Fort Dodge Messenger, Dan Thompson/AP
Stacey Breon feeds two miniature cattle on her family's Webster County farm near Fort
Dodge, Iowa.

Where’s the Beef? Miniature Cows Serve Farmers Well in Tough Times

August 13, 2008 01:16 PM
by Liz Colville
So-called minicattle give more beef for the bushel, and are becoming more popular with farmers hoping to avoid increasingly high feed costs.

Thriftiness on the Farm

Smaller cows mean smaller stomachs, which is saving farmers around the country significant money on costly grains used to feed their livestock. According to The Wall Street Journal, smaller cattle are “catching on at farms, livestock shows and 4-H clubs,” and typically weigh 500 to 700 pounds—half the weight of a typical dairy or beef cow.

Minicows are not a new phenomenon; they were first bred in the 1960s as novelty pets, but soon “gained stature as legitimate livestock,” according to the Journal. They may actually be closer to the size cows once were, before food demands post-World War II and breeding and feeding practices “plumped up” the animals.

MSNBC first reported on the thrifty farming trend in 2006, suggesting that the minicow industry was already taking off prior to the recent dramatic rises in feed costs, reaping benefits for farmers and pet owners with less land. “You don’t need the back 40 acres to raise these breeds; the back four will do.”

Raising the cows on less land also allows them to be grass-fed more easily. Those raised on grass, widely considered to be better for humans and the environment, tend to do less damage to their feed simply because they are more docile and have smaller hooves. They can also be easier to control than their full-size counterparts. “They think that since they’re looking up at you, they have to do what you tell ‘em,” minicow owner Bev Boriolo told the Sacramento Bee.

And typically the minicows in a single herd can have a variety of functions, either sold for breeding for several thousand dollars, or used for milk or beef. According to breeders, there are several thousand minicows in the United States, a tiny fraction of the million-plus full-size American cows. But the numbers are growing.

Minicows can produce several gallons of milk a day, according to Fox News, and can serve the market for smaller, leaner cuts of meat.

Background: Small cows come to America

Zebu cattle, native to South and Southwest Asia, are small cows that were first brought to America in the 1800s, and in larger numbers beginning in the 1920s. Most of the breeds brought to the United States are believed to have originated in India, according to the Journal of Animal Science.

Reference: Benefits of minicows


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