Like many little girls, I loved horses. I galloped and whinnied, doodled ponies on my homework and scorned Barbie (give me Breyer horses instead!). At 12 I bought my first horse and financed his keep through babysitting and peddling wild blackberries door to door. As life progressed I bred horses, trained them, gave lessons, wrote about them as a freelance writer and studied them in depth. They were my life.
Then we moved from East Central Minnesota (bringing along 12 horses, mostly decrepit rescues) to the southern Ozarks, where one day I spied a business card on a café bulletin board. A nearby breeder had miniature horses for sale. We’d bred miniature donkeys in Minnesota and really liked them, so we decided to take a look.
The die was cast. Before the month was out I owned a cob-type miniature stallion and two mares. Eight years later we have a few surviving full-size horses that will stay until departing for horse heaven, but now I like the little ones better.
So in 2003, when I decided to fulfill a dream and own sheep, I opted for a pint-size breed. Dumb luck led me to a woman dispersing her flock of arguably the best Miniature Cheviots in America. I started with her foundation ewe and a gorgeous ram lamb. Now I raise them, I’m a co-founder of the American Classic Cheviot Sheep Association and have 24 of these great little sheep.
Why miniature livestock? For starters, they require less housing space, pasture and feed than full-size counterparts. Less elaborate (thus less costly) fencing often suffices. Minis like pet pigs or Nigerian Dwarf dairy goats are sometimes acceptable where zoning laws prohibit full-size livestock. They are easier to handle and less intimidating than everyday livestock, especially for beginners, children, old folks and the physically challenged, not only due to their size but because many types of miniatures are specifically bred for calm disposition and tractability. Chores such as hoof trimming, shearing or clipping, giving shots and administering wormer are easier, as is training smaller animals for show or fun. Breeders on one side of America ship miniature lambs, kids and piglets via air, two to a standard large-size dog crate and most species are locally transportable in a van or SUV.
But minis aren’t simply window dressing. Consider, for example, Lowline cattle, a naturally pint-size Angus breed developed in at the New South Wales Department of Agriculture’s Trangie Agricultural Research Centre in Australia and widely disseminated throughout North America. The average Lowline cow is only 40 inches tall and weighs 800 pounds, while bulls are 42 to 44 inches tall and weigh about 1200 pounds, making Lowlines 50 to 60 percent the size of most beef cattle. They require approximately one-third the feed of their full-size peers yet according to Trangie Agricultural Research Centre figures they produce five percent more marbling than other breeds, half the backfat of full-size Angus, 30 percent more rib eye per hundredweight than any other breed, and they dress out at up to an amazing 76 percent live weight. At the 2009 National Western Stock Show’s National Lowline Sale a two year old cow named MCR Everlasting topped the sale at $13,250 while two more cows brought $10,000 each. Bred fullblood Lowline cows averaged $6986 and bulls, $3650. What’s not to like about Lowline cattle!
Miniature Herefords, Miniature Jerseys, Guinea Hogs, Babydoll Southdown sheep, Miniature Llamas and Nigerian Dwarf goats to name just a few – buyers want them and are willing to pay. The time for raising miniature livestock is now. That’s why I wrote Storey’s Guide to Raising Miniature Livestock.
Next time: My little sheep.