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Pros and Cons of Miniature livestock

 
Jami McBride
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My future goals are a manageable amount of (natural raised) meat and milk. 
   *manageable for one gal, sometimes two if I count my daughter.

And toward this end I have been looking into Dexter Cows and other half-size bovines such as Jerseys.

Mother pdf on Raising Small-breed Milk Cows http://www.hickoryridgefarms.org/pdf/www.motherearthnews.comprint-article.pdf

Seems the cows way back when were about half the size they are now, and breading has given us the 'cow' we all are accustomed to now.  Mini cattle eat about a third as much as a full-sized steer, are less destructive of pasture land and fencing, and are easier to handle.



While each animal may be smaller, more meat can be produced overall from each acre, breeders say. And the smaller size of each animal also has its benefits.

Some people look to save money by buying an entire cow or a side of beef, it can be difficult to store the hundreds of pounds of meat from a 1,200- to 1,500-pound steer, of which about 40 percent makes it to the freezer.

Miniature cattle, which often are between 500 and 700 pounds, provide enough meat to last a family of four six months. That's just about the freezer shelf life of beef, said Bryan. And the meat tastes the same, depending on how the cattle has been raised and fed.

Richard H. Gradwohl, who has developed a number of small breeds at his Happy Mountain Miniature Cattle Farm in Covington, Wash., said six niche markets have developed for the miniature breeds.

Miniature cattle are primarily sold for use as pets, for small-scale milk production, breeding, showing, organic beef production or for the farm-grown market, which produces cattle on smaller farms, Gradwohl said. Sixty to 70 percent are sold as pets, he estimated.

Full miniature cattle are defined as those below 42 inches at the hip when fully grown, while mid-size miniatures are up to 48 inches, said Gradwohl, who registers 26 miniature breeds.



So what do you think.... ?   


{sidebar - Hey Paul, can you get Joel Salatin to visit these forums  }
 
Kathleen Sanderson
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It's possible that prices have come down, but the last time I checked, the miniature cattle were several times the price of a regular cow.  I think you can get Dexters at a fairly reasonable cost, but the miniature Jerseys and so on may still be pretty high.  Where are you located?  I have a friend in New York who raises Dexters (they mostly have Ayrshires, as they have a commercial dairy, but they also have some Dexters and really like them). 

And yes, it would be very cool if Joel Salatin visited this forum!

Kathleen
 
Jami McBride
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Thanks Kathleen,  I'm in Oregon, there is a breeder of Dexters south a couple of hours of where I live.  I don't know about any others.  But I love the idea of a cow I could manage

The price thing is a bummer, seems they are, or were, more of a designer thing and so the price goes up.  How typical.  I can hope more people will get into breeding them for food and not as pets.

So your fiends raise the Ayrshire's for their dairy, and the Dexters for.....? 
The Dexters are suppose to have nice personalities, be very tough weather-wise and easy to raise.  Do your friends have a website?
 
Leah Sattler
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because of those prices (if they truly bring those prices) I have often thought it  might not be a bad thing to get into. although it is a good possibility that they have been recently bred more for novelty then utility there are surely some good individuals out there that still fit the bill as far as a utility animal goes. I'd venture to say that buying some of the good stock, riding the fad and selling offspring for high prices while carefully breeding them to retain characteristics valuable to a homesteader you could make  a bit of money while they are still fashionable and expensive by selling offspring and then once the fad is over you might have some really good utility breeding stock that will be in demand from a more practical perspective. especially if you kept really good records of production abilties and weight gain to back up you stock.

although it may be cost prohibitive to get into..... its worth mentioning that high dollar animals are the easiest to make money on as far as input goes. if you can get big bucks for one individual you may have more of a chance at a profit with alot less headaches then trying to sell many animals that are of lower quality and lower price. you can do so on less land and with more individual care. 
 
                          
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or it could stop the worlds obesity problems
start with mini beef cattle
then grow mini grain, to make mini buns for mini hamburgers

Hee Hee
sorry iv'e had a long night
 
Leah Sattler
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ha ha ha! they say portion size is important!!

there is just  smidgen of truth in thinking along those lines. smaller cuts have been one way that goat producers have tried to market their meat. however I don't think chevon can replace beef in all cooking situations because of the lean nature of it, grilled steak for example. there truly might be more of a market for something along the lines of "better but smaller" cuts of meat. a ribeye steak or t-bone that more closely resembles an actual serving of meat might be a plus for those who are aware of and trying to cut down on portions.
 
Jami McBride
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Thanks for the ideas Leah, I hadn't thought about getting into the novelty market.  I figured getting into breeding would be very high priced, much like lama's and such.  But the feeding and care would be much less than the full sized breeds, and any I produced would not be 'over priced' to me 

LOL - Bird I think they already do that, have you tried a hamburger from a value meal?
 
Ken Peavey
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I understand they use mini cows to make mini ravioli.

Looking at the math...
700# mini beef cow, 50% going into the freezer or canning jars =350#.
That's a group of beef!
At a consumption rate of half a pound in a day, copious by most standards, this would last me a year.
I don't eat beef every day.  If hard pressed, I could eat beef 3 times/week.  In a year, that would be about 80 pounds out of 350.  I'd be sharing that cow with a bunch of other people.

My freezer is only so big.  While I have 2 pressure canners, I can only process, using both, maybe 24 pounds at a time.  Adding in jerky on the dehydrator, It would take me several days to freeze/dehydrate/process 350 pounds of beef.
I live alone so I don't have a need for that much meat, and this is from a mini cow.  Still, handling 350 pounds at a time is an easier job than handling 600 pounds at a time.

Some guys at work were talking about raising a bull.  Rather than feed it for the 2 years it takes to fatten one up to 1200 pounds, a bull can be grown to about 700 pounds in about a year.  Split between 4 guys at work, its not too much to handle. 

How long does it take to raise a mini cow to 500 pounds?
How big does a mini cow grow in a year?


 
                              
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If you want a manageable amount of meat and raising it on the hoof to butcher all at once........Well I've found a way to be able to process it a few pounds at a time, at least if you like fish.
Aquaponics works well, doesn't take much space and no issues with the fish escaping and ruining the neighbor's garden.
But, you won't be getting milk from fish.
 
Jami McBride
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Yea.... Fish - fresh, wild and only occasionally.  They will not replace what I want from a cow.

Also I want my animals running free-ish - Aquaponics is to controlled for my permaculture dream.

How long does it take to raise a mini cow to 500 pounds?
How big does a mini cow grow in a year?



"Typically a calf (any standard commercial calf) is forced to be ready for the butchering at 12-14 months of age, target  weight of 1000# by steroids and grain feedings. For the miniature steer at that same point the weight is about 350 - 500#. The big difference is generally that two miniature will yield as much weight, but more meat, while consuming less feed in the process.*  If you rear and finish the calf on high quality grass, your going to have a superlative tender and Omega 3 rich cut of beef. Grain fed meats are absent this anti-carcinogenic element.
*Research work was done at Texas A&M."

Quote from this FAQ on mini's web page http://www.falsterfarm.com/documents/faq.htm
 
                              
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Fish are not for everyone and if I had the space for a real pond I could grow fish a bit more "naturally" however, I'm trying to get as much as I can out of a suburban lot without ticking off the neighbors.
 
                                  
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Hi Jami,

I got your PM but couldn't get in as deberosa anymore! Oh well, I reincarnated.

Alot has happened since I posted and I wished I would have heard from you a few months ago!

We had to sell and move to SW VA.  Which means I had to find a home for my Daisy, the Dexter cow and she had just been bred to a very small Dexter bull named Pedro!  Daisy went to a friend, she had a wonderful Heifer calf on September 2nd but the coyotes at my friends farm (she is set up for horses) were threatening.  She kept her at a neighbors till weaned and just sold both cows!

Dexters are wonderful - we had about two acres of brush/pasture that we moved them through.  That worked for some of the grazing, but on the Olympic Peninsula that was really not quite enough grass.  I gave them the lawn clippings and weeds and some hay all summer.  They did not wreck the ground at all even that soggy environment.  I never did get to milk her as we had to move so I could stay employed.  Maybe some day I'll have another great girl like Daisy.

THey eat brush - black berries and other brush although they prefer grass and won't eat the trees and brush until the grass is gone.  We had welded wire fence in the perimeter with a hot wire about 10 inches above the ground on the inside.  To section off interior areas we just used plastic posts and a hot wire about a foot off the ground - never had an escape even with the garden on the other side of the wire.  I wouldn't trust that for the perimeter though!

We had them with the pigs for a while but Daisy had horns and didn't appreciate the pigs too much. 

The only grain they got was for a treat so if you shook the bucket they would come when called.  She had not problem calving - having twins her first time round and a beautiful heifer her second time around.

Check out my blog at deberosahomestead.wordpress.com to see pictures of Daisy and her first heifer, T-Bone ( a free martin who turned out to be sterile, I think she is in freezer heaven now).

Best wishes - hope that helps!  If I ever get a cow again it will be a Dexter but may get goats instead - still deciding.
 
Jami McBride
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Thanks for replying anyway.  It's nice to hear from someone with mini-cow experience.

Why are you thinking about goats instead of another Dexter?
 
                    
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thanks for this thread, we've been talking about dexters, years from now.  Kind of have to decide between growing grain and having a milk animal.
 
Ken Peavey
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That CD3 site has lots of info on microlivestock this is a start.

they have micropigs out there?
 
                                  
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Hi,

I am back as my original self.

I think there is a difference between regular breeds bred to be miniature and true small breeds.  Dexters are true small breeds - there is not a standard size Dexter.  They just seem to have less issues.  We have new neighbors with Highland Cattle, another true small breed.  We bought a quarter of meat from them and it is wonderful!  They aren't really milk cows though and have huge horns!  They are set up just for producing meat cattle so it works for them.

Goats will take smaller shelters, and issues with loading (we don't have chutes and trailers, etc.) would be easier.  There is something really pleasant about going out to feed a cow though, it was great having Daisy for the time we did.

As for pigs, we had regular pigs and if you don't butcher them in time they get to be huge!  Then you have to deal with that.  The sows we had to try to load to sell when we moved walked right through a cattle panel!  Fortunately we had Jake our farm dog to help us round them up.  It took hours to load them.  THat plus you almost have to feed them feed unless managed carefully (see Sugarmountain Farm Blog for that!).  Most feed now has GMO corn in it.

We were looking at Guinea hogs - pretty rare but a heritage breed that maxes out at 300 pounds, great mothers, and not mean when they have piglets.  They graze and eat garden scraps but very little grain - only some in the winter.  That is what we are thinking of long term.  Again this is a naturally small breed and not miniturized.

To me, for a personal homestead, dealing with large animals is just another challenge and if you can eliminate it why not? Large animals are too large to process for one family, so you have to find someone to buy the rest and then you get into a ton of regulations that complicate that process. Large animals take stronger fences, larger shelters, more space and have more impact on the soil.  If you are a business and have lots of acreage it's doable, but for small farms it can destroy pastures easily.  That's my thinking on it anyhow for what it's worth!

Oh, and Jami, Pedro the bull I bred Daisy to came from a breeder in Oregon and if it's the same breeder he was great stock!  While I didn't trust him of course, he was quite gentle and less then three feet at the shoulder.  We were thinking he might not have gotten the job done since Daisy was a good foot taller (she had the long legs) but he managed.
 
                    
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Ok, they sound wonderful, so how much is one of these animals?  Like, a heifer you could bottle raise into being your milk cow?
 
Jami McBride
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Thanks Deb, that's great to know.

Since the Dexters are fairly gentile and goats are rowdy seems like you would need more fencing with the goats, but then it may not be bad if you are only getting a few goats....
 
                                  
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We paid $1000 for our Daisy and her sterile heifer at her side.  Open - not bred.  That was an absolute steal.  I don't know what my friend got for the heifer but they are expensive.  Another point on the goat side. 

Jami be aware that no matter how gentile they are they are still a large animal and can injure you very easily!  Never turn your back on them for sure even if they are friendly and in the case of a bull Especially if they are friendly, because they will not fear you.

As for goats - I was thinking Nigerian dwarfs - easier to fence, great milk,  Easier on Pasture.  Nothing this year though until fences go up and there is a ton of other projects that come before it!
 
                              
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I get the impression from the goat thread that the miniture and dwarf goats are not necessarily easier to fence just because they are small.  They are apparently more nimble and cunning.
 
                                  
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TCLynx wrote:
I get the impression from the goat thread that the miniture and dwarf goats are not necessarily easier to fence just because they are small.  They are apparently more nimble and cunning.



Yeah, just read that thread after posting that.   Good thing we are still planning.  Pigs will be first here anyhow along with the gardens and orchards.
 
Kathleen Sanderson
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I think the main thing with the dwarf goat breeds is that they can fit through a lot smaller holes (although even a standard goat can squeeze through a surprisingly small hole!).  Of course, the kids are tiny and can squirt through some really tiny holes!  They can also get under very small spaces, and into very tight predicaments....Basically you have to go over all your pens and fencing and think, could a cat get through that?  If so, then close it up!

Kathleen
 
Jami McBride
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I like what I've read of the Dexters and other small breeds, around 3' high I can handle that, and a good temperament to boot.... 

I'm sure I can love and get into any animal, but I think a small cow would be a simpler source for milk than managing the high-spirits of goats.  Although every year at fair I fall in love with goats all over again.  The goat barn is our favorite place to hang out.
 
                    
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We were just reading at dextercattle.org about genetic difficulties of this breed.  Apparently when they were first being bred, about a quarter of the calves would be born dead, without legs, and looking like a bulldog, because of a genetic expression called Chondrodysplasia.  As I understand it, it's the ultimate expression of a gene mutation that results in the breed's shortened legs.  They've figured out what causes the "bulldogs," but they're still born regularly (a quarter of the offspring if both parents carry this gene expression). 

http://www.dextercattle.org/genCDChondroarticle.htm

It's a good website in general about the breed.  The whole "bulldog calf" thing is giving us pause about getting into these cows though. 
 
Emil Spoerri
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nigerian dwarves are not easier to fence. i would watch out, they seem to have more cunning than your average goat.
 
                
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I have raised two dester cows on 1 acre.  If you have good grass and water then you can do it, but you have to move them off the pasture to let it come back once in a while. 

With nothing but grass, hay and water you get a great meat with fat in it.

I payed $800 per cow for registered stock.  We just put our first cow in the freezer and we received 280 pounds of meat that works out to about $4 per pound of meat after buying it, feeding it a lot of hay and slaughtering it.  Not bad for grass fed steak!  However, to really make this work you need a bull, a cow, and the land to raise two cows you cant eat plus two cows for meat.  Then you would have almost free meat!
 
Jami McBride
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Thanks Dan.

I have heard from others raising Dexters who have had good results too.  So far no one has reported mini-breed troubles.  Not that they are not out there, but it may be due in part to other factors, and be more rare than indicated.

I'd be just as happy with any old-world smaller breed that gives rich milk 
 
Kathleen Sanderson
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I don't know about here in Oregon, but my friend in New York recently mentioned that they get $600 for a weaned heifer calf.  I could buy two really nice doe kids for that price, and would probably get more milk from the two goats at maturity than from the cow. 

On the other hand, if I want to make butter from goat milk, I need to buy a cream separator.

On the other hand, if I needed to pull a calf, I'd probably have to call the vet.  I can pull goats kids (hopefully won't need to) by myself.

And another 'on the other hand,' if a goat dies (in such a way that you don't want to use it for people food), that's about 135 lbs. to cut up for chicken feed, or to bury or to take to the vets for incineration (there's a charge, but it's by the pound).  If a cow, even a small one, dies, that's more like 800 lbs. to dispose of, one way or another. 

And, while you won't get as much meat from a dairy goat, as from a steer, they are easier for one person to butcher.

Speaking of which, someone up there said something about a 50% dressout for a dairy cow -- I think it's a little less than that.  More like 40%, IIRC.  About the same as for a dairy goat.  Meat goats and dual purpose (such as Kinder goats) can go up to 60% dressout -- and Kinders make very nice little milkers, too.

Kathleen
 
Jami McBride
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Good points Kathleen, maybe goats would be easier 
 
Kathleen Sanderson
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Jami McBride wrote:
Good points Kathleen, maybe goats would be easier   


There are good and bad points for both cows and goats.  I like cows -- we had a dairy when I was a little girl, and I always liked the cows.  But we've never had the land or the facilities (at least not both at the same time) for a cow since I've been an adult.  I'd love to have the cream to make butter, have been considering getting a cream separator, but haven't made up my mind on that yet, as they are not only expensive, you really should have quite a bit of milk to make it worthwhile, with all the cleaning that needs to be done.  On the other hand (LOL!), I've gotten so used to goat milk after drinking it for so many years that cow milk now tastes funny to me! 

Kathleen
 
Caitlin Elder
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They had an article Countryside in about miniature cattle.
 
Fred Morgan
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We are getting a miniture Jersey. They give a lot of milk and are not so hard on the land. Cost here in Costa Rica, less than 500 dollars just about at the point to give birth.

We have somewhere around 10 regular sized cows in different plantations for the caretakers - but this one is for us. I am not planning on being the milker. We have a caretaker on our land too - and so his family will share the milk with us for doing the work. 

 
Fred Morgan
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We got our cow, she is about to give birth in the next month or so to her second calf. This is a great age, you know they are a good mother and milker, but not too old.

Usually our cows look like Sherman tanks - but this one is like a pet - very affectionate. And I swear, she is nearly as wide as tall. 

Doesn't look like a Jersey to me - perhaps she is part swiss.
 
Jami McBride
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How cool Fred - post a pic for me 

So how much milk are you getting daily?
And are you going to bread her (buy another cow) or send her out for that job?
 
Fred Morgan
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Jami McBride wrote:
How cool Fred - post a pic for me 

So how much milk are you getting daily?
And are you going to bread her (buy another cow) or send her out for that job?


No milk yet since she hasn't given birth yet, but before she gave about 15 liters of milk per day.

I'll get a photo and post it.
 
                    
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So how big will a miniature cow get??

Do they have the same diet as big cows?
 
Kathleen Sanderson
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Dianne Keast wrote:
So how big will a miniature cow get??

Do they have the same diet as big cows?


They do have the same diet as regular cows, and really aren't all that small, running around seven or eight hundred pounds instead of maybe twelve hundred for a full-sized cow. 

Kathleen
 
Jami McBride
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Yup Kathleen, they are not large dogs 

I've read from 3' to 4.5' is the standard height range.
 
                    
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Thanks Kathleen,
I assume that the milk also is the same as a regular cow.

So is the main reason to get a mini cow the smaller size or are there other benefits to having miniatures?  D
 
Jami McBride
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Right now what they call miniature breeds (more like the size cows were originally before selective breeding) are very 'designer' - people get them as a novelty and they cost more much of the time than typical cows for this reason. 

The milk is the same, but with less volume of course.

The reason for a mini is the size - yes, and some report that after butchering you will get more usable meat per pound than a larger breed cow, and of course they eat less.  So in this case it enticement would be a more efficient breed, converting their feed into meat at better rates.

But for me the enticement is smaller size to manage, feed and less milk to deal with - all around less work when all is said and done, in a tighter package.

Some of the breeds of minis are heritage breeds and do not have the ratios of birth defects as the minis bred from the large breeds.  The more people that get into the continuation of these smaller breeds the better the blood lines, and the less issues in the stock will be seen.  This is another good reason for me to get into minis - to keep these original sized cows continuing into the future.
 
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