After all the research you did and finally settling on the best cattle to bring home to your farm, comes the fun parts: getting things ready to go prior to their arrival, and getting them accustomed to their new home and new owner[s].
Getting things prepared before the arrival of your first animals is important. For one it doesn't leave you scrambling at the last minute to get things that you should've got days before your animals came, and for another it's less stress on you because you made sure you prepared for their arrival ahead of time. Although, I'm sure you've heard of the phrase that nothing makes a procrastinator more productive than getting things done at the last minute!
Three primary things need to be done before the animals set foot on your land: You need proper fencing to keep them in, good feed available to them, and water.
Prior To Arrival: The Fence
The tendency of animals to want to escape to try to head back from whence they came is pretty strong in most animals that get moved to new surroundings. While we can only surmise why animals escape to travel back home, we may be able to safely guess that it may be partly because of the stress and vulnerability they feel in association with such an unfamiliar environment, and because they feel far safer and secure back where the sights, smells, tastes, and feels are most familiar.
This is why making sure that you have some good solid fencing in place where your first cattle are unwilling to attempt to escape from is important. Fencing should be permanent, sturdy, with no weak spots (broken boards, or broken wires). This fencing will form a corral to keep your animals in for one to two weeks or so to allow them to settle in to their new home.
Cattle panels kept in place with fence posts is a good example of a typical fence set up for a holding corral. Wooden board fences work just as well, though are a bit more time consuming and expensive to purchase and put up than panels and a bundle of fence posts you can get through Tractor Supply or (here in Canada) Peavey Mart. Mind renting a post pounder as well, unless you want to dig post holes by hand.
A holding corral is going to be important particularly when you're bringing home animals that are not used to something like a temporary electric fence, and may be quite prone to walking fences and testing their holding ability. Yearlings and weaned calves are particularly infamous for testing fences in this manner, particularly when they are spending their first few days at their new home.
Normally I wouldn't recommend putting your new animals into an area where they are only being held by a temporary electric fence, unless you're certain that they're already trained to such a fence, you've made very sure that it is "hot" (where it has that pulsating electrical current that is going to give the animals a good ZAP if they touch it) prior to getting them off the trailer, and you're willing to spend an hour watching them and observing their interactions with the new fence; a particular interaction which results in at least one of the herd receiving a good shock when their nose touches the wire.
Attaching flagging (surveyor's) tape that flaps away at the slightest breeze and gets their attention is a great idea to let them know not only where the wire is, but also to entice them to test the fence and learn an important lesson of not to mess with it any further. Strips from plastic shopping bags also work just as well, and are a lot cheaper to use than a roll (or more) of surveyor's tape.
Prior to Arrival: Feed
When my folks brought a new pot load of weaned steer calves home, we could only guess (and it was a safe one at that) as to what feed they were used to prior to their arrival to the farm. This was because these calves were purchased through the livestock auction mart, not directly from another rancher. However, because the standard feed of all farms for pretty well all cow-calf operations is hay, we already knew what was the best feed to put out. Thus, Dad would make sure to put out a couple of good hay bales for the weaner steer calves to eat on as soon as they were unloaded from the truck.
Hay is the mainstay of most all farms. It's certainly common sense that some good quality hay should be put out in ample quantity before your first animals come off the trailer. In addition to that, make sure you've already purchased at least a month's (preferably longer) supply of hay to hold you over until you need to make another hay run.
Good hay should be green in colour, have a sweet smell to it, and have a fair bit of leaf matter in it. If the hay you're looking at looks much yellower or brown, has plenty of stems in it, and smells dusty or mouldy, it's time to go find another hay seller. That latter hay is not going to be of much nutritive value for your animals.
When it comes to other feeds, and if it's possible to do so--particularly if you're purchasing your first animals directly from another farmer--it would be very worth while to find out what other supplemental feeds that the seller is feeding their animals; particularly the ones you have decided on bringing home. These feeds may be a particular grain (oats, barley, corn, or peas for example), a "complete feed" mix, a salt-mineral mix, range or alfalfa pellets, or a type of salt block; the latter four from a particular supplier to one of the local feedstores. Knowing those feeds and bringing such feeds home for the first several days of introduction will help ease introductions by giving your new animals something that they're already familiar with.
Because this post is only about getting your animals home, I will not go into what kind of feeds you should be feeding them. That is a can-of-worms question that I will talk about at a later date... so stay tuned!
Prior to Arrival: Water
Ready access to water is extremely important for your animals. It is an essential nutrient that should never be ignored.
Your animals may be quite thirsty by the time they come off the trailer. They may have had a long way to travel, or the stress of getting loaded up, then travelling for a ways before being unloaded to a brand new location may cause some level of dehydration. Make sure that tank (or automatic waterer is fully operational, if you already have one) is full when those animals' hooves hit the ground on your home place.
Very basic, yet labour-intensive water infrastructure is just simply a big 10-gallon stock tank that you fill up periodically with water pumped via the garden hose.
If you have the money to do so, putting in an automatic livestock waterer that eliminates that chore of watering your animals twice daily could also be a good idea, but be mindful that the location you choose to put this permanent watering source is going to be a decent location; not one you're going to regret later on. There's other details to keep in mind: having a large enough cement pad that the animals' back hooves aren't going to constantly be digging up a mud hole; digging down with a backhoe to attach to a water line, or lay out a water line if there's not one already; making sure where the waterer is going isn't going to disrupt or wreck other lines such as natural gas, electrical, or even current and much older water pipelines.
If this is a new-to-you piece of ground that you're starting out on, and those automatic waterer[s] aren't there yet, keep in mind that such infrastructure really should come later after you've gotten more familiar with your farm and how you find things are working for you.
Prior to Arrival: The Trailer
Unless you're bringing home some newborn calves that can fit in the backseat of your car or van, you need a livestock trailer to bring home any animals that weigh well over 200 pounds. That's just the logical thing.
However, when I say you "need" a livestock trailer, that actually doesn't mean you must go out and purchase a brand new stock trailer that may end up sitting in the yard for most of the year, if not for the next several years! No, that's actually highly unnecessary, particularly when you're just starting out with a few animals.
You have several options to choose from in getting a trailer to bring your animals home in. One option is renting a trailer from a dealership or farm equipment rental place that is willing to lease out one of their trailers for a day or two. This is good if you have your own pick-up (with a hitch attachment--very important) to put to work for the job.
A second option is borrowing a trailer from a neighbour. If you don't have a truck, they may even allow you to take both the truck and the trailer to go pick up your new herd. Just make sure that when you bring the outfit back that you left it in better shape than when you first climbed into the driver's seat. That means cleaning out any of your garbage, maybe even going as far as vacuuming it out and putting it through the car wash; not only that, but giving the trailer itself a thorough cleaning so that it's ready to go for the next batch of hoofed passengers. I have no doubt your neighbour will very much appreciate it!
A third option is the seller will offer to deliver your animals to your farm. Expect a fee on top of the price paid for your new animals to pay for their fuel mileage. This is a very good deal especially if you don't know any neighbours who are willing to lend their trailer outfit, if you're not confident driving and towing a trailer, and if you don't have any local dealerships available where you can rent a trailer from. If the seller offers you to do delivery, jump on it!
A fourth option is hiring someone who has a truck-and-trailer outfit to bring your animals home for you. This is probably the least cheap option of all four that I mentioned here, but it's an option worth considering if the seller doesn't do delivery, if you don't (or can't) rent or borrow a trailer, or no matter what you just are not comfortable and confident with hauling a trailer yourself. I would suggest hiring someone who has a lot of experience with hauling livestock, as they should know everything from how to load to how to keep them safe throughout the trip.
It's always so exciting to have some new animals come on to your property. I know because every year my father purchased a new group of calves after the last bunch were sold and shipped out, it was always a time of apprehension and excitement to see what group of calves we got this time around.
For you, who are just getting into cattle as a brand new cow owner, I can bet you'd be just tickled to get those animals home. The excitement from the animals' point of view may be more of a nervous tension as they're arriving to a place they've never been before, with new sights, new smells, new tastes, and new sounds that may cause some level of curiosity, but undoubtedly a level of fear as well.
The next couple of weeks (or longer) is where you will have to express a lot of patience and diligence, as there's no guarantee that these animals are going to be totally tameable pets that you can just throw a halter on and start brushing down and pampering to your heart's desire.
Making the Introduction
The first couple of weeks is going to an important duty of getting to know your animals and having your animals getting to know you.
Remember that the one with the regular chore of feeding and watering those animals is the person whom those animals are most likely going to bond with. Anyone in your family who wants to also bond with these animals must also participate in the feeding chore; although with young children I would strongly advise against this (especially since these are cattle we are talking about, not chickens, yearling sheep, or young pigs). But with youth and young adults, this is a perfect opportunity to teach them about the responsibilities of working with and feeding animals in their care.
If you are keen to get these animals tame enough to halter-train them or brush them down, and the animals that have come off the trailer would rather keep you at the other end of the corral, as I said earlier patience and diligence is needed to earn their trust and get them much more comfortable with you. Time is on your side, and it will take plenty of time to get them to at least the point where you can reach out scratch the chin of at least one of the herd without them running away.
What you'll need to do is to spend a bit more time with then beyond just showing up with the hay bale and the garden hose.
Sit by the fence (especially if they're showing that they're really shy and cornering themselves too much in the corral when you go in) with a lawn chair and read a book out loud to them for five to ten minutes. I highly recommend to do this for the first few days or so, until they start showing they're more relaxed and (even better) coming up to the fence to sniff you. Increase the time you spend reading to them. Also, try moving closer to them by getting on their side of the fence and doing the same thing, and see how they react to you. End the session on a good note, as in when they're showing "disinterest" by going back to eating or chewing cud. (Animals that are comfortable will eat or start chewing cud. If they're not, they won't eat nor begin chewing their cud.)
Change things up by just standing around, either on the other side of the fence (at first), to on the same side and reading to them or talking to them. Or, just read silently. If you've got other family members interested in what you're doing, get them to do the sitting, standing around, reading aloud, and talking to the animals as well.
Basically what you're trying to do is just get them accustomed to your voice and your scent, and to learn to associate you (and other members of your family) with good things. Treats are optional, though recommended, as cattle are most certainly food-motivated.
Will Do Anything for Treats!!
When I work on taming some steers I like to deposit some treats a little ways away to get them more interested in me. I've always found a good handful of grass I ripped out from a nearby area works wonders to get some steers interested in me. In your case, those treats could be a little pile of grain or alfalfa pellets.
At first, when I leave a pile of grass in front of me, I have to move away the first two or three days before a few brave animals come up to sniff then grasp that fresh-torn big handful with their tongues and curl it up into their mouths, chewing with relish. By the third day, I have a few brave steers waiting at the fence for some free treats. So I give them some, spend no more than five to ten minutes with them, then go on and do something else. I leave on my terms (usually), and with a positive impression.
By that time I'm also working to tempt at least one to take a shy grasp of grass from my hand. It doesn't take long for one steer to build up to four or more (after a few more days) to be convinced that it's so darn good to be eating from my hands.
Fast forward two weeks later, I can have the ENTIRE HERD lined up at the fence just waiting to get their fair share of grass I grabbed up for them! Not only that, but I've already had a fair number that can already be hand-fed, and eagerly wait for more. Despite that, there's still a fair number that are still pretty shy about me when I go up to the fence, and back off beyond arm's reach as I approach, but honestly if I took more time with them to get them more comfortable with me, soon they too are happy to be hand-fed as well.
You can say I've had plenty of experience "spoiling" the steers we'd get! Not quite to petting-zoo-friendly, but close (sorta).
I work then to try to get to scratching one under the chin, then eventually to under the cheek. Very short duration, just to start giving them the feeling that beyond just giving them tasty treats, I'm also a source of good scratches.
This is perfectly attainable for you to do as well. Just remember that things need to be done in baby steps, and that the first time something is done is always the worst. The second, third, fourth, etc., always comes easier than the last. Don't expect things to progress quickly over a couple of weeks, as this could take several months, if not a year or two, to accomplish the lofty goal you had in mind from the very beginning.
Also remember: pressure, and release. Release is the reward. Leave (and release pressure) on your terms, not theirs. Don't outstay your welcome: keep the sessions short and sweet (especially at first), and come back the next day (or a few days later if you must) for the next session. Slowly increase the time you spend with them, little by little. Once you've got at least the brave ones comfortable with you, start working on the shy ones.
Stockmanship and learning to properly herd them in a stress-free manner is also going to help you immensely in gaining their trust and to make them more at ease around you. It sounds counter-intuitive, but in some cases it's a tool in your tool chest that may be better than just sticking with spoiling them with treats.
If you have any questions or comments that pertain to your own personal farm, please shoot me a message by filling out the form in the CONTACT ME page.
I'll be happy to hear from you and help you out with whatever you need.
Range Nerd, Forage & Grazing Fanatic and a Bovine Enthusiast. A love for farming, and for the soil.
This is a specialty "farmers/ranchers only" section where I share and expound on the various tips, tricks, and information on how to raise cows and cattle, from feeding and grazing to breeding, to handling and keeping them healthy. This blog is for anyone who wants to raise cows, or are already doing so!