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Calling all cattle options

“Several years ago, I made an attempt to start out in the dairy business,” says Ben, a 27-year-old diesel mechanic from Colby, Kansas. “I obtained a loan with Farm Credit and purchased 15 Holsteins. When the farm that I worked on and kept the cows on sold out, I also had to sell because I didn't have a place to keep my cows. I want to try farming again with the long-range goal of being able to farm full time. In your opinion, would it be better for a beginning farmer to start out with cows and aim for a cow-calf enterprise, or to purchase stockers to run on grass?”

It didn't take long for Farmers for the Future network members to respond to Ben's post. They offered tips on acquiring land, buying cattle, and expanding the operation over time.

“The great thing about cattle is the number of options you have,” says Rick Houston. “A lot depends on the amount of land that you have access to and your work schedule, if you work a job off the farm. I have always worked a rotating shift where I change shifts every week. That has worked well for my cow-calf operation. I have always kept a low birth weight bull since I am away from the farm so much. I started with four heifers in 1979. I now run about 100.

“I have always rented ground, even after I purchased some,” Houston continues. “I rented 60 acres to put those first four heifers on. I could pasture and cut enough hay. The following year, 100 more acres came up, and I rented them. I now own that land. Over the years, I have accumulated 220 acres that I own, and I currently rent another 300.”

“I am a 30-year-old fireman, so I am gone every third day and have been in the cattle business for three years now,” says Justin Watkins. “I found that by buying pairs I had an immediate return on my investment. I don't have to worry about calving that first set of calves – all I have to do is keep them healthy. I gave about $950 per pair, and I recouped $600 per calf my first year. With prices being up, you can still pull this off.”

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