Smallholder dairying is promoted as a fast track to development for East African farmers through schemes which provide dairy cows to poor households. This article explores issues arising in the care of dairy cows distributed through development projects in South Eastern Tanzania. Animal mortality is high and milk yields far lower than expected. Problems of livestock management in the smallholder dairy sector are frequently explained in terms of high production costs and hence as a result of market failure. Research among small farmers suggests that attitudes towards livestock and the values placed on them impact on how animals are cared for. Such attitudes are strongly influenced by the place of livestock in productive relations. Conditions imposed by development programs to enable livestock care can undermine the capacities of poor households to provide it. Technological modeling of livestock development obscures the social contexts in which production is situated and the ways in which livestock affect human behavior and social relations.