As an absolute newbie to cattle I'd be interested to know if certain types of cattle are better suited to certain homestead situations, and if so, which ones. For example -- I am only going to get one cow, so it should be ok as a "loner," versus I am interested in a smaller herd. Or what about things like the situation on the land -- hilly, or flat? Or climate? Or presence of other animals, i.e. horses, etc?
No cow is ok as a loner, they can bond with a horse or even a sheep but they must not be kept alone, (it's not even legal to keep a single cow or horse here) pick a cow that comes from a similar climate and area if you can. Highlands for example will manage on horribly boggy hillsides, they'll also manage on lovely flat pasture but you could pick something "softer" there.
Hi! We have a 5 acre homestead, on which we run 3 miniature cattle, to girls and a boy. My understanding is that as herd animals, they are not at all happy when alone. They may bond better to humans in this case, but it isn’t what’s best for them. I’ve heard of people keeping them with other herd animals, such as donkeys or a couple of goats, but other cattle is certainly best for them.
In terms of breed, there are certainly better breeds than others based on climate and intended use. We are in Florida so we have miniature Zebu. They are well suited to our climate based on their evolution; they have a short coat and a lot of subcutaneous fast-twitch muscle, which helps with pests. If we lived up north, perhaps we would consider highland cattle or something like that.
Our primary use here is soil building, as we live on a sugarsand ridge and can’t grow much without a lot of amendment. And cows do one thing very well ;) if you wanted one for milk production you might look at dairy breeds. Same for meat. Grade of milk is a consideration if you want dairy cows, based on buttermilk content. Zebu have very high quality milk, although they are a little headstrong. Ours would NOT tolerate milking. But that’s as much nurture as nature.
Finally, consider whether you have infrastructure in place for cows; shelter, water, adequate fencing (multiple paddocks are better to allow the fields to rest - called rotational grazing or intensive pasture management). And, do you have access to veterinary care? Large animal vets are a different breed than regular vets (pun intended). Will they come to you or do you have to transport your cattle to them? What kind of setup will they require to care for your cattle if they come to you? We use a Temple Grandin design of a sweep, chute with a 180 degree turn, and a squeeze.