So you just bought a place in the country, it has a couple out buildings, and a fenced pasture. The watering is set up and there’s a pile of straw, and hay in the lean-to. You built some new pens to replace the old worn out boards, and added a couple gates.
It’s the perfect place for you to start your new farm.
Oh, but now it’s time to find some animals! Oh my goodness, where to start? It’s so overwhelming, the excitement, the thrill, the enchantment of bringing a baby calf to the farm. It will be your baby, your pet, it will live here forever!
Where in the world should you start to look?
Auction barn? Local Dairy farm? Facebook sellers? Craigslist? Local beef farmer? Registered cattle breeder? There’s so many options!
Well, let’s break it down.
Registered cattle breeder:
They raise registered cattle, so everything they sell must be good, right? Do they just raise cattle, or do they know what they are talking about? Do they offer any guidance? Or point you to a pen of cattle and let you have free reign to mull it over? If they say they are grass fed, did you kick cow patties apart to see what’s inside? What resources are sitting around? Does this place manage closely to the way you plan to? Are the animals the size you want? How old do their cattle get before they sell them, 4-6-8-10+ years?
If you’re buying cattle for the first time, it can be tempting to go for a heifer, or calf, but buying an experienced cow has big benefits. She know’s what to do. And if she’s been on that farm her whole life, she probably did something right to earn that rite. You can’t go wrong in most cases with a older cow.
Local Beef farmer:
Now you will probably ask some of the same questions as you would the registered breeder, but one important one comes up. IF that breeder buys many cattle? Where do they get their bulls from? Often local beef farmers will buy a commercial bull or a registered one. Depending on his marketing program. Often the commercial cattlemen will use registered bulls so he has a marketing advantage of his feeder calves.
Local Dairy Farmer:
Again many of the same questions come up. Be sure to inquire all sellers about their vaccination program, and how they handle illness or stress. While dairy baby bull calves are typically group reared, and more commonly sold than heifer calves born on a dairy, the question always comes up, WHY? is that calf for sale? Especially with baby heifer calves. Dairy calves can be “cheaper” up front, but if you keep track of the nickles and dimes, you might find the numbers to surprise you.
Facebook or Craigslist?
We all use these sites to educate ourselves, and socialize. Price shop, and have a little safe fun ‘tire kicking’. (The farmer version of window shopping) Use the “Search” bar on facebook in a group to see what the seller may not be saying. Do they sell stuff often, or have little response? Maybe they appear to be a flipper. (someone who buys from a place and resells to someone else) Facebook and Craigslist are really good places to find breeders. They are a really good place to look. And you may just find exactly what you are looking for. But be sure to do your research.
Auction/ Sale barn/ stock yard:
These are a Buyer beware place to go, if not a breeder sale. First, you have NO idea why the seller is selling the cattle there. Especially young calves. After a recent conversation with my vet, who strongly frown’s upon buyers shopping for cattle at any auction, outside of a breeder specific sale, where there’s no seller’s guarantee. The simple advice, “don’t do it!” Do you have any idea of what diseases could have traveled thru that building? Some are inhaled, some picked up on manure, some ingested by nosy babies that lick everything! Unless you are fully prepared to take the high risk of getting someone else’s problems, think long and hard before trying to get a good deal.
A skinny animal could have diseases that infect the unborn calf, or even every ounce of feed it walks on. One disaster can permanently contaminate your property and you could deal with it for the entirety of your farming days.
Baby calves are NOT exempt! Diseases like BVD (Bovine Viral Diarrhea) which causes an infected calf to die at about 400 lbs, or Johne’s Disease, contracted by the baby calf from its mother’s milk/ or manure, the calf sheds the disease until at some point after age 2 it becomes stressed and the disease progresses to become fatal with chronic diarrhea.
If you see dairy heifer calves for sale, ASK Questions!
If you see baby beef calves up to about 300 lbs or so for sale, ASK Questions!
Yes, some feedlot guys buy cull cows, and some are bred. The resulting calf might simply be from an old cow. But they have no idea where she’s been, and what the resulting calf is about. Was that cow a nice easy going cow, or was she a man eater? That calf ended up where it is somehow, but do you really want to risk it?
I apologize if this post is shocking or disturbing. It is meant to open your eyes! There’s a lot that is happening that you might not see.
A bred heifer at the sale? Why is she there? If Farmer Joe didn’t have a complete disbursal, he probably kept his better heifer, and sold the heifer that was not quite as good, or from a cow he didn’t like as much. That might be a different story when you buy from a breeder. Depending on their program, the breeder often culls the bottom 1/3 to 2/3 of his calves each year to pay the bills. He then will sell his number 2 females and hold his number 1 females as replacements. Buy his older number 1 females, or any of the number 2’s. This will put you way ahead of the challenges of horror stories listed above.
If you wish for a case in point, ask me about farmer John. He loves his cattle from our registered herd. His family looks back on the experience as trust building since the mistake of buying sale barn cows. It’s ok! It has a happy ending! I hope this educational post helps you ask wise and informed questions when you go cattle shopping!