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The Country Enterprise Handbook
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Keeping beef

...Calf feeding

...Rearing

Beef produced slowly, maturing, not being forced: this is what produces the beautiful marbled meat which is glowingly described in gastronomic textbooks.

Most of the beef we eat today has been encouraged to grow at speed. A lot of it was encouraged to grow by being injected with steroids. The moment the carcass is big enough to market it is off. Very often the traditional 'finishing' stage the stage which produces the rounded carcass, the marbled meat is missed out or skimped on. In the 1960s there was a great fashion for producing and eating baby beef. These small joints came from animals totally intensively fattened and killed at under a year. Although the rising price of cereal makes it unlikely for this to happen again there is clearly a great attraction in moving the animals as quickly as possible.

In any enterprise where you consider rearing and producing beef, the first fact to consider is that it is the slowest livestock enterprise to produce your profit. There are, of course, stages at which you can get in and out of the market but generally the major profit goes to the person with the animal at the end of the process. Using a semi-intensive system, this means at the end of an eighteen-month period. Or it could mean a two-year animal. Very rarely does anyone go on for any longer than that.

How you start depends on whether you have bred the calf yourself or whether you are buying in. With a dairy cow operation there are surplus calves to put into beef production. You could run some cows simply for their calves; these run with their dams and require the least effort of all calves. It is more likely that the enterprise starts with buying in calves. Calves are beautiful little creatures but the important thing to bear in mind is that one day they will be enormous, not so friendly and require space and a great deal of food.

It is essential that a calf receives colostrum. If you buy direct from the producer, you can ask for a guarantee that it has. If you buy from the market, you have no such certainty. To produce beef easily you require a beef breed. Every bovine animal will produce some beef when killed; the beef breeds produce the right amount in the right places. Hereford crosses are traditionally excellent; also good are Friesian bull calves, and Aberdeen Angus which thrive on low-grade pasture. The safest way to get the best animal for your area is to have a look and see what everyone else is doing. If the fields around you are stocked with Herefords, have a go with them. There is no point in putting a Charolais that requires good grazing to fatten on land that would better accommodate the less fussy Aberdeen Angus.

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