Small and Miniature Cattle Breeds
Cattle Breeds for Small Acreages
With the current popularity of small-holdings, smaller breeds of livestock are becoming increasingly trendy. Small animals take less room, less feed and are not as intimidating for the inexperienced owner as a more massive animal. Miniature cattle have also become something of a 'flavour of the month' commodity with many different breeds being subjected to miniaturisation.
In former times, smaller animals were more acceptable. Refrigeration was not generally available and much of the livestock handling was left to the women and children. Small cattle required less feed, less fencing and could be tethered in various places to take advantage of what food was available. There was not the need for vast quantities of milk or meat when only enough for a family was required.
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Today there are miniature cattle and there are breeds that are naturally small, rather than a miniature version of a larger breed. Small breeds include the Dexter, Shetland, Kerry and Galloway. These breeds are not particularly plentiful but they represent a gene pool which may be lost if the purebred individuals all disappear.
Some of the miniature breeds have been created by breeding from the smallest stock available. Others have been developed by using Dexters or other small breeds to 'downsize' larger stock. There are now a number of miniature breeds. Some fulfil a specific purpose and some are just attractive to look at and satisfying to own. Most miniature breeds have breed organisations which keep records of the pedigree of each animal. Breed societies also promote the breed and encourage ownership. The International Miniature Cattle Breeders Society and Registry recognises 26 breeds of miniature cattle. Miniature cattle are generally between 36 and 46 inches in height at the shoulder.
Lowline cattle have been developed from the black Aberdeen Angus. They do not have a specific dwarfing gene but have been bred in Australia from small specimens. Lowline cattle have become popular in the United States and make good pets. They are also bred in Canada, New Zealand and China. They are a suitable breed for children to train to lead and show and were developed from 1974 following research into the effects of genetic selection for growth rates.
The Lowline is about 100cm tall and weighs up to 600kg. Calves weigh 25kg and the cows calve easily. They are black, polled and docile in nature. They yield a high percentage of marbled beef and will fatten readily on pasture.
The Miniature Hereford is also bred from dwarf-free stock and can be registered with the Australian Hereford Society and American Hereford Association. Miniature Herefords trace back to blood lines which existed before the present day taller Herefords were developed. An intensive line breeding program helped set the size and judicious outcrosses have resulted in a large genetic pool to draw from when breeding.
A good Miniature Hereford measures about 114cm and weighs up to 450kg. He will appear chunky and close to the ground. The legs, particularly from the hock and knee to the ground, are short. The general appearance is of a well balanced, well proportioned animal. The head should be a proportionate size, broad and short with a broad muzzle and good width between the eyes which should be prominent. The tips of the horns should be below the level of the top of the head.
The feet should be set well apart with a well defined brisket. The neck is short and blends well into the shoulder. The feet should all point to the front without toeing in or out.
For exhibition purposes, the colour and markings are important. The head should be white with some colouring around the eyes. There is white under the chin, down the brisket, under the belly to the rear flank area. The legs should be white from below the knee and hock to the feet. As with full-size Herefords, a strip of white appears from just behind the ears down the top of the neck to level with the point of shoulder. The brush of the tail is white.
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Miniature Murray Greys are also called 'Squaremeaters'. They have developed from the Murray Grey beef breed which in turn developed from the Aberdeen and Shorthorn breeds. The Squaremeater has a high feed to meat conversion. They can be stocked relatively intensively.
Miniature Zebus (Brahmans) are one of the newer miniature breeds to be seen in the western world. Miniature Zebus are pint-sized versions of their larger relatives. In Hindi they are called Nadudana (small cattle). The miniature Zebu has not been 'bred down' but is a unique species in its own right.
The breed came from southern India and Sri Lanka and dates back to several thousand years BC. There are probably less than 1,000 purebreds in the USA. Like their full-size counterparts, their Bos indicus traits mean they are better adapted to hot conditions than their Bos taurus relatives. They appreciate good shelter during cold conditions. The first miniature Zebus were introduced into the United States in the mid 1850s. Because they are not a 'cross' with any other breed, they breed true to type.
They must be no more than 42 inches high when measured behind the typical hump. Many are much smaller. An adult cow weighs around 300 to 500 pound and a bull 400 to 600 pound. The most common colours are grey, red, black but spotted and broken-coloured animals are now being bred. The horns may be a variety of shapes. The larger Zebu has drooping ears but the minis have ears which stick straight out. They are a hardy breed with good resistance to a number of diseases and insects.
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Miniature Longhorns are horned – obviously – and about 40 inches at the shoulder. The breed is easy to care for, oblivious to heat and cold and rarely have trouble calving. Their meat is leaner with more meat per pound of animal. Some are used in Junior Rodeos while others become pets and showcase specimens on small acreages. They have the long horns and attractive colouring of the standard Longhorn.
Breeders of miniature Jerseys say the breed is not a new breed or a 'bred down' replica. They state the original Jerseys imported from the Jersey Islands were of a similar size and conformation to today's miniatures. There are only a few of these small purebreds in existence at the present time. Larger animals were preferred and bred from during the late 1940s and early 50s resulting in the larger Jerseys so admired today.
However the miniature should have the same dairy-type conformation and production qualities as its larger cousin. The udder should be well above the ground and attached high at the back with four well-shaped and well-spaced teats. The miniature Jersey has an excellent temperament and is great with children. Even though the modern Jersey bull is reputed to have an uncertain temperament, the miniature bulls are more friendly and less dangerous.
If you want some attractive little animals feeding on your few acres, you could do worse than invest in a couple of miniature cows.