Tips for Beginning Cattle Farmers

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Do you have the dream of starting your own cattle farm? Our family started farming over twelve years ago. I've talked to plenty of people, both beginners and experienced farmers. I've also read lots of books about getting started in farming. Here are a few tips for the novice farmer.

1. Stay out of debt.

Debt will cripple your farm quicker than you can say "interest payment." Do all that you can to live a debt-free lifestyle, both for the farm and for your personal life. Save up and pay a hefty cash payment on your equipment and land so that the monthly payments are easy to make. Farmers who lose their shirts are the ones that go deeply into debt for fancy new equipment and then end up with a drought or illness affecting their herds. Of course, you can't always plan for everything, but if your monthly payments don't stretch your bank account to the maximum, you will be in better shape when life doesn't go according to plan.

2. Don't count on any return for your money for at least five years.

It takes years for a farm to turn a profit. The first few years, you will be buying stock, fencing your farm, and installing handling facilities. You will probably want to buy a tractor and build a barn. You may make a little bit of money, but you will probably be investing it back in the farm. Farming is not a get rich scheme. In fact, you will probably be doing well in the first few years if you can just break even.

3. If you know nothing about cattle...

If you are a total novice when you buy a farm, take the time to learn a bit about cows before you buy them. Cows are very low maintenance, but they do have some basic needs that you will have to provide for. Get to know your county extension agent. Read lots of good books. Take a class at the Ag office.

Also, if you are a complete beginner, you should learn the ropes on some mid-priced cows. Don't buy a sick, pathetic cow at a "bargain" price, because you don't want your first experience with cows to be fighting an uphill battle with herd health. Conversely, don't start out buying pricey registered stock right off the bat. Would you rather make a mistake on a $1000 cow or a $1800 cow?

4. Start small.

A good-sized beginner herd is around 7-10 cows. This will give you the experience of managing a small herd before you have to juggle the demands of 40 or 50 cows. Mistakes do happen. Experienced farmers are only experienced because they've been around and made the mistakes in the past. Again, would you rather mess up breeding schedules for 5 cows or 50?

5. Meet some people.

Find an experienced farmer in your area and make friends with him. Go over and help him on his farm and look at his cattle. Listen to what he has to say and don't be afraid to ask questions. Ask him the why questions. "Why do you build that fence that way?" "Why did you choose that bull?" "Why are you selling those cows rather than those other ones?" Most farmers love talking about their cattle to anyone who will listen.


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