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10 FAQ When Choosing a Breed

1. What are Homestead Breeds of Cattle? Homestead Cattle can be defined as gentle, efficient types of cattle with grassfed genetics, that do well with low input, on small acreage. Miniature Cattle are often the first homestead cattle to be recommended for small acreages, but there are other breeds that also work very 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 Frame Score (FS) classification or height. There is no one single definition, but in general, miniature cattle range from frame score zero (0) or (1) down to "6-aught" (000000). Many registries qualify cows as miniature when they measure up to 43 inches over the hip, at 36 months of age. Bulls of the same frame score will be taller.

3. Are Miniature Cattle Just Frivolous Fads? No. Although relatively rare, the numbers and popularity of miniature cattle have been on the rise for years. There has been a steady growth in the demand for small homestead "value-priced" cattle (priced with a realistic market value), that should not change in the forseeable 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 Breed Traits to Compare? By definition, all homestead breeds should be docile, efficient producing cattle that produce enough milk or beef for a small homestead family. All are usually healthier and live longer than high-production, modern commercial breeds. No matter the breed, there are basic requirements:

    Number: Since cattle are herd animals and unhappy kept alone, owning two is the minimum. You can run more head per acre if you choose smaller cattle.

    Shelter: Assess your homestead--all breeds should have wind breaks, shade from sun, and a dry place to escape wet weather.

    Past that, choosing a breed will depend on what you prefer to look at outside your window, plus your:

5. What Markets Exist For Selling Homestead & Miniature Cattle? If you plan to raise a few head of cattle to sell for side income, find out what markets dominate your local area. If you plan to market regionally or nationally, you must produce higher value cattle that warrant high transport costs. Selling homestead cattle is more similar to selling horses than marketing commercial cattle. Expect to market each animal individually, which requires a certain amount of time and effort. Typical markets for homestead and miniature cattle include:

  1. Family Homestead Cattle. These are the happy, gentle, efficient family cattle that provide meat and /or milk for the family. These cattle should produce offspring that sell well for the average market price per pound, if not more.

  2. Breeding Cattle are higher than average quality animals purchased by owners of average quality herds for improvement. Top quality breeding cattle should bring market price plus a premium. Recognizing, selecting, buying and breeding higher quality breeding cattle takes knowledge and experience. If you are just starting out, getting advice and help from someone experienced is required. Getting advice and help from breeders who are trying to sell you cattle, is not advisable.

  3. Registered Cattle. While registration alone does not indicate whether cattle are high quality or not, the documented pedigrees indicate their breed, breed percentage and ancestry. High quality registered seedstock breeding cattle are sought after by purebred breeders that want to maintain or need to improve their herd.

  4. Heritage Cattle. Rare breeds, when fullblood (documented by pedigree registration), can fetch a premium with preservation breeders.

  5. Bucking Stock. Small gentle bulls that will happily buck when flank-strapped, stay in demand in areas where Little Britches type rodeos are popular for kids.

  6. Novelty Pet Cattle are prized for their friendliness or their looks more than for their production. They may sell well to petting zoos or to first time cattle owners. They are often exceptionally small, well socialized, halter broke, cute or fuzzy cattle, with extra fancy colors or markings, that can bring high prices when creatively marketed, or may bring less than market price at the local auction barn. So be careful. Excessively high priced novelty cattle should probably be avoided due to trends that could end without warning.

6. What is a Breed? Knowing what a breed is, can help you decide on what you want. There is no single definition, but in general, a breed is a population of related animals that have not been outcrossed with other genetics for a century or more. A breed is made of animals with a common origin 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 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 not an indication of whether it is a pure bred animal or not. Most registered miniature cattle in North America are composites, 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 "percentage breeds" than there are miniature fullblood breeds. Some of them are very popular and bring high prices when sold. Higher prices result from supply and demand created by novelty marketing strategies, emphasizing special types or colors, and trends in popularity. The most popular percentage breeds are listed and described with more detail on the Homestead & Miniature Cattle Directory of Breeds.

Fullblood, Purebred, Percentage & Composite Chart from Homestead Cattle Association, herdbook registry

9. What is the difference between fullblood and purebred? Simply put, fullblood means 100% pure, and purebred means close but less than 100% pure. Fullblood and purebred are the most widely used terms to define and classify the breed purity or blood percentage of cattle. When shopping for cattle or choosing a breed, most buyers are not overly concerned about breed purity. However, it is important to realize 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. 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, to clarify everyone's definitions when using these terms. Breeds of cattle that are 100% pure can be defined as "fullblood" or "purebred," depending upon which breed, person, or registry you are dealing with. There are some additional breed specific terms such as "native" (Milking Shorthorn), "heritage" (beef Shorthorn, Angus, etc.) or "traditional" (Dexter), used to identify heritage fullbloods with no known outside genetics in their pedigrees. Read more here.

Breed Purity in cattle is often referred to with the following terms:

  • composite breed cattle: 25% -- 49.99% blood percentage
  • percentage breed cattle: 50% -- 87.499% blood percentage
  • purebred breed cattle: 87.5% -- 99.99% blood percentage
  • fullblood breed cattle: 100% blood percentage

This is only a guideline ...
Sometimes these terms are used interchangably in different breeds.
Sometimes these terms have different definitions in different breeds.

10. How Many Breeds of Miniature Cattle Are There? Contrary to frequently quoted popular opinions, using accurate definitions of the word "breed," there are only about ten (10) breeds of miniature cattle. And this is not carved in stone--the number of miniature breeds is a moving target: A miniature height family of cattle may be discovered at any time among other larger fullblood breeds, or, the known, rare miniature height cattle within a few larger breeds could disappear any time if they are crossbred into extinction. But for now, 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 are found only in frame score 1 and below:

(1) Irish Dexter

(2) Miniature Zebu

These are the only pure breeds of cattle in North America that only come in miniature size. The miniature Zebu is the smallest of the two. The Irish Dexter breed carries a unique dwarf gene (that is neither encouraged nor discouraged by Dexter registries) which additionally shortens Dexter chondro carriers by a few more inches.

Miniature Zebu and Irish Dexter cattle are the 2 original miniature breeds in North America that have been used for decades to crossbred with and create many recent composite or percentage breeds of miniature cattle known today.

miniature cow size comparisons

Heritage Miniature Cattle: In old breeds of cattle there are sometimes rare small bloodlines that qualify as miniature. Some may have been preserved all along in their original shorter style and some may have been restored by selecting back to the shorter, older style. The breeds in this category include:

fullblood Shorthorn bull - J Bar J Ranch(3) Miniature Hereford

(4) Lowline (Aberdeen Angus)

(5) Texas Longhorn

(6) Heritage Jersey (at risk of extinction)

(7) Scottish Highland (at risk of extinction)

(8) Heritage Shorthorn (at risk of extinction)

(9) Galloway (all 4 colors are at risk of extinction)

(10) British White Park (at risk of extinction)

(11?) (occasionally we discover a few miniature cattle among other breeds) South Devon

Heirloom Miniature Cattle: Finally, we should mention a few miniature "purebred" breeds of cattle that have an extensive history in America. Their passed down heritage indicates that while these cattle are not fullblood breeds with documented pedigrees, they are cattle with a long history that have survived and been selected for many decades for their old style and type, and have persisted over the decades as what most of us recognize as miniature breeds today. These include:

(1) American Miniature Jersey: There are breeders of long ago, that selected for high percentage Jersey, and Jersey type homestead cattle, that were shorter and stouter built. Today the American Miniature Jersey will BBR DNA test as pure (high percentage) Jersey.

(2) Heirloom Miniature Durham: For many years there have been a few breeders who bred purebred (high percentage) old style Durham Shorthorns; in both beef and dual purpose types.

Resources / Sources:

If you know of any fullblood miniature height cattle in a breed not listed above, please email me: donna@internationallivestockregistries.com

Homestead & Miniature Cattle Breed Directory (miniature-cattle.com)
What to know about Breed Registries
GENETIC MUTATIONS: 12 Fascinating Facts about DNA that your geneticist won't tell you
Directory of Heritable Diseases, Genetic Conditions, and DNA testing in Cattle Breeds

What is a Breed. A simple, concise history of type & purity of British & Continental breeds of cattle. Beef Magazine
Creating Breeds and Composites. TX Cooperative Extension Agency & Texas AMU
From Big to Small to Big to Small: A 3-part Pictorial History of Cattle Type Changes Over the Years, by Harlan Ritchie
Frame Score / inbreeding: Dynamics of genomic architecture during composite breed development in cattle. By: T do P Paim, E H A Hay, C Wilson, M G Thomas, L A Kuehn, S R Paiva, C McManus, H D Blackburn. Some livestock breeds face the challenge of reduced genetic variation, increased inbreeding depression owing to genetic drift and selection. Hybridization can reverse these processes and increase levels of productivity and adaptation to various environmental stressors. Samples from American Brangus were used to evaluate the indicine/taurine composition through nine generations (~45 years) after the hybridization process was completed. The purpose was to determine how hybridization alters allelic combinations of a breed over time when genetic factors such as selection and drift are operating. January 21, 2020: Animal Genetics.


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©Homestead & Miniature Cattle Directory
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author: Donna Grace Miniature.Cattle.Directory@gmail.com
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first published online ©01-01-2018 by Vintage Press, LLC.