Cattle Production Guide

Learn the cattle production basics including different breeds, bloodlines and breeding practices.

  • Cattle
    When raising and breeding cattle it is important to know the genetic makeup of each cow, especially for crossbreeding purposes.
    Photo by Fotolia/jackienix
  • The New Livestock Farmer
    "The New Livestock Farmer" by Rebecca Thistlethwaite and Jim Dunlop gives readers the tools necessary to raise animals humanely before taking them to market.
    Cover courtesy Chelsea Green

  • Cattle
  • The New Livestock Farmer

The New Livestock Farmer (Chelsea Green, 2015) by Rebecca Thistlethwaite and Jim Dunlop is a resource for those who are interested in raising and selling ethically produced meats. Thistlethwaite and Dunlop aim is to transform the meat supply chain by making it easier for producers to raise healthy animals and get them to market. This excerpt comes from chapter 5, "Cattle Production."

You can purchase this book from the GRIT store: The New Livestock Farmer.


Marbling Breeds or British Breeds

British cattle breeds include Angus (Red and Black), Hereford (polled and horned), Galloway, Devon, Dexter, Jersey, Shorthorn, Scottish Highlander, and Holstein. Some of these are considered dairy breeds (Jersey, Holstein, some Shorthorn) but can be used in beef programs for certain characteristics such as ease of fattening, smaller frames, calving ease (smaller calves), mothering abilities, and beef tenderness.

Some producers choose to raise dairy bull calves because they are easy to obtain, usually for a very low price (depending on the strength of the beef and veal industry). One must factor in the cost of milk replacer or come up with another source of milk such as dairy goats or a nonconforming nurse cow for it to be economical. When sourcing dairy bull calves, try to find a farmer who allows the bull calves colostrum from their dam. Dairy bull calves are delicate enough even with colostrum, and even more so without it (scours is more prevalent in calves that do not receive colostrum).

Continental Breeds or Exotics

These large-framed cattle breeds include Tarantaise, Salers, Limousin, Maine-Anjou, Gelbvieh, Charolais, and Simmental. Many of these breeds were used as oxen centuries ago and to a lesser extent are still used as oxen today. They are large-framed animals with a lot of fast-twitch muscling. They produce large, meaty carcasses, but generally have leaner and potentially less tender meat. Some grassfed producers have been able to cross these animals with British breeds or select for smaller-framed continental breeds for grass-finishing quality beef. (Gelbvieh and Maine-Anjou are a couple that seem to do well on grass.) The downsides of these animals are the difficulty to adequately finish them on forage alone and the potential for calving difficulties due to their large size.

Composite Breeds and Cross-Breeding

Included in this group are Murray Grey, Red Poll, Brangus, Black and White Baldies, Balancer, and many others. Composite breed cattle have the advantages of a cross-bred animal in a stabilized breed.

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