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Cattle Lifecycle

Updated: May 26, 2023

There are several different stages of growth throughout our cattle’s life and each stage we feed them and manage them a bit differently. On our farm we have all life stages and those generally include.

  • Cow/calf

  • Background/stocker calves

  • Fat/finishing cattle

But before we go into the stages of the life cycle, there is some terminology that we like to use to define the different animals.


Cow


A fully grown female animal that will reproduce baby calves. These mom cattle are typically on the farm the longest and are generally the animals you see out on pasture. We have had some of our cows stay on the farm with us for 20 years, but the average time they are with us varies.


Calf


The offspring of the cows are called calves, they are young animals <1 year old and can be male or female.




Heifer


This is the term we use to define a female that has not given birth yet.


Bull


This is the term we use for male animals that still have their testicles. These animals can be used to breed the cows so that they reproduce babies.


Steer


This is a male animal that has been castrated (testicles removed) and these cattle are then used in our feeding program. (We will explain in more detail the process of castration in future blogs).


Cow/calf


Which came first, the chicken or the egg?! In order to have beef to eat we have to have cows producing calves as offspring. The majority of cattle farms have a season during the year when this occurs. For our farm we calve in the fall between September and November. The cows give birth and take care of their calves for 5-7 months depending on the farm. The calves will get milk from their moms and as they grow, they will begin to eat solid food (hay, grain, etc.). When calves are between 5-7 months old we will wean them off of their mom’s milk. By this time their stomach is developed enough to eat other food. After weaning the next stage of growth is backgrounding.


Backgrounding/Stocker Cattle


Backgrounding is the period of time after weaning that calves are on a feeding program before they go to a finishing group. These calves are fed a forage based feed of ingredients including hay and silages. Calves will generally enter this period between 400-600 pounds, and they will move to the next stage (finishing) about 750-850 lbs.


Stocker cattle are similar to backgrounding cattle with a slight change in how they are managed. Generally, stocker cattle are the same age and weight but instead of feeding animals a total mixed diet in a barn system, they will graze on a pasture and are fed a high energy supplement. Stocker cattle are very common in the western Plains of the US because they have large fields of wheat for these calves to graze. On our farm, we primarily background our weaned calves, but depending on the year we will stocker our herd’s replacement heifers on grass until breeding season.

Replacement heifers are young female cattle that will be bred so that they can enter into our cow herd. These heifers are our best genetics and we want to get calves from them.


Fat/Finishing Cattle


The final stage of the life cycle for the heifers and steers (castrated bulls) not returning to our cow herd is the finishing stage. The cattle are around 800-900 pounds when they enter our finishing barn. At this stage, the diet the cattle are fed changes and the energy increases so that they will gain more weight. For our farm we increase energy by adding in more corn and corn silages. This change in ration is what gives the end product (beef) great taste and marbling. The animals will finish between 1250 and 1400 pounds.


Over the course of the next few blogs you will learn more about what and why we feed our cattle during each stage of the lifecycle.


Thanks,

Olivia, Tabby, Gina, & Kendra








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