Cattle Breeds for the Small Farm

Discover five cattle breeds that make great dual- and triple purpose livestock for your small farm.

  • Highland cattle have a distinct look and high-quality beef.
    Photo by Ottmar Bierwagen
  • Discover a breed just right for your homestead like this Guernsey.
    Photo by Lynn Stone
  • Milking Devons are known for being good beef and dairy producers on less-than-perfect pastures.
    Photo by Ottmar Bierwagen
  • Beef Shorthorns, or simply Shorthorns, have been bred towards meat production.
    Photo by Joseph Stanski
  • Though the Milking Devon is rare, the breed is known for rich milk, good meat and plenty of draft power, all in a compact size.
    Photo courtesy The Livestock Conservancy
  • For a family wanting a dairy cow with an easy going attitude, a Guernsey is the way to go.
    Photo by Joseph Stanski
  • Milking Shorthorn cattle are revered for their dairy production.
    Photo courtesy The Livestock Conservancy

One of the most exciting things about living on your own farm is being able to have your own livestock. Taking pride in watching your animals grow up healthy and well cared for, and the satisfaction of producing your own milk, meat, wool or other necessities, are unique pleasures of farm life.

Cattle can be one of the most rewarding livestock to have on the farm. If you are starting a new farmstead venture, or if you’ve been thinking of adding a few head of cattle to your existing farm, here are several things to keep in mind, along with five breeds worth considering.


Cattle can be relatively easy to keep. They don’t require lavish barns and expensive feed, as long as their basic needs for shelter and nutrition are met. If you live in a climate that tends to be more extreme on either end of the weather spectrum, you’ll need to take this into consideration when choosing breed.

Many breeds of cattle started out as “landraces,” or groups of animals that developed certain traits based on the geography and environment in which they lived and to which they adapted. The diversity found among cattle ensures that there are breeds for most every environment, and a breed known to thrive in the heat and humidity of the south may not perform as well in rugged, cooler northern climates.


One major factor to consider is if you plan to raise calves each year. Will you want to keep a bull for natural breeding, or go with artificial insemination (AI)? Having a bull to service your cows is, at least in theory, easier. The bull knows when the cows come into heat, and he will take care of business with no input on your part. But for a small farm without a lot of acreage, having a bull may not be practical. If you want calves at a certain time every year, the bull will have to be kept separate until the appropriate breeding time. This requires good fencing and a well-behaved bull. Letting the bull run with the cow herd year-round is an option, but you lose control over calving times.

Many breeds, especially some of the heritage breeds, are known for having males that are tractable and easy to handle. A good reputable breeder will go out of her way to help you chose a bull that will be as safe as possible, but any intact male deserves respect.

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