Cattle farming is filled with opportunities, from dairy and beef to selling calves for shows at local fairs. To start a new farm, you need a business plan, a plot of land, and start-up money. Build all of the features your farm needs, then start with a couple of cows. Turn those cows into profit and, over time, you may gradually turn your business into a thriving cattle farm.
Designing Your Business
- Start with a small farm and a handful of cows at first. Most farmers start off with 2 to 5 cows. They may not have the money or experience to handle more. Focus on getting a few healthy cows, then turning them into profit so you are able to afford more. Sell your products at a local level to get started.
- Keeping only a few cows means your land won’t be overwhelmed. Cows take up a lot of space and may eat pastures to ruin if you aren’t careful.
- If you have the money and experience, starting with a whole herd is possible, but be careful. Make sure you have barn and pasture space.
- Choose beef ranching for a lower-maintenance cattle farm. A beef farm is much more flexible than a dairy farm. Cattle ranchers sell cows once or twice a year, usually in the fall. They spend the rest of the time tending to their herd, ensuring that the cows grow strong and muscular.
- Beef ranchers tend to rely on public lands or good pastures. To have a healthy herd, you need plenty of land space. The cows roam around and forage a lot.
- The overhead cost to start up is comparatively low besides purchasing land. You may not be able to find good grasslands in some areas, while the beef market may be competitive in others.
- Start a dairy farm for a more intensive but constant product. Dairy farmers need to be very diligent to ensure their cows produce as much milk as possible. Dairy cows require a specific diet filled with nutrients, which makes them costlier to raise. They have to be fed and milked at the same time every day, but the result is that good cows produce milk year round.
- The startup costs are greater in dairy farming than beef farming. Dairy farms need extra equipment, such as stanchions and milking machines. The cows require quality hay.
- To get the cows to produce milk, you may wish to keep a bull around. Bulls are a little trickier to handle safely. If you don’t want bulls, use artificial insemination, then sell male calves for extra profit.
- Raise calves for a unique farm that may fill a local need. Calving farms are useful, but most farmers don’t recognize the opportunity to sell calves. It is somewhat similar to dairy farming, except without the need for milking equipment. You raise the calves either as veal or sell them to other people, from other farmers to show clubs like 4-H.
- You need a separate calving bard and also have to consider keeping a bull or using artificial insemination.
- Calves are quick profit because you don’t need to wait for them to grow up. Don’t sell all of your calves, though. Keep a few for your farm.
- Aim on having plenty of pasture space for your cows to roam. Each cow needs about 1 1⁄2 to 2 acres (0.61 to 0.81 ha) of pasture space per cow calf pair. This amount of space provides enough roughage for a year. Most farmers are able to keep multiple cows on a single pasture if they’re careful.
- If you leave too many cows in a pasture, they eat all of the grass. To prevent this, farmers rotate the cows to different fields. As long as you’re careful not to strain your resources, your fields will continue to produce roughage.
Completing Required Legal Documents
- Make a business plan. Take time to outline how your business will operate. Go into as much detail as possible about your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities in the cattle industry, and possible threats your business will face. Also, include relevant information like what kind of farm you will operate, what kind of cows you want, how much money you need to operate, and who you will sell your products to.
- Refer back to your plan when you need to refocus on your goals or deal with problems.
- Keep in mind that all businesses start small. A cattle farm requires a lot of initial investment before you begin making money. Focus on proving how you plan on opening a sustainable business first, then how you intend on growing it.
- Register your business name with the government. Speak with your government’s trademark and business office to fill out the required applications. Registering your business not only protects your brand, but it enables you to choose a structure for it. You usually need to go to your state government for this. Check their website for an electronic application.
- Structuring your business as a sole proprietorship often saves you tax expenses, but you are liable for all debts, even if your business fails.
- A partnership is similar to a sole proprietorship, except you share costs with another investor. Consider bringing in a partner that provides additional start-up money or farming knowledge.
- Starting a limited liability corporation means more taxes, but you aren’t personally liable for your business debts.
- Apply for a tax ID number with your government’s tax agency. Go to the nearest agency office or access an online application on the government’s website. The application is short and simple. You need to describe what your cattle farm does and how you set up your company.
- The tax ID number allows you to legally hire employees, if you need them.
- After you receive your tax ID number, be sure to submit a copy to your local or state government. They usually need it as well.
- Get a business license and any permits needed. You will need to apply for a small business license at the nearest county clerk’s office. On the application, you outline what your cattle farm does and how it operates, including the number of employees you will have. Have your tax ID number with you, pay the processing fee, then wait up to a month to receive your official certification.
- You may need to apply for a federal license if you transport animals across state lines. In the U.S., you do this on the Department of Agriculture’s website.
- Use your business license to fill out zoning and other permits required to operate a business. The exact forms you need differ from place to place, but you usually do not need a federal permit.
- Look for small business organizations such as the Small Business Administration in the U.S. They will help you get your business up and running.
Choosing a Farm Location
- Obtain loans and other financing so you can pay for your farm. This depends on how much money you need to open. Starting a cattle farm gets pricey, so most people need help. If you wrote a business plan, you will know how much money you have available to get land and supply your farm. Borrow responsibly from people you know, lenders, or banks.
- Speak with agricultural and small business organizations. Many of them can direct you to more reasonable loans than what you would get from banks.
- Bring your business plan with you. It increases your chances of getting a loan.
- Remember to start small to avoid overspending. Many farmers continue doing other work until business picks up.
- Search for land that is up for rent or sale. Unless you have a decent amount of savings, you will need to invest in a down payment, loan, or mortgage to obtain the land you wish to buy. It’s important not to overspend when you’re starting out. Keep your expectations modest at first and make sure the land is sustainable before you purchase it.
- Land prices increase in areas of high population or high demand. Compare land prices across different areas and keep an eye on how many cattle farms are in each place.
- To save money, try buying an existing farm. Many places already have facilities and fencing laid out for cattle, which saves you some of the work needed to convert the land.
- Another option for beginning a farm is to rent someone else’s land. You may be able to find landowners who can’t farm the land themselves or aren’t willing to.
- Choose farmland with enough pasture space to feed your cattle. Find a stretch of land thick with grass where you are able to create pastures and build housing for your cattle. Bigger areas with better soil will sustain your farm as you expand it over time, but you may not be able to afford them without a loan. Plan on needing about 1 1⁄2 to 2 acres (0.61 to 0.81 ha) of pasture space per cow calf pair per year.
- Factors such as climate, seasonal variances, local cattle markets, regional vegetation, and topography differ from place to place. These all affect your farm, so select your location carefully.
- The amount of pasture space you need may vary. Fit more cows onto limited space by providing more hay. Rotate pastures frequently to prevent overgrazing.
- Contact an extension office for information about land before buying it. Many areas have agricultural extension offices that help people begin and maintain a farm. Ask them any questions you have. In particular, find out how the land was used previously, what type of soil is in place, and what vegetation grows naturally there. They will also be able to tell you about the demands of the local cattle market.
- Find out if the land is suitable for a pasture or a range. Rangelands have natural vegetation for grazing animals like cattle. Pastures require seeding, irrigation, and mowing to be sustainable.
- Speak with your neighbors as well. Many farmers are open to visitors. Even commercial farms have open days for the public. These people often know the land better than anyone and will provide a lot of useful information about beginning a farm.
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