Diminutive breeds are a perfect choice for small, or hobby farms. Miniature farm animals mature at one-half or one-third the size of standard breeds, tend to be more family-friendly, and some (but not all) require less care and maintenance than their full-size relatives (not to mention, they're adorable!). Here are a few for your inspection.
Mini-Moos (Miniature Bovines)
Modern mini-bovines are descendants of 18th and 19th-century stock, but with many breeds averaging under 600 pounds and standing less than 42 inches tall at the hip, these cows are bred to be smaller than their ancestors.
- Temperament: From shy and retiring to extroverted and attention-seeking. Their size makes them less intimidating to children; a 7 year-old can milk a trained and docile mini-dairy cow.
- Benefits: Milk production of 4 to 5 gallons per day, plus cream, and if you are willing to make it, butter, cheese, cottage cheese, and yogurt.
- Care and feeding: Cows require roaming around the pasture, eating grass, and sun-bathing. For a mini-milker, figure on at least half an acre. She will need a barn or shed for milking, feeding, and shelter. Expect to give her about 25 pounds of hay, 2 pounds of grain, and 6 gallons of water on average per day while milking.
- Friendly Advice: A mini-moo requires as much work as a standard-breed cow.
Dexter, Hereford, Longhorn, Jersey, Lowline (mini-Angus) and Zebu are the most popular breeds. A mini-Zebu weighs 200 to 500 pounds, while mini-Dexters and -Herefords come in at about 1,000 pounds.
- Appeal: Used in non-mechanical farming and appearances at parades, fairs, historical events, and 4-H and farm shows.
- Temperament: Usually calm and patient; highly intelligent: can learn a variety of tasks.
- Benefits: A team can haul hay, water, firewood, manure, cleared brush, or gathered leaves.
- Care and feeding: A mature ox requires about an acre of pasture in the growing seasons and about 30 pounds of hay per day in winter, plus 3 pounds of mixed feed per working day. Provide a dry shelter for sleep and relief from the cold.
- Friendly advice: A mini-steer calf is twice the price of a standard breed, on average. Allow time every day for about a year to train a team.
Properly called bantams, these can be less than half the weight and size of standard-breed chickens, on average; some hens way less than a pound. Bantams can be plainly or wildly decorative, with feathers on their legs and feet and sweeping tails. Many standard chicken breeds have a bantam equivalent, and there are also a few “true bantam” breeds, such as Dutch and Sebright, without a corresponding larger breed.
- Appeal: Some chicken owners find that watching their tiny flock's behavior relaxes and cheers them.
- Temperament: Bantams are big chickens in small packages. Some are friendly, even flying to their owner's arm or hand. Others are wild.
- Benefits: Bantam eggs are about half the size of standard-breed chicken eggs and are just as useful. Hens devour grubs, grasshoppers, and other pests, and their droppings make an excellent compost ingredient.
- Care and feeding:For a flock of six hens, plan on a 6 by 6-foot hen house, with nest boxes, room to roost, and heat in the winter, if necessary, plus an outdoor pen or run, covered to help protect them from prey. Hens need fresh food and water daily, and someone must collect the eggs. Roosters are unnecessary, unless you're breeding. One hen will eat 1 to 2 cups of feed per day. A flock will welcome trimmings from vegetables, but they will leave it to you to clean up their leftovers to avoid attracting flies.
- Friendly advice: Snakes, weasels, hawks, dogs, and other predators can easily decimate a flock. Bantams, like larger chickens, are susceptible to disease. Always wash your hands before and after handling chickens, for both their protection and yours.
Sheep qualify as miniatures if they are 19 to 24 inches in height. If they are under 19 inches they are called “toy” sheep.
- Appeal: Owners find them to be adorable, with some having the appearance of oversize stuffed animals.
- Temperament: Mini-sheep tend to be survivor types. With time, they can become friendly and tame.
- Benefits: The Cheviot and Babydoll Southdown breeds are relatively easy to care for and manage and produce a high return of milk, fleece, meat, and lambs.
- Care and feeding: If you plan to breed lambs, start with one ram and two ewes on 1 to 2 acres, fenced off into several sections to allow them to graze in rotation. Off pasture, the average mini-sheep will need about 15 pounds of hay per day. Provide an 8 by 8-foot shelter for safety at night and shade on summer days. A heater in winter is unnecessary.
- Friendly advice: The smaller the sheep, the more vulnerable it is to predators.
Four centuries of selective breeding have created the miniature horse, an equine that stands up to 34 inches in height, weighs 150 to 250 pounds, on average, and is similar in proportion to a standard-size horse.
- Appeal: If large horses are intimidating and you can not or do not want to ride, minis are simply endearing.
- Temperament: Minis are intelligent and learn tasks easily. Most are bred to be docile and friendly.
- Benefits: Some owners drive their minis in front of a cart of small carriage or use them as pack animals for hiking or backpacking trips, since most can carry up to 70 pounds.
- Care and feeding: Two minis can graze comfortably on 1 acre. Even with pasture, give them at least a cup of grain twice a day. In winter, each needs 2 percent of its body weight in dry food per day—on average, that's 4 pounds of hay. Provide a dry, wind-resistant, run-in, 8 by 12-foot shelter. Most minis grow thick winter coats and will play happily outside, even in snow. A stall heater is unnecessary, even in the coldest areas.
- Friendly advice: A mini-horse is not a puppy. Learn about horses and prepare to spend time working with yours.
Did you know? In the United States in 1992, there were 554,207 farms of from 1 to 19 acres. By 2002, that number had grown to 743,118.