new one. Numbered tags are great because you can
then keep valuable records on which cows are doing
well and which are not. These tags are only slightly
more expensive than using dust bags and they may
be the best method for you, especially if it's hard to
force the cattle to use the bags. For a very small
number of animals the insecticide coated ear tags
would likely be the most practical system.
The other methods tend to require more work, or
in the case of feed additives, to be less effective. The
reason the larvacide in the feed is less effective in
controlling horn flies is that it works by preventing
fly larva development in cattle feces, but it will not
prevent fly migration from your neighbor's cattle.
Further information is available on these herd
health topics and is contained in section SR 6000,
Herd Health, of the Beef Production Handbook.
'Consult the Beef Cow-Calf Health Handbook (p. 29) in the Herd Health (SR6000) section of the Beef Production Handbook for additional
Now that you have had a view of what is involved
in raising cattle, let's look at production systems.
For most people with 10-40 acres a cow-calf system
can be feasible. It is no simple matter, as should be
clear from all the problems previously described,
but it can be rewarding.
In cow-calf production you should select breeds of
animals to suit your needs. Cross-bred heifers and
cows are usually more productive than purebreds
like Angus, Hereford, Charolais and Brahman.
Crosses between small beef breeds (Angus, Here-
ford, etc.) and Brahman are especially good in Flor-
ida. Cross-bred cows containing two breeds will
produce larger calves if bred to a purebred bull of
yet another breed. For example, buy Angus X
Brahman cows and a Hereford bull so you are get-
ting three-way cross calves. Crossbred calves dis-
play "hybrid vigor," which means they produce bet-
ter than you would expect based on the average
production of the parent breeds.
Mother cows, often called "brood cows," can get
much of their nutritional needs from pasture. A
mature, pregnant cow not producing milk may need
only about 15 pounds of dry feed or pasture contain-
ing 6.0% protein per day. After calving, she is pro-
viding milk for the calf and getting herself ready for
rebreeding. Now she may need up to 22 pounds per
day of dry feed containing 9.0% protein. You may
need to give her supplemental feed in addition to
pasture at this time, because she must meet her own
needs and produce enough milk for her growing
calf. This is the most demanding time in a cow's
Brood cows need access to a mineral mixture con-
taining salt, trace minerals and vitamin A at all
times. This can be provided in a box with a roof over
it for weather protection. Supplemental feed for
milking cows can be fed in a similar way to only
those cows needing it. Always have clean, fresh
water readily available. On a hot day a large cow
will drink 15 to 20 gallons or more of water.
Breeding Management is a good place to start
discussing cow-calf management. Heifers can be
bred naturally by a bull or by artificial insemination
(A.I.) after they reach about 15 months of age pro-
vided they weigh at least 650 to 750 pounds and are
in good health. The cow goes through an estrus cycle
of about 21 days length and can become pregnant
only during about two days in the cycle. The period
when she can be bred is called the "heat" period or
"being in heat," and during this time the cow is
nervous, jumpy, bawls a lot and will stand still to be
mounted by a bull. If you choose A.I. then you must
be able to recognize a cow in heat so you know when
to breed her. If she does not become pregnant she
will come into heat again about 21 days later
because she will continue on the cycle. A cow which
does not become pregnant after two/three breeding
cycles should be checked by a veterinarian, and if
she has a problem, she should be sold. A good cow
will give you a calf every year.
Once a cow does become pregnant she will carry
the calf about 280 days before it is born. You should
decide when you want the calves born and then
breed a little over nine months before. For example,
a cow bred on July 1 should deliver about April 11
and a cow bred January 1 will calve around October
Several days before you expect her to calve, make
sure the cow is where you can handle her and watch
her closely. This could be a small pasture near the
house. The cow's udder will start filling with milk a
few days before calving and she usually can have the
calf without any assistance.
Normal birth, called parturition, is described in
three stages. The first stage begins with uterine
contractions, includes dilation of the cervix, and
ends with entry of the fetus into the birth canal.
Restlessness and isolation from the herd may be the
only observable signs during this stage. Heifers are
generally more restless than older cows. They may
appear colicy, lying down and getting up frequently
or kicking at their abdomen. The first waterbag
may appear toward the end of the first stage. Stage
one continues for two to six hours, or sometimes
longer in heifers.
The second stage comprises passage of the fetus
through the birth canal. During this phase the cow
actively participates in delivery by contracting her
abdominal muscles to push the calf out. Fetal mem-
branes appear and rupture ahead of the fetus, pro-
viding lubrication for its passage. Point pressure
exerted in the cow's pelvis successively by the head,
shoulders, and hips of the fetus intensify abdominal
contractions. Mature cows are normally in second
stage parturition less than two hours. Heifers may
normally require three or four hours.
Once feet are showing, they should progressively
advance and not appear and disappear with each
abdominal contraction. If feet are protruding
through the vulva with soles down, they are usually
front feet. If soles are up, they are usually hind feet.
In a normal forward delivery the front feet are side
by side with jaws resting on forelimbs and muzzle at
about the fetlocks. The calf passes through the birth
canal in an arc. As it enters the pelvic inlet, direction
of travel is toward the tailhead of the cow then paral-
lel to the cow's back, and then as the calf's hips enter
the pelvis, direction of travel is toward the cow's
rear feet. This arc keeps the calf high in the pelvic
inlet and takes advantage of the widest horizontal
diameter of the pelvic opening.
The third stage includes passing fetal membranes
and closure of the cervix. The placenta is usually
expelled within eight hours, after which the cervix
secretes a thick mucus that helps prevent infection
from entering the uterus. Within 24 to 36 hours a
person's hand will not pass through the cervix; by
four days only two fingers can be introduced.
If the cow is in labor for three or four hours with-
out any progress, call the veterinarian for help.2
Watch what the vet does to deliver the calf so you
may be able to handle a similar situation in the
future. Be especially careful with heifers having
their first calf because they usually have more trou-
ble. To avoid this problem, heifers should never be
bred to a bull of a large breed such as Charolais or
Simmental because the calf will be large also and
increase the chances of a difficult birth.
When the calf is two to three months old, the cow
should start coming into heat again and can be bred.
You should be able to breed her again at the same
time as the year before so she will calve every 12
If you wish to use artificial insemination, either
hire the breeding done or find a school where you
2Refer to SR1002 "Coping with Calving Difficulties" in the Beef Production Handbook.
can learn to do it yourself. For natural breeding you
will need one bull for about each 25 cows, if you have
them all bred in a 2 month breeding period. How-
ever, you might be able to share a bull with a neigh-
bor, if you both have small herds and don't mind
having your calves at different times of the year. As
an example, one bull could breed your 20 cows to
have their calves in the spring and later breed your
neighbor's 20 cows to calve in the fall.
Your decision on when to have your calves born
should be based on when you can best supply your
cows with the extra nutrition they need after calv-
ing and when you want to sell them. Most cattlemen
have their calves born in the winter and provide
supplemental feed for the cow when the calf is
young. That way when grass is plentiful in the
summer, the calves are old enough to graze in addi-
tion to nursing their mothers.
Calf Care is important from the moment of birth.
Be careful new mothers are not always friend-
ly! If the calf has trouble breathing, wipe off the
mouth and nose and massage the chest to stimulate
breathing. If the cow's teats and udder are dirty, try
to clean them with a damp cloth so the calf will be
more likely to nurse. Calves usually stand and begin
nursing within the first hour but weak calves may
need your help. Get the calf up, move it up to the
cow's udder and try to get it to begin sucking on one
of the cow's teats. If you have trouble, squeeze a little
milk out onto your finger and put it into the calf's
mouth. After doing this a few times the calf will
learn to suck for milk and will try harder to hold
onto the cow's teat when you put it into the calf's
mouth. The cow's first milk, colostrum, is necessary
for a healthy calf because it contains extra protein
and antibodies to give the calf immunity to many
diseases. It's important that each calf get this colos-
trum milk within a few hours after birth.
Calves should be dehorned. The best way to not
have horns on calves is to use non-horned (polled)
breeding stock, but calves with horns can be dehorn-
ed rather easily when young. A caustic paste can be
used for dehorning young calves and is better than
cutting horns off large calves. Have your veterinar-
ian show you how the first time and then you can
handle it yourself.
Male calves should be castrated to become steers
unless you specifically want bulls for some reason.
For selling your calves at weaning you will want to
castrate all bull calves, either at birth or at two to
three months of age, because steers usually bring
higher prices than bulls when sold and the operation
is less stressful on younger calves.
Calves will be larger at weaning if implanted with
a growth promoting agent, either Zeranol or estra-
diol 17/, which are placed under the skin of the ear.
Your County Extension Agent can help you decide
about this practice. Other implants increase weight
gains in older calves, but Zeranol, sold under the
name Ralgro, or estradiol 17/, sold as Compudose,
are the only ones which can be used in calves under
Creep feeding is another means of weaning heav-
ier calves in which you provide extra feed to the
calves which the cows don't get. A gate with open-
ings about 17 inches wide and 40 inches high will let
the calves through and keep the cows out. In a creep
system you can either feed a grain mix or have a top
quality forage growing where the calves can graze
it. This is called creep grazing and works very well
with a small acreage of good forage like alyceclover
or millet. Creep feeding a grain mix does produce
heavier calves but the feed often costs more than the
value of the extra pounds.
Calves can be weaned away from their mothers at
six to eight months of age. Before weaning, train the
calves to eat feed so they will eat it well when they
can't have milk any more. A good plan might be to
vaccinate all calves for blackleg and malignant
edema, and heifers for brucellosis at about six
months of age and then wean them one month later.
Don't do both at once because it's too much stress on
To wean calves simply take them away out of sight
of their mothers and give them pasture or hay, a
little feed and plenty of water. Both the mothers and
their calves will bawl a lot but this only lasts a couple
of days. Keep the calves eating well and after a week
or so they could be put out on quality pasture if you
don't want to feed them or sell them right then.
Marketing calves in Florida usually involves tak-
ing them to an auction market and selling them.
Auctions are located throughout the state and charge
a small commission on each calf they sell for you.
Another option is to find a buyer for your calves
and sell direct. If there is a feedlot or cattle buyer
nearby, you might want to talk to them about buying
your calves directly from your place. This could save
you the auction commission and cause less stress on
your calves by moving them directly to the buyer's
Prices are usually higher in the spring and lower
in late summer and early fall when more calves are
for sale. You might want to plan on selling your
calves in the spring to go after the better prices by
either holding your fall weaned calves over the win-
ter or by using a fall calving season so your calves
are ready to wean in the spring.
Finishing for Slaughter
The other main alternative to a cow-calf produc-
tion system is the feeding of weaned calves such as
steers to slaughter weight, which is called "finish-
ing" the animal. There is a popular 4-H project
where youth finish out a steer and exhibit him at a
steer show before selling him for slaughter. Finish-
ing is often looked at as a way to be involved in
producing beef and possibly get your beef into the
freezer for less money than going to the super-
market. You don't need much room for steer feeding
because most of his feed is a grain mixture you give
him, not pasture. A lot big enough for a steer to get a
little exercise is adequate. There are several things
to consider in a finishing program.
Animal selection is the first decision and it is a
critical one. Select an animal or animals which are
healthy and of the breed you want. Different breeds
are ready for slaughter at different weights with
Angus steers ready at about 1,000 pounds, while
Charolais need to be over 1,200 pounds. The smaller
breeds like Angus and Hereford are probably better
suited for the family freezer because of their smaller
size. The carcass of a steer is about 60% of the live
weight so an 800 pound steer yields a 480 pound
carcass and approximately 320 pounds of packaged
meat. A 1,000 pound steer yields 600 pounds and 400
pounds of packaged meat. One cubic foot of freezer
space can hold about 40 pounds of meat.
There is no reason you can't feed heifers instead of
steers. Heifers tend to grow slightly slower and fin-
ish at lighter weights than steers. A small breed
heifer could be ready for slaughter at 800 to 900
pounds and heifer feeder calves usually cost less per
pound in the first place. They also sell for less per
pound when finished but if you are keeping the meat
that does not make much difference.
Select a calf that weighs at least 350 pounds and is
healthy. If not recently dewormed, treat the calf
with a chemical dewormer. Treat for external par-
asites if they are present and keep the calf under as
little stress as possible. Plenty of cool shade is impor-
tant as is plenty of fresh water.
Nutrition is the science of feeding the right amount
of the right feed. Start your new arrival on hay and a
small amount of grain feed. Have plenty of water
and a mineral-vitamin-salt mixture available also.
As your steer gets used to his new home and stays
healthy, you can increase the amount of grain feed
up to about 2% of his body weight per day. This is
considered full feed and after he cleans up the grain
feed you should give him some hay to finish up on.
You might go a little over the 2% of body weight
figure but be careful. Overfeeding can cause bloat,
founder and digestive acid build-up which can be
When your steer weighs around 500 pounds he
should gain about 2.0 pounds per day and increase
that to around 3.0 pounds per day by the time he
reaches 900 pounds. When he slows down building
muscle and starts getting fat he is about ready for
slaughter. As he gets fatter the meat gets more
tender but it's expensive to put on fat. Lean meat is
where the food value is with the fat adding juiciness
and flavor. The small amounts of fat mixed through-
out a steak is called marbling and this fat is what
makes the meat better. Excess fat on the outside of
the muscle is like the fat at the edge of a rib steak
and you will trim it off and throw it away.
Most commercial feed companies have various
feeds designed for steers of different ages and sizes.
You would likely start with a "grower" feed designed
to add weight to your steer but not make him fat.
Later you would want to switch to a fattenerr" with
more energy in it to finish the animal out.
If you have just one steer for your family to use,
perhaps you will want to slaughter the steer your-
self. U.S.D.A. Farmer's Bulletin Number 2263,
"Beef Slaughtering, Cutting, Preserving and
Cooking on the Farm" is an excellent "how to" guide.
Otherwise check with a local custom slaughterhouse
about processing your meat for you.
If you have several steers ready for slaughter,
they should be sold wisely. Many small slaughter-
houses buy small numbers of steers to have meat to
sell. You could also sell your steers to a larger pack-
ing plant or even at an auction market. You might
also check with some friends to see if they want to
buy a steer for their family. Then you can work
something out with a local slaughterhouse to handle
the processing of your home-grown beef.
Glossary of Terms
Annual .......... a type of plant that lives only
Anthelmintics ...chemical deworming agents
Bovine...........the scientific family to which
Brood cow.......mother cow
Bull .............male bovine
Castrate ........remove testicles by surgery
Cattle............ collective term for all ages of
calves, cows, bulls
Colostrum .......first milk produced by the cow
which provides protein and
immunity to calf
Cow ...........adult bovine which has had at
least one calf
Finish ..........to feed until fat enough for
Heifer ..........female bovine which has not
yet had a calf
Immunity .......ability to resist a disease infec-
Legumes ........ plants which get nitrogen from
Perennial........a type of plant that lives sev-
Sprig ............to plant using parts of grass
Vaccination ..... injection to build up immunity
against a disease
Wean ............ remove young from the mother
Zeranol..........chemical which speeds up calf
growth when implanted into
Other Information Sources
Florida Cooperative Extension Service Publications
Selecting and Buying Bulls Circular 243
A Practical Rope Halter for Cattle Circular 247
Determining the Age of Cattle Circular 253
Selecting Herd Replacement Heifers Circular
Test and Weigh to Make Beef Cattle Pay Circu-
Control of Pests on Beef Cattle Circular 426
Finishing Cattle in North Florida Bulletin 675
Supplementing Steers on Pasture Bulletin 752
Value of Preconditioning Beef Calves Bulletin
Heat Detection and Artificial Insemination -Fact
Florida Production Testing Program for Beef Cat-
tle Fact Sheet AS-6
Yields of Retail Meat Cuts Fact Sheet AS-7
Beef Cattle and Carcass Grades Fact Sheet AS-8
Meat Inspection and Labeling Fact Sheet AS-11
Forage-Fed Beef Fact Sheet AS-18
Freeze-Branding Fact Sheet VS-6
Internal Parasitism of Cattle Fact Sheet VM-9
Preconditioning Feeder Calves Fact Sheet VS-10
Blackleg and Malignant Edema of Cattle Fact
Pinkeye of Cattle Fact Sheet VM-13
Redwater Disease of Cattle Fact Sheet VS-14
Anaplasmosis in Cattle Fact Sheet VM-15
Vibriosis in Cattle Fact Sheet VM-16
Grass Tetany in Cattle Fact Sheet VS-18
Infertility in Beef Cattle Fact Sheet VM-21
Bull Evaluation and Breeding Soundness Fact
Leptospirosis in Cattle and Swine Fact Sheet
Calf Scours Fact Sheet VM-25
Foot Rot in Cattle Fact Sheet VM-26
Bovine Brucellosis Vaccination Fact Sheet-
Liver Flukes in Cattle Fact Sheet VM-31
Conserving Energy in Beef Cattle Production -
Fact Sheet EC-36
Biology and Control of Parasites on Cattle Fact
Building Plans for Small Farms and Ranchettes -
Fact Sheet AE-6
Control of External Parasites with Forced-Use
Dust Bags Livestock Protection Pointers Num-
Ear Tags for Control of External Parasites on Cat-
tle Livestock Protection Pointers Number 13
Budgeting Beef Cattle Decisions Fact Sheet
4-H Steer Feeding Publication 4-I',270
Beef Cow Calf Health Handbook
*Beef Production Handbook ($10.00 fee notebook'
with fact sheet inserts)
Small Grain Production Guide Circular 267D
Winter Forage Legume Production Guide Cir-
Bahiagrass Circular 321B
Estimated Costs to Establish and Maintain Grasses
and Legumes in South Florida Circular 466
Fertilizers and Fertilization Bulletin 183C
Biology and Control of Mole Crickets in Pasture
-Fact Sheet ENT-28
Pasture Insect Control Fact Sheet ENT-39
Weed Control in Forage Crops Fact Sheet A80-5
Liming for Production of Field and Forage Crops
-Agronomy Fact No. 69
Fertilization of Field and Forage Crops Agronomy
Fact No. 70
Raising a Few Cattle for Beef USDA Leaflet
The Farm Beef Herd USDA Farmers' Bulletin
Beef Cattle Dehorning, Castrating, Branding
and Marking USDA Farmers' Bulletin No. 2141
Beef Cattle Breeds USDA Farmers' Bulletin No.
Fences for the Farm and Rural Home USDA
Farmers' Bulletin 2247
Beef Slaughtering, Cutting, Preserving and Cook-
ing on the Farm USDA Farmers' Bulletin No.
Beef Cattle in Florida Bulletin Number 28
(available free to Florida residents from):
Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer
Tallahassee, Florida 32304
Magazines of Interest
Florida Cattle and Livestock Journal, P. 0. Box
1403, Kissimmee, Florida 32741
Southern Beef Producer, P. O. Box 110017, Nash-
ville, Tennessee 37211
The Drovers Journal, 300 West Adams Street,
Chicago, Illinois 60606
This publication was promulgated at a cost of $2,356.80, or 29 cents per copy, to inform Florida residents
about managing a successful small-scale cattle operation. 5-8.2M-83
COOPERATIVE EXTENSION SERVICE, UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA, INSTITUTE OF FOOD AND AGRICULTURAL
SCIENCES, K. R. Tefertlller, director, in cooperation with the United States Department of Agriculture, publishes this Infor-
mation to further the purpose of the May 8 and June 30, 1914 Acts of Congress;and Is authorized to provide research, educa-
tional Information and other services only to Individuals and institutions that function without regard to race, color, sex or
national origin. Single copies of Extension publications (excluding 4-H and Youth publications) are available free to Florida
residents from County Extension Offices. Information on bulk rates or copies for out-of-state purchasers Is available from
C. M. Hinton, Publications Distribution Center, IFAS Building 664, University of Florida, Galnesvllle, Florida 32611. Before publicizing this
Publication, editors should contact this address to determine availability.