First-time cattle ownership for the small landholder

Page last updated: Thursday, 30 December 2021 - 11:12am

Please note: This content may be out of date and is currently under review.

Cattle can be personally and financially rewarding but before getting into beef, small landholders need to consider whether themselves, their family and their farm are ready for a full-time bovine occupation.

Determining your motivation for wanting a herd (such as pasture management, financial gain or personal pleasure), your level of cattle knowledge and skills and the amount of time you have available will provide a sound starting point for making the correct decision.

Consider your farm’s infrastructure (such as cattleyards and properly fenced paddocks), feed availability and the health and regulatory responsibilities that come with being a cattle owner.

If you decide cattle are for you, then it is time to consider the most appropriate breed, type and number of cattle you should purchase.

Your motivations

The reasons behind your decision to invest in cattle will determine the breed, age, gender and number of animals you buy.

If you would like a few cattle to control pastures and to provide meat for your family, a small herd of steers of an easily maintained beef–producing breed such as poll Hereford or Angus would best suit.

If you are interested in running a niche small-breed, the Dexter or Belted Galloway may be ideal. If your ambition is to breed cattle for profit, remember significant time, money and knowledge is needed for it to pay off monetarily.

Choosing a breed

General purpose, purebred or crossbred beef breeds are suitable if your intention is to control pasture and enjoy home-grown meat. These breeds are most easily sourced from local cattle sales or nearby beef producers.

If you were looking at breeding a more niche breed of cattle, it would be wise to contact the relevant breed association to discuss your options.

Attending agricultural field days and workshops is another great way to gather information.

One consideration when selecting a breed is whether you invest in a polled (hornless) or horned breed.

For inexperienced operators, polled breeds are easier and safer to handle.

If you do choose a horned breed, it is advisable to employ the services of an experienced handler or veterinarian who can safely and humanly remove the developing horns of young animals.

Knowledge and skills

While it could be argued cattle are less work than sheep, they still require a great deal of effort. You will need to regularly monitor their feed and water supplies and their general wellbeing.

Depending on the age and sex of the animals you may need to drench, vaccinate, identify, mark (castrate) and wean calves.

Some people can be apprehensive when handling cattle mainly because of their sheer size. For this reason it is important to choose a breed with a good temperament.

You may prefer to employ the services of an experienced cattle handler to carry out some of the more difficult handling activities, such as marking (castration).


Some cattle, especially bulls, can weigh in excess of one tonne so for your herd’s safety, and the smooth operation of your farm, secure fencing is a must.

Safe feed, water and shelter resources are also essential.

A sturdy set of cattle yards with a loading ramp is a staple requirement. The yards will be used when cattle are delivered to your property and when they leave, for handling activities such as marking and vaccination and for weaning calves from their mothers.