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Laying Out Your Property to Support a Small Beef Operation

Beef cattle on a small ranchDid you know the majority of beef cattle produced in the United States come from small beef operations? According to the 2012 USDA Census of Agriculture, small beef operations, defined as 1-49 head of cattle, account for 79.7% of the beef cattle industry. Owning and operating a small beef farm is one of the least labor intensive agriculture ventures one can enter. In fact, many of these farmers have full time jobs away from the farm, making farming a part time endeavor.

Have you considered raising beef cattle? Before you bring the first head of cattle onto your land you must determine what type of operation you want to run. The two most popular types are cow/calf and stocker operations. While both operations will require pasture and feeding systems, cattle-handling equipment and loading (transportation) facilities, planning for your specific operation will make life easier once the cattle arrive.

Unlike other livestock, beef cattle do not require elaborate or expensive housing. Cattle do very well outside in a wide range of weather conditions. However, you may consider a simple structure like a pole barn to protect your herd from Mother Nature.

Proper fencing will be a significant investment when starting your operation. A well designed fencing system will not only keep your cattle on your property, but will also improve grazing efficiency on your land. To develop a fencing plan and estimate how much fencing will be needed, use aerial photos of your property to evaluate the topography and layout. These images can be obtained via Google maps, National Resource Conservation Service or Farm Service Agency.

A good fencing layout will include a mixture of both permanent perimeter and temporary 'paddock' fencing. When possible, paddocks should be designed to be fairly square in shape. Square paddocks require the least amount of fencing and give easy access to water. Each pasture should have a mineral feeder for year-round supplementation of free-choice mineral. A feed trough and hay ring may also be needed to supplement feeds if the pasture cannot meet the animals' needs.

Temporary fencing will enable you to rotationally graze your cattle and make your property flexible. By resting your fields, you will maximize the productivity of your land. When laying out these temporary areas, consider the available shade to regulate your herd's temperature during the heat of the day.

Cattle-handling facilities will also be required. A simple handling layout would include a small holding pen with chute leading to the restraint area. A head gate and squeeze chute will allow you to vaccinate, medicate, breed and perform other husbandry activities on your herd.

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