Improving smallholders’ performance remains a seemingly intractable central issue for beef farming development in Indonesia. Studying a complex system such as beef farming requires a systemic approach. This paper reports on the combined use of three complementary systems approaches to structure and subsequently model the problem situation as the first research step towards seeking effective solutions. System Dynamics (SD) is considered to be a powerful methodology for taming the complexity of a system. However its problem identification stage has been criticized as being insensitive to the multiple interests and power structures likely to occur in a smallholder system. This study aimed to explore the possibility of combining Soft System Methodology (SSM) and Critical System Heuristics (CSH) to overcome that limitation and accommodate multiple perspectives including smallholder views on system improvements. A series of interviews and workshops involving 2 farmer groups was undertaken in Central Java, Indonesia. The benefits of inclusion of CSH in the research protocol included its ability to embrace the opinions of the less-powerful stakeholders - the farmers. Thus, for the stakeholders, it provides a better understanding of the system than provided by a combination of SD and SSM, and thereby the potential for facilitating development of more effective interventions.