Let me try to talk you out of such a rash move. There is a lot to know before you start. We had no experience, and didn’t even realize we were going to have cattle when we bought Twin Creeks Ranch, so you can imagine our surprise when we inherited six Polled Herefords along with 120 acres of gorgeous property in Trinity County, California. We had intended to just relax and wander over the land, with its boulders, creeks, waterfalls, forests and meadows. Boy were we wrong about that!
A few thoughts about beginning ranching:
- Nobody Makes Money At Ranching
Well, not if they are small-timers like us. Some did, but raising cattle as a kind of sideline just didn’t work the way we were set up: we soon found that ranching is a full-time job, and not for commuters. The locals knew we were greenhorns, and had a good laugh at our expense. It was well-deserved, believe me, and led directly to the title of my book, Accidental Cowgirl.
- You Have to Have Numbers
You need a lot of cows, and more grazing land than we possessed, in order to make any money at all. The other advantage to having many cows was that you didn’t tend to get too attached—a dangerous thing, especially for softies like us who didn’t work with cattle all their lives, as we found out to our great sadness when we took poor Hamburger to be slaughtered. I even hated to see Cisco go after fattening him up for several months, although he had been acting particularly bullish and annoying for some time; bellowing petulantly at the cows and trying vainly to batter down the corral where he was confined. (They do find a special place in your heart. We discovered that old timers sometimes just couldn’t bear to go completely without livestock when they retired, and often tried to sandwich a cow or two onto their diminished, one-or-two acre spreads, because they found they missed the sound and even the smell of them—and if you can buy that, I’ve got a bridge for you.)
- Start With the Right Sort of Cow
Polled Herefords, we were assured in the expert opinion of our itinerant cowboy, had the sweetest dispositions of any cows. “Don’t bother yourself with none of them milk cows,” he warned, ominously. “They’re mean. But Herefords are as sweet as they can be.” Which was true, as long as you didn’t cross them, or accidentally miss a testicle when making a bull calf into a steer, something which we did with some frequency at first. (We found out later that was Cisco’s “problem.”)
- Don’t Be Squeamish Around Large Needles
…or very large animals; you usually have to do your own veterinary work in remote areas, because you may not see the vet for a year, and during the calving season, he’s so booked up with big ranches that he can’t be bothered with you and your motley assortment of critters. Try to partner with another small ranch operation, so that you can share big expenses like cattle trailers, which are often used only once a year and take up a lot of storage room in your barn.
- Never Name Beef Cattle
Cattle all have distinct personalities, but for Pete’s sake, that’s no reason to name them! We found that out the hard way, though everybody tried to tell us. You get too attached to them (at least we did), and eventually they will either leave you, or like us, you’ll end up with thirty or so very large pets.