Use Of Stocker Calves In Small Acreage

Stocker calves are a good option to raise in small acreage. For this situation to work, stocker calves are either 1) weaned calves of suitable age and body condition for a grazing program, or 2) heifers with brood cow potential, grazed from weaning (at least 4 months old) to yearling age (12 to 14 months old).

Feeder calves, in contrast to stockers, are weaned calves bound for a feed yard because of their weight, age, body condition and/or the market conditions. (An example of a feeder calf would be a fat steer weighing more than 650 pounds.)

Cattle prefer grass rather than browse (trees and shrubs) or forbs (weeds). If your acreage has mostly grass, cattle should do well. However, if you don’t have enough forage to support at least eight to ten stockers for at least 4 months, you shouldn’t choose this enterprise.

In a stocker calf enterprise, your primary product is the forage (grass) and you sell that product by marketing calves you own and have grazed, or by allowing others to graze their animals on your land. A stocker calf enterprise offers these benefits:


Landowners do not have to own the cattle. When grass is available, grazing can be leased to someone who is willing to pay to graze their stockers on your property. Selling grass usually incurs less risk than buying cattle.

Minimal facility requirements. Stockers can be grazed without an investment in large facilities and handling equipment, unlike a perennial cow/calf operation. The minimum requirement is a small pen or corral from which calves can be loaded into a trailer. Portable cattle panels can be used instead of permanent facilities.

The property should have a permanent perimeter fence constructed with at least five barbed wires, with the top wire at least 50 inches above the ground. Seven barbed wires or 48-inch net wire with two barbed wires above it would be preferred. Barbed wires above the net wire should be either close together (less than 2 inches apart) or far apart (at least 6 inches apart) so they will not catch the leg of a jumping deer. Electric fencing is suitable for internal partition fences but not for a perimeter fence.

The health of incoming calves is of paramount importance to any stocker operator, but especially to the small acreage landowner. A lack of handling facilities combined with inexperienced caretakers could result in a disaster.

Ideally, a group of calves would come directly from the ranch where they were born, preferably from within the county or from an adjacent county. Calves from several sources, or from a commission company, are more likely to incur health problems.

Heifer development is a very viable enterprise for small acreages. Many Texas cow/calf producers have a 1-1-1 operation—one herd, one bull, all in one pasture. As a result, it is difficult for them to develop replacement heifers. The small acreage owner could establish a cooperative agreement with such a producer to pasture weaned heifers for 6 to 8 months and then return them to their owner. An attractive part of this arrangement is the well defined grazing period.

How to Begin

Before looking for stocker calves to pasture, the landowner should decide on an appropriate, yet negotiable, price for the pasture and management services provided. The simplest arrangement is to sell the grazing rights and let the owner of the cattle be responsible for their management. Grazing can be priced several ways, including:

  1. Cents per pound of weight gain,
  2. Dollars per head per month, or
  3. Dollars per hundredweight of initial weight.

The simplest plan is a fixed rate per head per month. With this arrangement no scales are required and the profit or expense can be calculated easily by all parties involved. In general, the monthly pasture charge for calves ranges from $5 to $15 per head. If you include management services such as monitoring water supply, distributing salt, or putting out mineral supplements, supplemental feed or hay, you would charge more. The time required to perform these services depends upon the equipment you have, the size and arrangement of your pastures, and the number of stocker calves involved.

When you are ready to begin, you will need to make contact with cattle producers who need pasture. Newspaper ads and notices posted at feed stores and livestock commission companies can help. Large animal veterinarians and county Extension agents might also help put you in touch with cattle producers.

Why not cows?

Some might wonder why a typical cow/calf operation would not work on small acreage. There are several reasons.

An 1100-pound cow will consume 22 to 33 pounds of forage or 1/2 a square bale of grass hay each day. If a typical stocking rate for native range is 25 acres per animal unit, then 100 acres might support only four animal units, assuming all 100 acres produce grass and are grazable.

It is not economically feasible to own a bull for fewer than 10 to 15 cows. Bulls require even more feed than cows and are hard on facilities and fences.

A cow/calf enterprise is not flexible. When drought reduces available forage, producers must either buy expensive feed or sell some cows to prevent overgrazing. This is the time when cattle prices are lowest. Then, after rains have come and grass has grown, producers buy more cows when prices are highest. With a sell low/buy high strategy, an operation can not be economically viable.

Facilities for managing large animals are expensive and reduce the acreage available for grazing.

A cow/calf operation requires considerable animal husbandry skill. A beef cow represents a $400 to $1000 investment. Naturally, the owner is economically and humanely compelled to care for the animals, but illnesses, injuries, birthing complications and preventive health programs often intimidate the inexperienced producer. Veterinary services can be expensive. Animals must be transported to a veterinary clinic in a trailer (another investment) or the producer must find a veterinarian willing to make “house calls.”

For more information on this or any other agricultural topic please contact the Hopkins County Extension Office at 9043-885-3443 or email me at [email protected].

– Submitted by Dr. Mario Villarino, Hopkins County AgriLife Extension Agent for Agriculture and Natural Resources.

Author: KSST Contributor

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