Miniature Livestock: An Overview
The Appeal of Miniature Livestock
Miniature livestock have been around for almost as long as any domesticated livestock but today they are still relatively unrecognized by the general population. However they are currently gaining popularity in first world countries as alternative pets and exotic sources of meat, dairy, and fiber. Some of these animals were even bred as beasts of burden at one point or another. New breeds are popping up at an amazing pace while ancient breeds still hold true. Forward thinking farmers are now looking to miniature livestock for their economical and environmental benefits. Smaller animals eat less food, destroy less land in their wake, and often produce the same amount of product as their larger counterparts.
There are several breeds of miniature horses that can be found in the registries today. Most of them are breeds that originated in the UK, bred in the beginning to be ideal mining ponies. Most historians agree that these miniatures were probably originally bred from breeding small Shetland ponies to smaller Shetland ponies, with their offspring getting shorter through the generations. Today they have found a special place among pet owners who use them mostly as companion animals. This isn't to say they've lost touch with their roots. Miniature horses can still be trained and bred to show, jump, pull carts, carry small children, or become service animals. In the United States there are several miniature ponies which do rounds to schools for educational purposes and several more that do routine service cheering up the folks in nursing homes and hospitals. There is at least one miniature horse that's currently working as a guide horse for the disabled. More guide horses will probably be trained as they are smarter then dogs and can live to be 35-40 years old. Whether they are palace pets or hard-working service animals these plucky little characters are livening up the lives of all those who love them.
Breeds of miniature horses include Dartmoor Ponies, Falabellas, Micro-Minis, American Miniature Horses, Midget Ponies, Miniature Shetland Ponies, Miniature Toy Horses, and Pygmy Horses.
Miniature cattle are interesting in the fact that many of these breeds predate most of the larger known breeds of cattle. Some of these breeds seem to have grown small on their own, without the help of man, likely due to isolation and limited food supplies. Other breeds were naturally small and actually were the foundation stock to create many of the larger breeds later on. Most of these breeds originated in the UK, where island life probably forced them to be smaller, again due to isolation and food resources. Dwarfism of animals on islands is a naturally occurring phenomenon much studied by biologists and paleontologists.
Miniature cattle come in 24 registered breeds, with more breeds being pioneered by the day. These cattle are used for all the same purposes of large cattle with the exception that a disproportionate number of them are kept as pets. Today these breeds are finding a new popularity as they have been found to be far more economical and environmentally friendly then their larger counterparts. Some of these cows are so efficient they can eat one fourth the amount of the larger cow breeds per pound of body weight. They are also easier on the land. After flirting with extinction these cows have come back with force to become serious contenders with the larger breeds. Of course all of this doesn't mention how adorable they are, which is why so many find pet homes well away from dairy and meat farms. Their size makes them easier to handle and ideal for 4-H programs.
Breeds of miniature cattle include: Miniature American Belted, Miniature Auburnshire, Australian Kyrhet, Miniature Angus, Barbee, Miniature Belmont, Miniature Belted Belmont, Miniature Black Baldie, Miniature Burienshire, Miniature Covingshire, Miniature Dexter, Miniature Shorthorn, Miniature Four-Breed Grad Wohl, Five Breed Miniature Grad Wohl, Miniature Hereford, Miniature Highland, Miniature Lesser Jersey, Miniature Belted Lesser Jersey, Miniature Kentshire, Miniature Red Kentshire, Miniature Kingshire, Panda, Miniature Zebu, and Miniature Texas Longhorn.
Miniature Mediterranean Donkeys are another example of island dwarfism. They appear to have been naturally small and come from Sicily and Sardinia, where they are now nearly extinct. Not to worry Americans and UK enthusiasts just love these little guys as companion and pack animals and they have been thriving since the first ones were shipped out in the 1920s. They were originally used as beasts of burden, being hooked up to grinding stones within peasant homes to aid in making flour. This job dates back to at least the 18th century but probably was employed sooner. These little guys are full of love, intelligence, and spunk. They make wonderful pets and are easily trained.
There are two breeds of miniature sheep that I could find, Olde English Babydolls and Miniature Shetland Sheep, both originating in the UK. Both breeds are predominantly used as fiber animals, with softer wool then regular sheep, but in the years past babydolls were also meat animals. Vikings brought the Shetland Sheep over to Shetland Island a thousand years ago, whereas babydoll sheep were developed in Sussex county in the 1700's. They're slow growing animals, gaining full maturity only after two years of age. Nonetheless it was their lusciously soft fur that ultimately saved them from extinction. Now they can be found happily in barnyards being used as pets and farm animals, slowly making their big comeback.
There are three well-known miniature goat breeds, all tracing back their ancestry to naturally small goats found in Africa. There is the Nigerian Dwarf Goat, African Pygmy Goat, and Australian Miniature. These goats are very often kept as pets in the states but are also great milking animals. Their milk is very good standing alone but can also be made into everything from cheese to soap. Many of these goats are even bottle-fed by humans and sold off as adoring companion animals.
Miniature Potbelly Pigs are probably the best known miniature pig but they aren't the only ones. They were first shipped into the United States in 1985 and soon found cult-like fame with pet owners searching for a dog alternative. Weighing in at 120-150 pounds they are only a fraction the size of a regular hog, with all the intelligence. They could be housebroken and trained dozens of tricks and most retired their beast of burden roles in order to become spoiled pets and sometimes farmyard novelties. Not satisfied with their weight numerous people tried to breed micro-mini or teacup potbellies, said to be as light as fifty pounds. These claims were soon flooded by accusations from responsible breeders saying these micro-minis were at their best a scam, and at their worst severely malnourished pigs. It remains to be seen if responsible breeders will be able to reduce their size any further through tried and true methods (selectively breeding the naturally smaller animals to each other over successive generations.) Other miniature pigs include the rare and colorful KuneKune and the rare 150-300 former porker Guinea Hog who as of yet do not share the notoriety of the potbellies but show promise with their docility.
Bantam chickens are fowl that were bred to be one fifth to one fourth the size of regular meat and laying chickens. Their origins are mysterious and debatable but that doesn't seem to matter. Due to the fact they come in hundreds of breeds, colors, and variations, they were once known only to wealthy fanciers who bred them for no specific purpose other than to be looked at and enjoyed. However they have gained much popularity in the past few decades as they have proven efficient layers and good meat birds as well for those wishing to have less quantities of meat. The smallest bantam in the world is the Serama, which at their largest only grow to 16 ozes, the size of a pigeon. These birds are usually kept for pets.
Serama Rooster Crowing
Miniature Turkeys are a rare farm animal to find. Most people who breed turkeys try to maintain breeds that grow fast and grow large. Turkeys do not lay nearly as many eggs as a chicken so breeding them to be the same size of a meat chicken is a bit of a pointless redundancy. Still, a few people took on the challenge and in the 1920s we ended up with the The Royal Palm Turkey. These turkeys are still exceedingly rare but they make for beautiful exhibition birds and people are still working on making new color strains. The hens get no bigger than a heavy breed chicken at 10-12 pounds while the toms can reach 16-22 pounds. Other miniature breeds include the Beltsville White, and the smallest Midget White. Midget White hens weigh in at eight pounds and toms get to be about 13 pounds, basically the same size as a heavy breed chicken but without the benefit of proficient egg laying.
Corgis and Munchkins
OK, so I know dogs and cats aren't livestock but these are two breeds you may find on a farm and they are true dwarf animals. Both carry the achondroplasia gene, a dominant gene that can be found even within the human population. Of course in humans this is considered a disorder but it's been bred into dozens of animal breeds for decades and possibly centuries. The gene causes the shortening of the legs, the absence of elbows, and their larger heads. Since the gene is dominant it's passed to successive generations very easily, one dwarfed parent will throw 50% dwarfed offspring when bred to another non-dwarfed animal. In corgis this gene was encouraged so that these little herding dogs could nip the ankles of the livestock they were working with. They provided all the benefits of having a herding dog but were much smaller and probably cheaper to feed. Munchkin cats were originally a feral breed and were picked up by curious humans and purposely bred at a later date. Although any breed of cat or dog has it's own set of inherent health risks these dwarfed animals (which also include dachhunds) had the benfits of being out-crossed to non-dwarfed animals for so many generations that the resulting stock we see today don't have any more health risks then the next breed.
For more articles by Theophanes:
More by this Author
So you've decided to buy some straight run chicks and raise the roosters for meat. This is what you'll need to know.
People love to breed animals with extreme characteristics, but what does this mean for chickens? Take a gander at some truly freaky chicken breeds.
Many people want a small pet but which is the right choice for you? Are you a fish person or do you want something cuddly and soft? Perhaps a bird or a frog would do?