This study evaluates the benefits and consequences of crossbreeding with European beef breeds in smallholder cattle farming systems in Indonesia. The dualism in crossbreeding is that policy makers promote crossbreeding to meet the increasing demand for beef, whereas farmers are concerned with their livelihoods and the multi-functionality of cattle. In Madura, crossbreeding is not a threat to the two cultural events involving Madura cattle, sonok (cow conformation contest) and karapan (bull racing), nor to the sub-populations of Madura cattle in the specific areas where these events are organised. Farmers outside these areas prefer Limousin crossbreds to Madura cattle. In Java, crossbreeding (Simmental x local Ongole) does not change cattle farming systems. Crossbreeding is also not reducing rural poverty. Crossbreeding as a tool of intensification did not reduce the carbon footprint and land use per kilogram liveweight produced. Crossbreeding will continue in Java and Madura, however breeding strategies have to be adjusted. Viable populations of local cattle are needed to ensure sustainable crossbreeding strategies.