Cattle production for small landholders

Page last updated: Thursday, 30 December 2021 - 11:29am

Please note: This content may be out of date and is currently under review.

Are you considering cattle on your property? Then checklist yourself for cattle farming and the road ahead!

Cattle can be a very satisfying, enjoyable and rewarding enterprise if undertaken seriously; remember it is a full time occupation.

All areas of cattle production need to be understood and followed for welfare, safety, biosecurity and regulatory reasons.

What you need/need to know before you start

  • Brand and Property Identification Code (PIC) — all cattle owners must be registered and have a current PIC. Identification of livestock is required by law under the Biosecurity and Agriculture Management (Identification and Movement of Stock and Apiaries) Regulations 2013. Cattle must have the correct National Livestock Identification System (NLIS) identification and their movements from property to property recorded on the NLIS database.
  • Waybill/National Vendor Declaration (NVD) — it is required by law that all movement of cattle from a property is to be recorded in a waybill and accompany the consignment. Cattle arriving on a property/PIC must have their NLIS device scanned and transferred to the new PIC on the NLIS database within 48 hours of arrival. This is the responsibility of the receiver of the stock.
  • Pasture — poisonous plants, knowledge of grazing capabilities.
  • Supplementary feeding — knowledge of seasonal pasture growth and quality and ensure adequate supplementary feeding occurs at times of low growth.
  • Water — low salt levels, less than 8.53g/L water. Dry cattle need up to 50L of water/day, lactating up to 80–100L/day.
  • Correct infrastructure — cattle yards need to be solid and sturdy, along with strong perimeter and internal fencing.
  • Time/labour — regular inspection for general wellbeing of cattle is needed, especially at calving with 2 or more checks per day.
  • Knowledge of diseases, parasites and outbreaks in your area — annual vaccinations/treatments may be necessary for the health of your herd. That is, Clostridial diseases, reproductive diseases, pink eye, leptosporosis (zoonotic) along with althlemintic drenches for parasites.
  • Important to recognise when an animal is healthy and when it is unwell and needing attention.
  • Experience with cattle — know how to work with cattle, low stress handling, along with the dangers associated with cattle.
  • Understand digestive system of ruminants — a ruminant will spend between 3–13 hours/day grazing and between 7–8 hours/day ruminating (chewing it’s cud). The ruminant system uses microbes to help break down feed; sudden changes in diet can cause fatal digestive disorders.

Cattle facts

  • Gestation length — 283 days (9 months)
  • Duration of oestrus — 1 day
  • Oestrus cycle — every 21 days
  • Return after parturition — 3–6 weeks
  • Body temperature — 38.3–38.8ᵒC
  • Weaning — early wean 6 months, late wean 9 months
  • Heifer joining — at 15 months of age if heifers weigh 55–65% of their mature weight
  • Joining period — 6 weeks with maximum 9 weeks
  • Marking — a procedure which includes tagging, castration, branding/marking. Refer to Model Code of Practice for the welfare of animals - Cattle, on performing these tasks and ages by which the procedures need to be carried out by.

Meaning of ‘ruminant’

Cattle are unique in that they have four stomachs in the respective order of rumen, reticulum, omasum and abomasum. In the rumen the breakdown of plant material or grains is achieved through microbial fermentation, supplying about 60% of the animal’s energy requirements.

For effective microbial breakdown of food, the material must be finely chopped and this is why you see cattle regurgitate and re-chew their feed after several hours of grazing.

The feed continues to breakdown throughout the stomachs until the material progresses to the abomasum, where acidic breakdown occurs (monogastrics).

What breed is best suited

Knowing the breeds available is very important in consideration to size, feed consumption, maturity, temperament, and carcase attributes.

It would be beneficial to talk with breed representatives to ensure the breed you are interested in is best suitable for your property, production system/market, lifestyle and district.

Cattle can be classified into three breed types.

Speciality breeds

These breeds are typically smaller breeds suited to smaller property owners due to their size, low feed consumption, easier handling and docile temperaments. For example Dexter, Lowline, minature Herefords, Galloways and Square Meaters.

Bos taurus

Are bred in the cooler (temperate) regions of the world. They can be classified as:

British breeds

Such as Angus, Hereford, Sussex, Red Angus, Shorthorn and Red Poll.

These breeds are associated with early maturing, a docile temperament, medium size and lower feed consumption with good carcase attributes displaying elevated fat levels.

European breeds

Such as Limousin, Simmental, Charolais, Blonde d’Aqutaine, Gelvieh and Salers.

These breeds display characteristic traits of later maturing, larger size, higher feed demand cattle with excellent carcase attributes, exhibiting a leaner, more muscular carcase.

Bos indicus

Bos indicus are well suited to the hotter climates throughout the world.

Noticeable characteristics include humps on necks, loose skin, floppy ears and very soft coats. They are well adapted to the harsh conditions.

Breeds include Brahman, Santa Gertrudis and Droughtmaster.