Having a family milk cow is synonymous with self-sufficiency for many people, as being able to provide your family with fresh milk and some beef is an ideal combination.
Unfortunately, cattle can be very challenging to deal with, especially if you have zero experience. Furthermore, one very large steer can provide far more meat than one family can handle and similarly, one adult milk cow in her prime will produce way more than one, two or even three families can drink.
The solution to this problem comes in a slightly smaller package: the miniature cow.
Why Choose Mini Cows?
There are many reasons why miniature cattle breeds continue to grow in popularity. With many weighing in at 500 pounds, they are particularly well suited for homesteaders who are new to livestock, have limited pasture space, are elderly or disabled, or simply don’t need a lot of milk or beef.
Here are just a few reasons why minis are such a good choice.
- Minis are easier to handle. For someone new to livestock, trying to handle a 1,500-pound dairy cow can be intimidating to say the least. Some people may never be comfortable around large animals. Mini cattle are easier to handle and are often much more docile than their larger cousins. Regular husbandry such as giving injections, worming, milking and first aid is much easier for the new homesteader as well.
- They are safer for families with children. Even a docile milk cow can be too strong for children to handle. Young children can easily be stepped on accidently and injured. Children should always be supervised around livestock, but mini cows are much safer.
- There’ll do less damage to pasture and fencing. Cattle are rough on pasture due to their hooves and weight. Mini cows are much easier on pasture as well as fencing. Beef cattle are especially known for being rough on fencing (i.e. leaning on it). You won’t need super tough and expensive fencing for mini cattle.
- You will save money on feed. Naturally a cow that weighs 500 pounds eats much less than one that weighs 1,500 pounds. Small heritage breeds like the Dexter eat less than other cows their size as well.
- Breeding mini cows, especially popular types and heritage breeds, can give you some supplemental income. This shouldn’t be your main focus but depending on your area, selling some extra calves could pay for the living costs of your herd and give you a little extra spending money.
Downsides to miniature cattle are few but worth it to think about. For example:
- Miniature cattle are more expensive. Sometimes double to triple the price per head, depending on the breed.
- Particularly small mini cows can have difficulty breeding and birthing. Some breeders are so focused on size that their bloodlines suffer genetically. Always buy from breeders who breed for utility (milk or beef, not just showing or pets).
- Predators are more of a concern. Therefore keeping mini cattle out on range isn’t a good idea.
- Miniature dairy cows can be difficult to hand milk. Mini cows have very small teats so men or women with larger hands may need to use a machine or pump-style milker.
Popular Mini Cattle Breeds
When it comes to individual mini breeds, there are different advantages and disadvantages. It is important to carefully research breeds before settling on one. I highly recommend asking around your own area to see which breeds happen to do well in your climate.
There are some breeds of cows that are true small breeds, meaning that they are a heritage breed developed to be small rather than a more commercial type that has purposely been bred to a small size. Typically the cows that fall into the latter make up majority of the mini or small cows you see for sale.
One of the best small breeds of cows are Dexters. Dexters are a true small breed of cattle hailing from Ireland. When it comes to miniatures and small breeds, they are on the larger side. They stand between 3’ and 4’ at the shoulder with cows rarely getting over 800lbs. Dexters are extremely versatile – perfect for beef and milk as well as showing and work as oxen. One large steer will fill your freezer with 300 to 400 pounds of meat.
This heritage breed is a perfect option for almost any situation. They can be difficult to find but worth the effort if you want versatile cattle that are naturally hardy, docile and able to thrive in most any climate. Find out more about Dexters by clicking here.
As for other miniature or small breeds, some popular varieties are:
- Mini or Small Highlands
- Mini Jerseys
- Mini Longhorn
- Mini Angus
- Mini Holstein
More and more breeds are started to be selectively bred for smaller size. Reputable breeders will produce animals with all the same qualities and purposes as the larger varieties. So if you really love Jerseys, a mini Jersey will be an amazing milk producer for the homestead. If you only want beef, look into mini Angus or lowline.
Finding a Breeder
There are a few different ways of finding high-quality stock. I highly recommend contacting the breed’s association to find out if there are any breeders in your area. You also can get the word out through classified ads online and in the paper. Don’t forget to ask local cattleman who may not keep the breed you’re interested in but may very well know who does.
Auctions can be a very popular way of finding stock but this is not a good option for the new homesteaders, unless perhaps you are accompanied by an experienced stockman. Overall you should avoid auctions unless it’s a breed-specific auction or one being held by a respected association.
If you choose to find stock through classifieds in the papers or online on a site like Craigslist, you need to be just as careful as an auction. I personally have found great success in finding rare livestock breeds through online classifieds. Be sure to ask the breeder plenty of questions and see any pedigree records.
Some aspiring homesteaders want nothing more than having a milk cow or putting a side of beef in their freezer for the winter. Thankfully mini cows and other small cattle breeds allow novice keepers to safely keep some cattle while also lightening the financial burden of bigger stock.
What do you think? Are miniature cattle a good homestead fit? Share your thoughts in the section below: