Miniature cattle - family pets that provide milk


The Times Online reports on the Dexter cattle breed, “the world’s most efficient, cutest and tastiest cows."

For between £200 and £2,000, people can buy a cow that stands no taller than a large German shepherd dog, gives 16 pints of milk a day that can be drunk unpasteurised, keeps the grass “mown” and will be a family pet for years before ending up in the freezer.

The Dexter, a mountain breed from Ireland, is perfect for cattle-keeping on a small scale, but other breeds are being artificially created to compete with it, including the Mini-Hereford and the Lowline Angus, which has been developed by the Australian government to stand no more than 39in high but produce 70% of the steak of a cow twice its size.

Just right for the garden: a mini-cow (via Arbroath)


  1. Cute and delicious? Want! Hmm, does Boing Boing get complaining vegans? Here’s where we find out…

  2. Wonder how they take to Brooklyn. I imagine we could hire someone to bring in fresh grass everyday and clean up the piles.

    (I’m kidding. Or am I?)

  3. because going to the corner store is too much trouble?

    Don’t you have to yearly calf and milk a cow daily to get consistent milk flow?

    and how well does a lawn grow under a cow chip?

  4. This story was on the local news just now.

    Somone screwed up a bit and the media just ran with it. These cows are still pretty big and are no way suitable for a garden, you need to keep them in heards for one thing.

    It all started with someone saying they’re effecient because you can milk them and get meat – it’s a breed that’s rising in popularity.


  5. Great idea for household milk, but… I dunno.

    Personally I have no problem with eating meat, but somehow I think that if you’re going to represent yourself as an animal’s friend, you probably shouldn’t eat them later. And ethical concerns aside, that would just feel weird for me.

    “Mmm… Sadie is delicious…”

  6. Awesome, I would totally do this if I didn’t live in the city and had an acre or two of land.

    “because going to the corner store is too much trouble?”

    Because the stuff they sell at he store comes from factory farms where the cows are fed crap that makes them sick, are shot up with antibiotics and hormones, and live in warehouses ankle deep in their own shit. The milk is pasteurized and is then shipped across hundreds if not thousands of miles.

    “and how well does a lawn grow under a cow chip?”

    It’s doesn’t. At least, not the type of putting-green lawn Americans cherish. Think more along the lines of pasture.

  7. REDSHIRT77@5: “how well does a lawn grow under a cow chip?”

    Very well, actually. Ever heard of fertilizer? This is a readily-made natural source. Break it up when it hardens and spread it around.

    Too cute! I’d love to have one, at least to cut down on the cost of buying milk (if I had a bigger yard.) I don’t know about where you live, but milk has become extremely expensive (especially if you get the organic kind to avoid Monsanto crap in it.)

    I think it would become too much of a pet for me to harvest for meat, tho.

    Side benefit: Psilocybin mushrooms grow only in cow patties. Sacred cows indeed!

  8. I met a farmer at the Pittsburgh organic market who had switched to Lowline Angus and was very enthusiastic about the breed, as they didn’t intimidate his kids. He told me a story about his calf named Gidget that he hand-fed when she was abandoned by her mom. “What happened to Gidget’s mom?” I asked. “Right here!” he exclaimed, slapping down a steak on the counter. It was a little tough, but I guess I should have expected that, knowing her personality.

  9. @geekman

    My mom always had a policy on her farm not to name the animals you planned to eat. Like you say, it just makes things feel weird when you have to eat them later.

    Anyway, I thought steaks usually come from steers, not milking cows?

  10. “The US-of-A plans to be at the forefront of Bovine Miniaturization”

    -From The Cows of October

  11. TECHDEVIANT@12: My dad had to adopt the same policy (he breeds longhorns.) Unless you have a heard, it would be pretty hard not to make them pets, at least for me, and then I coudln’t possibly eat them, personally.

    Anyway, I thought steaks usually come from steers, not milking cows?”

    This is correct, but it doesn’t mean you can’t eat the dairy variety, it’s just not as good meat. Generally they are bred according to one use or the other.

  12. Fidel Castro suggested using miniature cows in much the same way back in ’87. from a July 2002 News of the Weird Column:

    “In a May dispatch from Cuba, the Wall Street Journal reported that Fidel Castro proposed in 1987 to alleviate a chronic milk shortage by trying to get his scientists to clone the most productive cows, shrunk to the size of dogs so that each family could keep one inside its apartment. The cows would feed on grass grown inside under fluorescent lights.”

    And Joel, there used to be a Dairy Farm in Queens called Gauz (“Rhymes with Cows”), out in the Rosedale neighborhood between JFK & Green Acres, where my parents would take me to “throw the cow over the fence some hay;” so cows in modern Brooklyn’s not so out there as you may think.

  13. If I could play any musical instrument at all, I would go out right now and start a band called Lowline Angus.

  14. My mother raises goats for their milk and has considered switching over to these miniature cattle because goat milk doesn’t have enough cream content to make butter or (obviously) whipped cream.

    These guys are still as tall as a fairly large goat, and they’re much more massive, but you get the benefits of better tasting milk and meat (goat meat is subpar, btw).

    As for the nuts-and-bolts process of owning personal livestock (for you city slickers): you buy 1 milker–which you often name and treat as a partial pet–and you buy/rent/borrow 1 buck (as they call male goats) that you mate your milker with each year to keep the her producing. You eat the babies when they’re big enough, and you can eat the bucks whenever they piss you off too much.

    It’s the circle of life.

  15. We just signed up this spring with a CSA farm, and now we get raw milk once a week fresh from the cow. The difference between real milk and the thin, watery crap they sell in stores is astounding.

    Also, Lilyblack could never get creme fraiche to thicken properly until we tried it with raw fresh milk. Now it turns out beautifully.

    Yay CSA!

  16. Psilocybin mushrooms grow only in cow patties.

    This is a fallacy, actually. They definitely do take pretty particular conditions, but being on top of a cow-pat isn’t one of them.

    Anyway, I thought steaks usually come from steers, not milking cows?

    Generally they are bred according to one use or the other.

    From wiki: “Commercially speaking, Dexters are a dual-purpose breed, providing milk and beef.”

    From “The combination of less feed required, high meat and milk quality..”

  17. For the first time in my life, I am about to move into a house of my own, with a yard, sometime over the next two months. Primarily out of laziness, I have contemplated keeping some kind of grass-eating animal in the yard, to keep the grass a good length.

    The comments seem to suggest that this cow is not as practical as it may seem. But still, I figure some farm animal would probably have the right characteristics: Requires an area of grass equivalent to a typical suburban yard (and a kind of grass that, per this area, grows edible matter at the right rate), friendly, robust health, not too big, produces milk or other tasty/useful stuff, excretes stuff that will decompose relatively quickly and stinklessly, does not need to be in a herd… Hmmm, ok, maybe I’m asking too much. I can see that the past several thousand years of artificial selection have not favored exactly these traits, but maybe it’s time for breeding (or genetic engineering!) to start producing farm animals that are compatible with suburban living!

  18. Bear in mind that in the winter months you will need somewhere to house your mini-cow and feed it hay, which you will need to buy in advance and also have a place to store. When it is living indoors you will need to shovel out the poo’ed upon litter (usually more hay.) The good news is that if you also have a vegetable garden, you will have lots of great manure to add to your compost heap. You may even have such a great surplus of it that you could sell compost to other gardeners in your area. In short, having a mini cow is not maintenance free. You won’t have to mow your lawn anymore, but in owning a mini-cow you will have to be come a mini-farmer.

  19. Back in the late 1970s (I’m guessing) there was a great short fiction story published in OMNI Magazine (sort of the WIRED Magazine of its day) called (if I remember correctly) “Small Food.”

    The story was the musings of someone who was describing the latest trend of eating miniature animals. Whole cattle and sheep that had been genetically engineered down to about the size of Cornish game hens. They were so small that could be deep-fried and served whole, like tasty fritters. It had evidently become all the rage.

    Of course the narrator was already on to the next hip food source – Large Food. As he put it, you’ve never had meat as succulent as that from a big dinner-plate-sized mouse steak.

    I wish I could find a copy of that story!

  20. ark, psilocybin cubensis mushrooms grow on cowpies down here in (soon to be ) hurricane ravaged floriduh! the cows must be fed a diet of ‘sweet feed’, given a few months of florida summer, and those puppies spring up like lil penises! usually the best are found when pine needles or compost cover the pie for maximum humidity. i wonder if the minicow’s poop would make smaller ‘shrooms… but still , i must have a herd of them!

  21. #22 airshowfan, cows do not need to be in a herd. They’re just that way in America and Australia because it’s efficient. In poor third world countries, many poor farmers have less than 5.

    Besides being used as fertilizer, cow patties have other uses. Though if you live in a developed country, this may be more suitable.

    As for your lawn being too small, don’t worry about it. Just hire it out to your neighbours as an environmentally friendly lawn mower that does not use any fossil fuel. If you’re too lazy, get a kid to do it for you. The job is easy, bring the cow, tie it to the gate with a long rope, but not too long that it can reach the flowers. Bring it back after a few hours.

    But why stop at one cow? Get a bunch of them and start a business. Airshowfan’s Environmentally Friendly Lawn Mowing. To keep your neighbourhood clean, don’t forget to use this or this.

  22. why are people so squeamish about eating real animals? either become vegetarian, or look at the think you’re responsible for killing and eating. thinking it’s “ok” just because it comes out of the supermarket, as long as you can pretend you don’t know – and therefore aren’t responsible for – how it got there is such hypocrisy.

    i love foie gras and i’ve seen the ducks and geese. i love nature, but nature is red in tooth and claw. even factory farming can be more decent than some things other animals do to each other; and certainly killing your pet cow is more humane.

  23. I’m still waiting foir someone to breed me a tiny elephant. About the size of a bull terrier. Rottweiler at the outside.

  24. I don’t agree that goat meat is subpar. It makes subpar cow meat if that’s your gold standard. But then cow meat makes subpar goat meat too.

    If you’re contemplating keeping a goat for meat, it’s definitely a good idea to get some goat meat from a butcher first, anyway.

    Also, you’ll have to consider the fact that goats will eat pretty much anything, including your laundry, your lawn chair, and any unattended paperbacks.

  25. @ rishab ghosh

    Its not about eating real animals – I’m all for a good steak or some scrumptious bacon. I’ve raised steers before and ate them. It was awesome. Its that by naming your cow/goat/whatever, it becomes your pet. Would you eat your dog or cat? I wouldn’t, they are my family, pretty much my children actually.

  26. My (startlingly cute) niece has a couple of Dexters on the family farm in mid-Wales. Cute little critters but so far she hasn’t had a great deal of success with the milk for some reason. Maybe next year?

  27. @ Techdiviant:

    About not naming farm animals you intend to eat, I concur. My uncle lived on a farm for part of his life. The cows and goats had names, but not the calfs and kids intended for slaughter. And he had no ethical problem with keeping animals for meat, he just didn’t want to get attached to an animal he would have to kill later.

  28. ARKIZZLE@21: “This is a fallacy, actually. They definitely do take pretty particular conditions, but being on top of a cow-pat isn’t one of them.”

    Actually, here in Texas, they do. I have picked them myself. They only grow in certain seasons when it is moist and relatively cool (usually not our summer which lasts from May-September.) The best time to find them is from 4-6am, as the sun will burn them away when it comes out.

    It’s nice to have some pasture-land in the family (I don’t recommend mushroom poaching!) Come on down heah to Texas sometime and I’ll take you a-pickin. =D

    I see what you’re saying about these particular cows being purported to be multi-purpose.

    RISHAB@27: I for one am not squeamish. I have hunted and eaten venison (and not deer you leave a feeder out for and kill from a blind. I’m talking about stalking them for hours and even using a bow.) I am what has been called a conscientious omnivore. As someone who eats meat, I think it is important to be in touch with the foodchain, and not be ignorant of where meat comes from. That said, I don’t want to eat any animal I have a personal relationship with and have raised to trust me.

    Additionally, the meat I eat is “natural meat”, meaning it is hormone and insecticide free, and doesn’t come from a factory farm. I believe it is important to treat animals humanely, even if you are raising them to be eaten. I won’t eat certain meat either: Horses, (dog, obviously,) veal, lamb, etc. Certain animals are just too intelligent or too young to be eaten, in my book. I have met a lot of cows, and they are not too bright. Chickens too. Pigs? Ok, I’m a bit of a hypocrite here, but pork is just too damn delicious! I guess it has to do with how we’re acculturated. I wouldn’t eat a pet pig though (Spider Pig, Spider Pig…)

    Generally, my rule of thumb is: If they live a full, happy life grazing and roaming relatively freely, and then are killed instantly and humanely, I’m ok with that. We must kill to survive. Respect the animals you harvest.

  29. An uncle always raised animals to eat, chickens and sheep and the lone steer was named “Hamburger”.

  30. @Phikus.
    Side benefit: Psilocybin mushrooms grow only in cow patties. Sacred cows indeed!

    ARKIZZLE@21: “This is a fallacy, actually. They definitely do take pretty particular conditions, but being on top of a cow-pat isn’t one of them.”

    Actually, here in Texas, they do. I have picked them myself. They only grow in certain seasons when it is moist and relatively cool (usually not our summer which lasts from May-September.) The best time to find them is from 4-6am, as the sun will burn them away when it comes out.
    I’ve never been to Texas however this is nearly identical information I’ve received from countless people that just don’t know where to look.

    Sure mushrooms can grow on cow patties, they’re moist and full of the sorts of nutrients mushrooms need. However it’s false to say they only grow on cow patties. They also tend to have too much direct sunlight (which might explain your claim that the sun mysteriously burns them away ??!!).

    Head towards somewhere shady, preferably near a river or waterway of some kind. Make sure there’s lots of bark and stuff rotting away on the ground. This is where you’ll find good mushrooms, mushrooms that can grow for weeks on end and get big. Here in Australia anywhere like this that’s not completely remote isn’t exactly a secret either so you’ll be competing against other pickers, but take some time and avoid getting caught on private property and you’ll find some gems.

    The stuff part about needing moisture and relative coolness is definitely true though, I’ll give you that much.

  31. Hmm, I could be wrong but here in the UK cattle that are older than 18 months are not supposed to be eaten. All part of our efforts to eradicate BSE (aka Mad Cow Disease). Maybe thats overkill but Creutzfeld-Jakov is one scary disease that we still don’t know what the incubation period is, nor the infection vector, nor have a test for nor do we have a cure yet. By all means keep a herd but you shouldn’t really eat them when they are too old to keep for milk.

    As for keeping something to mow your lawn and provide milk, you’d be better off with goats wouldn’t you ?

  32. Ok, perhaps only was too strong of a word. I guess I should have said it is almost entirely exclusively the place I have found them in the wild growing naturally, in my experience. You certainly can grow from spore cultures without the need for manure. I have seen folks do this simply on a damp paper towel. There are many different strains of psilocybin mushroom, so I am not surprised to get varying accounts from different parts of the globe on where they like to grow. We are all correct from each of our vantage points, ok?

    Still, it is a big plus for having cows around, at least in my neck of the woods, which was my point. =D

  33. WAVEYDAVE@42: No such restrictions apply in the US for eating your own. I don’t know as far as beef cattle meeting USRDA inspections for selling.

    Also, I’d like to add that anybody out there reading this who think you might be able to spot and pick mushrooms from what has been said here should not assume anything. There are sundry species of mushroom and many of them are poisonous. I have seen some particularly nasty ones growing in the same conditions, so don’t go hunting without an extensive field guide book that suits your area at the very least, and preferrably a guide person who’s done it successfully before. There are tests that can and should be conducted to check for the presense of psilocybin. Use your head before you feed your head!

  34. my favorite snail story is the restaurant that dumped the fresh escargot in the sink overnight. The next day – when the health inspector happened to drop by , true story – the snails had made their way out of the sink to the floor, the walls, the ceiling……

  35. The majority of Bovine Breeding is done with a full arm’s length glove on. As in what Orwell’s newspeak called Artsem. The Bull’s frozen CalfBatter is shipped truck freight in Dewars of LN. Each “Straw” is one dose. A point of humor- the Dewars used for semen shipping are called “Come Drums.” We sold one on Ebay for an incredible profit too.

    The Dexter breed has some genetic baggage from being pushed so far outside species norms. Looking up pictures of the defects is suggested before considering these. And unlike Puppies or Kittens unwanted cattle are a bit harder to properly handle absent breeding papers etc. Add to that the facts of milking being rather time and labor intensive.

    Thus reality bats last sadly. Dexters are simply not going to replace dogs for most of us. Not practical for under several acres per critter absent shipping in feed and shipping out patties.
    Ram Bux Singh did develop some digester tech to consider. It is called “Gobar Gas” If you really are hell bent on using the patties on site his work becomes essential reading before you spend a penny on your microcattle scene.

    Though were I choosing animals for arcologies or starships the Dexter still rates high within it’s limits.

  36. I looked into these, but at the prices they just don’t seem viable for a household to have a single cow, here in the US it seemed unlikely I could find an animal for under 1,000 dollars (that would buy a lot of meat and milk even without needing feed too). I think goats would probably be better suited for most households.

  37. They’re miniature, yes. But that’s miniature for cows.

    A little googling gives:

    “The Dexter cattle are the world’s smallest breed of cow with shoulder height of bulls being 38 to 44 inches and cows being 36 to 42 inches. Their bulls do not reach over 1,000 pounds and cows not over 750 pounds.”

    It’s a lot bigger than a German Shepard.
    In other aspects, they seem pretty neat.
    Still, I can’t see turning in my John Deere
    for a herd.

  38. Milk cows are a LOT more work than a dog. They aren’t likely to be compatible with a lot of people’s modern urban or suburban lifestyle. If you don’t have time for or interest in milking every morning and night every single day of the year, a cow’s not going to work out. Even a little one.

    They’re not like dogs that you can just put out a bowl of dog food and water and go about your business. You might be able to get a friend to stop by your house while you’re on vacation and let the dog out to do his business and make sure he has food. You’re not likely to be able to find a friend willing ( or able) to come by twice a day and milk your cow. Having your own cow works out fine if you’re already living a rural type farm lifestyle. If you already feed and care for a herd of horses or a chicken house or something, it’s not a big deal to add a cow or two the mix. You’re already tied down to farm responsibilties and acustomed to the farm lifestyle (hard work, early mornings, late nights, exposure to the elements, no over-night trips away from home, vet bills, dealing with poop, etc). But if you’re an average work-away from home type like most, it’s not going to be a very valid option. If you’ve got a regular full-time job, adding a milk cow isn’t easy like adding a pet dog or cat. It would require a LOT more commitment than most non-farm families are willing to make just to have cheap milk and meat.

    As for not having to mow the lawn, sure you don’t have to mow, but in non-rural areas, dealing with the cow’s waste will be a much bigger hassle than mowing the lawn. If you just let your yard smell like a barn-yard in the country, that’s fine, but in a neighborhood there will be complaints from neighbors or code violations. And a single cow, even a little one, will produce more waste than you can let lie around in a yard sized area without smell being an issue and more than a single family would need to fertilize a small garden. You’d end up needing to constantly shovel, store, and haul it away.

    While fresh milk is AWESOME, it just isn’t worth it for most working urban and suburban people.

  39. MinT and Phikus:

    I was merely responding to the much-promoted notion that they “grow only in cow patties“, which they certainly don’t.

    I know well where mushies grow, having spent many-a-day tramping through misty fields, on the foothills of the Three Rock Mountain in the outskirts of Dublin, picking my fill :)

    Phikus, if I’m ever in Texas, I’ll take you up on that.. over a mini-cow steak and a glass of mini-milk.. nom nom nom

  40. My family moved to the country when I was a kid and our first cow was a Dexter. There is a genetic problem with the breed where some cows will have dwarf calves. That is to say, it’s a dwarf dwarf. Sure enough, our cow’s first calf was tiny: we couldn’t understand why all the local farmers wanted to see him, but I realise why now: when he was several months old he was knee-high to me and I was ten!

    All our cow’s other calves were normal Dexter size.

  41. Ok, maybe in my tiny back yard, the Dwarf Dexter would have enough room to roam. I’d really love to see one of those. It would be too cute to harvest for meat, though, and I dunno how much milk they’d produce, but what the hay?

    ARKIZZLE: Yes, my poor choice of word. I hope you will indeed take me up on the invitation someday (and I hope to make it to Ireland someday as well.) We’ll find some mini-moos and have a little moloko plus!

  42. Steaks are a cut of meat. They can be of any gender or species. In many countries males are not castrated, making them ‘steers’. This practice is increasing in the US. As most beef animals are slaughtered at such early ages today it doesn’t matter.

    When young I raised some pigs. One particularly nasty sow was named after a like tempered relative. When butchering time came eating her was especially enjoyable.

  43. I wanted to address the worries about genetic issues. I had always read that you don’t want to breed a short legged Dexter heifer or cow with a short legged Dexter bull. The result would be a miscarriage due to a genetic anomaly know as bull-dogism. So, I always get a long legged bull to come and visit my cows for a month each summer to breed my girls, even the short legged ones.

    Then I went to this year’s Vermont State Fair and met a family that has intentionally been breeding short legs with short legs. They’ve never had the problem. They also told me that the gene is very, very rare and that you can test for it for $3.

    So, I’m not going to worry about this for my girls anymore.

    My cows eat about 3/4 of a bale of hay each in the winter and graze 5 acres of pasture in the summer. I have 4 Dexters, although one is farmed out.

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