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Livestock Farming Requires Responsibility and Commitment

By Heather Smith Thomas

Tags: Livestock, Cattle, Horses,

Heather Smith ThomasI’ve been raising cattle and horses since I was a teenager growing up on my parents’ ranch in the late 1950s, and have been writing about these animals nearly that long. My husband and I have been raising horses and cattle together for the past 44 years. My life work and major goal has been to learn all I can about the care, handling and management of these wonderful animals, and to share what I learn – in my books and magazine articles.


A 16-year-old Heather Smith Thomas and her first filly Khamette.

A question I’ve been asked by a number of people is: what’s most important in raising livestock. What are the biggest challenges?

Heather Smith Thomas and a foal she raised named Sadie

I’d say the biggest factor is responsibility and commitment. In the wild, Mother Nature is in charge of things. If an animal has a serious problem it dies. If there are problems with a birth, the mama and baby both die. It’s survival of the fittest and luckiest (because even normal, healthy animals sometimes fall victim to freak accidents or to predators). With domestication by humans comes a responsibility for the welfare of the animals in our care.

We breed them to raise and use for our purposes, and they would not exist except for us. So we must give them optimum care to make sure they stay healthy, and make sure that their birth and growing up is safe – and that their interaction with humans is positive and happy. We are their guardians.

Thus we must take their welfare seriously, and commit to raising and caring for them as best we can. Tending to their health and comfort should come first, in our various priorities and activities. This is why taking care of animals is so good for kids. Children who have animals or help their parents take care of animals learn responsibility, compassion and a good work ethic at an early age. The animal chores must come first, ahead of other “fun” things or activities. And if an animal has a problem of some kind, you drop everything else you are doing and take care of that animal.

A current photo of Heather Smith Thomas and a cow

My advice on raising cattle or horses is to learn all you can about taking care of them and how to keep them healthy and safe. Get advice from other stockmen or a good large animal veterinarian if you have questions. Read books and articles about the handling, care and management of these animals. Spend time with your own horses and cattle and learn about them – their personalities and their needs. Knowing your own animals intimately helps you understand them and learn how to handle them most appropriately, and also gives you a better clue regarding what’s “normal” behavior for them and what is abnormal, which would enable you to tell the early signs of illness (or the signs of early labor if your mare or cow is preparing to give birth).

Storey Guide to Raising Horses coverFor a good source of information about breeding and raising horses, I recommend my book Storey’s Guide to Raising Horses (new edition just published). It has a large section on basic horsekeeping, a section on health care, and a final section on breeding (selecting breeding stock, genetics, care of the broodmare, keeping a stallion, foaling, care of the newborn foal, etc.). For information on how to safely handle horses and to make sure they are well mannered and easy to handle and train, I recommend my book Storey’s Guide to Training Horses.

Basic cattle care is covered in the new edition of my book Storey’s Guide to Raising Beef Cattle – everything from breeds and genetics to calving, calf health, weaning, getting the cows rebred, pastures and fencing, feeding, keeping cattle healthy, tips on buying and selling cattle. For the serious cattle raiser, my two books Essential Guide to Calving and the Cattle Health Handbook together serve as an in-depth reference. In these two books I’ve Storey Guide to Raising Beef Cattle covertried to address all the issues a cattle raiser might face, and have also sprinkled the text with real-life examples of various animals on our ranch – their challenging health problems or calving situations and how we dealt with those to save the animal.

Veterinary textbooks and animal nutrition texts are difficult for the average person to read. Books for novices rarely contain enough information and cannot answer some of the questions that arise. My goal in writing about cattle and horse care is to bridge that gap and present solid information (more in-depth than you generally find in publications for new owners) but I try to discuss it in ways that are very easy to understand and interesting to read.

For more background on my writing and to read about some of the adventures I’ve had raising cattle and horses, and things I’ve learned along the way, check out my bi-weekly blog Notes From Sky Range Ranch.