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  • Susan Roberts

Get Started with Mini Cows: The Basics


Mini cows hanging out in the weaning pen
Scooter and Sammie

So you think you want a mini cow? Great choice! The world of mini cows is fascinating, and fun, and rewarding. Sometimes hard work.


Prepping to bring home your first mini cow is a little more involved than bringing home a new puppy, so it's good to spend a little time getting ready.


Whether you're the kind of person who does All. The. Research. Or jumps in with both feet. Or talks to everyone you can find for anecdotal input. At the end of the day, there's multiple paths to get started with mini cows that leads you to the same place.


Lately I've hosted a few groups at Bossy Boots Ranch, who are learning so they can get started with mini cows. I thought I'd start an educational series that I can share when people come visit so they don't have to take so many notes.


Here's part 1, with the basic considerations. Keep your eye out for deep-dive follow on articles about each of these topics as you get started with mini cows. And feel free to comment here to share what you know!


How Many Mini Cows, What Kind

You don't have to have all the answers, but you should think about what is your objective for now and down the line.


First, cows are herd animals. They need more than one of their own kind. If you don't have the space or budget or energy to care for two, then you may have to settle for looking at cute cow pics on social media.


Some people report good experience pairing a cow with other livestock, such as a donkey or horse. Others say no way, a cow is a cow is a cow.


My personal experience is cows with cows, and horses with horses. You'll want to do your own in-depth research on this issue.


Second, do you want a heifer/cow, steer, or bull. If you are looking for a pet only, then any combination of heifers and steers is a great choice. If you are wanting to breed down the line, read on because you have several other considerations!


Terminology: On the female side, "heifer" refers to a female who hasn't had a calf yet, and "cow" is a female who's had at least one calf. Sometimes people refer to a first calf heifer as one who's had one calf. On the male side, "steer" refers to a male that has been castrated, while "bull" refers to a male that is intact.

Three main points to consider if you're wanting to breed mini cows -- 1) heifers/cows come into heat every 21 days so you can't have a bull as a companion until you're ready for them to actively breed, 2) many mini cows aren't ready for breeding until they're between 2-3 years old (unlike conventional dairy and beef herd operations where they're ready to breed between 1-2 years old), and 3) you'll need to make a decision on where you stand with chondrodysplasia.


Terminology: Chondrodylplasia is sometimes called chondro+ or bulldog dwarfism or BD+. In practical terms, it is a genetic defect that impacts cartilage and bone formation, resulting in shorter cows. Talking about use of chondro in your breeding program is a "trigger" for many people, who are often passionate on both sides of the issue. You can find naturally small cattle that fit into the mini cattle sizing, but you will not likely find micro mini cattle unless they are chondro+. You should do your own research and make sure you know where you stand on this point. Reference: Chondrodysplasia Dwarfism in Miniature-Cattle

Third, you need to think about size. You're here to learn about mini cows, so one thing you should be aware of is that there's quite a range of "acceptable" heights when it comes to mini cows. My shortest mature cow is about 36-37", and my tallest is about 44-45"! I highly highly recommend visiting some cows in person to gauge the size. Also, be aware of scammers galore! I'll share some tips on this in a deep-dive. Reference: Frame Classification: Mature Height Measurements


Shelter for Mini Cows

The internet is full of beautiful pictures of mini cows in luxury barns. Rest assured that you do NOT need a luxury barn. In fact, many people with mini cows report that their cows rarely go into a barn at all, even when they have access.


The minimum requirement is a wind break of some kind, then next step up would be a 3-sided run-in that allow the mini cows to get out of the wind, rain, or pelting snow. Run-ins are often simple structures with dirt floors, oriented with the opening to the south west (or away from prevailing winds). They usually need some kind of bedding material -- common choices are straw, shavings, or pellets.


If you do have a barn, it can serve as a shelter just fine. There are some other considerations for barns such as ventilation and manure cleanup.


At Bossy Boots Ranch, we have run-ins with straw bedding. One day I'll have an idyllic barn with electricity and water and ...


Feed & Minerals for Mini Cows

Mini cows have similar dietary requirements as standard cows.


  • Mini cows get most of their nutrition from grass or hay. The rule of thumb is they will consume 1.5% - 2.5% of body weight per day. So if your mini cow weighs 600 lbs, it will need between 9 and 15 lbs a day. Several factors influence the exact %, such as quality of forage, lactating or gestating, time of year, etc. If you're planning to have them on pasture, be aware that cows, even mini cows, need considerably more space than you might think without needing to supplement with hay. At Bossy Boots Ranch, we have our cows on pasture when they can, and purchase hay when they can't. Reference: How Much Hay Will a Cow Consume

  • Water must be available at all times. On average, cows drink 1% of their body weight per day. So your 600 lb mini cow will need ~6 gallons of water per day. This is also influenced by similar considerations as listed for hay consumption. The main considerations here are hauling or direct filling water troughs, having a plan for winter freezing, and the cost of city or metered water. Reference: Water requirements for Beef Cattle 


In addition to basic nutrition, cows generally need mineral supplements. This is typically given in a "free choice" style, where it's a granular mineral formulation that you set out for the mini cows to consume as needed. At Bossy Boots Ranch, we put out free choice minerals based on what we can get at our local feed store. We use simple bucket type mineral feeders. Reference: Mineral Supplements for Beef Cattle


Some people supplement feed with grain, cattle cubes, or protein supplements. These aren't always necessary. I watch my herd's body condition and supplement as needed. For example, we often have a lick tub available.


Manure Management for Mini Cows

Everybody poops, even mini cows. Be sure you've thought through how you will manage manure. There are many choices -- use a manure spreader, use a tractor to scoop and create a compost pile, get a service to pick it up regularly ...


Also consider that along with manure comes flies. It's impossible to keep your pasture or barn completely free of flies, but good hygiene practices can help such as regularly clearing manure. There are also other tactics like fly predators, good old fashioned fly traps, garlic minerals, fly spray ... Most mini cow owners passionately work on fly control.


Medical Care for Mini Cows

Mini cows don't usually require a lot of medical care. However, if you need a vet you need a vet. So before you get started with mini cows, you should make sure you know your strategy. Is there a mobile vet, a vet that's near by you can load up your mini cow and go in for an appointment, a video/virtual appointment vet, etc.


At Bossy Boots Ranch, our herd is on basic preventative care -- annual 5-way vaccine, annual 7-way vaccine, and annual worming/flea control. We have low density so don't need scours control. And other than that it's a lot like any other animal -- we watch our herd, know when something is "off", and have access to a vet.


To Get Started with Mini Cows -- The Bottom Line

Just like if you were getting a new house pet you had never had before and you would research and plan, you need to do the same with mini cows. If you plan before you get started with mini cows, you will be prepared and enjoy the entire experience.


Keep an eye out for follow-on articles. And drop a note here if there's a particular topic you'd like to hear about.




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