Colorado, Kansas Breeders breed big business with small animals
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The Jessen family’s farm in Loveland, Colo. is far from average. A pen in the family’s yard is home to Pogo, a red kangaroo, and Micah, a wallaby. Chickens dart freely around pens, side by side with miniature donkeys and a two-year old girl in pink cowboy boots. Visitors find themselves torso to eye with a rare sight. In front of them, standing at just over three feet tall, is a miniature cow.
Lovable Little Ones, founded by Chris Jessen nine years ago, is home to 12 cows and four bulls, nearly all under 44 inches. The smallest full-grown cow is just under 36 inches tall. A two-week old baby is 16 inches tall. The “big” bull on the pasture is 40 inches tall.
“We raise miniature and micro-miniature cows,” Jessen said. “We primarily raise them for pets and we sell these pets all over the United States.”
The cows are very carefully engineered mutts, with Jersey, Lowline Angus, Belted Galloway, Dexter, Panda Cow and the occasional other breed all commingling in short fashion. Lovable Little Ones breeds with the goal of making the shortest cows possible, aiming for 36 inches or less, and ideally with a belted pelt. The cows that are 36 inches or less are classified as micro-miniature, and those that are between 36 and 44 inches are in the miniature category.
Miniature cows are ideal for small acreage, as they use less resources than their larger counterparts.
“There’s a lot of cattle people out there who have always had a pet cow. There’s always been their favorite cow, and these folks move from a thousand acre ranch and they move down to five acres. You really can’t realistically have a full-sized cow on five acres,” Jessen explained. “These miniature cows are the perfect option.”
From birth, the mini cows are pet daily and haltered so they are used to humans and attention. Jessen calls them his babies, or his puppy dogs.
“These guys are very social animals,” he said. “They want to be your friend.”
Breeding down to these mini moos is not an easy process, nor a short one, since there is not a lot of genetic research done on this specific type of cow.
Through his experimentation, Jessen has found some surprising details, like large cows sometimes produce the smallest calves. In addition, he’s found that the cross of a Lowline Angus and Miniature Jersey mix to a Dexter, Belted Galloway or Lowline Angus produces “super, super, super small calves.”
“We have a 5-7 year plan to produce miniature cows that are 36 inches or less and have the hair of a highland cow,” Jessen said. “I’m always looking for the best attributes of each animal and I’m breeding them to an animal with similar attributes, because that strengthens the attributes.”
Jessen said his micro-miniature and miniature cattle are in high demand.
“Most people think that they’re extremely cute. They kind of fall in love with the fact that you have pet cows,” he said.
His two-year-old daughter, Maddi, is fond of her furry friends, the younger of which she can see eye-to-eye with. As she ran into the pen, she excitedly called out one’s name — Tinkerbell — while another followed loyally at the heels of her stylish, tiny shoes.
“I like the fact that my two-year-old daughter can come out with me and play with these animals and work with these animals and we don’t have to worry about her safety,” Jessen said.
There are beef producing mini cows, usually Miniature Herefords or Lowline Angus. There are miniature milkers, primarily Jerseys and occasionally Holsteins. Then, there’s the Dexters, a mix between milk and meat.
“In the miniature cattle market, it mirrors the normal cattle market,” Jessen said.
On the dairy side of things, in Longmont, Colo., the cows of Ida’s Miniature Jerseys produce milk for owner Ida Hall’s raw milk shares.
“They’re different; they’re funny. They’re not like normal cows; they have more personality I think,” Hall said. “They are more like pets, I guess.”
Hall originally started raising miniature with Sara Haas, who now operates Sure Shot Cattle Company in Gering, Neb. Now, she is working on breeding her mini Jersey bulls to other cows to expand her herd of ten full mini Jerseys and about 40 mini crosses.
Her cows range from 38-44 inches tall and average 2-3 gallons in milk production per day. This smaller production is ideal for families who don’t need as much milk produced, Hall said.
In south central Kansas, breeder Joanie Storck is taking the idea of miniature cattle to another level of unique. Instead of breeding crosses, Storck has created her own breed — White Dexter Miniature cattle.
The cows’ bodies are white with black hooves and feet, nose, eyes and ears. Occasionally there will be a smattering of roan coloring on their shoulders. The cows are often called “pasture candy,” Storck said.
Storck has been raising Dexters since 1995, so upgrading the breed she loves seemed like a natural step to her.
“There was a gentleman in Elkhart Kansas who put a white park bull with ten of his cows. I saw those calves, and I said, ah, I have to have one,” she said. “I just went on a mission to change the color of the breed and was successful at it. It took me 13 years to do it.”
They are primarily beef cattle, one that Storck hopes to take to Oklahoma State University in the future to be tested for fat content, like she has done in the past for her regular Dexters. Storck just recently began selling them, so has not yet decided when she will butcher one for meat.
The White Dexter Miniatures are a five-generation upgrade, which makes them a registered purebred breed.
Within the Dexter breed, there is a dwarfism gene that causes long legs and short legs both to appear. This appears in the White Dexter Miniatures as well. The carriers of the short-leg gene will not grow taller than 48 inches and those that do not carry the gene grow between 50-54 inches.
“Some people strongly want a shorter cattle. They will gamble on the chondrodysplasia gene in order to have the short cattle because they eat less, it takes less ground to keep them on and they’re just exceptionally cute,” Storck said.
She offers her buyers the option of either type of cattle, depending on their height preference. All of her cattle have been tested for the dwarfism gene and she provides buyers with that information.
“That’s the ideal thing about these cattle is they are for small acreage. That’s the reason we got into the Dexters, is because we only had the 20 acres and we wanted to raise cattle,” Storck said. “We have run between 10-14 head on 15 acres now for twenty-some years. They’ve proven that there’s a one-acre cow.”