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Please note: This content may be out of date and is currently under review.

Types of production and markets

The type of production system you wish to embark on will decide what breed of cattle you will purchase and manage, the labour associated with the type of production and ultimately the markets you will be selling to.

Cow and calf production

This production system will require the largest input costs and labour due to:

  • buying/hiring bulls
  • equipment for marking and castration
  • NLIS tagging
  • veterinarian costs
  • extra paddocks needed to keep bull/s separate, for weaning and for rotating cows and calves through paddocks to reduce incidence of diseases and parasites.

In addition to this system lactating cows require more feed and water than dry, non-lactating cows. The labour needed will be high due to constant checking of cows at calving, marking and weaning.

There is also a significant increase in danger due to handling bulls, protective cows with young calves and marking.

Veterinarian costs may rise due to calving difficulties, scours, metabolic disorders at calving, reduced immune system when cows are pregnant becoming more susceptible to parasites and diseases and vaccinating cows and neonates against reproductive disorders.

Fattening steers and heifers

This is a more straightforward form of cattle production if you are small scale.

The costs and labour associated should be reduced due to no reproduction and therefore no calving and marking.

Calves are generally weaned between 6–9 months of age and then ‘fattened’.

The drawback to this production system is lowered immunity to diseases and parasites as the immune system of the animal develops with age.

As the young cattle are still rapidly growing an elevated level of protein and metabolisable energy will need to be included in their diet.

It is important to plan feed management for the road ahead and know the weights of cattle and the growth rate you would like to achieve. In this case weigh scales should be used to monitor growth.

Cattle identification

All cattle in Western Australia (WA) require an accredited National Livestock Identification System (NLIS) electronic device.  NLIS tags must be applied to cattle:

  • in the south west land division: by 6 months of age or before they first leave the property, whichever occurs first
  • in pastoral areas: by 18 months of age or before they first leave the property, whichever occurs first.

The NLIS provides for individual traceability of cattle and buffalo from the property of birth to slaughter or export.

The movements of each animal must be updated on a national database when they arrrive at a new destination.

Earmarking and branding of cattle are optional.

For more information on cattle identification requirements see the NLIS and cattle webpage.

Are you ready to checklist yourself for cattle husbandry?

  • Are you registered as an owner of livestock and have your PIC, brand, NLIS and waybills organised?
  • Do you have sound cattle yard facilities, crush, and loading race?
  • Do you have a secure perimeter and internal fencing — electric fencing?
  • Is there plentiful clean, fresh water available?
  • Is someone available to check cattle all year round?
  • Do you have knowledge of acreage and ‘food on offer’ to estimate how many cattle you can manage?
  • Do you have knowledge of dry season and short feed supply — pasture growth?
  • Are you able to provide a level of nutrition from feed available in the paddocks plus supplementation if needed?
  • Are you aware of what is acquired for breeding — a bull is required and therefore will need a separate paddock?
  • Do you understand the health risks associated with cattle?
  • Are you familiar with the cattle code of practice?
  • Do you know the stocking rate of your property?
  • Do you have plenty of time for the enterprise?
  • Do you know how to work with cattle to minimise stress?
  • Are you familiar with cattle breeds, production systems and markets?
  • Do you have knowledge of the diseases and parasites that can affect your cattle and the associated symptoms?

For best advice and knowledge contact your local beef producers, veterinarian, rural supply store or industry representative to understand cattle farming in your area.