Are you a dog person or a cat person? How about a cow or a donkey person? With the increase in popularity of miniaturized versions of livestock animals, some people are finding companionship with smaller versions of cows, donkeys and horses.
Don’t be fooled: These “miniature” animals are not likely to curl up at the end of your bed or jump in the car for a quick ride to the store. But they do offer people without the property needed to care for full-sized animals a chance to enjoy owning, for example, a cow. Miniature cows are about one-third the size of a regular-sized cow, and need about an acre per pair – much less than the five acres a traditional pair of cows requires.
In fact, a miniature cow can stand as small as 35 inches at the hip – about the size of a medium-to-large dog breed. The smallest weigh around 300 pounds, but a cow is considered a miniature if it is 42 inches or less and under 700 pounds. Because many miniature cow breeders are focused on the pet market (although the cows are bred and sold for meat and milk, as well), the cows are bred for pleasant personalities and can be affectionate and responsive.
Can a cow be housetrained? Some owners say the animals are much smarter than the typical person thinks, but most owners do keep their pets outdoors.
Some miniature horses, however, do live indoors, although most are also outdoor pets. The small horses – which are not considered ponies – measure 38 inches or less at the hip. Because of their intelligence, miniature horses have been used for therapy animals and are even trained as seeing-eye animals for owners with visual impairment. Horses have a significant benefit over dogs in this role because they can live to be 35, far surpassing a dog’s natural 10 to 15 year lifespan.
Donkeys also come in smaller sizes, and are classified as miniatures when they stand 36 inches or less at the hip and weigh under 450 pounds. Miniature donkeys are also bred for their personalities and can be trained to pull carts or carry children under 100 pounds. With the proper care, miniature donkeys will live between 25 and 40 years.
Mini donkeys and horses have been popular for a few years, so there is more information about how to care for them as pets. However, miniature donkey advocates point out that there are several differences in caring for donkeys compared to horses. Donkeys may, for example, gain too much weight if fed exactly like a horse.
Forget about rescuing or adopting these smaller-sized animals. Because of the high demand, they are typically difficult to come by, although it is sometimes possible to find a miniature animal that an individual owner is attempting to rehome. As these animals become more popular, it will be easier to find those in need of new homes. For the most part, however, these animals need to be purchased from breeders at relatively high costs ($1,000+ for a donkey, $2,500+ for a cow, and even more for a horse). Be sure that you find a reputable breeder. In addition to getting a healthy and sound domestic animal, you will need to find a resource for information on their continued care. Some resources exist online, and a livestock veterinarian is also an important asset.
You will probably also want to have at least two of the same animal, or find some other way to provide company. Living outdoors can be lonely, and cows, horses, and donkeys are all social animals. In some cases you can pair two kinds of animal (such as a horse and a donkey). Be very careful when doing so and don’t plan on pasturing your miniature animal with a goat or sheep friend. Donkeys, for example, engage in a form of play that can be too rough for smaller animals.
It is possible and desirable to neuter your animals. As pets, they’ll be happier and easier to keep. You’ll also be able to keep a pair of mixed gender without worrying about pregnancy. (Although miniature animals are in demand, breeding should be done deliberately and with the highest-quality stock to ensure offspring are physically healthy and have pleasant personalities.)
If you’re keeping these miniature animals on limited land, you may need to feed completely or supplement a great deal. It’s true that cows, horses and donkeys will eat grass and can be kept in a good-sized pasture. But for most people looking to keep a miniature animal on an acre or so, it will be necessary to feed good-quality grass hay and the supplements your vet recommends. Watch your pets carefully to make sure they get enough exercise and are not overweight.
With small acreage, you also need to check your community’s zoning laws and make sure that you can legally keep livestock in your area and on the amount of property you own. Make sure you know the answer to this before you get your pet.