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Please note: This content may be out of date and is currently under review.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

Dietary requirements

It is essential to compare the feed requirements of your intended herd with your property’s grazing capabilities.

The feed requirements of cattle vary depending on their size, age and class (e.g. whether they are steers, heifers or bulls). Cows carrying calves need significantly more feed than dry cows.

Establishing healthy pastures is important to ensure the health of your herd. Pasture growth will vary depending on the soil types, rainfall and seasonal conditions.

In dry seasons, or outside the main pasture growth periods, you may need to supplementary feed your herd with hay or specialised grain.

Seek advice from your vet on the most appropriate feed and quantity.

For efficient grazing management, consider fencing off a number of smaller paddocks within the boundaries of the property so you can move cattle from one paddock to another.

This practice is known as rotational grazing and allows paddocks to ‘rest’ and regenerate between grazing.

Animal identification and movement

All livestock owners within WA must be registered and their stock identified in accordance with the Biosecurity and Agriculture Management (Identification and Movement of Stock and Apiaries) Regulations 2013 (BAM (IMSA) Regulations).

When you register, you will receive a certificate that shows your Property Identification Code (PIC), the properties registered to run on and your registered identifiers - a brand and an earmark.

All cattle must be fitted with an National Livestock Identification System (NLIS) electronic device. NLIS is a permanent, whole-of-life identification that enables animals to be tracked from property of birth to slaughter.

Any movement of cattle (one or more animals) between properties with different PICs must be recorded on the NLIS database.

You or your agent need to notify the NLIS database within 48 hours that the cattle are now located on your property, unless you purchase them from a saleyard where it will be done for you.

Any cattle being transported must also be accompanied by a national vendor declaration (NVD) waybill.

NVD-waybills are available by becoming accredited with the Livestock Production Assurance (LPA) program. The LPA can be contacted on 1800 683 111.

You will need to provide your PIC details at ordering and understand the requirements of accreditation. NVD/waybills are supplied pre-printed with the owner’s PIC.

Earmarking and branding of cattle is optional. If you purchase cattle that are already branded or earmarked, you do not have to re-identify them however you must have documentation to show ownership. 

More information on identification requirements are available on the NLIS and cattle webpage.

Cattle can be personally and financially rewarding but before deciding on starting a beef enterprise, do your research. Consider the capabilities and limitations of both your farm and yourself and choose the best breed and enterprise structure for you.