A Guide to Selecting Small Cattle for Small Farms

There are over 50 recognised breeds of small or miniature cattle throughout the world. To be classified as a small breed means that the breed is governed by a height regulation although every breed has different interpretations of how these restrictions are applied. The two largest breed societies, in terms of financial members, are the Australian Lowline and Dexter. 

Role of the Breed Society

The role of the breed society is to preserve the genetic heritage of the breed and provide support for its members. Animals are registered in their respective herd book and their pedigree recorded accurately. All registered stud stock animals are issued with a certificate detailing the animal’s pedigree, usually to five generations. The benefits of registered stud stock allow members to ensure accuracy of genetics especially now that a number of breed societies enforce DNA testing for parent verification.  Member support is also provided in a number of different ways but may include marketing support such as brochures and flyers, information kits, website advertising, breed shows, promotion at shows and sales as well a whole host of other services dependent on the individual breed society.

Breed Types

There are two breed types: Bos indicus and Bos taurus. Bos indicus cattle, also referred to as tropical cattle, are derived from Asia and Africa and are distinguished by their hump, loose skin, fine hair and floppy ears. They are more suited to tropical conditions due to their insect, heat and parasite resistance and as such are found predominately in the northern areas of Australia. Breeds include Brahmans, Santa Gertrudis, Droughtmasters, Bramalows and Nadudana

Bos taurus cattle originated from Europe are known for their meat and carcass qualities. They are then divided into two divisions being British and European. British cattle include Herefords, Miniature Herefords, Angus, Australian Lowline, Dexters, Murray Greys, Miniature Aussie Greys, Galloway, RedLine, Square Meaters and Khyret. European includes Charolais, Limousin, Bazadais and Simmental.

The following information on the small breeds has been provided and written by the relevant breed societies. They are listed alphabetically with the more established breeds first followed by the newer breeds.

Australian Lowline

History

Australian Lowline cattle were bred and developed from the very famous stud Angus herd that was established by the NSW Department of Agriculture at the Trangie Research Centre in 1929. In 1963 the emphasis at Trangie moved from breeding to scientific research. In 1974, trials to evaluate selection for growth rate on herd profitability commenced with three groups based on yearling growth rates.  The high growth rate cattle were named the High Line; the low growth rate cattle were named the Low Line; and a randomly selected control group was named the Control Line. After 15 years of selective breeding, the Low Line herd had stabilised at about 30 percent smaller than the High Line herd.

These cattle were purchased from Trangie and in 1992 the Australian Lowline Cattle Association (ALCA) was formed.

Benefits of Lowline Cattle

The breed’s quiet temperament, small size, being naturally polled with no inherent dwarfism gene makes them an affordable alternative to other breeds of cattle for the small farmer. Low birth weights allow for reduced calving difficulty and a higher percentage rate of cows returning in calf. At all stages of their growth they are 60% the size of normal Angus. At birth calves average 15-25kg. The dams make excellent fertile mothers and provide ample milk. Cows at maturity average about 100cm whilst equivalent age bulls stand at about 110 cm (at the hip).

Beef Qualities

Lowline can be run at a commercially viable stocking rate, nearly twice that of standard breeds, and allow their progeny to be finished off grass.  They can also be crossed successfully with other breeds resulting in quality moderate-framed commercial cattle. They produce tasty, tender and evenly marbled beef with carcasses producing exceptionally high retail yields.

Adaptability

Lowline cattle thrive in a wide range of environments from the snow areas of Colorado (USA) and New Zealand to the tropics of Thailand, Tully in North Queensland and the Northern Territory and all areas in between.

Guaranteed Integrity


Upgrading to purebred status is not permitted.

Breed Development

Australian Lowline are shown throughout Australia and New Zealand at all major Royal Shows as well as numerous country and regional shows.  The Association encourages strong competition amongst its members, which also becomes a great way to meet fellow breeders and promote the breed.

The Association has expanded with almost 400 registered members across Australia, New Zealand, USA and Canada.  Lowline cattle and/or genetics have been exported to Europe, North America, Asia and New Zealand with rapidly expanding opportunities.  ALCA is considered one of the fastest growing cattle organisations in Australia.

Dexters in Australia

The Dexter is a naturally small dual-purpose breed of longstanding which originated in Ireland, not a recently miniaturised version of a mainstream breed.  The ideal height for bulls is between 102 cm (40”) & 112 cm (44”) and for cows 97 cm (38”) & 107 cm (42”).  They have great eye appeal and come in three colours - black, red and dun.  Dexters are intelligent and docile, with an easy-going temperament and considerable character.  They forage well and are light on the ground

Modern beef and dairy breeds are very specialised while a dual-purpose breed should be a combination of both.  In Ireland the Dexter was the smallholder’s breed, had to withstand fairly basic conditions and convert rough scrub and pasture into good quality beef or milk.  However Dexters began to be imported into England towards the end of the 19th Century and affluent landowners started to breed them for pleasure as park cattle.  Dexter fortunes varied after World War II, numbers dropped alarmingly and the breed was rated as Endangered by the Rare Breeds Survival Trust in the 1970s.  Fortunately a revival of interest since then has ensured that the Dexter is now bred in sufficient numbers across the world to be classified as a Minority Breed, no longer at risk. 

Dexter cattle first came to Australia in the 1880s, with a second wave of imports a century later.  Since that re-introduction the Dexter has established itself as a popular choice for enthusiasts living a relaxed lifestyle in rural residential areas where the smaller-size blocks are ideally suited to these cattle.



Figure 1: Height comparison: Both these Grand Show Champion British Breed bulls are the same age being 22 months old. The Red Angus bull (GK Red Absolute Power) measures 153cm at the hip and weighs 970kg whilst the Dexter bull (Bircham Lord Litcham) measures 114cm and weighs 540kg
 

A Dexter cow can raise her own calf and also supply milk for the household or just graze and raise a good beefy calf, all the while keeping the fire hazard to a minimum.  Dexter milk has smaller fat globules than that of mainstream dairy cows, giving a degree of natural homogenisation which contributes to the fine texture of Dexter butter, yoghurt and cheese.  Organic or Biodynamic Dexter beef is becoming more widely available from specialist outlets and is appreciated for its flavour and tenderness as well as the smaller portions that appeal to today’s market.
Dexter’s respond well to a little extra attention and the true delight and enjoyment of owning a Dexter can only be fully appreciated after spending time with them.

Miniature Galloways, Miniature Belted Galloways, Miniature White Galloways

Galloways are a very old Scottish breed and are recognised as the oldest polled beef cattle in the world.  The earliest recorded evidence of the breed in Australia is 1858. Miniature Galloways have all the characteristics and qualities of Galloways, only offering it in a smaller package which may be beneficial for small acreages.

For Galloways to be registered as Miniatures, they must comply with strict height requirements.  Bulls cannot be more than 125cm at mature age, while females cannot be more than 120cm at mature age.

Galloways and Miniature Galloways, with their unique double coat of hair, can be Black, Dun or Red in colour in each of the three types – Galloways, Belted Galloways and White Galloways.

Galloways are an extremely versatile breed that withstands extremes of temperature and climate.  They have the ability to forage and thrive in marginal conditions or perform outstandingly on high-grade pasture.  Being non-selective grazers, they are friendly to the environment and are an aid in pasture management.

Galloways are an extremely fertile breed regularly producing a vigorous live calf.  The Galloway cow is noted for ease of calving, is a protective mother and has an abundant supply of milk.  Galloway bulls are noted for being prolific breeders.

Galloways are long living, very resistant to disease, easy to manage and create strong hybrid vigour due to the purity of the breed.

Galloways exhibit great carcass qualities, including excellent muscling, marbling and high yielding saleable meat.  Using Galloways and their crosses it is easy to obtain optimum fat cover and muscling to suit most trade requirements. 

Galloways have excelled in Carcass Competitions at most of the major events and have produced excellent results in grazing trials against all breeds.  Galloway beef is renowned as being a tender, tasty and succulent beef of preference around the world.  Galloways will turn feed in quality red meat economically and efficiently.

Miniature Herefords

History

The origin of Miniature Hereford cattle has its roots in Herefordshire, England. The Miniature Hereford we know today are descendants of pure Hereford stock selectively bred since the 1970's. With the trend at that time being "bigger is better" one particular breeder went against the trend and selectively bred for temperament, hardiness, meat quality and feed conversion.

Characteristics

The Miniature Hereford is best described as a small chunky version of the larger Herefords. In contrast to the tall long legged larger type, Miniature Herefords are thick, deep bodied, short legged, muscular and chunky.
 
Adaptability

Miniature Herefords are very hardy and adapt well to various climates. Currently Miniature Herefords are bred in all parts of Australia. They have no special needs other than what is required for the care of regular cattle.
 
Why Miniature Herefords?


  • Investment: the herd numbers of these cattle are still very low.  This allows great potential for investors.
  • Quality meat: the quality and yield of the Miniature Hereford is excellent. This makes minis a commercial reality.
  • Easy to handle: their size and placid nature makes Miniature Herefords ideal, even for those who have no previous experience with cattle.
  • Attractiveness: to many people the Hereford is a most appealing breed purely for its looks. Miniature Herefords are striking to the eye.
  • Carrying capacity: with the potential to carry more head to the hectare Miniature Herefords are an ideal alternative for small and large farmers alike.

The Future

In their first two or so years in Australia there has already been an enormous interest in Miniature Herefords. The availability of animals has depended largely on the importation of embryos and a small number of adult minis from Canada and the USA. A vibrant local breeding industry has commenced and demand for these unique Australian bred Miniature Herefords is expected to outstrip supply.

Square Meters

Square Meaters are an Australian breed of beef cattle, recognised as a separate breed with its own herd book in 1996.  Breeders are predominantly in Australia, in all States except NT, but there are breeders in New Zealand and the USA. Developed to produce a finished domestic carcase within 12 months, these compact cattle are neither small nor miniature, but nevertheless ideal for smaller acreage.

Square Meaters are a measured breed; females must measure between 100cm and 110cm at the shoulder, bulls between 103cm and 113cm, at twelve months of age. These regulations are designed to provide a safeguard against animals becoming too small or regressing back to a taller, slower growing, later maturing type. Bulls go on to be around 800kg at maturity, females around 500kg.  Typically Square Meaters have a deep well-muscled body on short legs.

Square Meaters were developed, by selection, from high performance and early maturing Murray Grey cows and bulls and have the following characteristics:

  • A quiet disposition. They are easy to handle, easy on fences and quiet in the yards.
  • Are naturally polled.
  • Have a medium frame and early maturing growth.
  • Are heavily muscled with even fat cover.
  • Have good fertility and mothering ability. Females can produce their first calf at 2 years of age and go on to produce a calf every year. A good supply of milk makes for a healthy, quick growing calf.
  • Have low birth weights. Calves typically weigh 15kg – 20kg and are born easily. The owner can sleep easy at calving time.
  • Have good “doing ability” even in poorer conditions. Their compact size means they hold their condition longer when times get tough and larger breed females are starting to fade. 

Square Meaters are recognised for their beautiful and characteristic colours, which range from silver through grey to a dark grey, which includes brown shades to a dark chocolate colour. The colours are solid i.e. they don’t have patches of lighter colour. The skin has a dark pigment, which provides some protection from sunburn and skin cancer. These are cattle you’ll be proud to have in your front paddock.

Square Meaters breeders are friendly, helpful, and enthusiastic. They welcome new breeders and are keen to help newcomers. The Square Meaters Cattle Association offers truly personal service to all its members, and aims to keep breeder’s costs as low as possible.

Newer Breeds

Aussie Miniature Grey's

The Aussie Miniature Grey’s are under development on two cattle studs on the sunshine coast in southeast Queensland. The two studs developed a small tasty tender animal with a sun reflective coat and a quiet nature that makes wonderful pets for the rural residential block.

They have been developed over time coming down in size from the Australia Grey Cattle but retaining the meat quality they are renowned for. The first Aussie miniature grey registrations occurred in March 2003.

Aussie Miniature Greys should be well balanced with length width and spring of the ribs with adequate muscle and smoothness. The colour of the Aussie Miniature Grey is silver white to dark grey and patching between these colours is acceptable but no other colour will be acknowledged. They are naturally polled with eyes alert and set wide apart and ears well place showing a balanced and making it an attractive appearance.

The maximum height of the bulls is 118cm (3’8”) at full maturity and the cow maximum height is 110cm (3’6”) at full maturity for the purpose of showing only.

As people are leaving the city in search of a more relaxed and rewarding lifestyle in the country areas, Small acreage blocks are in very high demand however maintenance of these block’s can be very time consuming, an animal or two to graze on the grass with minimal amount of maintenance Aussie miniature grey cattle are designed specifically for this purpose being small and easy animal to look after. They can simply be enjoyed as a family pet with their wonderful temperament. They can also be very practical in creating an income as high quality beef for market or your freezer. Also unlike the horse and goats they do not overgraze pasture to dirt.

Bramalows

Bramalows are small beefy cattle derived from the Australian Lowline and the Brahman. Bramalow breeders have carefully selected the superior traits of the Lowline and Brahman to develop an animal that maintains the great beef characteristics of the Lowline but adds the hardiness of the Brahman and produces an animal that is suitable for smaller landholders in a range of climate types.

The genetic makeup of the Bramalow allows the breeder to design animals to suit his particular conditions. This means that Bramalows are extremely functional cattle. Animals with varying percentages of Brahman and Lowline genetics are accepted as Bramalows. (75%/25% to 25%/75% Lowline / Brahman) This means that the Bramalow will always be attuned to their environment. Producers in more tropical or more demanding climates may opt for a higher Brahman content, while the higher Lowline content may suit other landholders.

Bramalows are sleek coated which makes them resistant to ticks and buffalo flies and untroubled by extremes of heat. They are also resistant to Pink Eye.

The females have very good udder structure and milk supply. They calve easily and usually are joined by 15 months of age. The calves grow quickly as a result of the females’ good mothering ability.

The bulls are very fertile and their size makes them ideal for use with first calf heifers of other breeds. They produce very saleable, beefy calves with no trouble, thus allowing heifers to calve at 2 years of age with no difficulty.

Bramalows are naturally polled, but some animals will show evidence of scurrs (small, stubby horns detached from the skull). These are quite acceptable.  De-horning is unnecessary. Bramalows are mainly black in colour, but there is no exclusion of other colours. The influence of the Lowline will mean that the black colour is dominant but the inclusion of the Brahman genetics will result in variations.

The height of the Bramalow is only prescribed for the show ring where they will usually be about frame score 3, but commercial animals may vary a little from this. They should always be moderate in size.

Bramalows will readily thrive in all parts of Australia, but their particular characteristics of tick, parasite and heat resistance and their size, make them ideally suited to smaller farming operations in hotter areas. Their minimum maintenance requirements, polledness, beefiness, early finishing and longevity make them the first choice for farmers interested in raising easy-doing commercially viable cattle.

Kyrhet Australian Miniature Cattle

Kyrhet Australian Miniature Cattle, one of the smallest recognized breeds in the world, were developed to achieve genuine miniature cattle. Initial genetics came from using an imported Dexter bull over a number of registered Murray Grey cows. The introduction of Friesian and Hereford foundation cows brought in variation of colour, which added appeal to the Kyrhet cattle. The breeding program has been designed to produce progeny which conform to a strict set of standards.

The objective had always been miniature multi-coloured animals, different in colour and smaller than all others available. Also, to produce an affordable product, as the majority of purchasers just want small animals that could pay their way in milk, and even meat, for their family. Kyrhet’s can milk up to eight litres per day.

To produce these Kyrhet Australian Miniature Cattle, every facet has been investigated, from looks to temperament to productivity. Even though they may be so small, the aim is to achieve solid little poll, (no horns), animals with individual character and appeal. The end result is an adorable, productive little animal!

Animals are registered with the International Miniature Cattle Breeds Society, and must conform to the standards set down by the Society.

Standards for Kyrhet Australian Miniature Cattle 

  • Animals may be of any colour or pattern but must not exceed a height of one hundred and three centimeters (103cm), measured at the hip at maturity. (Three years of age).
  • Animals should be in proportion to their size with a straight backline, small face and rounded ears.
  • Animals should show good width across the back, with legs showing strong bone with solid joints.
  • Embryo flushing or any other method of fast forwarding stock numbers is not acceptable - "Naturally is best".
  • To be eligible for registration as Kyrhet Australian Miniature Cattle, stock must originate from approved parentage.
  • Kyrhet Australian Miniature Cattle  MUST have a docile, gentle and intelligent disposition.
  • Kyrhet Australian Miniature Cattle have been bred for those people who wish to enjoy these little animals as pets - not as a product for any commercial milk or meat market 

Nadudana Cattle

Nadudana (pronounced Nar-Dar-Nah) are a naturally small Bos indicus breed from the Indian sub-continent. The name means small cattle in Hindi and were first imported to Australia from North America in 1995.

These diminutive animals are physically similar to their larger cousins the Zebu cattle and are properly proportioned with the exception of their size. The mature Nadudana animal should not exceed 107 centimeters as measured across the back, behind the hump.

Many calves are born red or at the least with a reddish 'cap' on the top of the head, but will generally change to black grey or white by adulthood.

Breed Advantages 

  • Efficiency: Intake higher levels of low quality feeds; high meat to bone ratios; higher feed conversion ratios than full size cattle.
  • Heat Tolerance: Dark pigmented eyes and muzzles reduce risk of cancer; sleek shorthaired coat with increased number of very efficient sweat glands; Lower metabolic rates generate less heat. The only small Bos indicus (Zebu) tropical breed in Australia.
  • Parasite Resistance: A major economic consideration as less chemicals are used! Sleek coats with sweat glands do not favor attachment of Tick larvae and repel flies; Resistant to internal parasites.
  • Beef: An evolving market for quality small “Boutique Beef” cuts, exists within Australia. Quality beefy, dairy cross calves.
  • Small Farms: Nadudana cattle are highly suited to small farms and can on average be stocked at 2.3 beasts to each standard size animal normally run; Allows commercially viable stocking rates with progeny finished on grass.
  • Adaptable: Australia is a land of contrasts and requires cattle that can adapt to climatic and environmental extremes.


The NCSA Inc has to date maintained an “open book” breeding policy which allows breeders to grade up using registered Nadudana bulls over non-Nadudana cows and Nadudana crossbred cows.  Today there are Nadudana owners and breeders located in most states and the Herd Book of the NCSA Inc contains more than two hundred and fifty registered animals.

RedLine

History

RedLine cattle were derived from Australian Lowline and were developed in response to the isolation of the wild allele that, once selected for, produced red calves. They are an easy care, people friendly breed producing healthy, sustainable, grass-fed beef.

Why Red? 

  • Red is the most populous colour of cattle breeds’ worldwide.
  •  Red is more heat tolerant than black. The majority of the world’s cattle are in areas that need heat tolerance, so the red colour is definitely an advantage.
  • Red gives greater resistance to eye cancer and sun burned udders

Breed Standards 

  • Naturally polled
  • The maximum height of bulls is 130cm at full maturity and the cow’s maximum height is 120cm at full maturity for the purpose of showing only.
  • Red/wild allele only are to accepted in the show ring.
  • All cattle must be DNA typed for parent verification and red/wild allele.


Figure 2: Newly born Redline calf, showing it's distinct red colour.  

Advantages of RedLine 

  • Dual Registration in the American Lowline Registry.
  • Export Markets already developed.
  • Beef Qualities: the RedLine show all the beef characterics that the Angus breed is renown for such as marbling and tenderness. Their early maturity pattern enables an excellent eating quality carcass to be produced purely off grass.
  • Commercial Acceptance: RedLine bulls are already used in a number of very large commercial operations for their low birth weights and beefy progeny.
  • Size: smaller allows for increased stocking rate compared to traditional larger breeds.
  • No inherent dwarfism gene.
  • People Friendly: being bred specifically for the smaller farm these cattle love interaction with the family.

Summary

Once you have decided on a breed gather as much as information as possible. Contact the relevant breed societies and get a list of breeders in your area, visit a number of different studs and compare, go the local shows and view them being judged. Talk to the breeders and those new to the breed, see who they bought from and why. If you are buying stud stock then the integrity of the breeder is paramount.

Want to Learn More About Small Cattle for Small farms?

Further information is contained in the book Small Cattle for Small Farms. To purchase a copy click on the image below.
 

Author: Margo Hayes (Vitulus Lowline Stud)

About the Author?

Margo Hayes has been involved with a small breed of cattle, Australian Lowline, for 12 years and more recently RedLine and has shown the Grand Champion Australian Lowline Bull at the Royal Brisbane Show for eight consecutive years, the Grand Champion Carcass at the Royal Brisbane Show in 2008 and recently written a book titled Small Cattle for Small Farms.

Glossary  

  • Australian Lowline: Were bred and developed from the very famous stud Angus herd that was established by the NSW Department of Agriculture at the Trangie Research Centre in 1929. After 15 years of selective breeding, the Low Line herd had stabilised at about 30 percent smaller than the High Line herd. 

  • Dexter: Is a naturally small dual-purpose breed of longstanding which originated in Ireland, not a recently miniaturised version of a mainstream breed. 

  • Miniature Galloways, Miniature Belted Galloways, Miniature White Galloways: Galloways are a very old Scottish breed and are recognised as the oldest polled beef cattle in the world. Miniature Galloways have all the characteristics and qualities of Galloways, only offering it in a smaller package which may be beneficial for small acreages. 

  • Miniature Herefords: The origin of Miniature Hereford cattle has its roots in Herefordshire, England. The Miniature Hereford we know today are descendants of pure Hereford stock selectively bred since the 1970's. 

  • Sqaure Meaters: Are an Australian breed of beef cattle, recognised as a separate breed with its own herd book in 1996. They were developed, by selection, from high performance and early maturing Murray Grey cows and bulls. 

  • Aussie Miniature Grey's: The Aussie Miniature Grey’s are under development on two cattle studs on the sunshine coast in southeast Queensland. They have been developed over time coming down in size from the Australia Grey Cattle, the first Aussie miniature grey registrations occurred in March 2003. 

  • Bramalows: Are small beefy cattle derived from the Australian Lowline and the Brahman. Bramalow breeders have carefully selected the superior traits of the Lowline and Brahman to develop an animal that maintains the great beef characteristics of the Lowline but adds the hardiness of the Brahman. 

  • Kyrhet Australian Miniature Cattle: One of the smallest recognized breeds in the world, were developed to achieve genuine miniature cattle. Initial genetics came from using an imported Dexter bull over a number of registered Murray Grey cows. 

  • Nadudana: Are a naturally small Bos indicus breed from the Indian sub-continent. The name means small cattle in Hindi and were first imported to Australia from North America in 1995. 

  • RedLine: Were derived from Australian Lowline and were developed in response to the isolation of the wild allele that, once selected for, produced red calves. 
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