1. What are Homestead Cattle? Homestead Cattle can be defined as gentle, hardy, efficient cattle with grassfed genetics, that do well with low input, on small acreage. Miniature Cattle are often the first breeds of homestead cattle considered for small acreages, but there are other breeds that also work well.
2. What are Miniature Cattle? Miniature Cattle are small homestead cattle that range from one third to one half the size of standard breeds. The term Miniature Cattle does not refer to its breed -- it refers to its height; specifically, its Frame Score (FS) classification. There is no one single authority or definition, but in general, across the whole cattle industry, miniature cattle are those that measure from a frame score FS1 down to FS(-6) or "6-aught" or (FS000000). Some miniature registries only qualify cattle as miniature when cows measure up to 43 or 44 inches over the hip, at 36 months of age. Bulls of the same frame score will be a bit taller. Including FS1 (as done by the largest, longest established Lowline and miniature Hereford registries), miniatures are cows that reach up to 46" in height at maturity.
3. Are Homestead & Miniature Cattle Just Frivolous Fads? Some, Yes. Most, NO. Although still relatively rare, the numbers and popularity of homestead & miniature cattle have been steadily on the rise for years. With the steady growth in small homesteads, that should not change in the foreseeable future. Small family farms and homesteads are likely to increase in numbers as long as more people elect to produce their own home-grown food to ensure their family's health, safety and self-sufficiency.
4. What Should I Consider When Choosing a Breed? How do I decide what breed to buy? What traits should I compare?
FIRST, regardless of the breed, there are basic requirements that must be met for any breed of cattle. Make sure you are set up, and can provide the basic necessities for cattle:
First, make sure it's a good Homestead Breed: By definition, all homestead breeds should / be / have:
Breed Genetics: ALL breeds of cattle can have some genetics you will want, and some conditions to be aware of. Do you want to breed cattle with dwarfism? Read more about dwarfism genetics here: (http://www.miniature-cattle.com/bd.htm). Do you want to breed cattle with double muscling? Or cattle that have A1 or A2 milk; or that are horned, polled, etc? Read more about which breeds may carry which genetic traits here: (http://miniature-cattle.com/dna.htm) Do you want to breed crossbred cattle, or a pure breed of cattle?
To help narrow down which breeds would work well on your homestead, consider the following:
5. What Market Do You Want to Sell To, and What Markets Exist?
Local Market: If you raise enough cattle, you can produce extra beef or dairy products to sell for added side income. You may be limited to selling to local customers & farmer markets in your own community, but that is not usually a problem! There is often high demand for grass fed and grass finished beef, and raw milk, butter or cheese products in most communities, as well as other artisan products fresh from the homestead. You would have to make sure raw milk is legal to sell in your state, or you would have to sell it for pets only. If you plan to sell live animals locally, you should make sure you can produce cattle that are worth at least what you paid for them or their parents, to protect your investment. Expect to market them individually, and price them accordingly. If you sell homestead or miniature cattle at a local sale auction barn, expect to lose your hat.
Regional or National Market: If you plan to raise enough cattle to sell calves annually for side income, in general, your cattle should be high enough quality to be considered breeding quality cattle or "seedstock". If this is your goal, you must be able to reach a wider customer base. You must have a website or popular social media page, and be in a well-used public breeder directory where you will be seen and easily found in searches. And to meet this market, you must produce high value cattle that warrant high transport costs. This plan requires a higher initial investment, being willing to keep good production records, and planning for a higher annual budget to keep a fairly closed herd of routinely tested, healthy animals.
International Market: If you raise breeding quality cattle for live export, or if your seedstock cattle are high enough value to produce frozen genetics (frozen semen or embryos for export) that buyers from other countries may be interested in, make sure your cattle registry uses international breed codes, and, can direct you when choosing a facility for collection, processing and storing your frozen genetics; because facility certifications determine which countries your frozen semen or embryos may export to in the future.
What are Seedstock, or Breeding Cattle? Breeding Cattle are higher-than-average quality animals that carry excellent genetics, purchased by buyers that seek herd improvement. Top quality breeding cattle should bring market (beef) price plus a premium. (How MUCH of a premium they should bring, will depend upon how much the "frivolent fad" element is involved.) Recognizing, selecting, buying and breeding higher quality breeding cattle takes knowledge and experience. Recognizing and judging good conformation is also intuitive, and it is reasonable to realize that some people never really get good at that (even if they believe they are due to their level of experience). If you are just starting out, do a lot of listening before doing any deciding. Get advice and learn from many people, who are most experienced and objective.
HOMESTEAD & MINIATURE CATTLE MARKETS:
6. What is a Breed? Knowing what a breed is, can help you decide on what you want. There is no single definition, but across the livestock industry, in general, a breed is a population of related animals that have not been out-crossed with other genetics for a century or more. A breed is made of animals with a common origin and purpose and selection history. Animals within a breed have physical characteristics that distinguish them from other breeds or groups of animals within that same species.
7. What is not a Breed? Crossbred cattle are not breeds. Composite or percentage bred cattle are technically not breeds, but may be breeds in evolution. Registered cattle are those with documented pedigrees, however, a pedigree can be made up of one or more breeds. So, whether an animals is registered or not, is no indication of whether it is a pure bred animal or not. Most registered miniature cattle in North America are composites, upgraded percentage breeds, or breeds in development.
8. What is a Composite or Percentage Breed? It is a crossbred or an upgrade or a developing "breed." There are more miniature "percentage breeds" than there are miniature fullblood breeds. Some of them are very popular and fetch high prices. Higher prices result from supply and demand created by novelty marketing strategies, emphasizing special types or colors, and trends in popularity. The most popular breeds are listed and described in more detail on Homestead & Miniature Cattle Breeds of North America.
9. What is the difference between purebred and fullblood? Fullblood and purebred are the most widely used terms to define the breed purity or breed blood percentage of cattle. The most widely used definition is: Fullblood means 100% pure. Purebred means close, but not 100% pure.
Breed purity in cattle is often referred to in the following terms:
But this is only a guideline ...
Sometimes these terms are used interchangeably between different breeds or registries.
Sometimes these terms have different definitions in different breeds.
Therefore, in cases where breed purity is a factor, (eg. when preserving rare breeds in danger of extinction) it is important to ask the right questions, and to clarify everyone's definitions when using these terms. There are also a few additional breed specific terms such as "heritage" (many breeds such as beef Shorthorn, Angus, etc.), "native" (Milking Shorthorn), "traditional" (Dexter), or OP~Original Population (Herefords), used to identify fullblood cattle with no known outside genetics in their pedigrees.
When shopping for cattle or choosing a breed, most buyers are not overly concerned about breed purity. Buyers just need to be aware that once purity is traded in for the advantages of outcrossing (eg. heterosis or blending the favorable traits of multiple breeds, or "improving" an old breed, or creating a new breed), it cannot be undone. When buying cattle, if purity is a concern, don't make assumptions. Many breeders are unaware of the actual purity of their own animals. And just because an animal is registered, does not mean it is pure. More often than not, it isn't pure. Read more here: What is the Difference between Purebred and Fullblood? (and who cares?).
10. How Many Breeds Are There?
Miniature Breeds? Well... possibly fewer than you may have heard...
Homestead Breeds? Maybe more than you realized...
There is probably about a dozen (10-12) pure breeds of miniature cattle at any one time. The number of pure breeds (notice I didn't say purebreds) that have a wide range of sizes, including "miniature cattle," is not carved in stone--that number is a moving target: A new miniature family or bloodline of cattle may be discovered at any time amongst other larger breeds. And, the ones that exist now, could disappear any time if they are not preserved, and crossbred into extinction. So, let's count the miniature breeds we know about listed by their category:
Original Miniature Cattle: In North America, there are 2 breeds of cattle that normally come only in frame score 1 and below:
These are the only pure breeds of cattle in North America that exist only in miniature size. The miniature Zebu is the smaller of the two. The Irish Dexter carries several bulldog (BD) dwarf genes (also known as chondro, pronounced (kän-drə), a short-limbed dwarfism) which is neither encouraged nor discouraged by Dexter registries. The chondro gene additionally shortens carriers by a few more inches. Irish Dexter and Miniature Zebu cattle are the 2 original miniature breeds in North America that have been used for decades to crossbreed with and create many of today's composite or percentage breeds of miniature cattle.
Heritage Miniature Cattle: In some old breeds of cattle there are small bloodlines that qualify as miniature. Some of these are quite rare. Some may have been preserved all along in their breed's original shorter style. Some have been restored by selecting back to the shorter, older original style. The breeds in this category include:
Heirloom Miniature Cattle: Finally, we should mention a few miniature "purebred" breeds of cattle that are developing breeds with a long-established history in America. Their passed down heritage indicates that while these cattle are not fullblood breeds with centuries of documented pedigrees, they are historical cattle selected for their old style and type, which have persisted and survived over the decades into what many recognize as miniature breeds today. These include:
IN CONCLUSION: I hope this article helps the reader narrow down which Homestead Cattle breeds might work best for them. But, if you are still having a hard time making the final decision on which breed to choose, well... what would you and your family most enjoy seeing outside your window?
~Donna Grace Vickery
American Beltie (DR, DL, BG), miniature
American Lineback, crossbred miniatures
Angus, black, Heritage
Angus, red, Heritage
Ayrshire, Heritage, miniature
Baldie (BWF, RWF, BBF), miniature
Beefmaster ("Meatmaster") miniature
Belfair (50:50 DR x JE)
Black Hereford, miniature
Braford, crossbred, miniature
Brahman, crossbred, miniature
Brangus, crossbred, miniature
British White (BW-polled) small frame, miniature
Brown Swiss, Heritage, miniature
Bucking Bulls (miniature)
Club Calf, miniature
Crossbred Beef x Dairy dual purpose Crossbred Dairy
Dexter (Irish) crossbred
Florida Cracker, crossbred, guinea
Riggit (lineback marking)
White (white park marking)
Girolando Gyr (or Gir), miniature
Irish Jersey (75:25 DR X JE)
Kentsire (HH, HP, blk DR)
Kerry (Irish), crossbred
Lincoln Red (heritage), miniature
Lowline (AAA, blk, red), crossbred
Mexican Corriente, crossbred
Normande, crossbred, miniature
Panda (HH, HP, DL, DR, GA)
Pineywoods, crossbred, guinea
Pinzgauer, crossbred, miniature
Santa Gertrudis, crossbred, miniature
Scottish Highland, crossbred, miniature
(horned, polled, milking), crossbred, miniature South Poll, crossbred, miniature
Speckle Park, crossbred, miniature
Square Meater (mini Murray Grey)
Tarentaise, crossbred, miniature
Taurindicus ("Western Heritage", "Sundog")
Texas Longhorn, crossbred
Wagyu, crossbred, miniature
Watusi (Ankole), crossbred, miniature
Welsh cattle, small frame
White Park (BW-horned), crossbred, miniature
Zebu (miniature), crossbred
Inquiring Minds Want to Know...
Truth and accuracy: Homestead Cattle Association is responsible for reports that are quoted internationally. HCA articles result from decades of research compiled from the latest work of multiple ranchers & regenerative farmers with first hand experience in the field. HCA reports are not written to meet quick publication deadlines for popular magazines. They are not "research" that are collections of re-worded unfounded quotes copied and passed down over decades. These articles and reports contain real life information that can help increase efficiency and profits on today's homestead.
Declaration of Conflicting Interests: The author declares no potential conflicts of interest
with respect to the research, authorship, and/or publication of this report.
Funding: The author received no financial support for the research, authorship or publication of this report.
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~ Donna Grace.