Belfair Miniature Cattle: A Small, All-Around Breed
Belfair Miniature Cattle Are a Cross Between Dexter Cattle and Jersey Cows
By Robert Mock – Belfair miniature cattle are the first dual-purpose miniature cattle developed in America. Developed by Tracy Teed of Conway, Washington, Belfair cattle are 50% Jersey, from high test Jersey cows bred to a small 35” Dexter bull, developed for the small acreage farmer who wants a small family milk cow which will also produce a good beef calf for the locker. The overall appearance is that of miniature jersey cows.
The goals were a small size, good temperament in both bulls and cows, ease in calving, good feed conversion, and good udder conformation for ease in milking. Now three years into the project, it seems that these goals have been met. Their size is 36” to 40” with bulls, selected in the 36” size range, cows in the 36” to 40”, most fall into the 36” to 38” size range.
The temperament of Belfair miniature cattle was an important consideration in selecting both bulls and cows. All were selected for calm, easy-to-handle dispositions with no signs of aggression in the bulls.
Like the Jerseys in the very early years when dark colors were preferred, the Belfair comes in black, many shades of brown, and occasionally a pinto or splotched with white calf. Shades of brown range from a very rich mahogany to dun and rarely a brindle. Most of the calves have a bit of white on tail tips or stars on the foreheads.
Calves are small and cows calve easily. Most calves are in the 21” size range. The selection of small producing bulls is very important. The little heifer calves are quite feminine in appearance and lighter framed, the bull calves are masculine looking and heavier and beefier in looks.
Two miniature Belfair cows can be maintained in place of one of the larger Holsteins. The little Belfair bull calves beef up at an early age and bring premium prices at around four months of age.
An important consideration was udder conformation, as many of the small breeds do not have good conformation and present a difficulty in milking.
Why the Dexter/Jersey cross? Back in time virtually all breeds of cattle originated from some cross. Of the 250 breeds of cattle in the world, more than 150 of the newer breeds are from a crossbred foundation. Of the 14 breeds of miniature cattle, very few were developed as a dual purpose cow. Originally Dexter cattle were developed to be an ideal cow for the small land owner in Ireland. Along the way several problems developed. The genetic problem of bulldog calves that do not live was one problem. Uneven udder conformation was another problem. They have also been bred up to a larger size than the original with two types, the leggy Kerry cattle and the shorter legged Dexters. Little consideration in the last few has been given to milk production. The Jersey was originally a small cow, 40” or under. Some of us still remember the rabbit eyed Jerseys as they were called. The Jersey has always been bred to be a high producing cow with high fat content milk. Jersey milk is unsurpassed in taste and creaminess. These small cows were seen in past years tethered out along roadsides and in vacant lots or meadows and were rarely fenced except in a small paddock around the barn. The Belfair miniature cattle adapt readily to being tethered, thus saving the beginning small acreage farmer from the expense and hassle of DIY fence installation projects.
While some crosses bring out the worst of both breeds, the Jersey/Dexter cross appears to bring out the best of both breeds. Personally, of all the miniature crosses or breeds I have seen, this one takes first place.
Calves are sold either on the bottle (all calves are bottled) or at weaning age of 2-1/2 to 3 months. At this age they are easily air shipped in large plastic dog crates. All calves are priced according to age. All are brucellosis tested plus any other tests required by your state.
Bull calves are also finding a market as steers for matched oxen teams. They are easy to match in size and color and the small size makes them ideal for beginning oxen drovers. Also, they are just about perfect for petting zoos.
The Belfair miniature cattle have been accepted for registration with The Miniature Cattle Breeds Registry. Criteria has not yet been established for the accepting of cattle from other breeders at this time. To keep the breed in its present form, only Jersey cows bred to small proven Dexter bulls is allowed. The breed will remain 50% Jersey, 50% Dexter. Many buyers do want to maintain a bull, and it is anticipated that semen will be available for artificial insemination.
Tracy Teed has managed Jersey dairy herds for the past 16 years. Two years ago Miss Teed started her own dairy in Conway, Washington. She presently has about 100 high test Jerseys in the herd. She has also milked the Jersey/Zebu cows in her milking line. She acquired a small 35” Dexter bull a few years ago and test mated him to few cows. The results were encouraging and after starting her own dairy, she continued the breeding. One 2-1/2-year-old bull is 35” and another is 18 months and 35-1/2”. Some of the retained heifers are now being bred and will go into milk testing when they freshen.
Originally published in 2002.