Before I begin this post I will again state I am no expert, but I have built a nice herd on a very low budget. Acquiring things at a good price is something I have a knack for. I will mainly discuss how I found my cattle, and ways to get the best cattle at the best price.
Many people buy their stock from a livestock auction. I have bought some chickens and other critters at auctions, but it isn’t my preferred route. In most situations you are buying blind, not knowing the history of what you are buying. I would much rather have the time to look over the animal and talk to the owner. You can make a better decision with more information and if you are patient you can beat the stockyard prices a lot of the time. For these reasons auctions are not my preferred way to get stock.
So where did my cattle come from? With the exception of Keakwa (my first calf) all my cattle came from ads on Craigslist. Craigslist is my preferred source for many things. For cattle it has some advantages. One advantage is setting up automated searches that can use whatever words and price range you want. I have automated searches for any Dexter listed in all my close Craigslists. These automated searches allow me to set back and wait for the deals to be delivered to my inbox. There are also Apps available for smart phones that can do automated searches on Craigslist. There is one downside to Craigslist, you only find what someone has posted. If you are after a rare breed you may not find anything as they are often sold by word of mouth.
If you have decided on a rare breed the best source will be doing some footwork to locate a breeder. For registered stock you can often find breeders listed on the registry. For example the American Dexter Cattle Association has a list of all breeders and owners of stock on their website, it is even broken down to breeders within a state. This makes finding a breeder in your state easy. I am sure other registries have something similar. If you are seeking a certain breed and want registered cattle this is a way to find breeders close to you. You may have to make a cold call but most people are happy to talk to a potential customer. Even if they don’t have stock for sale they may know where to acquire some locally.
In addition to registries there are often forums and groups for different breeds. This is a great way to find people who are raising the breed you are looking for and these groups are also full of valuable breed specific as well as general information. Be aware that many people involved with cattle have very strong opinions, and what works for someone else may not work for you. The best way to learn what works best for you is to get your hands dirty.
Registered or Not? For general homestead use registration isn’t necessary. I don’t believe for a second that papers are going to make an animal tastier, especially considering everything else is the same. There are however a few advantages, but they do come with added cost. If you are a professional breeder having registered stock allows you to look into the pedigree of your stock and consider various outcomes of breeding. But for the average cattleman registered stock has one main advantage, higher prices. While not an advantage at the start you will eventually be able to take advantage of those higher prices when you sell your stocks offspring. The higher price paid for registered stock is the biggest advantage I see to having a registered herd.
If you have good registered stock one profit source would be supplying other breeders with good bulls for herd sires. With an unregistered herd there will be a lower price and potentially fewer interested parties in your bulls. The main end destination of your bull calves would most likely be steers. That isn’t all bad, most people who have cattle eat beef.
Registration isn’t everything. Registration can be a pain, and starting with a registered herd can be much more expensive. If you don’t plan on having a herd that is large enough to supply more meat than you can eat and plan on keeping everything in house registration probably isn’t worth it. Despite popular opinion registered stock isn’t necessarily better. My most dependable cow isn’t registered. There is plenty of good stock without papers, so don’t be a Nazi. Registered stock is an added expense, and unless you are recouping the cost of that expense it can be a drain.
If however you plan on running a herd large enough to supply your family and then some the advantages of having a papered herd should be considered. Often a registered animal will sell for well over its market value as a beef animal. There is more work involved in keeping registered stock and getting those papers isn’t free. For Dexters registered with the ADCA tail hairs must be sent in for parentage verification and then you must pay the registry for the papers. For each animal you can expect to pay $50 or more to get it registered. If you want more tests than just the minimum that price only goes up from there. I have started testing a lot of my herd and the calves. Often I am spending $100 each on some of my cattle to get all the test done. As more of my herd becomes tested these prices will go down as I will know what genes their offspring will inherit.
The majority of my herd isn’t registered. If given the option I would prefer to have the entire herd registered, but the cost was prohibitive and the registered stock was harder to find. Since a large percentage of my herds final destination is the beef market registration isn’t needed for these cattle.
More important than registered animals is obtaining good starting stock. Starting with a herd of questionable quality could haunt you for years. Price however is not the determining value for quality. Some of my best cows were also the cheapest to purchase. I have seen many people selling overpriced stock, most of the time you can find someone else selling stock with the same genetic background for a lost less. The price difference often cannot be quantified. Shop wisely if you value the time your money represents.
I cannot go into nor do I have the expertise needed to explain the details of selecting good stock. If you don’t know what you are looking for I suggest taking an experienced cattleman with you. Most cattleman could pick the better stock out of a lineup regardless of breed. So while familiarity with the breed would be an advantage it isn’t always necessary.
What breed? This is as much about personal taste as anything. I do however have my opinion based on hard fact. Pick a breed bred for your environment. You don’t want to be trying to raise Zebu in Alaska or Highlands in Texas. While it is possible to keep cattle breeds in an environment they are not designed for you are rowing your boat upstream. You will have an easier time selecting a breed adapted to your conditions and management style.
Why did I go with Dexter’s? Dexter’s are well suited to Missouri’s climate. There small size makes them have a lower impact on the land, ideal for the abundant rain we can get. There smaller size makes them easier to handle, and also lets you run higher numbers on your acreage. Dexters are not for everyone, but they came close to the perfect breed for me. In a future post I will be going more in depth with Dexter Cattle.
Since I am talking about cattle I figured I better update my Dexter cattle page. I will be adding a lot more pictures of my herd. Our herd has grown to thirty head. This year will be the first year I have some stock to sell as well as some beef.