Miniature Cattle ?
There is nothing, absolutely nothing, new about miniature
cattle. They are in fact, descendants of the world’s most ancient breeds. St.
Patrick himself may well have eaten Irish Dexters in the fourth century A.D.
and the shaggy ancestors of today’s Highland cattle roamed the glens of Britain
while King Arthur’s knights sat at the round table. It is the large, commercial
cattle breeds of today which are the new comers. They have grown out of the
twentieth century “bigger is better” theory of agriculture.|
One hundred years ago in America, while small farms thrived, the family cow was
a small, docile bovine , more akin to a family pet, than a farm animal. She
usually had a name, which insured her a long and mostly peaceful life because no
one named an animal they intended to eat. She produced enough milk for the
family, with maybe a little left to sell. She also produced a calf each year for
In contrast to the Hollywood image of huge cattle drives, most herds were small
and the big drives were usually made up of many small herds pulled together for
safety and convenience while being moved to market. Small farms kept small herds
of “dual-purpose” cattle, so named because they supplied both milk and meat.
They were hardy enough to forage on unimproved pasture land. In other words,
they were very much like today’s miniature cattle.
Only a few years ago, miniature cattle were thought of almost entirely as a
novelty. Fifteen years ago, we saw our first miniature cow. She was (and still
is) a mid-size Scottish Highland named Teddie. We spotted her wandering in a
sunbaked pasture on the Texas Coast with no grass and little water. Rumors were
she might be a Musk Ox, a Wilderbeast, or “some kind of African animal.” We
located her owners and learned she had been purchased at an exotic animal sale.
Now, they had lost their pasture lease and had no idea what to do with her.
Needless to say, Teddie came home with us. She was little more than a lovable
oddity at the time, and many miniatures do still become family pets, but today’s
miniatures are more multipurpose than they have ever been during their long
How we got started|
In 1996, Jan’s Toyland Farm started raising miniature High-Dex cattle, a Highland
& Dexter crossbreed . We chose the Highland cattle because they are cute and
loveable, but found that Miniature Highlands were few and far between. Unable to
locate an acceptable, small Highland bull to breed our cow, we artificially
inseminated with semen from a small Dexter bull. This worked well, and as the
size came down and the Highland look remained, the end result became the
Miniature High-Dex cattle line. They are a foraging, dual-purpose (milk &meat)
animal ideally suited for homestead farms. After a decade of breeding we are now
getting calves born as small as14" tall and about 35" full grown. We try to keep
our herd under 20 cows so we can work with them closely and keep them gentle
enough to eat out of our hand and let us pet them.
The History of Highland Cattle|
Highlands are an ancient breed of shaggy, long haired small
cattle raised in ancient Scotland. They were originally two breeds. The larger,
being raised mostly on the mainland, became the Highlands we know today. A
smaller breed, which seems to have come from the Hebrides Islands and the Isle
of Skye, were black and originally known as Kyloe, meaning “ferry” in Gaelic.
The name may have referred to cattle which were ferried to market across a chain
of islands to the mainland. It also have meant “Faerie cattle,” a reference to
the mythical little people, whose folklore is so well established in the
Hebrides. A British study based on Royal Navy beef purchase records of the mid
to late 1700's, theorizes that prior to about 1820 Highland cattle were no
larger than today’s miniatures.|
Today’s Miniature Highlands are duel purpose and ideal homestead cattle. They
reach a maximum height of 42 inches. They are double coated, similar to Galloways
and bison. Their outer coat is long, course hair but the inner coat is soft and
down-like, which they shed in summer and, by some accounts, can be spun like
wool. Most Highlands are red or blond colored and are most recognizable by their
long shaggy hair and forelock. Cows have long, forward curving red tipped horns,
while bull horns are shorter and usually extend straight out from the head. The
breed is highly adaptable, and are raised from Alaska to Texas. Although gentle
and laid back, the Highlands maintain a strong ancient instinct to protect their
herd and their territory. At the time of this writing there has not been a
single reported wolf kill of a Highland anywhere in North America. They do not
require especially good summer pasture or especially good hay in winter. In fact
they thrive in places where some other cattle would die. They are natural
foragers and are at least as good as goats for clearing undergrowth and low
hanging leaves. Their meat is very lean and low in cholesterol. Their milk is
about two to three gallons a day. They even occasionally find work as movie
extras in films set in medieval times.
History of Irish Dexter
Irish Dexter (American Dexter)
The Irish Dexter is a naturally miniature breed. It is believed to have evolved
from ancient miniature cattle in central Europe which were brought together as a
herd in the Mountains of Ireland. The first Dexters were brought to America
in1905 and the Dexter registry was formed in 1911. They are both meat and milk
producers, averaging from 1.5 to 3 gallons per day. They thrive on one-half acre
of good grass and have even been successfully used as draft animals. Cows
registered with the American Dexter Cattle Association measure between 36 to 42
inches at the shoulder at three years of age and weigh approximately 750 lbs.
Bulls can be slightly larger, from 38 to 44 inches and weigh around 1,000 lbs.
Their colors are black, red and dun. Heifers can be mated early, at fifteen to
eighteen months. They are known for easy calving, and a cow’s breeding life can
be up to fourteen years.