Why Raise Miniature Cattle?
Miniature Cattle Breeds Have Distinct Advantages for the Small-Scale Farmer
By Professor Richard Gradwohl Washington – As 100-500-acre family farms continue to disappear, the small acreage family homestead farm is becoming more common. Miniature cattle breeds are particularly well-suited to these smaller farms, and their popularity is increasing. At last count there were 15 breed categories of miniature cattle in the Miniature Cattle Breeds Registry.
Miniature cattle are either selected reproductions of the older breeds, or a result of several crossbreed programs. Crossbreed programs have the advantage of creating heterosis (higher performance levels) in their progeny. Whenever you cross one distinct breed with another the results can be an animal with outstanding performance characteristics.
Small cattle are easier on the land, equipment, and facilities (just ask cattle farmers who have taken a liking to raising Dexter cattle). Those of us who once had large cattle remember the constant work on fencing, barn repairs, and hours mending broken equipment. The small animals just don’t have the bulk to do much harm. Pastures seem to stay greener longer because these miniature cattle weigh less and their hooves are smaller. You don’t need heavy duty equipment, and maintenance is rare.
Some folks with small acreage farms who don’t have a large cattle range usually purchase one large animal to raise their own beef. Cattle are herd animals. You need more than one. It’s much easier to maintain a small herd than a solitary animal. A solitary animal just does not do as well as two or three together. With the small breeds it is possible to put two or three animals in the same area that you might put just one large animal. This is much better for the animals.
More animals per acre is the key here. Because you can raise more animals in the same amount of space, beef production is twice to three times as much. It takes about five acres to raise two large animals, depending on location (soil and climate) and the pasture available. You could raise one or two animals per acre with one of the small cattle breeds. It doesn’t take a computer scientist to figure out total beef production per acre is much greater with the smaller cattle.
These smaller cattle are 25% more efficient than larger beef cattle breeds in terms of feed conversion, and therefore eat much less. About 1/3 the feed is typical.
Miniature cattle come closer to a family’s needs than large commercial beef, especially when you’re just learning how to start a cattle farm. One beef per locker is a lot more desirable than raising more beef than you need.
Miniature cattle can also be a great investment and at the same time be helpmates with the grass and brush. They are also much less intimidating and easier to handle.
However, the truth of the matter is that they make great pets. Most owners of these great little animals would probably never consider them for beef purposes. Because they are easy to work with, it’s very easy to give them names and develop bonding relationships. On our miniature cattle farm, we have Little Red, Blue Girl, Green Girl, Misty, Snuggles, Little Lady, Violet, Happy, Danny Boy, Nutmeg, and quite a few others. All the girls are expecting, so we will have quite a few more.
Have we eaten some of our miniatures? Yes, we have. You can’t keep all the bulls. They do produce excellent quality meat. One piece of advice: if you are going to use one or two for beef, don’t give them names.
If you have questions or comments about the breeds of miniature cattle call or write the Miniature Cattle Breeds Registry. You can order a breeders’ information packet on the 15 miniature cattle breeds or you can subscribe to the Miniature Cattle Breeds Newsletter by contacting 25204 156th Ave. SE, Covington, WA 98042; (253) 631-1911; www.minicattle.com; firstname.lastname@example.org
Originally published in 1998 and regularly vetted for accuracy.