Prepping isn’t just buying stuff from the store and hoarding it in the basement. It is so much more than that. Because all of that stuff you’re keeping in the basement or wherever isn’t going to last forever. It expires, it goes bad, it is consumed. Whatever the case may be, we all need a food resupply plan because nothing lasts forever. In this series, I’m going to talk about raising animals for food. We’re going to start with my personal favorite, cows.
Cows are a pretty amazing animal. They give us the milk we drink, they give us all kinds of meat, and in large amounts. Cows aren’t small creatures. They are also useful for their manure, or well, poop. It is an excellent fertilizer. They also provide hides, or leather, which I will be discussing toward the end
There are over 800 breeds of cattle (cows) in the world, some, like Holsteins, Jersey, Ayrshire and Brown Swiss are mostly for milk production. When you buy milk at a store, you are likely drinking milk from a Holstein or a Jersey. A dairy cow will milk anywhere from 30-40 Liters of milk a day (1,014- 1,353 ounces).
A cow that is milking that much per day will eat 100 lbs of feed that consists of grain, hay, silage and minerals. That is a lot of milk they produce, but also a lot of food they need to eat. I am not sure that a dairy cow would be the best thing for preppers. Just because they require so much food and produce such a large quantity of milk.
Now if you were to want to keep a family cow, a Jersey cow would be the best because Jersey is highly adaptable to weather. Its small size (about 950 pounds) and high milk yield make it the most efficient. They are one of the smallest breeds of milking cow. Others are used for beef, like the black Angus and Hereford. Those are 2 of the most popular types of beef cattle. Angus is one of the best types of beef you can buy. Hereford cattle are known for their docile temperament, so if you were to raise one for butcher for the first time, a Hereford cow would be a good starter breed.
There are also miniature cows… So the miniature cows would be mini Hereford, Dexters, and Lowline Angus. But, Lowline Angus are not called miniature because unlike the Dexters and mini Hereford, they do not have the the dwarfism gene, they were just bred down to size by selective breeding over time. Miniature cattle are the perfect size livestock for smaller farms, they are much easier and safer to handle than standard sized cattle and they perfect for grass-fed beef.
Their small in size (about 1/2 – 1/3 of the size as a large grown cow) so they could range anywhere from 500-950 lbs mature weight. One full grown mini cow could easily feed a family of 4 for months. If you go with a mini cow, you can raise 2 per acre of grass. Compared to a large cow where you can raise 1 cow per acre, but 2 acres is ideal. Now for fencing the land the best option is to divide the pasture into smaller sections, and then you can rotate the grazing pattern.
You can let them in one pasture to graze for a week or two, then let them in to another section and repeat. They tramp down what they don’t like (weeds) and eat what they like (clover and timothy) and the pasture will grow back twice as thick if you rotate. For example, if I were raising two on an acre, I would fence that acre off into four sections and rotate that way, doing it on a schedule. I love schedules, as they keep me sane. I would definitely want to rotate on a schedule as well.
Cows are pregnant for 283 days, so 40 weeks and a few days, or 9.5 months. Once born, they are raised up until 16-24 months old, some go as long as 36 months with the mini breeds for butcher. Cows can live from 15-22 years. Note: The oldest recorded cow, Big Bertha, died at the age of 48 in 1993. But most only keep them until 6-8 years if they are using them in a breeding program, then beef them in hamburger.
As the older the cow gets the tougher they become. So if it’s an older cow (6 and up) it’s normally all put into hamburger. Cows are typically bred or impregnated through artificial insemination. This would be something that you will want to research, find out if it is possible to do yourself. Or if it is something you want to do, or a skill you are able to learn. It may be one of those very specialized skills that require far more training than you are willing to get.
When they are born, some require a selenium shot, which has vitamin E in it, some areas in the world are known for being low in selenium. If you are breeding a cow, you will want to research vaccines and if being low in selenium is an issue in your area. Cows really aren’t prone to diseases, which is wonderful. Warts on cows are pretty normal, they grow and eventually fall off. But that is really about all they require in terms of care.
Cows have a good temperment, and some have compared them to dogs. Although this would be like having a giant dog, they are a very personable creature. They can become accustomed to your voice and respond to you. You can name them, although I would strongly discourage anyone from doing so. Because of their temperment, they really can become like pets and that may be a problem when it comes time for butchering. In terms of prepping, the reality is you may very well have to butcher your own meat.
You will seriously want to research how to do this in a humane manner, as well as focus on getting over the fear and being squeamish about it, if that is an issue for you. In a true long-term emergency situation, butchers may not be readily accessible. The added bonus of learning to deal with this is, it is one more skill to have in your prepping journey. I think the more skills people have, the better off they’ll be. This can also be useful in terms of being able to put that skill to a profitable use.
Someone else may need an animal butchered. You could trade that skill for something else useful that they have and you need. Which is exactly why I say, the more skills you have, the better off you will be, and that prepping isn’t just hoarding stuff. Bartering and trading skills may become a real thing again in an emergency situation. So the more you have to offer in terms of skills, the better prepared you will be.
Some miniature cows also serve a dual purpose of producing milk and beef after butchering, such as Dexters that are a dual purpose breed. though they have horns which can be a turnoff to some people, a bit dangerous if you’re not accustomed to cows with horns. They are a smaller breed so would produce less milk than a Holstein cow, for example. But part of the appeal of them for a prepper would be the fact they serve a dual purpose.
One of the things that appeals to me about raising my own animals for food is the fact I know what they are eating. I can control that and be more knowledgeable about what my food really consists of. Plus, there is no better taste than fresh, grass-fed beef. I say the same thing about farm-fresh eggs. You just can’t beat that taste.
A hide or skin is an animal skin treated for human use. Common commercial hides include leather from cattle and other livestock animals. Leather is also used in upholstery, interior decorating, horse tack and harnesses. Such skins are sometimes still gathered from hunting and processed at a domestic or artisanal level but most leather making is now industrialized and large-scale. American Indian tribes used hides for moccasins, the construction of wigwams and teepees, and also sometimes used it as window coverings. Presently, hides are mainly used as clothing, particularly as coats and footwear, and for bookbinding.
Animal hides are stretched, dried, and tanned before they become the shoes, jackets, car seats, and saddles we typically associate with leather. The process to treating hides and producing a useable leather is quite labor-intensive. If you don’t have any experience with this before, I would recommend researching if this is a viable option to try for a prepper. It would be a very useful process for preppers to give one more option for shoes and even shelter, but the process to create that may not be worth the time. As I usually say, you’ll want to do your research on that.
Cows also provide manure which is an excellent fertilizer. Because it contains high levels of ammonia, it is typically recommended that the manure be aged or composted prior to using it as a fertilizer. However, composted cow manure will add generous amounts of organic matter to your soil. By mixing this compost into the soil, you can improve its moisture-holding capacity. This allows you to water less frequently, as the roots of plants can use the additional water and nutrients whenever needed.
If you live in a dry climate with limited rainfall, this can be an excellent fertilizer option. Or for someone who collects rainwater in the winter to use in the garden in the spring and summer. Saving on water usage can be a very big deal for some people, so this is definitely a benefit to them. It also improves the growth of plants, which more food can mean being better prepared. If you are planning to use manure as a fertilizer, please research it and find recommendations on proper handling of manure and how to compost it.
This will help you get more bang for your buck, so to speak because you want to do it right, otherwise you can end up damaging your crops or gardens, and nobody wants that. I really can’t stress researching how to properly handle this and use it in the best possible way for the best results.
Always do your research and due diligence when deciding to raise any sort of animal, decide if you have the space to really care for one (or more) properly, what the cost will be, as it varies by location. Having a resupply plan in place though will help you in so many ways, and raising your own food is an excellent way to start that plan. I will continue talking about this and discussing other animals in terms of a food resupply plan in continued posts. Please keep watching for those, as I am very exciting to talk about the pros and cons of different kinds of animals.
Special thanks to my good friend, Alyssa for her help and advice in writing this article. I could not have done it without you, my dear!