10 Things to Consider
When Choosing a Breed

Miniature-Cattle.com Choosing a breed of Miniature Cattle (including what to know about registries)
back to: Breeds of Miniature Cattle
back to: More Breeds of Cattle for the Small Homestead
Related Article: Why Miniature Cattle? The Advantages & Disadvantages of Raising Miniature Cattle
Related Article: 6 Markets for Miniature Cattle
Related Article: How to Make Money with Miniature Cattle

1. Miniature Cattle are small breeds of cattle that range from about a third to one half the size of standard breeds of cattle. Miniature cattle typically range between 36-45 inches in height (cows and bulls) and range in Frame Scores (FS) from 0 to 000000 ("6-aught"). The term Miniature Cattle is not a breed, but is a height classification. Most registries consider cows to be miniature when they measure under 42 to 43 inches tall at the hip, by 3 years of age. Bulls are expected to be 1 to 3 inches taller.

2. Miniature Cattle are not Frivolous Fads. Although still rare, the numbers and popularity of miniature cattle is on the rise, and has been for some time, and will continue to become more popular for years to come. There is a very good market for value priced Miniature Cattle, and that will not change in the forseeable future. They will continue to hold value because of the continued increase in numbers of little family farms. Small acreage homesteads will continue to be on the rise for many reasons; not the least of which is to produce their own safe home grown food. Miniature Cattle fit right in on small acreages.

3. Heritage Cattle: Although Miniature Cattle are the first to be recommended for small acreages, there are other breeds that work wonderfully on small homesteads. Many are heritage breeds. There are some miniature cattle that are also members of heritage breeds.

4. Naturally Small Miniature Breeds of Cattle: In North America, there are 2 breeds of miniature cattle that have always been miniature: The Irish Dexter and the miniature Zebu. These breeds have always been miniature breeds, and do not exist in larger size. The miniature Zebu is the smallest natural miniature breed in North America. The Irish Dexter is the next naturally small breed of cattle. The Dexter breed also carries a unique dwarf gene within its population (that is neither encouraged nor discouraged by Dexter registries) which additionally shortens chondro carriers by a few more inches. Both miniature Zebu and Irish Dexter cattle have been used to create many newer breeds, or composites, of miniature cattle.

fullblood Shorthorn bull - J Bar J Ranch5. Preserved Miniature Cattle Breeds: Some centuries-old breeds of cattle have heritage bloodlines of small framed cattle that have been preserved in their original shorter stature. These smaller frame cattle range from classic down to miniature sizes. There is some debate on this, but for the most part these breeds include the Lowline (miniature Angus), miniature Hereford, miniature Scottish Highland, miniature Shorthorn, and a few purebred miniature British White Park and Galloway cattle. These small old vintage bloodlines will be found as fullblood cattle that are registered in their main breed registries, and trace back to their earliest ancestors. Some represent unique gene pools that have almost been lost in the last century. Breeding rare purebred miniature cattle breeds adds a potential unique market niche with other heritage cattle breeders. Some can be found at very inexpensive prices, especially in herds owned by breeders that are not selecting for smaller frame scores.

6. Restored Miniature Cattle Breeds: Breeds like the miniature Texas Longhorn, miniature Jersey and some of the miniature Galloway and miniature Scottish Highland, are a product of selecting for miniature, or, “breeding down in size.” There is also some debate on this. Some breeders & historians claim some of these cattle are preserved, while others claim they are restored by selection. The smallest (healthy) pure "throwback size" individuals are selected from more typical sized herdmates, and bred to restore or return the breed back to its (real or perceived) shorter original size. Whether singular bloodlines, whole herds, or just individuals, these miniatures are fullblood cattle that will also be registered in their main herdbook registries.

7. Percentage Miniature Cattle Breeds: Many new miniature cattle "breeds" have been created in the past few decades. Some are still in development, and are not actually well-established breeds yet. These breeds may be more accurately described as upgrades, composites or crossbreeds. Percentage breeds are fun and exciting cattle created by crossing standard (modern size) breeds with naturally miniature and /or dwarf Dexter cattle. The Miniature Holstein might be a good example of that.

8. Fullblood and Purebred: What do these terms mean? Simply put, these terms are used to classify the breed purity or blood percentage of an animal. When choosing a breed of miniature cattle, we may or may not be interested in breed purity. We know that once purity is traded for the advantages of an outcross (eg. heterosis or blending your favorite traits of multiple breeds), it cannot be reclaimed. There are lots of breeders of percentage miniature cattle. But, for those cases where purity is a factor, (for example, when preserving rare breeds in danger of extinction) it is important to compare notes and clarify definitions whenever either of these terms are used, when making investments or other decisions. Breeds of cattle that are 100% pure can be defined as "fullblood" or "purebred," depending upon which breed you are discussing. Here are the main things to be aware of:

  • The term fullblood is not recognized by all registries. But most do, and fullblood means an animal is 100% pure.
  • The term purebred is used instead of fullblood in some (mostly British) breed registries.
  • With breeds that use the term fullblood, the term purebred then refers to animals of high percentage purity (but less than 100%).
  • In North America, most miniature cattle advertised and sold as "registered purebreds" are percentage animals.
  • Some well-established composite breeds (such as the Santa Gertrudis) also use the word fullblood to indicate a pure as possible animal. That can be confusing, as it is mostly a subjective perspective about what timeline defines when a breed becomes pure.

9. Purity and Breed Names: In North America, most breeds of miniature cattle are fairly recently developed (percentage breeds). In the directory of miniature cattle breeds, the pure breeds make up one list, and the percentage breeds make up another, in order to clarify the difference between several hybridized and unhybridized breeds that use the same breed name (for example, miniature Highland or miniature Belted Galloway). While most miniature cattle owners and breeders are not concerned with purity or preservation breeding, those that are, see an important genetic difference between fullblood and purebred populations of miniature cattle with the same breed name.

10. What to Know About Registries.

  • PRIMARY PURPOSE: The primary purpose of a registry is to accurately record pedigrees. In percentage or composite breeds of cattle, pedigrees are important to record and document the development of a breed. In old established pure breeds, pedigrees are recorded to safeguard the breed's purity.
  • REQUIRED PURPOSE: To carry out its mission, a registry must include the goal of monetary survival and self sufficiency.
  • SECONDARY PURPOSES of a registry include breed promotion and breeder and membership support. To support secondary goals in pure breed registries, additional divisions can be added to the main herdbook for percentage and upgrade cattle. Registries of rare breeds with animals that are likely pure but not registered, may add hardship divisions to their herdbook.
  • When PRIMARY & SECONDARY PURPOSES collide secondary purposes can replace primary purposes. In North American breeds of Miniature Cattle, there are only a few registries that deal with purity or preservation issues, and those are registries of larger populations of standard sized breeds, in which miniature versions make up only a small percentage of their population.
  • Most miniature cattle registries exist to identify miniature cattle by height, to accurately record pedigrees while breeds are developing and improving, to promote the breeds, and to support their membership.


go home little cow
go home little cow

publisher: Vintage Publishers
owner: ©Miniature-Cattle.com
published online: October 2018
author: Donna G Vickery