In this article, “New Rancher in Town,” I talk about a series of events that led me into purchasing, transporting and raising cows on my property in New Hampshire.
The last thing I ever thought I would be is a rancher. I’ve worn a lot of hats, gardener, poultry farmer, even tree farmer. Some have gone better than others, but I never imagined I’d be a rancher. In this article, I will describe some of the events and decision points that led me to becoming a rancher, albeit a very small rancher.
I do not think that going all the way back to my childhood is useful in describing what led to me becoming a rancher aside from one fact that is, as a child, I spend an inordinate amount of time outdoors. I live on a former dairy farm, and although the farm was not active, there was a lot of land and old farm equipment around. I used to love exploring the land and building forts like any outdoor kid does.
I would estimate that in college was when I first became interested in the idea of owning a home on a large piece of land that I could hunt, raise animals and use the resources (such as timber for firewood and lumber) to be as self-sufficient as possible. I was by no means one of those off-grid people who live hidden in some corner of the earth, but I certainly appreciate the idea of using the resources available around me to sustain my family and myself.
When I was a ween 12 years old, I took my hunter safety course with the intent to hunt big game like Davy Crokett and live off the land. My best friend’s dad took us to the classes and we were able to learn the ropes and earn our certificate of completing, it was a big day. My friend and I couldn’t wait to go hunting. My friend’s dad agreed to take us out back behind his house for a “Big Squirrel Hunt.” So much excitement and anticipation went into that morning that when he showed up to pick me up and saw me in shorts and sandals he had to remind me that we were going hunting and sent me back in the house to put on some pants and boots. We went out and were each able to bag a couple squirrels, but I was hardly a fan of the idea of sitting and waiting, I wanted to stalk them! But I did learn a few lessons that day about hunting which I still remember today.
My friend’s dad explained that the most effective way to hunt is with your eyes. Sit still, minimize head movement, and just use your eyes to hunt. Man, that was a hard way to hunt for a 12 year old. Anyway, If I recall, the only time I went hunting after that day was one time with my dad, which was another squirrel hunt back behind our house. I didn’t mind the hunting part, but I certainly was not into the butchering part at the time.
In college I met an interesting guy who I befriended and he was definitely a apocalyptic, civilization on the edge of collapse, type of guy. He wasn’t a conspiracy theory type, but he didn’t trust our food supply. He got me thinking a lot about how to be more self-sufficient in my walk of life.
It wasn’t until after I met my future wife in college that I went hunting again. This time was big game, deer. I had no idea what I was doing so I just stood in the woods freezing to death and waited. That first time a deer ran by me and stopped about 30 yards from me, but I knew that my father-in-law was somewhere behind the deer, so I didn’t take a shot. It was a nice looking buck, but he got a free pass that day. I really enjoyed that hunting experience that day. My father-in-law got a doe and I volunteered to drag it back to his house, which was quite a challenge, but we made it.
After that initial trip, I started hunting deer as much as possible. every weekend for the next five or six years, I was out in a tree stand during the season. Living in upstate NY, you could get multiple permits for deer in one season so I often found myself with two or three deer a year. I was not into big horns like some are, I mostly cared about filling the freezer with meat and feeding my family.
During this time I would regularly take my deer to a local processor who would butcher the animal and part them out into nice vacuum sealed bags of meat. One time I delivered a deer to the processor and it was 70 degrees out and the worker told me to just leave the deer out with the others and attach the cut sheet to it. Well, the others were sitting in a pile all together with mud and flies all over them. I decided at this point that it was time to learn how to butcher my own deer. With the help of my friend’s father, I was able to learn and never took an animal to a processor again.
Stepping up to Chickens
After getting a taste for harvesting my own meat, I decided to step up to raising some animals for the purpose of meat production. Not knowing any better, I researched the largest chicken breed available and orders twenty five of them in the mail. They were of course the Cornish Cross meat birds. When they arrived in the mail, I was certainly excited to introduce them to the nice brooder I put together from a Chick kit I bought online. Those things grew fast. before I knew it, they were jumping out of the brooder and making a huge mess in the garage. They would get dust everywhere!
As they grew, it was obvious they needed to move out of the garage and into a chicken coop, so I built a 12′ x 12′ coop, and made a large run for them to go it. But as they got older it became obvious that they had no interest in doing any walking, all the did was eat and get fat. They are just kinda gross animals.
Once they were of age to butcher, I processed them, one by one by myself. It seemed to take forever. After some time, I got better at the butchering part, but the whole process from start to finish just took a very long time. Its also mentally difficult to ‘put them down.’ You get used to it after a while, but its still a hard task.
That first batch of chickens certainly gave me a lot of meat, but I just did not like that breed, so I went with a meat/egg laying breed for the next few years and usually only got around ten, rather than 25. I will say, there is a significant difference in size between the two types of birds and I felt like the amount of work that goes into butchering the smaller breed just isn’t worth it, so I would usually just keep them for eggs.
Time for Something Bigger
We’ve raised chickens for over a decade at this point and it became obvious that we needed something with a little more meat on the bone. After moving to New Hampshire, I had much less success deer hunting and I started looking into something to raise that would give us more meat. We didn’t have much land and our property was very rocky and difficult to navigate. So after doing some research, it seemed like goats might be the answer to my quest for livestock.
I spend countless hours researching goats. From breeds, to fencing, to butchering. I came up with estimates for all the fencing and buildings I would need as well as figuring out how many to buy for the space we had available. There was one lingering problem, I’ve never eaten goat meat nor has my family. I had this big plan for a good reliable source of meat, but I didn’t even know what they tasted like.
Around the time this was all happening, COVID hit and my plans got put on the back burner. My wife and I also decided to move to a new house as we clearly were outgrowing the one we had. During the search for a new place, I was keeping a close eye for a large tract of land that would allow me to raise animals. The market was not great, and i can tell you that if you add a search filter for 3+ acres of land, your results are microscopic. You either find a house that was built in 1705 and needs everything repaired or you find the piece of land… with no house on it.
Thankfully one day a house popped up that met our size needs and also had quite a bit of land. We got in for a walk though immediately and put in an offer that day. Our offer was accepted and before we knew it we were moving in. If you think moving is stressful, try moving farm animals! we had to take a few dozen chickens with us along with our quails.
Enter the Cow
A few months after moving, I received a call out of the blue from a gentleman I go to church with, we asked me if I’d be willing to help him butcher a cow. Through past conversation, he know I was a deer hunter and that I butcher my own deer, so he thought I might be able to give him a hand in exchange for some meat. I was eager to assist, but i made it clear that I’ve never butchered a cow before.
On butcher day, I met him at his house and I saw that he had a number of cows. He had a half dozen Scottish Highland cows and I checked them out and thought they were a pretty cool breed. I worked with him to process the cow he had ready and I found it wasn’t all that different than a deer. I also came home with quite a lot more meat than I expected, so it was a good experience.
It took me a few long months before I started to seriously consider the idea of getting some cows. I asked my friend if I could come by his farm and ask some questions and he was more than happy to have me over. He shared all kinds of great information and showed me all around his farm. I left there with information overload.
A week later, he called me up and said he could take me to visit the rancher where he got his cows so we made plans to ride down there. More information overload. This gentleman we visited had a lifetime of experience and he was very accommodating. I asked him if he had any cows for sale and he pointed one out and said that one over there is. Just like that, I bought my first cow. Now things were serious.
After leaving the farm that day, I was riding with my friend and he offered to sell me one of his cows so I would at least have two. They do much better when they have a friend I’m told. So now I own two cows and I have nothing, not even a fence at my house. I worked out a plan with my friend that we would transport the cow to his ranch and she would be exposed to his bull for forty five days in an attempt to breed her.
This gave me forty five days to build a coral and fence in a large area of my yard to use as a pasture. it was December in the northeast, so I needed to get those posts in the ground before the ground froze. so every free moment I had was outside digging hole and building the corral. Thankfully my kids are at an age that they can operate power tools, so they were able to help me out.
A few weeks before it was time to move the cows, I was having a very hard time securing a means of transportation for the animals. I was asking around and was led to someone who lived a few minutes from me that was selling their horse trailer for a reasonable price, so I jumped on it. I was not looking to buy a trailer, but I figured I could always sell it if I didn’t need it any longer.
Moving day was much anticipated. I pulled my new trailer over to my friends ranch and I was nervous about all the things that might go wrong. I’ve never pulled a livestock trailer, let alone one with live animals in it. It was quite unnerving. But, it needed to be done, so I went for it. I brought the cows over to my farm with the brand new corral and we let them free in the corral for the first time. It was recommended that we leave them in the corral for a few days so they would get used to the space before letting them out in the pasture, so that’s what we did. What a relief having them safe and sound at our ranch for the first time.
I certainly could have gone on and on about many parts of this story, but for the sake of making a few important points, I skipped over some parts. The cows have been at our farm for a little over six months at this point and it seems like we just keep learning one thing after another. I hope to share some of these lessons over time in an effort to save others some pain and aggravation. But for today, I’d like to say thank you for reading this and I hope you’ll return in the future. Please feel free to check out out You Tube videos if you would like to see our cows in action.