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Author Topic: 1st time cattle - steer or heifer? Breeds? Which time of year to get?  (Read 6251 times)

Tina Turkey

  • Joined Oct 2007
Hi folks, as you can tell by title we know zilch about keeping cattle.  We have sheep and poultry and are learning every day from them.

One day we would like to have maybe a cow and her half for milk and meat but we are a bit reluctant to go straight into the world of milking/calving just yet when we know so little so we thought we might try a steer first to get a feel for it and for some meat at the end.

Is the choice of a steer over a heifer for novices a good one?  Whats the best time of year to get one (feed costs etc)?  Whats a good breed?  Is it ok to get one or should we get 2 (we could keep them with the sheep but our sheep are escape artists and have to be fenced in with really good sold netting, which we only have in a couple of areas - we want the cattle to be in another part that we will just use electric wire.  At what age do you slaughter them for meat?

Any advice gladly received.
Much thanks
Tina T
Voss Electric Fence

Corn yr Afr

  • Joined Sep 2009
Re: 1st time cattle - steer or heifer? Breeds? Which time of year to get?
« Reply #1 on: September 24, 2009, 07:39:56 pm »
Hi ya, just about to buy our first cattle, been through your process.

What do you want the animal for?  Milk? Meat? Both?  Can you house it in the winter or are you outdoor rearing?  They are a herd animal and don't thrive on their own, although you can still get great results.  Do you have a friendly (proper) farmer who has experience of cattle?  I do and it really is a godsend.  Using the cattle crush to trim the hooves, dose etc is a real blessing.

They are big animals which can take some handling even when friendly.  A friendly nudge or lean on can be dangerous.


Re: 1st time cattle - steer or heifer? Breeds? Which time of year to get?
« Reply #2 on: October 10, 2009, 07:56:53 pm »

If you want to fill the freezer (and your familys) then go for a commercial steer (or young bull and get him "done"), they sell for between £60 and £400 at our local auctions depending on the breed and quality - this is for young calves. - stay away from things like dexters unless you want to go the rare breed way - but only get 1/2 the meat.

If not weaned consider the cost of milk at £30 + per bag and also the cost of fattening a cow - if on grass will need a LOT ! also the cost of feed and cerials can make it expensive.

As you will be a new herd you will go on annual TB testing.

Also find out how much to slaughter and butcher in your area - can be £200 - £300.

A lot to think about I know - but the maths have got to be right or your Sunday roast could work out very expensive.


Gareth (SfS) - Safe Secure shopping for all your livestock equipment and supplies.
Also for more larger farm related items


  • Joined Jan 2009
  • Pen Llyn
    • Viable Self
Re: 1st time cattle - steer or heifer? Breeds? Which time of year to get?
« Reply #3 on: October 12, 2009, 09:14:21 pm »
I would actually suggest you go with a heifer - you don't need to worry about getting it castrated. Also they will usually finish at lighter weights so you won't be so overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of meat.

Also bear in mind that if the economics of doing your own beef don't stack up (and they don't at the moment with good forward stores regularly making over £1K at market) you have more options, such as selling as a bulling heifer, selling as an in calf heifer (use AI) or indeed if you feel confident enough, calve her yourself.

Recommend British Blue cross with a dairy breed, preferably not the more extreme Holstein types. Jersey is the ideal cross of you can find one. Very docile, easy calving (ideally cross with a limousin or an Angus if you prefer UK breeds), and if you decide to milk they can be pretty milky.
The SHEEP Book for Smallholders
Available from the Good Life Press


  • Joined Jun 2010
i wouldn't recommend belgianblue as an first time cattle buying. my advice is to go for an sussex cow which is an duel purpose breed, milks very well, an hardy breed which lives out produces an good calf ,lives on nowt grass.


  • Joined Aug 2010
    • The World is My Lobster
Re: 1st time cattle - steer or heifer? Breeds? Which time of year to get?
« Reply #5 on: September 24, 2010, 11:44:38 pm »
You could buy a heifer calf 

I don't like markets, as I have to say I think they are stressful places for animals, other than maybe horses. 

I have used Meadow Calves, but there are probably loads of firms around like them.  They collect direct from farms and bring them on to you and they generally have loads of commercial varieties on offer. 

You could have one and hand rear it then it will be happy to live on its own, as it wont know any different, and can then become your house cow or suckler if you choose.

It wont be so daunting as it will be small enough to handle at first, and as it grows so will your confidence  Or f you fancy a Jersey or Guernsey find out the nearest farm and phone to ask if they have a calf and how much. 

You feed it on milk powder from a bucket with a teat for the first few weeks then it can be weaned

All the best
Dark Brown Eggs
To follow my travel journal see

For lots of info about Marans and how to breed and look after them see


  • Joined Jul 2009
  • dorset
Re: 1st time cattle - steer or heifer? Breeds? Which time of year to get?
« Reply #6 on: September 25, 2010, 10:45:12 am »
Just to add to your confusion ....... if you have limited space I would recommend Dexters. We have a small herd of Dexters on our holding. Their size means that you will not be over whelmed by huge volumes of meat ( the meat is exceptionally good ) - you could also keep 2 instead of a singleton which would make life much better for the animals. They are exceptionally hardy and will live outdoors all year round ( ours do ) which is something to take into consideration if you have limited facilities. Steers may be the best bet for starters , they often arrive having been castrated as this has to be performed fairly early. Your cattle will be with you in all weathers so I think any time of year is the time to get them .... this years' early calves will be weaned and ready by now.
When the time comes  - ours go at around 24 months. Our last bill for slaughter from our abattoir was £105. for slaughter and £30 for delivery back to us.
We started with 2 cows with a calf at foot each. The cows are not for food - their offspring are. We have had some fantastic beef - and have been able to pay our rent for extra grazing with beef.
We do have the help of our neighbouring farmer and I think you need to make sure that you have someone to turn to when things go wrong ( and they do ! ). Also if you don't have a crush you will need somewhere that does when it comes to TB testing and other procedures.
As a Dexter keeper , I have not been aware of going down a 'rare breed route' - they are just another breed of cattle and have been exceptionally easy to handle and care for.
By the way , if you are interested we do have a heifer in calf for sale !
Good luck with your project - I hope you make a good choice that matches your needs. Everyone is different !!


  • Guest
Re: 1st time cattle - steer or heifer? Breeds? Which time of year to get?
« Reply #7 on: December 07, 2010, 06:32:30 pm »
why dont you consider shetland steers? theyre hardy and kind and still got good enough beef.


  • Joined Oct 2007
  • Barry, Angus, Scotland
    • The Accidental Smallholder
Re: 1st time cattle - steer or heifer? Breeds? Which time of year to get?
« Reply #8 on: December 07, 2010, 07:10:45 pm »
We've bought two March 2010 Shetland heifers with the intention of producing dairy products for us and beef for us / for sale in due course. We couldn't get a house cow so decided on two calves instead that we can get used to us. They are now almost halter trained and just lovely.

If you haven't looked, there's stuff on the main TAS website about them - Breeze and Blizzard.

The Shetland is a dual purpose breed, very canny natured, small (48" at the shoulder) and thrifty but capable of producing calves to beef bulls, should you want to. The problem has been in supply of pure bred calves. Because they can be crossed to continental bulls, this has become the norm in the Shetland Islands, drying up supply of pedigree stock. We were very lucky to get our two.

If you are interested, contact the Shetland Cattle Breeders Association - the secretary Barry Allen is just a lovely man and very helpful. He may be able to source suitable stock for you. Or if you are prepared to wait until October 2012, we might have a heifer calf for sale  ;D


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