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article number 152
article date 08-07-2012
copyright 2012 by Author else SaltOfAmerica
Raising Cattle for Beef or Milk … A 1947 Primer
by H. R. Herndon

From the book, Farming for Profit, published in Springfield Illinois in 1947. The author dedicates this book to: Those who would profit at farming, and to Reuben R. Boynton, who helped me do so.


This chapter should be of interest to men who operate a farm, either as an owner or as a renter. I do not think the absentee landlord should go into the livestock business. It is a more profitable enterprise than grain farming but, as I have stressed before, it takes constant supervision and a great deal of experience.

When a farmer considers going into stock raising, he must think not only of the time involved in feeding and caring for his animals but also of the typography of his land. Some farms are natural stock farms—only by raising stock can a fair income be made from them. These natural stock farms are top heavy on pasture land. A stock farmer can utilize that pasture, but it would be wasteland for the grain farmer. If you are operating a natural stock farm, for maximum returns, you should be in the livestock business.

The kind of livestock to handle is your next problem. A farmer can err by trying to raise too many different kinds of animals, but certainly two or more for versatility are advisable. Here again, the type of farm, your labor and equipment available, as well as your past experience, will guide you in making your choice.

FIG. 46. Smuggler Farm Reward’s Lass was Senior and Grand Champion Female at the 1940 National Dairy Show. (Courtesy of American Guernsey Cattle Club)

Beef Cattle

Beef cattle supply us with a large part of our most palatable and nutritious food. They turn into food, crops that cannot be used directly by man, principally corn and hay. Raising or feeding cattle for beef is one of the most important branches of the agricultural business.

Some farmers specialize in this business of beef cattle feeding and confine themselves to buying range cattle and fattening them for market. This group is large in the Corn Belt because of the abundance of feed crops grown in this region. Others make a specialty of breeding fine animals. A third group have their own herds and carry their beef the whole way— from birth to the slaughter house.


To be a cattle feeder requires capital or credit. For some reason most cattle feeders carry on their business with borrowed money. Why this is so, I do not know. Often this is not through necessity, for large sums are made in the business. They pay off their cattle note, and instead of using their profits for future cattle buying, they will buy a new automobile or the farm next door. Seldom are profits turned back into their business. Banks or individuals are their creditors. In most instances they give their note for the money although, sometimes, a chattel mortgage is necessary.

Unlike some farm mortgage loans, a cattle loan is more than amply covered.,. Rarely do you hear of a foreclosure. This is because the feeder can retrench quickly if the market collapses, he can get out of business simply by selling the cattle. His margin of profit may be reduced or lost but the cattle have gained weight and, despite a possible fall in the market price, they are usually worth more than was paid for them. Costs of feeding them constitute the loss. The farmer may lose money but the creditor seldom does.

Some feeders are in and out of business, buying many head when they think the market is low and hoping for a rise when their cattle are ready to sell. At other times they will have few or no cattle in their feed lots. These are the gamblers in the business. Although they sometimes make spectacular sums, more frequently the market falls and they lose. Over a period of years, the best incomes are made by cattle feeders who do a constant business. They are there when the market falls, but they are there, too, when it rises. In this way they maintain a good average.

The number of cattle handled by a feeder will depend upon the size of the operator and the season of the year. But nearly all feed more grain and hay than they can raise on their own place. Of necessity, they buy this extra feed from their neighbor or through their elevator.

Figure 39 (Four Photos) There are four popular methods of feeding cattle. Some favor one kind, some — another.

(a) In lots with the grain in troughs under a shelter.
(b) In lots but the troughs of grain are in the open.
(c) In lots with self-feeders.
(d) On good pasture, these cattle require no extra feed.

Methods of feeding vary widely. All feeders are influenced by the market. The market, in turn, is influenced by the buying public. Normally, the man with the full dinner pail will want a fat, juicy steak. In other words, when the masses enjoy prosperity, the market pays a premium for choice heavy cattle. (At present,1947, rationing and ceiling prices have interfered with the economic laws of supply and demand.) During depression years, cheaper and leaner beef is more popular. Feeders always buy their cattle to fatten with one eye on the market. When the market pays a high price for choice beef, good range animals are bought and fed until they are choice heavy beeves. The time this takes depends upon their weight when bought. But generally it takes longer to make choice beef than it does to feed medium grade animals.

The animals may be started on pasture but they are finished in dry lots. Ample troughs of shelled corn and plenty of fresh water are available there at all times (see Fig. 39). Some type of protein supplement is added to their diet. Animals that are fattened on grass and then grain, have a better finish than those fattened only on grass. You cannot feed grain alone. Some type of roughage is necessary—hay, fodder, or silage. The cattle are shipped to market when they are ready and the price is right. This question of being “ready” will vary with the individual. There is a market for all weights of animals. If a man sees a sure profit before the animal has gained his full weight, he would be wise to take it.

Medium or lower grade animals are bought and fed when the public demands it. These are usually “short-fed,” that is, held for ninety days. A 900-pound steer, doing well, should gain 2 to 3 pounds a day. Sometimes younger animals that can be fattened and sold for baby beef have a good market. In this case, heifers or calves are bought. The calves would probably weigh 300 to 400 pounds and it would depend upon their quality how long they would be held on feed. If they were choice, they would be held nine months to a year. Poorer quality would be sold sooner. Here again the market would influence the owner in judging the time to sell.

Although most feeders favor feeding certain types of animals, all of them will vary their buying and follow the trend of the market. As you can see, it is as important to be aware of the trend of the market as it is to do a good job of feeding. To do this, listen to the market reports on the radio, daily, and take a daily livestock paper. If inexperienced, it would be well to go to market before your cattle are quite ready and to see how the market is going—what kind of animals are getting good prices. This may show when to sell. Experience and constant attention to the market are necessary to run a profitable cattle feeding business.

FIG. 40. W. H. R. Heisman, 3rd, was Grand Champion Bull at the National Western Livestock Show held in Denver, 1944. (Courtesy of American Hereford Association)

When the animal reaches the market, it is graded: (1) prime, (2) choice, (3) good, (4) medium, or (5) common, and this grading governs its price. There is very little prime beef and it is usually shipped to eastern markets where high prices are paid. Most of our best beef is choice. If the animal has the best breeding, conformation, quality, and finish it will dress into the best carcass. The ability to buy cattle that will feed into these first two qualities tests one’s skill as a buyer, for one seldom knows the animal’s history. Some trust a commission man to buy for them.

A livestock commission man may work for himself or for a company. His business is buying and selling animals. Usually this is done in the stock yards, although it is not uncommon for him in buying to go out on the range or to the feed lots for his animals. His per cent of commission is controlled by government regulation; sometimes the buyer pays it, sometimes the seller, and sometimes it is split between the two.

The fattening of the medium and common breeds will show one’s ability as a feeder. Hard, firm flesh, well interspersed with fat, can only be made by feeding animals corn. Judging cattle for purchase by packing houses takes years of experience. The buyers are seldom fooled.


Practically all of the breeds of beef cattle in the United States originated in either Scotland or England. Some importation continues up to the present time, although much finely bred stock exists in this country. Beef breeds differ from dairy breeds and are easily distinguished from them.

The dairy strains have been evolved to produce cows that yield a quantity of milk and butterfat, that have calves that do likewise, and they are not interested in selling animals for meat. The type that is bred strictly for beef has cows that give just enough milk to feed the calf, and their emphasis is placed upon the calf’s ability to grow into an animal that will dress into a good carcass. For it is born and raised for meat purposes only.

Breeders of beef cattle here and abroad strive to evolve the following type of animal: rectangular in shape, extremely low-set, very wide and deep, early maturing, and deep fleshing, particularly in the regions of the valuable cuts, such as over the ribs, back and loin, and in the hind quarters. The neck should be short and thick, the chest wide and deep, the back straight, and the hips should be smooth and not prominent. That is a brief description of good beef cattle. It is not confined to one breed. Most cattlemen are convinced of the superiority of the breed that they handle, which is only natural. But good animals are found in all breeds (see Table 14).


Table 14 – Breeds of Beef Cattle. Descriptions and Characteristics.

Aberdeen Angus - Black, polled, smooth hair. Characteristics: Good rustlers, easily adaptable to climate, cross well without-of-grade cows to produce calves with sire’s characteristics.

Hereford – Red with white face, horns, curly hair. Characteristics: Good rustlers, raised exclusively for beef, most popular in U.S.A.

Polled Hereford – Same as Hereford but with no horns. Characteristics: Established by mating naturally polled animals. Popular where screwworm infestations are troublesome.

Galloway - Black, no horns, curly hair. Characteristics: Fairly successful in transmitting sire’s characteristics when mated with native cattle.

Red Polled - Red, no horns. Characteristics: Good farm animal for both milk and beef.

Shorthorn - Usually roan, some pure white, some red and white, horns. Characteristics: Large in size. Crosses unusually well with native cattle.

Polled Shorthorn - Same color as Shorthorn, but no horns. Characteristics: See Shorthorn.

Dual-Purpose Shorthorn - Resembles Shorthorn. Characteristics: Bred especially to be used for both milk and beef.


Buying registered animals and raising a fine herd requires capital. The bull is half or more of the herd. Young bulls of fine blood will cost from $500 to $1,000. Prize bulls or show animals will cost more. You read of bulls selling for $10,000 to $25,000, but these are especially fine animals sold in years when prices are high. There is no top limit when it comes to trading in this small and exclusive field, particularly for an animal with a fine name.

Each breed has a fashionable family and animals with a certain family name bring higher prices than choice animals of less famous ancestry. Cattle have their social problems even as you and I. That is the reason for the great variation in prices. Some variation is due, of course, to quality, but fancy prices are bid for a popular strain. This is the business of a specialist. His animals do not go to market. They are sold to other breeders, or a bull will be sold to an ambitious farmer to improve his herd. This farmer, in turn, may raise a nice young bull which he will sell to another farmer for less money because its name is not as good even though it may be quite as fine an animal and may produce just as choice beef cattle — which is the situation all the way down the line. At one end of the ladder is the breeder with a pedigreed herd, and at the other end, a small farmer with the best bull that he can afford to buy.

Fig. 41. Elgon of Sunbeam is considered by many judges to have been the “model” Angus sire. He was bred and shown by S. C. Fullerton, Miami, Oklahoma. (Courtesy of American Aberdeen-Angus Breeder’s Association)

It is the man at the top that runs the greatest risk. Accident or disease may harm his herd. More often he is hurt by a slump in the agricultural market. When a farmer is making money, he spends it freely. When prices fall off, he lives on his land and ceases to buy prize bulls. It is not long before this seriously affects the cattle breeder’s market. His overhead is large of necessity and it is hard for him to retrench. I feel that he deserves a vote of thanks from every meat eater in this country.


The greatest majority of stock farmers in the Corn Belt fall neither, into the class of cattle feeders nor into the group of cattle breeders. In a small way, they are both. They start with a few cows and as good a bull as they can afford. They increase their herd by keeping the heifers and selling the young bulls, either as veal or fattened for baby beef, until their herd is large enough to utilize the feed raised on their farm. These farmers all have hogs and perhaps other stock in conjunction with their cattle.

In some cases, instead of being interested only in beef cattle, the location of his farm may encourage him to sell milk and cream.

In this type of case, he will do a combination beef and dairy business. He will probably have fewer cows, because the care of dairy cows is so much greater than that for beef cattle, and they will be of dual purpose breed, such as Red Polled or Shorthorn.

But in all cases the farmer buys little or no feed and he sells his grain and hay as beef or pork. Normally his profits from his sale of stock will give him better-than-market price for his corn. That is why a stock farmer will make more money over a period of years than a grain farmer.

Likewise, his responsibilities are greater and more constant. He must know how to select good animals. He must know how to feed them and care for them. Book knowledge is helpful but experience is the best teacher. The best advice that I can give to a new stock farmer is to begin in a small way and to increase his herd gradually.

The 4H clubs have done a fine job in helping our young people to learn to care for animals. Many choose a calf to raise as their project for the year. It is valuable training.

Farmers new to raising cows can use government resources for information. Michigan State University photo.

If the calf is a bull calf, it must be decided whether he is going to be sold for beef or raised for breeding purposes. If he is to be sold for beef, he should be castrated, because beef qualities are developed to a higher degree in a steer. Bulls have heavy chests and better developed forequarters. This is objectionable in the market and the animal can be sold only as a “bologna” bull. Bull calves at an age from a few weeks to eight months can be castrated with no serious consequences.

When raising the bull for breeding, he should be given a separate pasture with other bull calves or breed cows for company. He should be given enough feed to keep him vigorous and strong at all times. He can be used for some breeding purposes at an age as young as 18 months, but at two years he has attained full growth. It is well if he is taught to lead and stand when he is young. Bulls are difficult to control, and early and persistent training will make them easier to handle.

If the calf is a heifer and she is going to market, she can be spayed, although it is not necessary. This is a veterinarian’s job, but it will enable her, at two years, to dress into as good a carcass as a steer. More frequently, she is kept for breeding purposes. She should be watched carefully when she is first weaned. At no time should she be left to shift for herself. Sufficient food to maintain vigorous growth is desirable. Silage is especially recommended with some legume hay. It is even better if she can be kept on pasture.

She can be bred when she is 20 months old. A record of the date of breeding should be kept so that the farmer can prepare for the calf’s arrival. Be sure to feed her sufficient mineral matter in the shape of legumes and common salt. If she is on pasture at calving time, no special diet is necessary, and, in good weather, she can care for herself and her calf without help. If it is bad weather or winter time, a roomy box stall with plenty of fresh water and a laxative diet or alfalfa hay is recommended. Do not tie her.

If you are raising a breed of cattle with horns, the calves should be dehorned. There are exceptions to this rule. Bulls are never dehorned and animals raised for show purposes are seldom dehorned. The carcasses of dehorned cattle have fewer serious bruises and there is less damage to their hides. Do the operation when the animal is young, that is, up to a yearling, and it will not be injured and it will make better beef. If it is done right, it need only be done once. The farmer with the proper equipment should be able to do it. For dehorning purebred cattle, he will probably hire a veterinarian.

Cool weather is the best time to dehorn for there are less flies to bother the animal. When many flies are present, use pine tar oil on the wound as a disinfectant. Saws or mechanical dehorners can be used to cut the horn. About one-fourth inch of the horn should be left at the stump. Caustic soda should be applied to the wound. Care should be taken not to touch the skin or hair, because caustic burns. It may be necessary to trim and grease the hair around the horn. Since the calf must be held securely, a loading chute is commonly used. If you haven’t a stanchion in the chute to hold the calf’s head, you should tie it to hold it firmly.

All cattle lots should be equipped with a back scratcher. If one is present, cattle will use it instead of the fence, thereby saving the fence. A homemade affair can be built by fastening a bundle of wires to two fence posts that are ten to fifteen feet apart. The wires can be weighed in the middle with a piece of old iron (see Fig. 42). A new and very efficient scratcher is on the market. Not only does it keep their hides in good condition, but it scrapes off any grubs which the animals might have. It is equipped with a can over the yoke in which you are supposed to place fly or insect exterminator. When the scratcher is in use, the fluid drips automatically onto the animal. D-D-T has been recommended for this.

Figure 42. (Two Photos) A back scratcher in your cattle lot will save your fence.

(a) A home-made affair of a bundle of wires fastened to two posts.
(b) A new and very efficient model.

Dairy Cattle Industry

Dairy cows and hogs constitute the chief livestock business on many successful farms. There are dairy cows on about seventy per cent of all of the farms in the United States. Dairying is one of the most important branches of the agricultural industry. It yields a large income per acre and helps the small farmer, in particular, to increase his volume of business. Another advantage is that it helps to maintain the fertility of the soil by returning, in the form of manure, a high percentage of the crop grown there. The disadvantages are: the need of labor every day in the year, adequate buildings and equipment, and access to market.

In many cases where it is impractical to retail or wholesale whole milk, a farmer will be able to sell his cream and feed the skim milk to his pigs or chickens. Although whole milk brings a higher price than the sale of cream alone, some consideration should be allowed for the skim milk as a feed.

Fig. 45. Sparkling Wonder Hyacinth was top cow in a sale of fine Jersey cattle. The proceeds of her sale were given to the building fund for the new Home of Jersey in Columbus, Ohio. (Courtesy of American Jersey Cattle Club)


Great strides have been made in most branches of agriculture in the last ten years. The Farm Bureau and the Agricultural Extension Service have made both the big and the little farmer “seed conscious.” All progressive farmers clean and treat their seed wheat and try to obtain rust-resistant strains. All use hybrid seed corn. But improving the herd has been slow, up-hill work. Dairy herd improvement associations can be formed in most states. A man from the extension department of the state college will visit each member once a month in order to give advice as to rations, the sanitary conditions of the herd, and the problems in breeding, and will help with a farmer’s records by weighing the food and by weighing and testing the milk.

These associations have done an enormous amount of good, but when you realize that this country could be furnished with the same amount of milk from half as many cows if they were all either pure bred cows or high grade cows bred with a pure bred bull, you can see the long way we have to go.

Using a pure bred or registered bull is the first step in this direction. If you cannot afford to own one, perhaps you can buy one in conjunction with your neighbor. Only by keeping records can you cull your herds wisely of the low producing cows and can you register your young animals. These records need not be elaborate, but they should show the production of the animal, the amount and kind of feed used, and the breeding data. A poor producing cow eats almost as much as a good one and requires as much care. That should convince the owner of the importance of improving his herd. Even the small operator can in time, improve his herd by retaining only the heifers from his best producing cows, and by sending to market cows that are low producing.

Fig. 43. Purebred Dairy Cattle Registered in the United States, 1910—1942.


There are a number of dairy breeds in the United States, all of which give satisfaction (see Table 15). It is well to choose the breed that predominates in your neighborhood.



Ayrshire - White to cherry red or white with brown spots, white tail, large graceful horns. Characteristics: Symmetrical udders, average quality milk.

Brown Swiss - Solid dark to light brown. Characteristics: Slow maturing, average quality milk.

Dutch Belted - Black with a white belt. Characteristics: Average quality milk.

Guernsey - Tan and white spotted, tan predominating, amber horns. Characteristics: Mature early, high percentage of butterfat.

Holstein-Friesian - Black and white spotted. Characteristics: Largest of dairy breeds, large quantity of milk but low in butterfat.

Jersey - Light to dark brown or cream. Characteristics: Smallest in size, mature early, highest percentage of butterfat.


It is the selection of the individual animals that is important. Bred heifers usually cost less than three to five year old cows but they have not been proven. You will be guided here by your amount of capital. Old cows should not be bought unless they have good records and are needed for breeding purposes.

The things to look for in a good cow are: (1) largeness for the breed; (2) high production as shown by her record; (3) favorable appearance, that is, triangular in shape (as against a rectangular shape for beef cattle); long slender neck (instead of the short beef type); clear bright eyes; pliable, healthy skin; sturdiness on the feet; (4) a strong constitution as is shown by a wide chest .and a great heart girth; (5) good feeding capacity as shown by a large belly; (6) large, well-developed, well-balanced udders.

Fig. 44. Cornell Ollie Catherine is classified as “excellent” in type. She is owned by Cornell University, Ithaca, N. Y. (Courtesy of Holstein-Friesian Association of America)

The bull is the most important member of the herd. His influence on the calf crop is as great as that of all of the cows put together. He should be a registered pure bred animal. It is well if he has proven his ability, but if he is still young, he should be strong and vigorous, wide of chest, short in back and limbs, and of excellent quality. It is risky to buy an unproved animal unless the history of his parents is good. His sire should be able in production and his dam should be a good producer, preferably the daughter of a proved sire.


An abundant supply of good cheap feed is important in the dairy business. Home-grown feed is usually the cheapest. Good pasture and good legume hay are essential in milk production. Silage, corn, or sorghum make excellent feed for cows; some form of concentrate may be used advantageously as part of the ration. It will depend a great deal upon local conditions.

The quantity of feed needed will vary with the size and production of the animal. An average sized cow that is on pasture will need 2 ½ tons of hay, or 1 ½ tons of hay and 3 tons of silage, annually. If the cow is high producing, the silage must be increased. Where there is no silage, a supplementary feed of protein concentrate should be used to gain the best results. Cows in high producing herds are fed grain while dry (not producing) and while on pasture. A good cow is seldom dry over a month or six weeks. However cows vary. Some are dry as long as three months. Naturally these are not desirable to have in the herd.

FIG. 47. A herd of purebred Holstein cattle on the breeding and feeding experimental farm operated by Carnation Milk. (Courtesy of Carnation Company)


The equipment needed in a dairy enterprise is more elaborate than that for other types of farming. A hay barn, a milking shed, a silo, a milk house, and milking utensils are necessary. Some substitutions can be made in this list but all of the buildings and the utensils must be easy to clean and convenient to use. SANITATION is the first and most important lesson to learn in running a dairy.

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