Sometimes its easier to breed a steer than to buy one

by Farmer Liz
For weeks now I’ve been telling people that we’re getting cow, and now she’s finally with us and we’ve milked her for a few days. We can’t wait to start making cheese! The most common comments when I tell people about her is: “that will be expensive cheese”. Well, yes, it will be expensive cheese, but that’s not the main reason we wanted a cow. The real reason is far more complicated!

At first little Trevor was a herd of one and kept escaping to find more cattle
We learnt the hard way (as usual) with little Trevor, that cattle like to live in a herd. When Trevor was in a herd of one, he managed to escape through any weak spots in our fences. He would hear other cattle calling out and he wanted to go and find them to join their herd! I don’t know if it would have been different if we weren’t at work all day, maybe he would have considered us to be his herd, but in the end we realised that he was lonely, so we got another steer, a Murray Grey cross, that we named Murray.

So we got Murray to keep Trevor company
When we brought Murray home, we put him in a small pen, as advised by cattle experts (the dairy farmers that we got him from) and were going to keep him separated from Trevor for a few days until they got used to each other. Somehow Murray climbed out of his pen, and Trevor was so excited to finally be part of a herd, the two of them took off up the back paddock and we didn’t see them again for days.

Eventually it was time for Trevor to go to the butcher. We didn’t want to have Murray by himself, so a few weeks before the day Trevor was due to leave, we brought Bruce home to join our herd. The hardest part of putting Trevor on that truck to the butcher was watching Murray’s reaction as his mate was driven down the road and taken away from him. He did laps of the paddock and mooed for several hours. I wasn’t sure afterwards if he was mourning the half-bale of lucerne that we’d used to lure Trevor onto the truck, or that he really missed his mate. Anyway, Murray and Bruce soon became friends and we still had a herd of two.
Then we got crazy horny Bruce to be Murray's mate
Then we moved them both up to Nanango and it was soon Murray’s turn to be butchered. As described in a previous post, we decided it would be easier to have Murray killed and butchered on our property than transport him to a meatworks. The main problem that we encountered was getting another steer to maintain our herd numbers. It was hard to find one for a reasonable price. We don’t mind paying a bit to make sure we get nice meat, but most were advertised at $400–500 and were too old to fit into our killing schedule. We finally found Rocket, a little “Hereford” cross who looks to be more like a “Friesian” cross! And he was still a bull, so we had to “nut” him. But he was only $150.

We got Rocket when it was Murray's turn to go
Bruce didn’t seem to be so traumatised by Murray “going missing” one day, but I guess he didn’t witness him being loaded onto a truck, so he probably thinks that he’s just in another paddock or something. However, we did have his hide hanging up in the house yard to prepare for tanning and I saw Bruce peering over the fence at it, as if to say “hey Murray, is that you?”. Bruce and Rocket are now friends and unfortunately Bruce has been teaching Rocket how to toss his head around and try to get us with his horns.

Well, now its Bruce’s turn to go, so we needed to find a new mate for Rocket. We did have some steers organised to bring to our property, but then we were offered Bella the dairy cow. Bella is about four years old and just had her second calf. She was hand-raised by a neighbour of our dairy-farmer friends and returned to the farm when her owners moved. She is very small, only coming up to my waist, so she doesn’t produce much milk, about 12–16 L per day. She was too tame for the dairy farm and didn’t feel comfortable with the bigger cows, having grown up among humans. Its not often that you get the opportunity to buy (at mates rates) a small tame cow, who just had a calf. She is really the ideal house cow, so even though we really weren’t quite ready, we decided to buy Bella instead of more steers (and then we got ready in a hurry!). And now that Bella and Molly are at our place we have a herd of four (until Bruce goes).

Now we have a herd of four (until the butcher comes for Bruce) 
Anyway, the long answer to the question of why we really wanted a dairy cow, is that we have found it difficult to plan and maintain our herd numbers and having our own cow will give us some control over that. As long as she calves every year, we will have a steady supply of steers (or heifers) for beef. We don’t have space for our own bull, so we will still have to get her artificially inseminated (maybe we will learn to do that ourselves, but if its only once a year, we won’t get much practice!). So in the end we will have expensive cheese and cheap beef ….. and a lovely pet dairy cow that we can get attached to and don’t have to kill! It seems to solve many problems, as long as we are happy to get up early for milking.

Do you keep cattle for your own meat?  And how do you get more steers when you need them?  Do you have your own house cow?

You might also be interested in my series on getting started with homestead dairy

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