Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

They're little cattle with big possibilities

Mini cows perfect fit for small acreages

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PORTAGE LA PRAIRIE -- Have a roundup in your own yard.

Enjoy a stampede from your back deck. Pack a six-gun for cattle drives along your suburban fence line.

Yes, it's not too late to become a cowboy cows.

Mini cows, which grow to about half the size of regular cows, are the little cows with big possibilities for people living on small acreages or even in bedroom communities. (But please check zoning bylaws first!)

You require just half an acre per cow. They keep the grass mowed. And, at the end of the day, or month, or year, you've turned your neatly-chewed lawn into beefsteaks.

That's exactly what Irene and Roy Patterson do on their small acreage, 40 kilometres west of Winnipeg, ever since they bought their first mini cow a year ago. Today, the couple, who both have non-farm careers, own five.

"My husband says they're for empty nesters," joked Irene.

"I thoroughly enjoy them. The thing is if you play with a Dexter (a breed of mini cow), you might get hurt but you won't get killed.

"If you play with an Angus or Charolais, you're going to get killed."

The Pattersons have used them for milking and meat, and pets. "Our bull, you can pet him, they're like dogs," she said.

On a more serious note, people today like to know where their food comes from, said mini-cow breeder Evelyn Wilton. By raising the cow yourself, you can determine its diet and keep out growth hormones and antibiotics.

And owners can drink fresh, unpasteurized milk, if they choose to milk cows twice a day.

For Evelyn and Robert Wilton, raising mini cows means they can have a ranch on their seven-and-a-half-acre yard just outside of Portage la Prairie. They keep 11 head.

The most popular mini cow is the Dexter. The Dexter is not some genetically modified, multi-specied transmogrification but an actual breed from Ireland. Fossils trace it back to 800 B.C.

"The poor people in Ireland always had them because they had small land holdings," said Wilton.

Regular cows are typically 60 to 80 inches tall. Dexters reach to about 40 inches high.

Perfect for Evelyn Wilton, who is 5-foot-1 (61 inches).

And it's true that Dexters seem more like pets than that cruder reference -- livestock. Non-ranchers can mill around with a herd of Dexters without intimidation.

But ignore some press reports that have compared Dexters to large German shepherd dogs. If a German shepherd can grow to 600-700 pounds, so be it. Dexters are still cows.

They poop, too, but smaller -- more like large hamburger patties than apple pies. Wilton says the manure simply gets worked into the grass as fertilizer. She sells Dexter cattle as well as the meat.

Retirees Chris and Pat Bothe keep 26 Dexters on their hobby farm near Anola. Chris, a Mountie for 34 years, always wanted to own cattle one day.

"(Dexters) are very docile and gentle. They're very manageable," said Pat.

The Bothes sell Dexter cattle. They also sell Dexter meat and have a customer waiting list. The couple sell it for about half the price of beef in retail stores.

Customers pre-select the cuts they want but must buy the equivalent of a side. Fortunately, a side of the pint-sized Dexter is just 150 pounds and can fit in a household freezer. More details are available at

Mini cows haven't been adopted here as readily as in England. There, the number of Dexters has doubled in eight years to over 4,000 head.

Animal husbandry scientists are also developing the Mini-Hereford and Lowline Angus but Wilton claims these animals have experienced problems.

"I like cows," said Wilton. "They're interesting. They're quite intelligent. They know their names. They have their positions. They have a social structure."

She added: "They have this nice nature. They're so accepting."

It is also extraordinary how cows have fed civilization through the millennia with their milk and meat protein, she said.

But Wilton warns against keeping just a single Dexter. They get depressed on their own. They're social, herd animals, so owners should have at least two. A Dexter costs from $600 to $800.


Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 8, 2009 A5

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