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MOOOOVE over, big guys: Fans tout beef in pint-sized package

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Cameron Lashley gives her miniature heifer a quick snack, at the Red Willow County Fair. She won the belt buckle she is wearing, along with other prizes, at the National Western Stock Show in Denver in January, where one of her miniature steers won the Reserve Grand Champion.
(Lorri Sughroue/McCook Daily Gazette)
Bigger may not always be better, at least for 11-year-old Cameron Lashley of McCook.

While a standard mature cow stands 50 to 60 inches tall and weighs an average of 1,200 to 2,000 pounds, Lashley's miniature cattle appear almost cute in comparison: 500 to 700 pounds, a mere 47-53 inches tall, with stocky, shorter legs and curly white faces..

Her mini heifer picked up the reserve championship in showmanship this year at the recent Red Willow County Fair. In January, her mini steer captured the reserve grand champion in the miniature hereford division, at the National Western Stock Show in Denver, called the "superbowl" of livestock shows.

But what's the point of mini cattle, besides looking cute?

Plenty, said Cameron's mom, Cherri.

"They use less feed, you get more product per pound, they're more docile, they don't tear up the ground so much," she said. Because miniature cattle weigh less, they don't damage fencing or equipment. And because they take up less space than their larger cousins, beef production per acre is higher. Bigger bovines require five acres for two animals; smaller breeds can be raised at two per acre.

Cherri said the popularity of mini cattle is growing for a variety of other reasons: low feed cost and less labor means better cost efficiency, more meat can be produced overall from each acre, and people having smaller acreages to work with.

"There's potential for good money to be made, the market is definitely growing," she said.

She and her husband, Marty, started showing miniature cattle about 10 years ago, using cattle raised at Splitt Creek Ranch in North Platte, owned by Steve and Judy Splitt.

Cherri and Marty take the miniature cattle to shows all over the United States and have noted how the breed is getting to be one of the largest classes shown.

In fact, miniature cows from Splitt Creek Ranch picked up eight champion or reserve grand champion awards this year at the National Western Stock Show.

But mini cattle are not dwarfs and are not genetically altered to be tiny, Judy Splitt said.

Rather, they are from the original stock first brought to the United States from Europe in the 1800s. In the 1950s, they were bred to the giant animals they are today to get the most meat possible.

All of the miniature cattle on Splitt Creek Ranch are registered American Herefords, she said. She and Steve breed and raise them, keeping up with demand as much as possible.

"We sell them as fast as we make them," she laughed.

One of the benefits of miniatures is storage. It can be difficult to store all of the beef from a regular cow, she said, but with miniatures, all of the meat can be stored in a freezer. As for the cuts of meat, it may be a case of quality versus quantity: steaks from the miniatures are more moderate but still thick, she said, averaging 10 ounces instead of the regular 16 ounces.

Her customers range from yuppies or senior citizens who want to have their own beef but don't have a lot of land, or "steer jocks" from Texas with thousands of cattle, but want something smaller for their children to raise. At big cattle shows in Houston, the docile miniature cattle have been showed by 3-year-olds, Splitt said.

That's one reason why Cameron chose to show the smaller breed. "They can't put up much of a fight," she explained.

When she first started showing cattle four years ago, the immense size of standard cattle was intimidating, she admitted. But with the miniatures, if one butts against her or steps on her foot, the impact is not as great.

Plus, she just can't resist how they look."They kinda look like giant teddy bears," she said.

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