Unless you have plenty of land with good grazing and adequate water, some good outbuildings, some experience with cattle, lots of time on your hands and serious commitment, it is not recommended that you keep cattle on a smallholding.
Cows are immensely high-maintenance – they are demanding in physical, financial and emotional terms. And calves and bulls are not much easier.
Before you do anything, consider why you want to keep cattle. You need to be honest with yourself and brutally realistic.
Do you like the idea of looking out of your window and seeing a cow contentedly grazing in your field? Do you think you need to keep some animals to keep the grass down? If these are your reasons for buying cattle, you would do much better to get livestock that does not require so much commitment, such as a few sheep.
Has your family traditionally kept a few cows or do you perhaps remember spending school holidays on your grandfather’s farm?
Keeping a few cattle in a rural area with plenty of grazing and family members to help is not the same as keeping them on a smallholding close to town.
You need to be aware that farming methods have changed and that if you visited a family farm as a child, you were probably unaware of what went into the keeping of even a small herd.
In peri-urban areas there are also stricter bylaws that need to be followed.
Some people have the idea that keeping some cattle will be a way of boosting their income. If you think this is an opportunity to get rich quick (or get rich at all), go and speak to the handful of smallholders or small farmers who keep cattle commercially. Hear from them how much you have to invest and how long, if ever, it takes to make a profit.
Or maybe you just want to keep a cow so that you can have fresh milk and be able to make butter and cheese. This sounds wonderful but are you going to be able to cope with the amount of milk that just one cow gives? Or do you think you’ll sell the surplus? Well, you will then have to get a permit to do this, which will mean having your premises inspected and constantly maintaining very strict hygiene rules. Even if you are just informally supplying friends and neighbours, it is still a serious commitment for health reasons.
In future posts we will go into more detail about the practicalities of keeping cattle.