Raising Miniature Goats, Cows, Chickens, and Sheep
Small Breeds, Big Benefits. Why Homesteaders Choose Nigerian Dwarf Goats, Miniature Southdowns, Dexter Cattle, and more.
What is driving the recent trend in raising miniature goats, cows, chickens, and other livestock? As more people move toward a simpler way of life, and are living in a more self-sustainable way, they may be interested in having a family milk provider. Families may choose to raise their own meat but not have enough room for raising traditional full-size livestock breeds. Both goats and cows produce delicious milk, but the miniature goat is more suited to a small plot of land and a smaller family. Small breed livestock needs less pastured, fenced land, less grain, and leave less waste to clean. In many cases, raising miniature goats and other livestock of smaller stature makes a lot of sense for the modern homesteader.
Today, many families want to return to their agrarian roots, but don’t have the money to buy a large ranch and raise full-size cattle, goats, pigs, or other livestock. A smaller homestead, of a few acres, allows these families the room to grow vegetables, and also keep some livestock for the family’s needs. Choosing to raise miniature goats or cows and other livestock allows the family to fit more production into the family homestead. Lesa Wilke, author of Nigerian Goats 101: Background & Basics (2015) and creator of the popular Better Hens and Gardens blog (www.betterhensandgardens.com) states “Nigerian Dwarf goats are becoming quite popular because they’re small, cute, low maintenance, and very productive for their size. They don’t require pastures, are easy to handle and house, and can provide milk, meat, brush control, and fertilizer. They are the size of a medium to large dog, so they’re an easy homestead addition — regardless of whether the homestead is large, small, rural, suburban, or urban. For us, it was their small size, brush control, and incredible tasting milk that caused us to choose them for our farm.“- Lesa Wilke.
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Most breeds of miniatures have decent dispositions, along with the smaller size. These qualities allow them almost pet status in the family. Along with the smaller size comes less waste produced and less feed intake. The feed conversion for most miniature livestock is very good.
Points to Consider
Miniature livestock are still larger than many family dogs. If you don’t have the strength and fortitude to handle a large dog, you may not be able to handle raising miniature goats and other miniature livestock. Be realistic about your personal strength and abilities before acquiring any size livestock. Because the miniature goats, cows, and sheep usually have sweet, docile dispositions, they may not bite but kicks can be dangerous!
Caring for the Animals
The same care needs to be performed on miniature livestock as it does on the full-size versions. Hoof trimming, worming, milking, shearing and health checkups all need to be done. Check to see if there is a livestock veterinarian in your area. While some forms of care could be performed by any licensed veterinarian, these animals are still livestock with the specialized needs of livestock. Finding an urban veterinarian willing to come out to your farm and trod through mud to help an ailing cow, miniature or not, is unlikely.
Fencing, Housing, Equipment
Unless you want to go collect your livestock from the neighbor’s garden, make sure you have the correct fencing for the animals you choose to raise on your farm. Even though the animals are shorter, pygmy goats, for example, are very good at jumping over fences. Raising miniature goats, cows, or pigs means you still must supply the animals with the correct fencing, housing, and equipment. A milk stand will forever change your life and keep your back from hurting too. Consider placement of the run in a shed or mini barn. The best setting for the shed or barn is with the closed back side of the shed facing the wind.
What are the benefits of raising miniature goats and other livestock?
Nigerian Dwarf, Pygmy, and Dwarf Nubian goats are a few of the breeds of miniature goats. Lesa Wilke, in her book, “Nigerian Goats 101” has a chart showing the different breeds of goats and the milk yield. Nubian goats produce more than other commonly raised breeds but the Nigerian Dwarf is a solid performer in milk production. At a fraction of the size of a full-grown Nubian doe, the feed savings and space requirements are much less.
“Nigerian Dwarves produce milk that has an average butterfat and protein content that’s higher than any other dairy goat breed, making it taste milder, sweeter, and creamier. It tastes as good as the best cow’s milk (many think it’s better).” – Lesa Wilke
There are miniature versions of the Nubian breed available, too, although the Nigerian Dwarf breed is more easily found. When seeking a breed for raising miniature goats, checking with your local breeders for their feedback is a good place to start.
Miniature Cattle, Highlands, Dexters, and Lowlines
Raising miniature cattle for both meat and milk can be accomplished on small homesteads. It is important to keep in mind that the same challenges that pertain to full-size cattle will still be in play but on a lesser scale. Cattle are mostly grazing animals. Your full-size cattle will need grazing area or to be fed good quality hay until market size is reached. Miniature breeds of cattle are often browsers as much as grazers. This means they will be happy to do some land clearing for you, eating weeds, and brush as well as the grass. The amount of feed needed will be less with the miniatures and the Highlands will thrive on low-quality brush, because of their heritage as mountain cattle.
Cyndi Aspey, a breeder of miniature Highland cattle on Crazy Lady Farm in Michigan, guides people looking for miniature cattle. “After much research and thought I selected the miniature Highland breed when we changed farms and operations about 5 years ago. I was looking for a hardy, easy to care for and lean meat breed. This brought me to the Highland breed time and time again.”
“The meat is very lean, very sweet tasting and due to the smaller size of the animal, I believe cuts are more of a healthier portion (size). They have small calves and we have had no calving issues here. The calves are born with a full coat of hair and most of ours are born in the winter, early spring months, at times a cold miserable time of the year but I believe a better suited time of the year for this breed. The calves are up fast, nursing right away and frolicked joyfully in no time.”
In addition, you can’t argue with the cute factor of the miniature Highland breed! Be prepared if you are squeamish about raising your own meat source. These miniature cows have a very high cuteness factor.
Dexter Cattle, Lowlines, miniature Jersey, and Miniature Zebu are other popular breeds of miniature cattle, recognized by the International Miniature Cattle Breeder Society and Registry. The Dexter breed is an ancient breed from the mountains in Ireland. Dexters were not developed from miniaturizing a standard breed.
Lowlines are short, smaller versions of the standard Black Angus. The meat quality and high yield are present in the smaller, shorter version of the Black Angus breed too.
Just as when raising miniature goats, raising a small herd of miniature cattle can be a dual purpose venture in both food production and land clearing. Also, keep in mind that goats, sheep, and cattle are herd animals and will not do as well when you only keep one. Prepare to take on two or more of the species you choose to raise.
Pigs, sheep, ducks, and chickens all have miniature versions of breeds. Some breeds of pigs are smaller than the standard market hogs we commonly see on farms. KuneKune pigs are becoming more popular. A note of caution is in order. KuneKune pigs grow to be sizable animals. Even the smaller breeds will grow rather large and this should be taken into consideration before attempting to raise “smaller” breeds of pigs. Miniature pigs also include the small pot belly breeds, although those are not commonly raised for meat but are kept as pets.
Miniature Southdown sheep, often referred to as Babydolls, are much smaller than the full sized sheep breeds. They are good foragers and grazers and not very needy in terms of extra care. The standard run-in shed and a good low fence, plenty of available water and a vet familiar with sheep, should get you off to a good start with this smaller breed of sheep.
Call Ducks are one variety of miniature ducks. While they can be rather pricey to get started with, bantam chickens are usually more of a bargain.
Bantam chickens are much smaller than a standard size chicken. Coop space, and feed and water consumption are less than the standard chickens also. As with other minis, production is somewhat based on size. Three bantam eggs equal one large egg from a standard breed of chicken. The Bantams are prone to broodiness and make very good mother hens. Usually fairly docile, bantam chickens are a good choice for children starting to raise chickens on the homestead. In neighborhoods with limits on the number of chickens you can possess, bantams often count as half or a third of a chicken. This can enable the homesteader to raise more chickens than they would with full-size breeds.
If you are planning on raising miniature goats, or any other miniature breed of livestock, prepare your land as you would for any livestock. You can get by with less land and fewer costs associated with feed. The end result will be a more self-reliant homestead for your family.
Do you raise miniature goats and/or other miniature livestock? If so, let us know in the comments below.