Whether it's the first time you've raised a farm animal - you're limited for space or you're just looking for an unusual pet, miniature animals can be both fun and profitable. A brief search will reveal that the options for owning a mini is possible with cows, horses, donkeys, sheep, goats, pigs, alpacas. Within each of those many categories are numerous choices for breeds, colors and characteristics.
So what's the best mini critter for your back yard? The answer to that question is: that depends on you. When you're selecting the best miniature animal for you and your family, you'll want to look at a myriad of details about your space, feed resources and your personal preferences. So here's a miniature peek into the world of miniature animals.
Miniature horses have been around for many years. Don't confuse them with ponies, because ponies are an entirely different breed. Miniature horses retain all the proportions, character and size of their larger counterparts, just in a smaller package. They've been around since the 14th and 16th centuries. The Empress wife of Napoleon III used a miniature horse to pull her carriage in the 1850s. There's evidence that the Pampas Indians also bred miniature horses.
In order to be officially classed as a miniature, a horse must be less than 38 inches tall. Those under 34 inches tall are in their own class. You'll find them in all colors, even such rare breeds as Appaloosa and Paint.
Horse Fact Sheet
• Live longer than full sized horses
• Require hay, crimped oats, grasses or grains (they make excellent lawn mowers,) brick salt or trace mineral salt and water
• Are very fond of apples, candy, soda and breakfast cereal
• Do some biting and kicking when trying to establish dominance
• Play with other horses, balls and like to “bob for apples”
• Vet care is comparable to that of a large dog
• Require hoof care every six to eight weeks
• Shed twice a year
• Love to be brushed
• Have amazing vision
For more information on miniature horses go to the American Miniature Horse Association at www.amha.org.
If you're looking for a bit of a twist on a miniature horse, miniature donkeys might fit your needs. These little animals, weighing between 250 and 450 pounds, originated in the Mediterranean islands of Sicily and Sardinia. They are intelligent, curious and very affectionate. They're often used to pull a cart or carry a small child. They are said to be easily trained.
Most miniature donkeys are gray-dun, which means they have a gray body and ad dark-colored dorsal stripe over their shoulders and down their back. They may also be black or brown, white, spotted or roan. They can carry up to 100 pounds and make excellent pets for both children and adults.
Donkey Fact Sheet
• Have a life span of 25 to 35 years
• Are called Jacks or Jennets and have fowls
• Require a small amount of grain, hay, brick salt and water
• Weigh between 200 and 400 lbs. when fully mature
• Need a pasture and a shelter to shield them from the elements, including flies
• Need a four-foot fence; woven wire is used the most
• They prefer the company of other miniature donkeys
For more information on miniature donkeys go to The National Miniature Donkey Association at www.nmdaasset.com.
If you're used to seeing cows in the countryside, you might start squinting along the horizon to catch sight of a miniature cow. They're becoming more popular every day as people establish their homes on small parcels of land. In order to be classified as miniature, cattle should not exceed 700 pounds live weight and be less than 42 inches at the hip. Full size cows weigh between 1,000 and 2,000 pounds and stand 50 to 60 inches at the hip.
The advantage of raising miniature cows is that as many as 10 of them can thrive on as little as five acres of land. Some breeds, like the miniature Jersey, will produce up to four gallons of milk per day (depending on their diet and body condition). Other breeds provide high quality beef. They are ideal for a weekend farmer.
Cow Fact Sheet
• Are happier in herds
• Have a docile temperament
• Are easy calvers
• Only need low quality roughage
• Weigh between 200 and 350 lbs. making them only slightly larger than a big dog
• Enjoy being brushed, walked and played with
• Are used for milking, beef and pets
• Can be pricey to buy at $1,000 plus per head
• Have low cost maintenance
• Demand is rising 20% per year
For more information on miniature cows go to www.minicattle.com/entry.cfm.
If you'd like to get in on the alpaca rage, miniature llamas and alpacas may be what you're searching for. Both animals were developed over thousands of years of controlled breeding overseen by the Incas. They served that culture well in the high Andean plateau and mountains of South America.
Alpacas came to the US in 1984. They were native to Bolivia and Chile. Because Peru considers alpacas to be a national treasure, they started limiting exports in 1993. There are somewhere around 11,000 of the animals in the United States today.
Miniature alpacas weigh about 100 pounds and are about 38 inches tall when they reach maturity. They can live to be 25 years old. While they are still fairly new in the US, demand for them continues to grow.
Llama Fact Sheet
• Are part of the camel family and are cousins to the Alpaca
• Needs fenced pasture, shelter, clean water and hay
• Are friendly
• Require vaccinations, dental checkups, hoof care and worming.
• Come in a rainbow of colors
• Are easy to transport
• Spit as a defense mechanism and will kick when threatened
• Get along well with other livestock
• Mamma are called dam’s, Babies are called cria
• Need only one acre for every six animals
• Are less expensive to keep than dogs
For more information on Miniature Llamas go to www.miniaturellamas.com
Miniature prigs have been popular since the mid 1980s when the first Miniature Vietnamese Potbellied Pigs were imported to the United States from Southeast Asia. They grow to be 10 to 15 inches tall. Their length is in proportion to their height. The average miniature pig weighs 25 to 55 pounds. They are usually black, although rare colors include all white or black and white pintos with blue eyes. Their gestation period is three months, three weeks and three days. An average litter is six to 10 piglets. These minis can live to be 25 years old. When given the opportunity to do so, they are exceptionally neat with their living quarters.
Pig Fact Sheet
• Are IMPOSSIBLY CUTE
• Have bad eyesight but a keen sense of smell
• Are curious by nature
• Can be litter trained
• Have a span of, 12 to 18 years
• Are susceptible to sunburns and frostbite
• Take three years to reach maturity
• Weigh 50 lbs. at adulthood
• Are intelligent, social and affectionate
• Prefer pig food, leafy greens, raw vegetables, fruits, grapes, apples, raisins and carrots
• Will overeat
• Are susceptible to parasites and skin problems
• Like blankets, dog toys and going for walks
• Scream when irritated
• Easy to train and are motivated by food
For more information on Miniature Potbellied Pigs go to www.petpigs.com.
Miniature sheep resemble wooly little dogs. The Miniature Old English "Babydoll Southtown Sheep originated in the late 1700s in the Southdown hills of Sussex Count in England. They were extremely hardy and their meat was very tender and flavorful. They were brought to the United States in 1803 and largely became extinct because of the small cuts of meat they produced. With intense efforts to establish a foundation registry in the United States to preserve them, the sheep are making a comeback.
Sheep Fact Sheet
• Were kept by royalty as a sign of good fortune and happiness
• Need companionship so you need to have more than one
• Are easy to care for, making them suitable pets for people of all ages
• Are affectionate and gentle
• Males are called Rams, Females are called Ewes
• Food requirements are hay, grain, loose minerals and salts and clean water
• Are ruminants, meaning they have a four chambered stomach to digest the cud they chew
• Enjoy having a cozy barn to sleep in
• Have rubbery hooves for traction on rocks
• Are very curious by nature
• Do well in all type of weather including snow and can withstand extreme temperatures
• Grazing needs can be meet with up to five sheep for every available acres of land.
For more information on Miniature Sheep go to www.nabssar.org.
Miniature goats are said to be more fun than any little dog. They can be a great deal of fun for children because they can be housebroken and trained to a leash. They are easily trained and require very little feed – one quarter cup twice each day. They originated in West and Central Africa and can live to be 15. Their average height is 16 inches and they weigh approximately 35 pounds at maturity.
Goat Fact Sheet
• Are affectionate
• Will walk on a leash
• Are good companions for other animals
• Can be housebroken and taught tricks
• Are members of the caprine family and are ruminants
• Need a pasture
• Require supplemental hay, grain and vegetables
• Males are called billies or bucks, females are called nannies or does and babies are called kids
• Will live up to 15 years
• Vary in color
• Are used for pets, milk, fiber, meat and show animals
• Cost upwards of $200
For more information on Miniature Goats go to www. nmga.net.
So take a fair-sized chunk of time to do a little research and reading before you decide which miniature animal fits you and your farm.