How to Raise Cows for Beef Production: The Complete Guide

Raising cows for beef production can be a rewarding and profitable endeavor for small farms and homesteaders. With some planning and preparation, you can have a successful beef cattle operation. This comprehensive guide covers everything you need to know about getting started with beef cows.

Choosing the Right Beef Cattle Breed

The first step is selecting the right cattle breed for your needs. There are hundreds of beef cattle breeds, but some of the most popular include:

  • Angus – Known for producing high-quality beef and being easy to manage. Angus cattle are polled (naturally hornless) and solid black.

  • Hereford – Hardy, adaptable breed that tolerates heat well. Herefords are red bodies with white faces.

  • Charolais – Large framed breed known for fast growth. Charolais are white or cream colored.

  • Simmental – Versatile breed that produces lean beef. Simmentals are red, black, or pied colored.

Consider factors like your climate, available pasture, and target market when choosing a breed. Crossbred cattle can also be a good option, as they exhibit hybrid vigor.

Acquiring Beef Cows

You can purchase cows from breeders, at livestock auctions, or directly off farms. Ask about the animal’s history and inspect them for health and soundness. For heifers (first-time mothers), aim for animals that are 65-70% of their mature weight at breeding time. When buying a bull, select one that will complement your cows’ strengths and improve any weaknesses.

Equipment and Facilities

Beef cattle don’t require elaborate facilities, but you will need basic equipment like:

  • Feeders and water troughs – Provide access to hay, minerals, and fresh water.

  • Fences – High tensile or woven wire fencing contains animals. Electric fence can also be effective.

  • Handling system – Makes tasks like vet care and breeding easier and safer.

  • Health care supplies – Tags, syringes, elastrator bands, drench gun, etc.

  • Shelter – A simple three-sided shed or barn provides protection from weather.

Feeding and Nutrition

In most cases, pasture and hay will meet nutritional needs, supplemented with minerals. During periods of increased nutrient demand like growth or lactation, you may need to provide additional feed. Common supplements include corn, soybean meal, distillers grains, or high-quality hay. Always provide free-choice minerals too.

Monitor body condition to ensure cattle are getting adequate nutrition. The ideal score is 5-6 on a 9 point scale.

Health and herd management

Preventing disease through biosecurity practices is essential. Isolate new animals, control visitor and equipment traffic, and have a relationship with a vet.

Vaccines, antiparasitics, and antibiotics may be used judiciously to maintain health. Watch for issues like footrot, pink eye, scours, parasites, reproductive diseases, and mineral deficiencies.

Breed cows to calve in early spring when the weather is mild and pasture is abundant. Watch for signs of impending calving like udder filling and vulva swelling. Assist if needed, but usually calving happens naturally. Monitor newborns closely to ensure they stand, nurse, and are cared for by the dam.

Marketing Beef Cattle

Marketing options include:

  • Selling breeding stock or feeder calves
  • Direct marketing beef to consumers
  • Selling finished cattle to feedlots or packing plants

Consider your target buyers, facilities available, and regulations in your area. State laws govern the sale of meat and requirements for processing.


Raising beef cattle sustainably takes some work, but can be a rewarding enterprise. Follow this guide for information on selecting cattle, housing, feeding, health management, breeding, calving, and marketing. With good planning and stockmanship, you’ll be on your way to success with beef cows. Let this be your go-to reference for starting your beef cattle operation.

What I Learned Raising Beef Cattle on My Homestead (so far)


How long does it take to raise a cow for beef?

Raising a beef animal for slaughter will take 26–28 months if it is raised on grass alone and around 14–18 months if it is raised on grain, like in a feedlot. This is for a calf being raised specifically for meat, not potential breeding stock.

How much does it cost to raise 1 beef cow?

Generally, cows cost between $500 and $1,000 per year to keep. This includes their care and feed. Purchasing a cow and raising it will automatically become less expensive if you have extra land to grass-feed it. 2 to 5 acres of grassland are required per cow.

Is it worth it to raise a cow for meat?

Free access to trace mineral and high-magnesium blocks, water, and pasture all help to turn out fine beef, much leaner than “store-bought” and at a competitive cost. As one might expect, the first thing to consider when comparing home-raised versus store-bought meat is quality.

How much land do you need to raise 1 beef cow?

It looks like our rule-of-thumb held up pretty good, 11 cows on 20 acres, is 1.8 acres per cow. We have enough forage to feed our cows for the whole year. These figures give you a good estimate and are a great place to start.

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