How to Raise Cows as Part of Your Survival Plan

Raising cows as part of your survival plan is not for every prepper – I feel the need to just throw that out there right off the bat. Keeping cattle is an excellent idea for some survival homesteaders, but will prove disastrous for others.

Cows are arguably harder to raise than poultry birds, but they do have their advantages for the serious homesteader and farmer – and can be a valuable asset in a long-term survival scenario.


HAW – How You Homestead

Preppers must first evaluate the “HAW” of your self-reliance operation before seriously considering cows as part of your survival plan.

H = How You Homestead – Can you butcher a large animal on-site by yourself (or with members of your family and survival tribe), and are you able to properly process and store that much meat – even in an off grid situation?

A = Acreage – How much acreage your survival homestead encompasses make a massive amount of difference when contemplating keeping cattle on a prepper retreat.

These large animals need to eat, not just graze during warm weather months, but also when there is four inches of snow on the ground.

To sustainably keep cattle, even miniature breeds like Dexters, you need enough acreage for both grazing pastures and hayfields.

In addition to needing enough acreage dedicated for cattle use, you must also have the hay baling equipment and help necessary to harvest the food source for winter months.

Not only do you need the equipment, but the fuel to put in tractors to operate it – or horses-drawn hay baling equipment, which once again leads us back to the acreage issue because those horses will need to eat too.

W = Where You Homestead – If you homestead in an urban area, keeping cows as part of your survival plan is definitely out. Suburban survival homesteaders are increasingly adding livestock to their bug in plans, as well.

Keeping a miniature dairy cow on a 3-acre suburban homestead may sound like an enticing idea, but you also need space to store enough hay and grain feed to allow the cow to survive just one winter.

Cows roughly consume 2 percent of their body weight per day in hay. Mini cows weigh approximately 450 pounds… That’s a lot of hay to store on a backyard survival homestead.

The general rule of thumb related to space needed to keep miniature cattle breeds is two acres for every mini cow.

If the survival homestead is in a rural area (which is where every single prepper should live, anyway) keeping standard size or miniature cattle is by far a more feasible prospect.

Raising Cattle for Beginners

But, if your prepper retreat is not secluded, keeping the cows that graze in a field near the road WILL require armed supervision 24/7 for the herd during a long-term disaster, which will surely include a breakdown of society.

Our survival retreat is located on 56 secluded acres in a rural area – we are perfect candidates to keep cows as part of our survival plan.

The cattle can be kept far from view, which mutes any noise or smells they create, be wintered over as many years as needed and still be fed, and can water securely from two different natural water sources that are also far away from anyone’s view.

You don’t necessarily need this much land to sustainably keep a few head of cattle, but these types of feed, water, and seclusion attributes must be present on your homestead to successfully raise cows.

Beginner Tips for Raising Grassfed Beef

Unless you are going to keep beef cattle only until disaster strikes, quickly butcher them and put up the meat, you could get by with a less favorable HAW set up.

But, if the cows were positioned in a visible place, like a rural survival homestead near a road or in a suburban backyard, odds are neighbors and motorists will remember there used to be beef on a hoof in that field and may try to take the food from you at gunpoint.

There are many, many benefits of keeping cows as part of your survival plan. But, only if you have the space, equipment, and seclusion to raise them as covertly as possible, keep them alive when the SHTF, as well as process and store the beef so it remains safe for human consumption.

Cattle Keeping Legal Hurdles

Preppers who live in a rural area should be able to keep any type and number of cows on their land as they want – but not always. Some local laws or deed restrictions could throw a massive wrench in the raising cows as part of a survival plan efforts.

While extremely unusual, even some rural acreage deeds could restrict the type or number of livestock that can be raised on the land.

Before investing hundreds to thousands of dollars buying cows and preparing for their upkeep, always read every single word on the property deed and review local ordinances pertaining to both residential and on-site commercial livestock keeping.

If there are restrictions on keeping cattle in a rural area they are most likely to involve:

  • Type of fencing.
  • Distance fenced pastures are from either a property boundary, public road – or both.
  • Limitations on home butchering for residential or commercial purposes.
  • Allowable number of bulls kept on a single property.

Suburban preppers who want to keep cows may be legally allowed to keep one or several cows – though likely of a miniature breed only.

If the suburban retreat is located in a right to farm state, the odds of being able to lawfully keep such large livestock tends to be higher.

Cattle Requirements

Space Requirements

As noted above, a miniature cow can be kept on just a few acres of grazing space during the warm weather months. A standard-sized cow should have at least one and a half to two acres of grazing space to feed it entirely from the growing hay or grass in the field.

The land the cattle are kept on does not need to be a flat pasture area. Cows will go most places that horses will venture into, as well.

On a wooded or partially wooded survival retreat, even slightly to moderately sloped or steep terrain can be cleared to make a grazing area for the cows.

Cutting out trees, removing stumps, ripping out briars and then tilling the ground before planting quality livestock grass or hay seed will help you create a grazing space to feed the herd of survival cows.

This is, however, not an overnight process. Expect it to take up to 24 months to clear the land and cultivate a grazing area.

Once you have made the decision to include cows in your survival food security plan, you need to get an accurate idea of how much keeping just one cow – be it a beef or a dairy breed, is going to cost.

Water Requirements

A mature standard size cow can drink roughly 1 gallon of water per 100 pounds of body weight during winter months. That daily intake amount doubles during warm months.

A lactating heifer will almost always require two gallons of water per 100 pounds of body weight.

If you do not have at least one natural water source that can accommodate the water needs of your survival herd, your water or electric bill if you have a well, will increase substantially.

If the natural water source is a pond, ice may need to be manually broken during the winter months to ensure the herd has continual access to it.

Grain Feed

If the cows cannot live entirely on the pasture you possess or the hay you either bale or stockpile, grain feed will need to be added to their diet.

A 50-pound bag of the cheapest all stock sweet mix feed runs roughly $8.50 per bag. A 50-pound bag of cracked corn is typically less expensive and runs between $3.50 to $6 per bag.

A standard-sized cow that weighs at least 700 pounds should be provided a feed ration that contains 11 percent crude protein and roughage from hay.

Feeding grain is not required, and is often recommended against due to the possibility for the grain to gather in the animals’ intestines since they don’t possess the necessary enzymes to digest starch.

A diet that involves too often or too high of a grain ration can speak a Clostridium perfringens overgrowth. This bacteria can cause sudden death in bovine, and may be more common in feedlot cattle.

  • Cattle feed is typically available for purchase in three different varieties: pellets, block feed, and sweet feed mix.
  • Salt blocks and mineral blocks should also be made available to the cattle herd as free choice supplement. Salt blocks are especially recommended during warm weather months.
  • Bulls should also receive extra minerals and nutrients prior to the start of the breeding season.
  • If calves are separated from their mothers either by choice or necessity, creep feeding will be necessary to supplement the young animal’s diet – this is especially important during the weaning process and when raising beef calves. Creep feeding basically means the calf is granted grain and mineral supplement through a “creep feeder.” A creep feeder is a livestock feeder that boasts opening large enough for a calf to get its head inside to eat, but has too small of an opening for a yearling or mature heifer or cow to do the same.
cows eating hay

Hay Requirements

Mature cows consume 2 percent of their body weight daily – that’s about 24 pounds of dry matter for the average cow.

Pregnant and lactating cows of course, consume more food on a daily basis. It takes roughly six round bales of hay to feed a cow over the winter if its feed is not supplement with a grain ration.

Health and Medical Expenses

Learning how to treat or prevent common cow illnesses and injuries yourself – and especially how to use natural remedy ingredients you can grow yourself, will not only cut down on medical and health expenses, but better ensure your cattle herd can be cared for after a SHTF event, when calling a vet is no longer possible.

Many of the vaccines that are recommended for cattle are sold over the counter at agricultural supply stores like Tractor Supply and Rural King – as are the syringes and other livestock first aid items you can stockpile for use during a long-term disaster. Some of the vaccines require refrigeration, and have a shelf life of just six to 12 months.


Cows and not typically kept in stalls or necessarily in a barn, like horses. A sole or pair of dairy cows may have a stall, and get turned out everyday after milking, but beef cattle are typically provided with a run shed or a lean to in order to protect them from the elements.

A run shed is similar to a barn in construction style, but it often (at least on a residential scale) has just one large open area to run the animals in at night and then back out again in the morning so they can graze.


Cows are strong and large animals. Do not let their slow moving out in a bucolic pasture fool you – these farm beasts can run.

When panicked, a single cow or an entire herd can stampede and run as fast as they can away from what frightened them with complete reckless abandon – or a single thought about what they are trampling upon in the process.

The fencing that contains cattle must be strong; electric fencing that keeps your horses contained is not going to cut it here, folks.

Only the first cow that runs in a panic at an electrical fence will feel any pain, the rest will simply follow the herd straight through the opening into whatever lies beyond.

Wood fencing is a decent choice to contain cows, but that alone is not recommended either. Cows will push up against their fence and often use it as a scratching post – even if you provide them ample and better back scratching options.

Barbed wire is also a decent cattle fencing, but it does pose multiple potential problems, as well. First, cows can push through it when in a panic or knock it down when using it as a scratching post also.

When barbed wire snaps because it has been pushed on by livestock, or if a deer runs through it, because a tree fell on it – or a host of other reasons, cattle can become tangled in it and sustain a potentially deadly injury.

A cow that has a leg tangled in barbed wire will most often panic while trying to break free – sometimes causing the wire to dig more deeply into a leg or even neck.

Metal fencing options are the safest and when properly installed, the sturdiest option to contain cattle. The most common types of metal fencing for cows include woven wire, high tensile wire, and thicker and less flexible, metal cattle panels.

If you cannot afford to purchase the more expensive metal woven wire or metal cattle panels route to fortify a pasture in the safest way possible, consider using wood with strangs of electrical fencing affixed to it in a manner to deter cows from coming close enough to the pasture border to rub against it.

Regardless of the type of cattle fencing you choose to fit both your budget and terrain, wood posts and not metal “T” posts will be necessary to set the fencing no further than four feet apart – to maintain a durable and sturdy fence.

Cattle Fencing Costs

The actual cost of the various types of cattle fencing and posts will vary by location and the date that you happen to be reading this post. The sticker prices noted below are accurate for the date of publication in my region of Appalachia.

  • Solar Energizer (Charger) for a 10 mile span of fencing – $170.00 to $199.00.
  • 650 feet of solar fencing poly rope $70 or 650 feet of polywire – $30.00. Attachment clips for either type of solar fencing typically run roughly $4 for a bag of 25 connectors for wire fencing. If you’re going to attach electrical fencing rope to wood fencing panels or posts you will need insulator screws that cost approximately $13 for a bag of 20 pieces.
  • 100 feet of four foot tall woven wire fencing costs about $95 per roll.
  • A 16 foot long section of cattle panels that stands 50 inches tall costs about $22.
  • A 2,000 roll of high tensile wire runs approximately $155 per roll – for the non-electric version. An 8 pound bucket of fence staples that can attach this type of fence in between wood fencing panels or as a topper for any kind of livestock fencing to wood posts or trees costs about $28. These fence staples can also be used on barbed wire fencing.
  • A 1,300 foot long roll of barbed wire costs approximately $70.
  • Treated wood posts large enough in diameter to create sturdy supports for cattle fencing costs roughly $19 each. Every homesteader, farmer, and prepper I know cuts their own wood posts from their land. But, if you do not treat these posts, they will have a shorter lifespan and ultimately rot, causing the fence to weaker or collapse.

Cattle Size Types

As noted above, cows come in different sizes. The type that best suits your survival food security plan needs will depend on both your level of experience as well as size and location of your prepper retreat.

Cows, unlike bulls, are generally docile in nature – but not always. I have seen aggressive cows break a keeper’s ribs and even a hip by ramming them into a fence.

Turning your back on a cow, even a sweet older dairy cow you have milked for years, is highly unwise. I have been seriously tempted to visit a buffalo farm in our county to see about buying a few heads.

Sure, they are not known to be as docile as a cow – but that’s the point. No one in our survival tribe would ever even think about letting their guard down and becoming complacent if we kept buffalo, like they have learned to regret doing around the herd of survival cows.

  • Standard Cattle Breeds – Breeds of this type weigh at least 600 pounds when mature, but typically grow to weigh 1,600 pounds. A 1,000 pound cow yields roughly 610 pounds of usable beef, on average.
  • Guinea Cattle – These are a smaller type of cattle that are not quite large enough to be considered full size, but are too big to be deemed a miniature breed. Mature guinea cattle weigh less than 600 pounds but more than 450 pounds. They are a good breed choice for medium 10 to 20 acre survival homesteads.
  • Miniature Cows – Cattle of this type are also often called dwarf cattle. Both heifers and bulls exist in miniature breed varieties. Miniature cows weigh approximately 450 pounds on average.

Cattle Classifications

Before heading out to a livestock auction in search of cows for your survival plan, you need to learn the proper lingo and classification system to ensure you are buying exactly what you wanted.


Unless the cattle will be kept either for dairy purposes or only until the SHTF and then butchered, you will need to also keep a bull or bull semen for the herd to remain sustainable.

A bull is a mature intact male member of the bovine classification. His purpose is breeding only. A bull is an expensive and precious part of the cow survival plan – the herd will not have longevity without him. Eating your breeders should only be considered if the family was both literally and absolutely starting during a long-term disaster.


Bulls will hit approximately half of their mature weight by the time they are 14 months old, on average.

Just one bull, if he is of good quality, is able to bread roughly 30 calls on an annual basis.

Bulls are not kept in the same pasture as the cows. Only once about every 40 days are the bulls allowed to mingle with the ladies for breeding purposes. Overbreeding a bull can often cause not just severe medical problems for the bull or cow, but can lead to the aborting of calves by the cow, or even the death of what was once a quality breeder.

Newbie cattle ranchers are not typically equipped with the skills to work with a mature bull. Keeping a bull in a fence is also a lot more problematic than keeping a herd of heifers and calves inside a fence – which can be frustrating enough.

Buying bull semen to inseminate the heifers in your herd is an excellent alternative now, but is not sustainable in the long run.

Bull semen must be stored in liquid nitrogen to stop it from degenerating over time. Putting bull semen in a standard residential freezer would not even come close to chilling it to the minimum -112 degrees F it requires to remain stable.

When placed inside a refrigerator freezer or deep freeze, the bull semen would only remain usable for a maximum of three days.


  • A female member of the bovine family that has calved at least once is known as a cow. A cow will boast a thicker stomach and wider hips than both steers or bulls.
  • It takes 24 months for a cow to mature to a good butcher weight.
  • A cow should not be bred until it weighs a minimum of 600 pounds if it is a standard breed and is also at least 15 months old.
  • The gestation period of a cow is roughly 285 days.
  • While a cow can be bred any time of the year, farmers typically schedule breeding so calves are born from late February to May to avoid the added expense of wintering over extra animals unnecessarily.
  • Cows are typically kept solely for breeding purposes until they have gotten too old to regularly produce quality calves. Then, like aging dairy cows, are butchered, and their meat is hamburgered because it will no longer be top quality, and sometimes a little tough.


  • A heifer is a mature female bovine that has not yet produced a calf.
  • Heifers are typically far less expensive to purchase than a cow because the animal’s breeding track record is yet unproven. But, purchasing a heifer that is “in calf” will generally cost more than buying a straight heifer.
  • A heifer’s body will feature more slender hips, and a less bulky belly than a cow because she has not yet calved.


  • A steer is a mature but castrated member of the bovine family.
  • Steers are raised solely for their meat.
  • A steer can be more aggressive than a cow, but is far less aggressive than a bull.
  • It takes roughly two years for a steer to reach a prime beef cattle butcher weight.


  • The term calf or calves refers to either a young female or a male member of the bovine family.
  • When a calf hits the seven month to one year old mark, it has been weaned and is now classified as a yearling.
  • Once the calf is weaned, the cow must continue to be milked on a daily basis to prevent her milk from drying up.
  • A calf from a standard size cow usually weighs between 70 to 80 pounds when it is born.
  • Within an hour or less after being born a calf is up and walking around, and wanting to nurse vigorously for the first time.
  • Calves need between five quarts to two gallons of milk per day. Stockpile a cow’s milk substitute to provide nourishment for calves in case the momma cow dies, becomes sick, injured, or simply cannot produce enough milk for the calf or calves she birthed. During a survival situation, losing a calf on top of the loss of a cow, could place the family in a life threatening predicament.

Cattle Types

Cattle are most often classified as being either beef or dairy breeds. While any cow, heifer, or steer can be used for meat and any bred mature female cow can be milked, some breeds are simply better at producing both quantity and quality of either staple food item.

When devising a plan to raise cows as part of your survival food security options, it may be best to purchase a dual-purpose cattle breed. Members of this classification can equally or nearly equally well produce a prime beef yield, as well as milk.

Dairy Cows

To keep a cow and calf pair that garners most of their feed from grazing, you should have three acres dedicated to the animals.

Dairy cows look a bit different than beef cattle breeds. A diary cow will often look “boney”, and possess especially large udders.

A quality dairy cow of standard size is capable of producing between three and seven gallons of milk on a daily basis.

Dairy cows are typically milked twice a day. Keeping up with this task is crucial to continue the milk flow until the cow is once again bred.

Milking A Cow | Jersey Butter | Raw Milk

Miniature dairy cow breeds produce roughly two to four gallons of milk per day.

When in search of a top quality dairy cow that will also be used for breeding, purchase one that has a valid EPD card to reference. These livestock cards will allow you to trace the most likely traits the cow will pass onto her calves.

A dairy cows production typically peaks when it hits three to four years old.

How to Milk a Cow by Hand

Dairy calves are not treated the same way as beef calves on most farms or homesteads – at least when not in the midst of a SHTF situation. After the calf has nursed from its momma for three days to ensure it consumes all of the nutrient rich colostrum in the first milkings after birthing, the young animal is pulled off of the teat and bottle fed.

This process occurs to prompt early weaning so the animal can be sold or even butchered as veal, and all of the milk from the cow can be consumed or sold.

How to Pasteurize Milk

Beef Cattle

  • A beef cow and steers will have a far more muscular and filled out body style than that of a dairy cow. Beef cattle breeds are quite stocky, and have no visible boney features – like rib or hip bones showing. Beef cattle also have a flat and not a bony back.
  • The average lifespan of beef cattle is only 18 to 24 months because the animals are slaughtered, while their meat is still young and tender.
  • A bull from a beef cattle breed often lives up to 15 years old.
  • A breeding beef cow typically lives to be 10 years old, but slaughtering cows of this type for hamburger is fairly common by the time they are eight years old.
  • The hamburger meat acquired from a single cow is equal to at least 720 quarter pounder hamburgers. The hamburger meat from one cow would also provide one hamburger daily for each member of a family of four to enjoy for roughly six months.
Beef Butchering on Family Farm - Homestead Food Production

No fewer than 100 different types of medicine are harvested from cows – including both estrogen and insulin.

One 3 ounce serving of beef will give the body about 10 percent of the recommended daily allowance of selenium, zinc, protein, riboflavin, vitamin B12, vitamin B6, niacin, choline, and phosphorous.

Learning how to tan the leather from slaughtered beef cattle will give you the material to make coats, bags, satchels, equine tack, belts, and a host of other useful items.

A typical sized standard bred cow produces enough leather from its hide to make a gross of baseballs or 18 volleyballs – you might need that many sports balls during a SHTF situation, but the example gives you an easy to grasp visual of how much leather you would have to work with for more important purposes.

Leather is not the only beef by products that can be useful after slaughtering a cow or steer. Other beef by products can be used to soap, margarine, gelatin, crayons, and marshmallows. The hooves, horns, and bones from beef cattle can be used to make combs, gel capsules, and fine bone dinnerware. The hair and hide can be made into glue, paintbrushes, and insulation.

The fatty acids and fats from the harvested beef cow or steer are commonly used as active ingredients in floorwax, shaving cream, candles, insecticides, synthetic rubber, deodorant, hydraulic brake fluid, shampoo, and paint.

Dual Purpose Cattle Breeds

A dual purpose cattle breed can give you the best of both the beef cattle and dairy cow world. Dual purpose cattle breeds may not have as quick of a growth rate or produce the same level of bulk as top beef cattle breeds, but will consistently offer an above average quality of meat that is also of excellent quality.

Dual purpose breed cows will also offer more milk than a straight beef cattle breed and a quality tasting milk.

A survival homesteader that has only so much land or so much money to spend – or is limited on both, could greatly benefit from raising a dual purpose cow as part of their food security survival plan.

A dual purpose cow will offer ample milk in-between breedings, and still produce calves that will develop into quality beef producers – giving you the best of both worlds.

Heritage Cattle Breeds

These types of cattle breeds will not bulk up as quickly as modern breeds, nor will they mature as quickly as common dairy breeds, but they are still very much worth considering as part of any prepper’s food security survival plan.

Heritage cattle breeds, as well as heritage breeds of all other types of livestock, tend to be more independent keepers, extremely hardy and disease resistant in their native environments, and excellent for free range grazing, foraging, or browsing.

The influx of factory farms in the United States has nearly wiped out many traditionally raised types of livestock in favor of cross-breeding to achieve the biggest bulk in the shortest amount of time.

Heritage livestock breeds are raised as naturally as possible and not injected with concoctions that intend to increase their weight or excess antibiotics.

The ability of heritage breeds to withstand severe winters or hot summers, reproduce or birth without human intervention, and thwarts parasites and bacteria can be quite advantageous on a survival homestead during a long-term disaster when calling a vet is simply not going to be a realistic option.

Top 10 Best Cow Breeds For Preppers


This breed is perhaps the best beef producer. Cows are excellent mothers, all breed members have a lot of farm sense and respond quickly when a predator is about.

Hereford cattle are also known for their longevity, which is a plus for a prepper who wants to establish quality on-site breeding operation.

Hereford Beef Cattle | Dependable Heritage Beef


This large beef cattle breed are among the most intelligent, docile, and quiet of beef producers. A prepper with a keen on on OPSEC when adding cow raising to a survival plan.

Brahman Beef Cattle | Heat Tolerant Survivors


This hardy and massive dual-purpose cattle breed is used primarily for beef production today, but has traditionally been used also as dairy cows and as draught livestock.

Chianina Beef Cattle | World’s Largest Domesticated Cattle Breed

Brown Swiss

These dairy cows all stars are known to produce up to nine gallons of milk on a daily basis. Brown Swiss dairy cows create a sweet milk that has a four percent butterfat count.

They are known to be a docile breed that is incredibly compliant even when being milked for the first time.

Brown Swiss Dairy Cattle | Well-balanced High Milk Volume


This miniature cattle breed is another great dual purpose option for the survival homestead.

They are docile breed that is known to be hardy in both cold and warm weather climates. The mini powerhouses can be easily trained as draught livestock to pull small carts and wagons.

The Perfect Homestead Mini Meat Cow - The Dexter Cattle


You really cannot get a juicier cut of steak from any beef cow breed like you can the angus. This breed is one of the most popular beef cattle breeds not only in Texas and the United States at large, but around the world.

Even though Angus cows are cultivated for meat the vast majority of the time, the cows do generate a nice tasting milk in ample qualities, as well.

Where the Best Beef In America Comes From


A multi-purpose cattle breed that is a steady and consistent producer of milk and meat and strong enough to even be used for agriculture drafting chores.

American Rancher - American Simmental Association


Cattle in this breed weigh in at up to 1,200 pounds on average. A Guernsey dairy cow is capable of routinely providing seven gallons of milk daily.

Guernsey cows are also excellent breeders, attentive bovine mommas, and throw a high average of healthy calves. The milk from these dairy cows is excellent for cheesemaking.

Laceys Family Farm - Guernsey Cows


Cattle of this breed are known to be quite docile and fairly quiet, as well. Jersey cow milk from this breed has a deliciously high butterfat count, that makes it a poor choice for cheesemaking.

Jersey cows have been a mainstay on American family farms and homesteads since before we even became a nation.

For small acreage survival homesteaders who want a docile and reliable milker, Jersey cows and bulls also come in a miniature version, as well.

Milking a Mini Jersey - The Perfect Family Cow for a Homesteader

Lowline Angus

This beef cattle breed is a miniature version of the famed Angus.

Lowline Angus cows rarely ever grow taller than 42 inches – making them a superb choice for both small acreage survival homesteaders as well as those new to keeping cattle. They are substantially hot climate hardy and provide a nice taking milk too.

Cow mommas from this breed are known to be great calvers and incredibly attentive to their offspring. The milk from a Lowline Angus is quite comparable in quality to the standard size Angus breed.

Lowline Angus Calves and Bulls

Most Common Cattle Diseases

There are literally hundreds to thousands illness types that could affect the survival homestead cattle herd. The ones noted below are the most common – and potentially the most deadly.

Clean living conditions, a proper diet, maintaining a de-worming routine, and shelter can go a long way in preventing many but not all, of these dangerous conditions.

Stockpiling herbal supplements and recommended vaccinations can also help keep the beef and dairy cattle healthy and producing.


This is the animal version of diarrhea. Scours can be mild and caused by nothing more than a feed change or heat, or it can be severe enough to be considered life threatening if not treated both promptly and properly.

Dehydration caused by scours that has gone undetected or untreated can cause the loss of the meat or milk producing animal in a matter of just a few days.

Milk Fever

This is primarily a dairy cow disease that often occurs right before the cow starts the calving process. Milk Fever is a metabolic disease that is caused by a drop in blood calcium levels – hypocalcaemia.

To save a cow with this condition an IV treatment is nearly always necessary. Giving the cows calcium pills in the weeks prior to the anticipated calving can help prevent the development of milk fever.


This cattle disease is often referred to as a “silent killer.” By the time a homesteader notices a member of the cattle herd has pneumonia, it is often too late to save the animal. Signs of bovine pneumonia include a cough, runny nose, fever, and lethargy.

An antibiotic is needed to kill the bacteria that caused the pneumonia, but getting the scours that accompanies the illness under control to prevent dehydration is equally essential to a possible recovery.

Mastitis – This condition involves a swollen udder tissue and mammary gland problem. Mastitis causes the death of a copious amount of cows annually.

Treating this bovine disease also requires the administration of an antibiotic. Cows must still be milked during the illness and treatment, but the milk is not suitable for use for either humans or animals.

Hoof Rot

Hoof health is as essential to the well-being of a cow just as much as it is to a horse, and other livestock.

When the inside of the hoof or hooves becomes deteriorated due to an injury to the protective covering, a bruise, or unusual growth, it is more susceptible to hoof rot.

Signs of a potential hoof rot condition include a stubborn unwillingness to move, or limping. To treat hof to, clean the area and then dry it thoroughly.

This condition sometimes needs an antibiotic to kill or prevent infection. Keeping the ground in the cattle shelter area dry and cleaning it regularly can also help prevent hoof rot.


This is a bacterial and contagious condition in cows, just like it is in humans. A cow with pinkeye will have a cloudy look to its eye or eyes that tear up frequently.

An antibiotic will be needed to treat pink eye but a slightly warm damp cloth dabbed onto and around the eye (while wearing gloves) can soothe the pain associated with the condition and bring down the swelling.

Buying and Selling at Livestock Auctions

Cow Buying Tips

Now that you are armed with the knowledge you need to determine if raising cows as part of your survival plan is for you, what breed or breeds might work best of your farm, and husbandry basics, it is time to focus on opening up your wallet, and buying a few heads.

The best time to buy cattle is in the fall, from a price perspective. Farmers who do not want the expense of wintering over an excess cows, heifers, or yearlings will head to the livestock auction, or otherwise post their animals for sale.

Waiting until later in the fall will garner you the best savings, but you may face a reduction in selection or quality.

Some cow breeds carry a far higher sticker price than others. If you purchase what is known as “grade cows.” Cattle of this type are not purebreds, but are often still top quality beef cattle or milkers.

Buying locally can also increase your chances of getting a good deal and a quality herd starter or new addition.

Local farmers, ranchers, and homesteaders will likely have the breeding pair on site for you to view and even breeding records you can review – do not expect to get such an extensive amount of information at a livestock auction.

Also, buying directly from a local keeper eliminates the middleman who charges the seller a fee at auction – which is then recouped in the bidding reserve price.

Ask to view a vet inspection card whether you are buying locally, from a private seller outside of your region, or at a livestock auction.

If the auction cannot provide such a document, at a minimum ask to see and review thoroughly the rules governing health checks on all livestock that are offered up for sale.

The degree of verified health information can vary greatly from auction to auction, but any reputable livestock auction house will have health guidelines all sellers must adhere to before placing a number on an animal and placing it in the lineup.

Before purchasing a cow, heifer, calf, or bull review its legs to ensure they are healthy and strong and free from hoof rot.

Lead or watch the animal walk around to ensure it does not have a limp, and that the legs are all evenly proportioned – and the back hock is just slightly recessed.

All breeds of cattle but dairy cows in particular, should have visible wide pin bones, review any animal you are thinking about purchasing for this physical characteristic.

Look at both the teats and the udders of cows – especially dairy cows. A medium size cow should have udders and teats in proportion to her size and not large ones.

Big is not always better if this part of the cow’s anatomy is out of sequence with the rest of her physical attributes. The udder should be pliable when touched by firm at the base if the ligament in the cow’s vulva area is truly healthy.

The udder should hang above the jock joints and not below it if the cow is in top physical condition.

A cow’s teats must point directly down to the ground, and not be angled if they are properly positioned and fully healthy.

The teats should also be spaced apart at even space intervals.

A cow that stands in a calm state when it is approached is a good sign the animal will be docile and compliant. You should be able to get within 36 inches of a cow even upon a first meeting, without it taking off or showing visible signs of agitation.

A cow that decides to move away from a stranger that has gotten within the 36 inch boundary should do so fairly slowly and calmly if it likely also possess a calm and easy to control demeanor.

A cow, heifer, or steer that refuses to be separated from the rest of the herd even for a few moments without becoming agitated is likely going to be difficult to work with and may have either skiddish or aggressive tendencies… or both.

Check the nose of the cow, calf, steer, heifer, or bull carefully. While a little bit of moisture inside the nostrils is not a bad thing, any animal with a snotty nose or bubbly moisture coming out of its nose could be sick – perhaps with a contagious illness.

If a heifer is between seven to 12 months old and has been around a bull, you may want to pass her by – no matter the price.

While getting a good deal on a heifer that may be in calf might sounds like a great idea, if you are new to cattle keeping and coupled with a heifer that is new to giving birth, you might be biting off more than you can chew.

It is not uncommon for heifers to have difficulty calving the first time, unless you know how and when to help her or can get a vet to the survival homestead in time, odds are you could lose both the heifer and the calf she is trying to deliver.

The coat of the animal should be smooth, even taking into account the thicker fur that comes in for the winter months.

Look the animal’s body overly entirely for signs of bald spots, places where the hair is less deep than it is elsewhere, or signs or boils. The presence of any of these issues could indicate a health issue of either small or major significance.


Raising cows as part of your survival plan may be one of the wisest prepping decisions you have ever made – but cattle husbandry is not for everyone.

For every person who starts keeping cows, who successfully raises them and enjoys the bounty of the endeavor, there is likely one person who has experienced an epic failure, and lost a lot of money in the process.

Knowing what you are getting yourself into as well as what your survival homestead, and you can handle on a daily basis no matter what the weather brings, greatly increases your chances of achieving success.

As with all types of livestock keeping, raising cows so they remain healthy and producing meat and – or milk all begins with proper husbandry tactics.

A clean and safe living space along with quality pasture areas and hay are at the foundation of creating such an environment for your cattle herd.

Learn as much as you can about not only proper husbandry practices, livestock first aid and the health needs of the animals – and then cross-train other members of your family or survival tribe so they are armed with the same knowledge and skills.

Making sure the family has meat and milk for the duration of the long-term disaster (even if you become ill, injured, or die) will require at least one other person being able to pick up where you leave off in the barnyard at a moment’s notice.

Taking care of these large animals is not a small job, nor is it one you should expect yourself or anyone else to master overnight. Practice, as they say, will make perfect.

Develop a solid husbandry routine while learning how to milk, humanely slaughter, butcher, and preserve the food you are raising to make raising cows an integral part of your food security plan.

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