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How do I start a cattle farm?

Cattle farming is an iconic industry in New Zealand, working in the great outdoors rearing some of the worlds finest produce. With both the dairy and beef industry offering the potential for a personally and financially rewarding lifestyle, how can you prepare your life and land for a new career on a cattle farm? 

Here, we round up the essentials steps, skills and knowledge you need to get going with a bovine bounty, including the best agriculture and farming courses you’ll need to undertake.

What does a cattle farmer do?

To start let’s examine the basics: what does a cattle farmer do?

A cattle farmer’s job can vary daily depending on the season, size of the herd and the subsequent produce they are working towards. Overall, your goal will be to plan, control and coordinate your farm’s operations to efficiently and safely rear cattle for meat, dairy and/or breeding stock. This includes understanding land management, animal health and production schedules.


To start a cattle farm, you need to begin with having the necessary infrastructure in place. 

  • Pasture land that’s large enough for your determined herd size. A full-size cow requires around a hectare of space, so determine how much space you have and you can buy stock accordingly. 
  • Splitting up your land allows you to practice ‘pasture rotation’, which helps to rest and regrow grass as well as allow manure to break down. 
  • As well as pasture, cattle need access to clean water and shelter year-round. 
  • The biggest cows, like bulls, can weigh over a tonne! So for your and the herd’s safety, secure fencing is a must.
  • Sturdy cattle yards and a loading ramp are useful, allowing a smooth operation of the movement of your herd. They will be needed for handling activities such as marking, vaccinations, treatments and for weaning calves.

Choose your breed

Once your land is ready, you can start to choose the breed or breeds that suit you.

Your breed choice is usually dictated by what you want your cattle for. Whether it’s meat production or dairy farming, as well as which breeds are suited to your area, and the size of your available land. 

  • Miniature cows are becoming a popular choice for smaller cattle farms or first-time cattle owners. Breeds such as Dexter, Galloways or Miniature Herefords all fall under this category. 
  • General-purpose beef breeds are usually a little larger and may be horned – which usually requires experienced handling. These breeds can usually be sourced from local cattle sales or other beef producers in the country. These breeds are usually Hereford, Angus or Murray Grey.
  • The milking breeds are usually Jersey, Friesian, Holstein or Ayrshire.
  • Some landowners may want to breed a niche or rare cattle. The best way to begin this route is to contact the relevant breed association who can advise you.

Maintain their general nutrition and health

Once you have your herd, your job is to maintain their general nutrition and health

  • Regularly monitor their feed and water supplies, ensuring a diet rich in fibre with adequate grass.
  • Often a supplementary feed may be required, such as when cows are carrying calves or during drier seasons. A vet can advise on the most appropriate feed and quantity for your herd.
  • Vaccinate, identify, mark and wean calves, as well as harvesting milk if you are operating a dairy business.
  • Administer medical treatment where needed.
  • Prevent the spread of any disease.
  • Dairy cows will need to calve every year or two to maintain their milk supply, which can be achieved artificially or naturally. 
  • Operate parasite and pest control.
  • You may also want to breed from your herd to sell to others, as an extra income stream.

Maintain your farm’s assets

As well as caring for your animals, you will need to maintain your cattle farm’s assets. The equipment required is expensive but necessary, so looking after your buildings, machinery, fences and water supply systems will make them last longer.  

Manage the production schedule

To make a profit, cattle farmers must expertly manage their production schedule. Organising your production process efficiently means you can maximise your profits for all your hard work. Being able to plan the rearing, milking and processing of beef cattle to slaughter on an effective timetable will ensure your prices remain competitive and cost-effective. 

Manage your business

Managing your cattle farm business is also important. Being able to understand how to file accounts and taxes will be crucial to the smooth running of your farm. As well as ensuring you have the correct paperwork in order. For example, in New Zealand, you will need often need to register both your property and your cattle.  These official processes help to minimise disease, through the use of a brand or earmark as an identifier. If you purchase cattle that are already identified, you will need proof of ownership too. 

While the law doesn’t require any degree or diploma to run a cattle farm, it’s clear that running a bovine operation is no easy feat. It requires a depth of knowledge and understanding of both animal husbandry and production processes. 

To develop these essential skills, and to have a great chance of keeping up with your competitors, then it’s ideal to enrol in animal studies online. Our agriculture and farming online courses provide an affordable and flexible way to get the essential skills and inside knowledge you need to grow a thriving cattle farm. 

We have an array of beef cattle, dairy and livestock certificates, which introduce you to all aspects of the job. Including cattle breeds, common ailments and diseases to look for, optimising grazing, the economics of cattle rearing and the full production process. By the end of your course, you’ll understand the fundamentals of herd management, cattle breeding and planning a dairy or beef business efficiently.

Specifically designed to provide you with the skills and knowledge required to grow a healthy, happy herd – start yours today!


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