Top Pro Tips for Raising Cattle for Profit
Raising cattle for profit is no easy feat. It requires a massive investment in time and money as well as education and expert knowledge of the market. A cattle farmer has to always be prepared for the inevitable challenges faced by the industry today. Devotion and dedication to livestock health and farm maintenance as well as honing business and marketing skills are all necessary in cattle production.
If you’re just starting out raising cattle for profit or are new to the game, it’s always best to learn from the professionals who have done the legwork. This way you have a better understanding of what you’re getting into and what to expect in the cattle production industry.
10 Things to Consider When Raising Cattle for Profit
If you’re planning to raise cattle for profit or want to learn more about what actually goes into it, it’s important to understand that cattle farming is a complete business entity. As a business, there are tons of moving parts that require planning, strategizing, creativity, resourcefulness and above all, protecting your assets — the cattle themselves.
Here are 10 major areas to consider as part of your business in raising cattle for profit:
1. Choosing the right cattle breed
2. Managing your land and forage supply
3. Protecting and prioritizing animal health
4. Maintaining and managing farm facilities
5. Your own physical and lifestyle requirements
6. Marketing your product
7. Managing business operations
8. Financial planning
9. Contingency planning
10. Learning and knowledge
With so many areas to consider when raising cattle for profit, it may seem overwhelming or like it takes the fun out of your dream in the first place.
Fortunately, there are plenty of others who have built successful cattle farming businesses, and many of them are more than willing to share their pro tips and expertise for the next generation of cattle farmers. We’ve assembled some helpful pro tips from the industry’s finest to help encourage and support you in raising cattle for profit — and hopefully help you avoid some pitfalls and mistakes along the way.
“ Define the direction you are wanting to go, raising for market, private use, for show, etc. Raising cattle for profit can be tricky, it always has been and I’m sure always will be a challenge. It’s important to know what your pastures can handle (how many head can be run without over grazing) areas like Southern California can vary [sic] in grass production, when other parts of the country grass can be knee deep for them most of the year. Researching what breed does best in your part of the country is also extremely important when it comes to the quality of meat at processing time. Maintaining your pastures with a good solid rotation program is important for the health of the soil, regeneration of good grass and for your livestock. Mineral supplements may be required to help support a well balanced diet. Good pasture fencing to keep your livestock secure and a good solid stock pen with chute so you can work on your livestock safely as needed. Keeping a good record system is also extremely important to keep track of Bull, Cow and calf performance throughout the year.”
– Annie Haven, Authentic Haven Brand Natural Brew, www.manuretea.com
1. Choose Your Cattle Breed
Choosing the best cattle breed to raise for profit goes well beyond just selecting the ones that sell for the most. In order to choose the best possible breed for your business, you’ll need to consider the following:
- Your area’s climate and microclimate
- Your goals for raising cattle
- Current and future market trends
- Practice viable mating and breeding systems
Consider the Climate: Not all cattle are created equal, and this is why some fare better in certain climates than others. Not all farms across North America can expect the same climate and weather patterns. In fact, farms that reside within the same area can even experience differences in microclimates where pockets of rain or dust storms may be more frequent than even what your neighbors get.
Choose cattle based on their breed and the weather conditions they are traditionally capable of withstanding. If your region experiences cold, bitter conditions in the winter, then opt for a breed like the Scotch Highland or Galloway that are accustomed to surviving and foraging during coarse winters.
On the other hand, the American Criollo breeds are descendants of Spanish cattle and were bred to temper more moderate and hot climates. Senepol, Ankole-Watusi, Sanga and any Zebu breed cattle are originally from hot African, Asian and Middle Eastern climates and can stand the heat on southern farms during the summer months.
Your Cattle-Raising Goals: Once you’ve assessed your own climate and have found some breed options that are best suited for your location, you’ll want to consider what your cattle-raising goals are. Are you planning on raising dairy or beef cattle, or both?
Take your own business growth goals into consideration when selecting your breed. Will you prefer to maintain a smaller farm or expand into a larger operation? Certain breeds are also more suited for smaller farm operations, and some are more suitable for larger businesses.
Breeds like Dexter, Welsh Black and Normande are bred to be smaller, more manageable cattle breeds and are thought to be more suited for beginners.
Market Trends: One of the best ways to select your breed is to explore your own local market. Start conversations with other farmers and experts in the local industry who can give specific insight into the needs of your market.
By researching your local area’s current cattle supply and ongoing industry trends, you’ll be able to determine the best opportunity in selecting your own cattle breed for your climate and your goals, and you’ll better serve your market.
Breeding and Mating Systems: After deciding on the best breed for your climate, your market and your own unique goals, it’s then important to find the right mating and breeding system. Select the best bull for the cow that will produce the best calf for your market.
Consider also the different breeding technologies available and the costs associated with each. From here you are able to make a more informed and viable decision about breeding for your business.
2. Care for Your Land and Forage
Once you’ve selected the best cattle breed, you’ll need to assess your land and foraging needs for the amount and size of livestock you’ll be raising. In terms of your land and forage supply, you’ll want to consider things like:
- Forage production amounts
- Soil quality
- Feed management systems
Determine Forage Amount: The amount of forage your land will produce should be sufficient enough to sustain the amount of livestock you are raising. Also, be aware that certain breeds simply eat more than others because they are heavier or beefier. Therefore, your forage supply will also depend on the breed of cattle.
Another forage supply consideration is that when cows have their calves, they have greater nutritional requirements. Be sure to know ahead of time what your required forage supply will be and be prepared to purchase additional forage supply as necessary.
“Over the years the successful cattle raisers have been the top forage growers. Thus my tip would be: Follow a practical rotational or management intensive grazing system. Our grazing schools are excellent in teaching the principles that provide farmers with the knowledge to effectively utilize the forage they produce.”
-Eldon Cole, University of Missouri Extension Livestock Specialist, Southwest Region, Mt. Vernon
To produce enough forage, an intensive land management system must be in place. Be sure to gather as much expertise as possible about growing your forage and utilizing your land to its fullest potential, including knowing and implementing pasture grazing techniques.
Test Your Soil Quality: Given that your livestock is your livelihood, it’s a best practice to provide the highest nutritional quality forage as possible for your cattle. Soil test different areas of your land to know where to add additional nutrients to keep a healthy supply of forage.
Additionally, soil testing helps save money. Fertilizers can be expensive, so by only adding nutrients to areas that need it, you can save important resources.
Implement Feed Management: By having a deliberate feed management system, you avoid potential pitfalls such as grain overload and maturing hay that can lead to overnutrition or undernutrition for the animals. Ensuring proper and regular nutrient intake is critical to keeping your livestock healthy and productive.
Managing your pasture also ensures you are maximizing your forage production and limiting the amount of resources you spend on care and fertilizing.
3. Always Protect and Prioritize Animal Health
While proper nutrition is critical to raising healthy and productive cattle, there are plenty of other health factors to take into account. Just as with raising kids, you want to always be placing your cattle’s welfare ahead of all else. Injuries, illness and poor health can be costly and devastating to a cattle business. This is why prevention is the best solution in ensuring your cattle stay healthy.
Here are some best practices to implement in your cattle raising business:
- Have veterinarian support
- Get cattle vaccinated
- Treat injuries and diseases immediately
Have a Veterinarian: Before even beginning your cattle raising operation, you’ll want to source an excellent veterinarian who can respond as needed. Determine if your veterinarian will come to your farm to treat animals, or if you’ll have to transport the animals to a medical site. Work cooperatively with your veterinarian at all times to ensure they can provide your cattle with the best possible health care.
Get Cattle Vaccinated: Having cattle vaccinated is not only an excellent health practice, but it’s a good business practice as well. Vaccinations cost a lot less than the productivity lost from an ill or dead cow. Be sure to consult a veterinarian for the required vaccinations for your cattle as vaccinations will vary depending on growth stage.
Treat Illness and Injury Immediately: If in the event something does go wrong and your cattle do become ill, immediate treatment is critical — especially concerning disease. Disease can spread among cattle quickly and can wipe out your entire supply.
“It’s hard to make money off of dead cattle. Take good care of them, and they’ll take care of you. The easiest way to do this is to keep them from getting sick in the first place. While there is an expense and a time commitment creating and implementing a solid preconditioning and/or arrival program, it’s the best way to accomplish your herd health goals. In addition, another advantage of preventative health programs is that while they take time to carry out, that time you can schedule. You never get to schedule a medical emergency in your cattle.”
-Jake Geis, TheCowDocs.com
Left untreated, injuries also can progressively get worse, and you’ll be at risk of having to euthanize the animal if nothing can be done to cure it. By seeking medical attention quickly enough, you’ll improve your chances of intervening in time to treat the disease or illness properly.
4. Know How to Maintain and Manage Your Facilities
A lot of time and preparation goes into establishing a functional, safe and productive cattle raising operation. An essential element of this is having properly functioning and fully stocked facilities. Your ability to create a profitable cattle raising business will depend on your ability to keep your facilities in order and use your land to your advantage.
When it comes to facility management, here are some tips to consider:
- Prepare your facilities for your livestock
- Invest in proper facilities including fences
- Know the best locations for your water sources and fence lines
Prepare Facilities for Livestock: As a business owner, you’ll want to ensure your facilities are as efficient as possible for your operation. This requires making an investment in decent cattle handling facilities. If you need to make upgrades, consider what financial investment is required as well as how to obtain any necessary building permits.
Good cattle handling facilities are designed to protect the animal and keep it safe. This includes facilities that limit the amount of physical injury and bruising damage done to the animals. Consider also sanitation issues such as ensuring cattle handling facilities have proper soil drainage so there’s no standing water.
Invest in Proper Fencing: Along with facilities and safety considerations, you’ll need to also invest in high-quality fencing that will protect your animal and keep them on your land. Investing in proper fencing is worth the peace of mind in knowing you won’t be faced with runaway cattle. Ensure your fencing has both a physical and visual barrier to prevent cattle from escaping.
Determining Facility Locations: It’s best to thoughtfully consider the layout of your cattle farming facilities based on the nature of your land. Take time considering where you’ll establish fence lines, as well as the locations of your facilities and water sources.
5. Understand the Physical and Lifestyle Requirements of Cattle for Farming
The reality is that cattle raising is a lifestyle. It is a huge responsibility that comes with a lot of factors to consider in terms of how it will affect your life. It’s also an incredibly rewarding experience and an honorable profession that can be financially lucrative and provide an excellent lifestyle.
Here are some physical and lifestyle considerations:
- Are you prepared for full-time work?
- Are you physically fit and active enough for physical farm labor?
- Does your temperament match that of the cattle breed?
Full-Time Commitment: Raising cattle is really more than a full-time job. It requires the ability to respond at all hours of the day and night, all year round. When animals become sick, you’ll need to drop everything and prioritize their health. When cows are giving birth, you’ll need to be there even if it’s in the middle of the night.
And while your role is to care for the animals, it’s also to run a business which is another set of responsibilities on its own. Be prepared for the mental and emotional commitment that comes with raising cattle for profit.
Become Physically Fit: Physical strength, stamina, endurance and general good health are absolutely essential for working on any farm. With cattle especially, you’ll need to be physically capable of handling them. Additionally, because the requirements of raising cattle are full-time, it’s important to stay healthy so you can continue to be productive. There are no sick days to fall back on.
Practice Patience: We’ve all heard the phrase “stubborn as a bull.” The fact is that many cattle can act stubborn or unruly because they haven’t been properly tamed or acquainted with people. Herd animals, like cattle, react poorly when they are being fought or rushed. If you act adversarial towards them, it will only make things more difficult for you.
If you want to be an excellent cattle handler, learn to remain calm, act patiently and become well-acquainted with your livestock. This is not only what’s best for the livestock, but it will also make your cattle raising experience much more satisfying and enriching.
“Cattle ranching is not just a way to make a living — it’s a way of life! Our whole family has responsibilities on the ranch and are involved. We work hard together and play hard — and often that means throwing the fishing poles in the back of the truck so that when we are finished checking cattle or delivering mineral at the pastures, we can spend some family time catching fish in the farm pond. I wouldn’t change my life for anything else in this world!”
– Debbie Lyons-Blythe, Blythe Family Farms, White City, Kansas www.KidsCowsandGrass.com
Cattle-raising, despite being a lot of work and commitment, is an excellent way to create a livelihood for yourself. It’s a family and community-oriented way of life which is appealing to many today who are beginning to feel disconnected from nature, animal-raising and food production.
6. Become a Good Marketer
Strategic marketing plans are essential to creating a thriving cattle production business. Not only is it important to produce a high-quality product, but you also have to be on top of market trends in order to fully meet the demand and needs of your customers. To run a business, you’ll need to be prepared to advertise, maintain a farming website, attend expos and lots more marketing activities.
To become excellent at marketing your cattle business, here are some things to consider:
- Develop a marketing plan
- Always be networking
- Treat your business reputation like gold
- Use your story as part of your marketing
Have a Clear Marketing Plan: A marketing plan should consist of deliberate activities or strategies used to promote your product. These are things such as your product, your pricing and your sales channels. You’ll need to continuously revisit your product and determine if you’re providing the type of cattle the market demands. You’ll also need to be aware of your unit cost of production so you can ensure you’re marketing your cattle at a profitable price.
Part of marketing is also knowing which are the best sales channels for your product as well as the right timing. Determine how and when you will sell your cattle. This could be through live or tele-auctions, pooled sales or branded beef programs.
Build Your Network: Networking is one of the most powerful marketing tools in any industry, but it’s critical in farming. Networking allows you to make important connections with suppliers and customers. It also helps you to stay in the loop on the industry’s trends so you can keep up with the changing marketplace.
Networking also opens up opportunities to form strategic partnerships and develop a farmer’s co-op with your neighbors and other farmers in the community. Pooling resources together can help save you from bearing the sole investment in marketing.
Protect Your Reputation: Your ability to successfully do business in cattle raising depends on your reputation as a business person. This means being able to produce a high-quality product that delivers excellent value. It also means things like delivering on time, following through with commitments and an overall high level of professionalism.
Developing a good business reputation is excellent marketing. Once you become known as a good business person, you can use your personal brand to grow your business. A reputation must always be maintained, and it requires consistency and trustworthiness. Eventually, you’ll be known for being a pleasure to work with.
Leverage Your Story: Part of what sets you apart from competitors is your own unique story. Be open about why you started raising cattle, how you do business and why it’s your passion. Use this unique approach to developing your personal brand.
“The best tip I have for anyone raising cattle is to never be shy about telling your personal production story, every opportunity you get! Our consumers are 4 generations removed from agriculture and only 2% of us raise food to feed the 100%. This means 98% of our consumers have no idea where [sic] their food comes from, but our Beef Checkoff research tells us they care about how their food is raised. You be their source, you welcome their questions and you give them the real story. We must advocate for ourselves!”
– Bridget Bingham, Executive Director, PA Beef Council
7. Develop Solid Business Operations and Management Skills
In order to successfully run a cattle farm, it’s important to develop business operations and management skills. Farming should be seen as a complex system that involves many interdependent components. Managing an excellent farm operation often depends on developing best practices that will improve efficiency and maximize your resources — all in an effort to produce the best possible product.
Here are some important business operations and management practices to consider:
- Perform ongoing evaluations and analyses
- Become excellent at making decisions
- Work toward optimizing and maximizing farming operations
Analysis and Evaluation: Farm management and operations go beyond just the day-to-day care of animals. They must also include the practice of analyzing and evaluating all the systems involved. By practicing regular analysis and strategic planning, a professional cattle producer can better identify which practices are working and which aren’t.
Knowing exactly where your farm’s strengths and weaknesses lie can help to uncover new opportunities to take into consideration and act upon as necessary.
Decision-Making: Countless decisions will need to be made daily while running any farming operation. The goal should be to learn decision-making as a skill so it becomes easier over time.
Use your ongoing analytics and evaluations as a basis to help make informed decisions regarding your farm’s operations. From these evaluations, further decisions can be made about where to spend resources to improve operations and produce more or better output.
The more effective your decisions can be about how to improve cattle farming operations, the more profitable you can become over time.
Optimization: Your ability to optimize your cattle raising operation will directly translate into more profit. Continuously look for ways to maximize efficiency and improve production practices all in an effort to both reduce operating costs and resources and sell your product at a higher value.
By implementing solid analytics practices and making better, more informed decisions, you’ll have more tools in your toolkit to optimize and maximize your cattle farming business.
A ranch is a highly complicated and interrelated system, where one management decision affects many other areas of the ranch, sometimes with unintended consequences. So carefully think through each management decision, especially if considering a change, and look at all the possible effects [sic] and outcomes.”
– Burt Rutherford, Senior Editor, BEEF Magazine
Effective business management happens when you can make more informed and well-thought-out decisions. These decisions should be based on how to improve your livelihood and limit the amount of resources required to do so.
8. Become Excellent at Financial Planning
In any business, having a strong financial plan is critical to maintaining profitability. A financial plan, however, can cover many different items in business operations. These can include day-to-day business expenses and revenues, planning for financial challenges or knowing how to reinvest back into your own business.
Here are some things to consider about preparing yourself financially for your cattle raising business:
- Prepare and monitor budgets
- Maintain full records for tax purposes
- Purchase adequate health and liability insurance
- Understand how to reinvest in your own business
Budgeting: Becoming successful at raising cattle for profit requires keeping a watch over how much is coming in and how much is going out. This is why budgeting is such a useful tool for cattle raisers due to the potential for unsteady income.
Get to know your important numbers like monthly operating expenses in each category. These include utilities, fertilizers, costs of maintaining facilities, labor costs, equipment operating costs, marketing expenditures and more.
Once you’ve got a grasp on your regular expenses, you can plan ahead using income-projection as another component of budgeting. Budgets should be used as helpful tools to indicate exactly where you stand financially and where improvements can be made over time.
Maintain Tax Records: Being proactive in your record-keeping can save you a lot of time and energy down the road. Develop a habit of documenting expenses and revenues. Practice maintaining maintenance records. Ensure you keep all receipts of investments that can be used as credits.
It’s important to also be aware of what tax incentives are available to your operation. There are many federal and state tax deductions available to agricultural businesses, and taking advantage of these can save you a lot of money. For more information on available income tax deductions, visit the IRS Agriculture Tax Center.
Health and Liability Insurance: While selecting the right insurance may be a daunting task, it’s important to explore your options. Farm liability insurance is a good thing to consider having. It covers you if someone else comes onto your farm and is injured. It also protects you if someone else’s property becomes damaged as a result of your farming operation.
Full farm liability coverage also protects you from any liability incurred from daily farm operations. Your livestock can also be protected through farm liability insurance if you take them to shows and exhibitions.
As with anything, it’s wise to shop around to find the best deal for the type of coverage your farm may need.
Reinvest Into Your Business: Becoming profitable is the goal of your cattle raising business because it affords you the opportunity to either expand your business or continue to refine it. Making money allows you to reinvest that income back into your business to update your equipment, expand your product line by bringing in new breeds, purchase new facilities or make necessary repairs.
Plan for these financial investments ahead of time. Decide where your money is best served by reinvesting it back into the business.
9. Have a Contingency Plan
Contingency planning, like financial planning, is a good business practice, especially when raising cattle for profit. By nature, the cattle business can have its up and downs. This is inevitable. How you plan for these inconsistencies, however, can make all the difference in your success.
To have a well-rounded contingency plan, consider the following questions:
- Who will take over if you become incapacitated?
- Do you have a qualified animal sitter who can care for your livestock while you are away?
- What financial plans do you have if a disease spreads through your livestock?
- Are you financially and mentally prepared to handle the ebbs and flows of the cattle market?
Have a Management Back-up Plan: Farmers know their animals get sick, but humans do, too. If you were to have an accident or become ill, you’d still need to have someone competent take over farm operations and care for your animals.
Develop a plan ahead of time as to who you can rely on to fill in, so you aren’t left scrambling to find help when an incident occurs. Perhaps you have a spouse, children or other family members who can assist. Or perhaps you can make arrangements with your neighbors or other local livestock raisers to provide each other with support in these types of situations.
The same should be thought about if you decide to go away. You’ll need to have an animal sitter to hire as well. Whatever the case may be, it will provide you with incredible peace of mind knowing you have a team to fall back on if anything should happen.
Maintain Financial Reserves: There are endless potential scenarios that can arise and leave you with financial stress. To avoid these scenarios, try to plan ahead for as many situations as possible. Though you can’t be prepared for everything, you can be prepared in general.
Determine how many months of financial reserves you have saved to weather a faltering market. Understand what it would cost you should your animals contract and spread a disease. Research the cost of new equipment, fence installations or facility repairs should any of these need replacing.
By informing yourself of the various costs of doing business, you can help mentally and financially prepare your contingency plan and funds for these and other scenarios.
Protect Your Livestock: Because your livelihood depends on the health and wellbeing of your cattle, it’s important to have a contingency plan to cover their value should something go awry. Livestock insurance is available in several different forms and can be tailored to your particular operation. You can have each animal covered separately, have them covered under your property insurance or insure them as an entire herd.
Regardless of how you insure them, it’s important to have this to fall back on if disease or injury affects your valued animals.
10. Implement a Learning Plan
The key to sustained success in cattle raising is continuous learning. The cattle industry is constantly changing, improving and looking for ways to become more cost effective while still providing high-quality products. Your ability to stay informed and continue learning and implementing best practices will ensure you develop a thriving business.
Here are some ways to implement your own cattle industry learning plan:
- Develop a working relationship with a mentor or other experienced experts
- Subscribe to livestock trade journals and newsletters
- Develop a relationship with your local university agriculture program
Find a Mentor: Especially in the beginner stages, it’s best to find a mentor and work with them for a while until you’re ready to take the full plunge yourself. A mentor could be someone who is willing to have you shadow them, such as a neighbor or another cattle farmer in your community.
Build connections with beef producers, dairy farmers or even other livestock ranchers in your area. Ask them questions about the industry to learn about their challenges and what has made them successful. This research goes a long way into helping you prepare for your own business.
Read Trade Journals: There are a number of trade journals, blogs and newsletters available that monitor industry trends and provide excellent information for beginners and experts alike. Subscribe to these publications and learn about different cattle breeds, farming techniques, operational and management practices, marketing ideas and more.
By becoming a subscriber, it ensures you are staying informed regularly. When the information comes directly to you regularly, it’s easier to stay in the habit of continuous learning.
Work With the University: Your state university’s agriculture program is an excellent way to learn about breeding and raising practices, handling techniques and farm management tools. You can choose to develop a personal relationship with them so you can work with them directly. You can also subscribe to their publications, as many universities publish updates about their agriculture programs.
With so many ways to learn more about the cattle raising business, it can even become overwhelming. Schedule time each day or week to devote to your own learning plan. Over time, you will eventually become the expert and be able to pass on your knowledge to a new generation of cattle producers.
The Business of Raising Cattle for Profit
These expert tips and insights are invaluable to anyone starting or planning to start raising cattle for profit. As a business owner, you should feel confident in your ability to select the best breed possible for your local market in order to meet the laws of supply and demand. Raising cattle for profit also comes with an incredible amount of responsibility in caring for the welfare of your animals, including the quality of nutrition they continue to receive.
This is all part of learning how to maintain profitability through marketing and management best practices so you can continue to build your business reputation by consistently delivering high-quality products.
Having solid financial plans, as well as solutions to potential challenges that may occur will allow you sustain your success in the cattle raising business. Ultimately, it’s your dedication to learning the industry and developing a passion for raising cattle for profit that will grow your farming business for years to come.
If you are seeking more expert insight into North America’s cattle industry, browse ArrowQuip’s blog for additional valuable information on raising cattle for profit.