How to Start a Cattle Farm on Small Acreage

Can Cow Farming be Done on a Small Homestead?


Learning how to start a cattle farm throws you into the deep end of the homesteading pool. Cattle are large beasts and require strong fencing, water, grazing land or feed and a plan. Knowing why you are raising cattle on your property should be decided first. Breeding for feeder calves, milk production and meat for your table or market are the three main reasons to raise cattle. There are some breeds, such as the Jersey, which can fill all three of the needs. There are many cattle breeds to choose from. Some cattle breeds are chosen by what is available in your area. Miniature cattle should also be considered.

Cattle farming for beginners can be an overwhelming project or a huge success. My first recommendation for people who ask how we raise cattle on small acreage is to start small. In other words, when learning how to start a cattle farm, do not start with many heads of cattle. What is many? Of course, that is a vague term. We began with two Black Angus feeder heifers. Yes, you can raise the heifers for meat too. This also gave us the option of possibly breeding. We did not choose to use that option, but we had it available.

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About a year after acquiring the first two feeder cows, we purchased three more. This was a tricky addition but the price was right. Looking back, I do feel that the additional three cows on our small farm were too much for the land. Cows are large, heavy animals. They eat a lot of hay if you do not have unlimited grazing pasture. The small amount of grazing pasture we did have was quickly eaten. We were able to barter for round bales of hay to keep the cows grass fed.  The amount of hay you will need of course depends on the number of animals and what you have available for forage. In addition, dairy cows may require more protein than what is available in grass hay. Alfalfa hay is higher in protein and calories and may be needed to keep up the dairy cows production.


How to Start a Cattle Farm and Fencing Needs

Fencing is a mandatory part of how to start a cattle farm. Homestead fencing can be wooden board, cattle panels, barbed wire, all reinforced with two strands of electric wire. Cattle may not be the escape artists that pigs are, but they are very hard on fencing. Cows push against fencing while grazing and their weight pushing against the fence can cause the fence to fail. Checking and mending fences will become a part of your daily life when raising cattle.


What Will You Do With the Manure?

Manure management should be considered before you figure out how to start a cattle farm. Just as the amount of food and hay consumed is larger than for other livestock, manure is excreted in greater quantities too. If you are near other neighbors, or in more suburban areas, you may be required to remove the manure from your property rather than compost it on site. Cow manure is smelly. Those who do not raise livestock on their homestead may very well object to the aroma of cow manure wafting across the fence line. Of course, cow manure is a wonderful fertilizer but most of your neighbors won’t care if the smell lessens their enjoyment of being outside. Check the manure regulations first and be considerate of your neighbors when storing manure for future compost.

Taking Care of the Land

Your homesteading land will take abuse from the large size cattle.  We were surprised at how much the ground needed to recover after two and a half years of raising a few beef cows. The manure that was not removed from the pasture quickly piled up. If we had a lot of rain for a few days, the field would turn to mud. The leftover hay from the round bales was smashed into the ground by the heavy cows. After we had all the cows sold and processed, the homesteading land needed to rest for over a year before we could use it for other livestock. Actually, we learned that the space we had available for cattle was not adequate.  Next time we will need to increase the land for keeping cattle by at least two times the three acres we had to use. Each homestead’s land will react slightly differently. I think it is safe to say you will need more than a few acres to raise a small herd of cattle without damaging the land. Keeping one dairy cow will be different than raising five beef cows.


Parasite Control and Pasture Management

Develop a plan for parasite control. When figuring out how to start a cattle farm, figure on two years of keeping the cows healthy, fed and comfortable. Most larger grass-fed cattle farms will practice rotational grazing or forward grazing. These terms refer to how the cows are moved from grazing areas to new grazing areas to keep them from eating grass that is laying near the manure. The manure can break down during the time the cattle are grazing elsewhere, nourishing the land. Meanwhile, the parasites are not being eaten by the host (cow) and die off. The practice not only prevents over-grazing of the grass, it also interrupts the parasite life cycle. If your cattle need to stay in one field primarily, they will probably require a worming program to keep them healthy. Check with your local extension service to find out what you should be worming against in your area.

Cattle Farm

How to Handle Large Animals

Handling the cattle will be necessary, too. Large animals can be unpredictable with serious consequences. Developing almost a sixth sense about where the cattle are and reading their body language is key. Ears pinned back and eyes fixed on you is an aggressive stance. Learn the body language your animals are showing. A calm cow, serenely munching on hay can change direction in a moment if startled or frightened. Cows can also have very sweet dispositions. Dairy cows are usually more docile than breeds raised for beef. Dairy cows are also more used to people as they are used to being milked every day. Respect the size and temperament of your animals for a more pleasant experience.

We tamed our cattle using small amounts of sweet feed. The amount was small so we still considered our beef grass fed. This was a way to get the cows where we wanted them so we could work in the field or spray fly repellent, feed wormer and other herd management needs. While eating, our cows didn’t care what we were doing. The sweet feed was a treat and a good management tool for our use.


Learning how to raise cattle taught us many lessons about homesteading and raising food for our family. Cattle farming for beginners like us was a rewarding effort. We did enjoy the fresh taste of quality, grass-fed beef. Our freezers are getting empty again and it is time to decide how we will fill the need this time around. The biggest lesson we learned is that you can try to raise too many cows at one time on a small farm. Next time, we will either need to increase the space available or raise only two cows at a time. What did you encounter when learning how to start a cattle farm? We’d love to continue the discussion in the comments below.

  • Even though the cost of a Bullcalf can be low, they will cost another $75 or more to get off the bottle when starting out with day-olds. Milk replacer is expensive. Children can be a great help when feeding the calves though, and remember, you will have to feed them a bottle twice a day for those first six weeks to two months. (The calves, not the children!) The best day of all is when the calves start to graze on their own! Costs and effort drop significantly then! Be sure you have a stout breed, especially for your area. 85% of all dairy cows in the US are Holstein. If you are looking for a breed that you can find specific help with when the need comes, it is a good breed and likely to be easy to find help with. (In my area, not many people want to mess with Jersey, and calves have been literally given away or sold at surprisingly low prices due to their frail nature.) There is no use in buying calves and feeding expensive milk replacer to if they are likely to die before you can get them butcher-ready.

  • Lori L.

    We learned the same valuable lessons that you learned. We started with 2 cows and they are now in our freezer. We haven’t decided our future plans yet.

  • We will have about 6 to 7 acres of pasture land to use and would like to get two black Angus cattle. If we divide the pasture in half can we rotate the cattle using only 1/2 of the pasture half of the year and the other half of the pastor during the other half of the year? It seems it would give one side time to regrow while they’re using only half of the 6 to 7 acres. What are your thoughts?

    • You could do that, but your pastures will soon be ruined. During the growing season grass will start regrowing after being grazed in about three days or so. Cows will go after best grass first and eat the less palatable grass after that. But with the good grass starting to regrow, they will go back to it and regraze it. This will stunt the growth of the good grass (and legumes, etc.) and you will end up with a pasture grazed to the ground except for the weeds they leave behind which will grow and reproduce and leave you with more unpalatable weeds in your pasture over time. If, however, you restrict their movement even more with temporary electric fencing and divvy up your two pastures in to the amount they can eat in a day and then move them to a new paddock the next day (prohibiting access to the previously grazed paddocks) it will give the grass time (30-120 days depending on season) to recuperate before you regraze them. I recommend you find youtube videos by Joel Salatin and Greg Judy to get a more complete understanding of proper grazing. Most farmers around me (SW MO) turn their cattle out into a pasture for a month or more before moving them and their pastures are horrible. It’s just sad. They feed hay for months and I never have had to yet (knock on wood!).

      • This is exactly the right way to do it. I am also in SW MO and follow this kind of grazing. It is not expensive to setup and is easily manageable. I second the recommendation of youtube videos of Joel Salatin and Greg Judy. Before I started with cattle I did a lot of research – videos and books on the subject. These two men will get you on the right track. I have 10 acres of pasture and started with 3 bred heifers. The 10 acres are separated by 12 gauge electric wire into 8 paddocks, which I further divide up into smaller cells with enough grass for the day using electric polywire and step in posts. I have enough posts and polywire to setup several cells at once. I can move the polywire and posts on ahead of the cows after they have left grazed cells. Doing this over the last two years I have been able to work my way up to 8 animals on the 10 acres and have not had to feed any hay ever – even after a long drought this summer. That is much more than the 4 acres/cow recommendation from the local USDA office in my county. I do have some hay, purchased from a neighbor, on hand, however, because I’d rather be prepared for any emergency than be caught up in one and no one wants to sell any of theirs. But stockpiling pastures has been the blessing that keeps me from “having to” feed hay. My neighbor, unfortunately, has to feed hay about 4-5 months a year because he turns his cows out on pastures for a few weeks and they do just like described in the previous post. And he thinks “I’m” the crazy farmer!

  • We started homesteading seven years ago with purchase of a Holstein dairy heifer, five days old. We have raised six calves for butcher since then. We have two milk cows, one black angus cow and an Icelandic sheep herd of 25. We have also raised four pigs for butcher fed milk soaked barley and chickens for eggs as well as two gardens for vegetables. We live on a 34 acre parcel that has 24 acres in hay ground. The tightest part for us is during hay season when the animals are moved to two smaller five acre parcels to graze. We have managed to raise about 90% of our food and have learned so much. We started this homestead with no livestock experience and has been one of the most rewarding I have done since raising my children.

  • I’m thinking about buying my mom’s homestead that hasn’t been used for cows or gardening for over 20 years. There is approximately 10 acres that could be used for cattle. Which would be a wiser investment and choice; miniature cattle or full size? I’m a single 55 year old woman who works part time. I am thinking mini cattle would be easier to handle and less destructive on the land but do they have a good return on investment per pound? I live in northeast Texas do winters are usually short and there are is a long growing season for grass. I’m sure I would need to improve the acreage with fertilizer and seed. What would you recommend? I would definitely want to start out with a very small herd. Maybe I should forget cattle and try goats?

  • I m considering 1 or 2 minis on a total of 5 acres. 1 or 2 days per half acre, giving 4 – 5 weeks between grazing each section. Is that even close to reality?


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