If there is one book about beef cattle to read, it is published by Storey Publishing in the U.S. and it has been around since 1998.
Written by Heather Smith Thomas, it is now in its third edition, titled Storey’s Guide to Raising Beef Cattle.
Heather Smith Thomas has contributed to hundreds of journals, including a column in the Canadian Beef magazine which shows she is regarded highly here in Canada as well as in her native U.S.
If you are not a book learner and prefer to learn with other people, there is a course at Thompson Rivers University and it provides a credit course as part of the diploma program: Applied Sustainable Ranching which will give you a great introduction to the business.
You need to show up or log in to the weekly seminars if you want credit, but most of the course is home study requiring up to 25 hours a week, plus on the ground experience, which is available if you want it and can match up with a mentor rancher.
Call TRU in Williams Lake for information.
The average herd of beef cattle farmers in Canada is around 60 head. This book is good if you have one beef animal or 1,000.
Among her pearls of wisdom as recognized by Baxter Black, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine are:
•Purchase a calm animal
• Never make a pet out of a young bull
• Leave your dogs at home
• Be there for every birth
• No strange smells in the barn
• Don’t wash your coat
Heather has been a rancher for over 40 years in Idaho. She is 75-plus years old and still going strong as far as I know.
She interviews researchers, breeders and specialists around the US and Canada. In my view, she knows whereof she speaks.
Credible new information on cattle production practices will be published in either the Canadian Beef magazine or the Stockman’s Grass Farmer from the U.S.
Especially for beginners, the series of books published by Storey (www.storey.com) include all the basic livestock. They even have a book on maintaining farm machinery.
I can give one good example Thomas has in her book: an age-old technique for putting a cow on the ground simply by placing a non-choking noose around the neck and then half hitching the rope twice behind the front legs and then in front of the udder. The rope is on top of the cow.
By pulling hard from the back, the cow will go down on the ground (where it is safe, not in a chute).
The animal can then be worked on for various procedures. I have done it myself. I learned it from a fellow rancher who in turn had learned it from an old timer.
This would be especially useful for those small ranchers who don’t have proper cattle handling facilities, although you do need to be able to get the rope around the cow three times.
Even older hands can learn new tricks. Storey’s guides are full of these kinds of things.
David Zirnhelt is a rancher and member of the Cariboo Cattlemen’s Association. He is also chair of the Advisory Committee for the Applied Sustainable Ranching Program at TRU.