Starting with cattle

The main reason for us getting into this smallholding lark in the first place was to produce food for ourselves so that we were assured of the provenance. As we are all fans of dairy produce here – as milk, cream, butter, cheese and yogurt (with a question mark over buttermilk) – and beef, keeping cattle seemed like a natural progression in our smallholding journey.

Having spent a year on a dairy farm, I wasn’t scared of cows – but as I found with sheep-keeping, it’s a slightly different story when the responsibility for decision-making is yours not your boss’s.

If you are smallholding to produce your own food and you have enough land, I think you should think seriously about keeping cattle on a small scale.

Perceived barriers to keeping cattle

Smallholders are put off cattle keeping by several things, I think:

  • the size of a cow and issues around handling;
  • the routine of milking;
  • the requirement for a lot of feed and grazing.

With a bit of planning, most of these perceived problems can be successfully addressed plus there are other advantages in keeping cattle if you keep other grazing species as well.

Firstly, grazing both sheep and cattle on your land is complementary – cattle like longer grass, so they graze the field first; sheep like short grass, so they follow the cattle thus grazing both species in this way increases the yield from your land.

Cattle grazingCattle are excellent complementary grazers to sheep.

Secondly, gastro-intestinal worms are species specific, so the cattle can eat the sheep worm species without harm and vice versa, and in the digestion process, each species destroys the other’s worms so multi-species grazing is good for your grass and for reducing worm contamination. NB Liver fluke is common to both species so cannot be regarded in the same way as other internal parasites.

So, if you think you’d like to keep some cattle, read on. In this short guide, I’ll cover the major points so that you can decide whether cattle-keeping is for you. This isn’t a comprehensive, cover everything guide – that’ll come later.

Rosemary Champion

About Rosemary Champion

Rosemary lives on a 12 acre smallholding in Angus, in the east of Scotland, where she keeps Ryeland Sheep, Shetland cattle and assorted poultry. She was destined to be a smallholder from an early age.

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