10 Things to Consider
When Choosing a Breed

Miniature-Cattle.com Choosing a breed of Miniature Cattle (including what to know about registries)
see also Breeds of Miniature Cattle
see also More Breeds of Cattle for the Small Homestead (Heritage breeds, small frame breeds)
Related Article: From Big to Small to Big to Small: By Harlan Ritchie, a 3-part Pictorial History of Cattle Changes Over the Years. (Some trends happened "too quickly" in history, which was an indication that crossbreeding was registered as "pure."
Related Article: What is a Breed. A simple, concise history of type & purity of British & Continental breeds of cattle. Beef Mag.
Related Article: Creating Breeds and Composites. TX Cooperative Extension Agency & Texas AMU
Related Article: Why Miniature Cattle? The Advantages & Disadvantages of Raising Miniature Cattle
Related Article: 6 Markets for 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 of various miniature breeds) and usually 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 miniature breed registries consider cows to be miniature when they measure up to 42 or 43 inches at the hip, by 3 years of age. Bulls are expected to be 1 to 3 inches taller. Most standard breed registries do not recognize height differences within their breed.

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. There is a good market for "value-priced" Miniature Cattle (cattle that are priced according to their true or realistic value), and that probably won't change in the forseeable future. The increase in numbers of small family farms and homesteads is likely to continue as long as finances and the economy remains uncertain; while the need for more self sufficiency continues, and while more and more people decide to start producing 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 also some miniature cattle breeds that are also heritage breeds.

4. Naturally Small Miniature Breeds of Cattle: In North America, there are 2 breeds of miniature cattle that are naturally small, and none measure more than miniature (or small frame) heights: The Irish Dexter and the miniature Zebu. Neither breed exists in larger "standard" size. The miniature Zebu is the smallest of the two. The Dexter breed carries a unique dwarf gene in some of 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 in the past few decades.

fullblood Shorthorn bull - J Bar J Ranch5. Preserved Miniature Cattle Breeds: Some centuries-old breeds of cattle of heritage bloodlines are 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 are 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 Highlands are a product of selecting for miniature, or, “breeding down in size.” There is also debate on this. Some breeders & historians claim some of these cattle are preserved, while others claim they are restored by selection. In restored breeds, the smallest (healthy) pure "throwback size" individuals are selected from more typical sized herdmates, and bred to return the breed back to its (real or perceived) shorter original size. Whether certain bloodlines or individuals, restored miniature cattle are still fullblood cattle that should also be registered alongside their standard herdbook members.

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 well-established breeds yet. Percentage breeds may be most accurately described as upgrades, composites or crossbreeds. Percentage miniature cattle are usually fun and interesting breeds created by crossing full size or small frame cattle with miniature breeds, or with dwarf Dexter cattle. The Miniature Holstein might be a good example of that. Or, they may be a cross between 2 or more miniature breeds with the goal of producing a blended breed with the best traits of its parent breeds.

miniature cow size comparisons

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 might be defined as "fullblood" or "purebred," depending upon which breed you are discussing. Or there may be breed specific terms used that indicate purity, such as the words "native" (Shorthorn) or "traditional" (Dexter), also used to identify heritage fullbloods with no known upgrade cattle in their pedigrees. Here are the main things to be aware of:

  • The term fullblood is not recognized by all registries. But most do, and fullblood indicates an animal is of 100% pure blood.
  • 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, or whose original sire or herd the animal is required to descend from.

percentage - purity - fullblood - purebred - chart

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, pure breeds make up one list, and 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 Scottish 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 percentage breeds of miniature cattle with the same 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, accurate pedigrees record and document the development of a breed. In old established pure breeds, accurate pedigrees safeguard and guarantee* 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 proven with recorded pedigrees, 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.

    *In reality DNA parentage testing is also needed to guarantee pedigree and purity, but since the first cattle registries mostly began in the mid 1800s, and DNA is a relatively recent innovation, it can only prove parents and offspring of animals that have DNA to test.

Sources and Related Articles...
Related Article: From Big to Small to Big to Small: By Harlan Ritchie, a 3-part Pictorial History of Cattle Changes Over the Years.
(Some trends happened "too quickly" in history, which was an indication that crossbreeding was likely in breed development.)
Related Article: What is a Breed. A simple, concise history of type & purity of British & Continental breeds of cattle. Beef Mag.
Related Article: Creating Breeds and Composites. TX Cooperative Extension Agency & Texas AMU

go home little cow
go home little cow

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