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Cow-nting On It

Small cattle breeds are making a big impact in Green Country as hobby farmers and seasoned ranchers look for right-sized solutions to beef cattle efficiency and good old-fashioned sweat equity.

Jennifer Zehnder
Jennifer Zehnder
January 28, 2020

On the Willow Way Ranch in Muskogee, Oklahoma, American Aberdeen Angus cattle browse winter pastures. An older matriarch watches over a group of napping calves as their dams graze nearby. During their cattle check, owners David and Terry Williams stop to admire their bull, Duke, who surveys his herd and perhaps ponders summer temperatures.

Some 90 miles away on Sunshine Acres in Barnsdall, Oklahoma, a herd of Hereford cattle makes their way toward the pasture gate. White-faced and white-socked, the red cattle amble along, single file, in anticipation of feed and to greet owners, Randy and Carolyn Rogers.

At first glance, both seem like textbook scenes from a rancher’s playbook — with one notable difference, though one might have to get closer to appreciate it. The adult cattle in these Green Country pastures stand between 26 to 48 inches at the hip and average between 750 and 1,450 pounds depending on their respective breed — about 30 to 50% smaller than their standard-sized counterparts.

American Aberdeens and Miniature Herefords are two of several smaller-framed beef cattle breeds being welcomed by small acreage hobby farmers and large-scale ranchers alike. Docile temperaments, unmatched feed conversion, 30% more prime cuts, suitability for youth 4-H and National FFA Organization projects, and right-sized beef production per acre are just a few factors that are turning folks with small cattle curiosity into official herd owners in northeastern Oklahoma. And while they’re not cattle you should expect to buy or sell at a sale barn at market price per pound, they can be a profitable investment when raised strictly for beef and/or registered and sold to niche clientele such as like-minded homesteaders, ranchers, and grass-fed meat boutique markets.

The Williams began their full-sized cattle pursuits in 2004 with an investment eye toward their future retirement. However, just five years in, the couple admits they were becoming disenchanted with the full-scale workload and wear and tear on their equipment, facilities, and bank account. Upon the advice of her brother, Terry began researching the benefits of American Aberdeen for their operation — not only as a standalone breed to raise for beef but for crossbreeding on their first-time, standard-sized heifers.

The American Aberdeen breed originated from the selective breeding of high quality, moderate-framed, registered champion Angus cattle at the Trangie Research Centre in New South Wales, Australia, notes the association website. From the original purchase of herd members in 1929, scientists created a breed that is efficient on grass, moderate in size, black, polled [hornless], and the purest of Angus genetics. The Aberdeen is also free from the dwarfism gene that is sometimes carried in other small cattle breed genetics.

“When you add in the Aberdeen’s ease of calving, good nature, and excellent feed conversion, the decision to add them became an easy one,” David says.

According to Terry, the couple would sell their commercial calves and use the more efficient Aberdeen for meat since they would finish (fatten out for butcher) on grass.

“It was much more cost-effective since it takes about 70 pounds of grain a week plus grass/hay to fatten a full-sized commercial steer for a butcher. And we could breed our commercial heifers to our Aberdeen bull, so we didn’t have to worry about pulling large calves or taking longer to breed them back. The half-blood Aberdeen cattle carried that same efficiency, raising more pounds of calf per acre than our full-sized cattle,” she says.

In the late 1960s, Point of Rocks Ranch in Fort Davis, Texas, created the Miniature Hereford by selectively breeding certified dwarfism-free, full-sized Herefords to concentrate their best traits into a smaller-framed, more efficient animal. According to the Rogers, these hardy, miniature cattle and smaller homestead goals are a natural fit.

“More and more people are learning the value of rural life, and are moving to rural or suburban areas to enjoy the peacefulness and tranquility available at the edges of the city’s rat race. While these five, 10, or larger acre homesteads are a great investment, taxes and maintenance can easily challenge the tranquility aspect,” Carolyn notes.

“That’s where Miniature Herefords come in. At half to a third the size of today’s standard cattle, they thrive on smaller acreages, are far less harmful to the property, and keep the place trimmed and fertilized for you.”

Their decision to raise miniature cattle was a twofold dream, the couple says. First, to honor their late PaPa’s desire to raise Miniature Herefords, and second, to realize the practical and economic advantages of embracing the dream as their own.

“The more we looked into it, we saw there was a greater area for profit,” Randy shares. “Plus, you could run more cattle per acre than regular cows.” 

This February, the Rogers celebrate 13 years of raising Miniature Hereford cattle on their 43-acre farm. And with each new calf born, they are happily reminded of God’s continued blessings in their lives, including Carolyn’s ongoing triumph over health challenges, which include pancreatic cancer.

“We love everything about it [raising Miniature Herefords]. It’s an awesome feeling coming home from work to a relaxed atmosphere on the farm. All the animals know it’s you and greet you at the gates,” Randy says.

And while each might favor different breeds, both couples agree that newcomers to the small cattle world should make sure to do their research, talk to breeders, and start small to see if raising miniature cattle is a fit for them.

“The simple fact is that they are beautiful animals, a great meat source, will create an extra source of income, provide tax deduction options, and are very easy to get attached to,” Carolyn says.  

American Aberdeen and Miniature Herefords By the Numbers

  • 35-50 pounds: the weight of the average newborn calf
  • $2,500-$3,000: average cost of a registered heifer
  • 30%: more prime cuts such as rib-eye per 100 pounds than a full-sized beef animal
  • One-third: the feed required than standard cattle
  • 40% or more: retail product per acre
  • 12-25 years: average life span
  • 1.5 to 2 acres: required per animal on good grass

Resources: americanaberdeen.com, hereford.org, miniaturehereford.org

April 2020 Cover