Adventures with Miniature Cattle
It's No Small Job Raising Miniature Cattle Breeds
By Betty Foreman Washington – About two years ago, I started reading about miniature cattle. I was impressed by their grass-to-meat ratios and the feed requirements; I was also swayed mightily by the essential “cuteness” of a cow half the size of the beef cows I was accustomed to seeing. I started looking into getting my very own miniature cattle. Online I looked at photos of miniature Jerseys that just came up to a person’s waist and little Angus types that were only marginally taller. I researched raising Dexter cattle and Pandas and various other breeds, looking for my perfect mini.
The major drawback was their price. Everywhere I looked they were asking almost a $1,000 or more for any of the miniatures. In addition, very few were available in my area of northeast Washington state. Then I saw an ad in the paper for a Dexter for sale for $500. I called the number immediately, and my sister and I drove out that day to look at the miniature cow for sale.
When we drove into this man’s pasture, I was stunned to see miniature cattle everywhere. Little bulls with great horn sweeps, tiny long horns that were no taller than the hood of my car! Red brindles and long horn dapples and spotted cattle everywhere. He took us to see his newest calves—tiny little multi-colored animals not much bigger than a goat. Some of his bulls were less than three feet tall. His was a special niche breed he has been developing for 23 years crossing Dexter, Zebu, miniature Jersey, and some dairy stock until he had developed a multiple use long horned-looking breed that is used in junior rodeos and for beef and dairy homestead use.
He was selling his larger animals and just keeping the cattle that were closer to his ideal of 36 inches. I didn’t buy the Jersey he had, as she was aggressive when she calved and I have grandchildren, but I did buy the stubbly little belted black and white cow and a taller black and white speckled long horn-looking cow. Both were supposed to be bred, as they were loose with his bulls. At $400 a head I figured I had found a good deal on miniature cattle! I had no way to haul the miniature cattle so I paid a friend of the rancher $150 to haul them home.
Within a month it was clear that at least one of the cows was not bred, so I started looking for a bull. I looked into A.I. but it is nearly impossible in our area unless you do it yourself, and I am not sure I would know how. The man I had originally gotten them from informed me he didn’t like to breed “out” so there was no hope there. The man who had hauled them for me would breed them to his Zebu bull, but of course it would cost $150 each way plus the board and breeding fees. It was beginning to seem as if my good deals were not so good. Then I saw an ad on Craigslist for a miniature Hereford bull. They were asking $700 for him, which was a lot for me, but I figured I could re-sell him after I got my cows bred. We drove to north Idaho where he lived. By this time, tired of paying hauling fees, I had bought an older horse trailer for almost nothing. The bull was beautiful—a perfect horned Hereford in every way, just shorter. He even came with his registration papers! Another good deal!
I hauled the little bull home in my little horse trailer and unloaded him late that night with his new herd of miniature cattle. All was bliss. The belted cow was bred almost immediately and the three of them settled down to some serious grazing. It was late September and grass was short but they did well on what was there. Maybe miniature cattle really were a good deal!
On Thanksgiving Day, as I prepared for a company dinner, I found my bull was gone. The cows were still home eating their hay but my beautiful little Hereford was gone. No fences were down, nothing was disturbed, but he was gone. I called the neighbors and no one had seen him. I filed a police report on the off chance he had been stolen, but there was just no sign of him. Then a day later a neighbor called to say they had seen him with their herd and he was fine. They would separate him out when they gathered their cows in a few days. A day later another neighbor called to report she had seen him with the other cows but standing separate from the herd and that he had just turned around and started walking, fast, back toward our place. As she hung up I looked up to see him already back in the pasture with his cows as if he had never left.
Winter came and went with no drama, and the miniature cattle did truly seem to be a thrifty, easy-keeping herd, keeping their weight on less feed than I had anticipated. They were indeed a good deal.
Several times I did have to chase them out of the hay barn, where they had pushed the fence down to get into the hay, but I wrote that off as normal cow exuberance.
Then spring came. The barbed wire fences that kept my horses and llamas home suddenly didn’t keep the miniature cattle contained. They visited the neighbors, who didn’t realize what a good deal they were. I would get them home, patch the fences and the next day have to get them home again. Unable to find any holes in the fence I put them back in the pen only to find them in my haystack the next morning. Eventually I realized the bull was putting his head under the fence panels and lifting them over his head and walking out, with his girls in tow. I thought maybe he was not getting enough to eat so I doubled his feed and started adding grain. It made no difference. He would lift the panels over head and walk through. Or he used his massive horns to break the welded panels when I had managed to fasten them down so he couldn’t lift them.
My relationship with my neighbors was getting shaky. One neighbor called, worried the miniature cattle would gore his horses with their horns. I got them all home, again, and put them in a sturdy round corral made of the heavy pipe panels. They stayed there for a few weeks, though several of the panels were bent out from him pushing against them. I bought round bales of hay and stacked them against the corral so they could eat through the panels and the weight of the hay would hold the panels in place as he was “walking” the corral across the yard. That worked for several more weeks until the hay was eaten down enough and it was easy to move. Now the bull started lifting these panels with his head, putting his head and neck under them and lifting. He may be mini but he is still a mighty strong bull. The corral panels are held by metal pins or chains, as I have two styles. One morning I went out to feed and found the bull gone and the corral lifted and twisted, hanging by bent and broken pins. I got another call from the neighbors. The cows had stayed home but he was gone again.
I got him home and tied the corral panels together so they wouldn’t shift when he tried to lift them. That worked for a few more days, but one morning I went out and two panels were lifted at a crazy angle where he had made an arch of the corral panels and escaped again. The neighbors were not amused.
I bought electric fencing supplies to run a hot wire around the inner side of the metal corral. The bull touched the wire, bellowed and threw the corral wall over his head. I drove metal posts along the outside of the corral hoping that would stop the bull from pushing the panels around. I tied the panels to the posts hoping to anchor them to the earth so he couldn’t lift them. Again that worked for a few weeks until I went out one morning to find a post bent over sideways and the bull again off to see the neighbors. The neighbors do not think miniature bulls are cute.
I think he sees fences as a personal affront. At one time he went to an open gate of an unconnected fence and knocked the panels down, just to show how he feels about those panels. His curly white face is stained green from the corral panels’ paint.
I bought more metal posts and pounded two to each corral panel, tying them tightly to the corral anchoring it deep in the earth, figuring the mass of the corral panels and extra posts would hold him. His favorite cow, the little belted one, was in the corral next to him. Next morning I found him gone again, a corral panel bent, the pipe smashed flat against two posts that were dangling above the ground. And in case I hadn’t gotten his point, he had broken into the corral next to him and freed his favorite cow. At least this time they were both out in my pasture laying happily in my grass for a change! The neighbors are happier.
His registered name is Sir Loin, but I have been tempted to call him “Traveler” as he is like an Australian fellow who likes to go “walk about.” He has been driven home so often that all he needs to do is have someone start him home and he heads right back to his corral. Did I mention he is really cute?
I am beginning to wonder if I got such a good deal in my miniature cattle (especially the bull). I noticed some unusual curling scratches, low on both sides of my car. I finally realized they were horn scratches from him grazing close to the car. My trailer needs a new taillight where one of his horns broke the cover and he bent the welded frame. He broke the faucet to our pump. I had to replace that. If he gets out again, I may have to replace my neighbors. I have spent several hundred dollars on DIY fence installation, trying to build a pen to keep him home, all to no avail. I am still waiting to see what kind of calves he throws (though I suspect they will be cute, too).
All this spring I have had him for sale trying to find another buyer who recognizes a good deal in a nice miniature bull. I have found no other suckers. (Ahem, buyers.) I called a local custom slaughter company, thinking at least I could eat him, and recoupe a portion of my expenses, but they had no other orders in my neck of the woods and eventually they stopped taking my calls.
Each morning I dread going out to the corrals to see if he is still here. Today though is a good day. He is still in his corral, chewing his cud, looking so cute! Today I can face the neighbors!
So you see, it’s no small job raising miniature cattle.
Originally published in Countryside January / February 2010 and regularly vetted for accuracy.