No race is ever won in the first corner, but many are lost there!
It’s your new farm. Remember, you are going to make rookie mistakes. Beginners’ errors can be easily rectified, gaps can be identified and processes can be established in a small herd.
Start small by buying a few cows, heifers, and calves to test processes. Avoid paying a high price for cows until processes are showing results at your farm.
How small to start?
Initial purchase of cows may be 10-15% of the planned herd size. Additionally, under each cow you may keep 2 young stock across ages, since the diet cost of the farm is around 50% of revenue when each milking cow has 2 young stock under them.
Indigenous breeds are easy to manage. But if you are building a new farm with imported breed, keeping a few Jersey cows is a risk mitigant, as Jersey cows:
- are more resilient to environmental/ health risks than Holsteins and easier to handle at new farms
- have a higher conception rate than hosteins and can give better results at new farms
- produce milk with higher fat content that results in greater acceptance in retail market or higher realisation when sold to bulk buyers
- Heifer: High conception rates are important for dairy success and achieving that is very complex and dependent on interplay of many factors. Hence, breeding processes need to be tested and fine-tuned as early as possible. Heifers have higher conception rate. Breeding processes can be tested fastest in heifers and strengthened on a proactive basis. Farm can also use semen of choice to save 33% time on building its own breed.
- Cows: Avoid getting cows already in milk or within 15 days of milking – instead get pregnant cows with atleast 20-30 day buffer. This buffer will help in transitioning the cow properly from an energy balance perspective and from the perspective of a new environment for stronger lactation yields. The delivery dates should be spread across a few months to ensure milk production stability is maintained from the beginning.
- Calves: It is recommended that new farms buy weaned calves. Weaned calves are usually about 2-3 months old. By this point, their immune systems are fairly well developed. They are able to eat grass and hay. You will have time to get used to caring for the cows before they need to be bred.
Give yourself a breather and set yourself up for the season!
By planning your herd acquisition as aforesaid, you will get a couple of months to strengthen the team, and set up processes for healthcare, cow comfort, feeding, nutrition, breeding, fodder sourcing, procurement, disposal of milk, etc.
Where to Buy Cattle
The absolute worst place to buy cattle is at a livestock mandis. This is where farmers go to sell their cull animals, and when the cows are run through the ring, you have no clue about where they came from, what their general health status is, or what diseases they may be carrying.
Another place to buy from is traders. But there are disadvantages related to (a) frequent changes to cow housing and feeding resulting in energy imbalance, (b) price mark-up and (c) lack of history of cows.
Another decent place to buy cattle is from farmers. You can frequently text questions that you have for the farmer, and he can respond. Farmers are usually more forthcoming and transparent. You may save yourself some headaches since cattle are usually raised by them from the beginning.
Bringing Home Your New Cattle
When you get home, you’ll probably want to go ahead and vaccinate the cattle for the diseases that are common in your area.
Cattle don’t like change, so if you can buy the same brand of feed from the original owner, that will help them adjust to the change. They may act nervous for a few days until they settle in.
Remember that you don’t have to buy the very best cattle to have good animals on your farm. Educate yourself before you take your money out of the bank and you won’t get snookered as you add cattle to your farm.