MECHANICSBURG, Ohio — In Texas, everything is supposed to be big and still getting bigger.
At least one Texas rancher took a look at his bottom line some 20 years ago, however, and decided it was time for that line of thinking to take a U-turn.
Hereford cattle were being bred to get bigger and bigger, but this rancher realized he couldn’t support enough Texas-sized cattle on his land to even get by. He turned his breeding program around and started breeding to return Herefords to their original size.
Of course, by Texas standards, that would be considered a miniature.
And that is the sign Joe and Peg Forrest, a retired farm couple from Mechanicsburg, Ohio, happened upon one day six years ago as they drove the back roads of the panhandle of southwest Texas.
”Miniature Herefords” read a rather modest sign along the road as they sped by.
It was enough to get Joe Forrest to put on the brakes.
He had never heard of such a thing, and he was curious enough to turn around and head back to the ranch to see a miniature Hereford.
Miniature cattle are now becoming more common, with Richard Gradwohl at the Miniature Cattle Research Facility in Covington, Wash., registering 19 breed categories resulting from selected reproduction or crossbreeding.
But six years ago, when the Forrests discovered Rough Largent’s ranch near Fort Davis, Texas, the concept of selective breeding to produce miniature cattle was just beginning.
Even today there are only three Ohio breeders registered with the Miniature Hereford Club established by Largent out of Fort Davis. And one of these three is Joe and Peg Forrest.
What the Forrests first thought when they stood face to face with a 700-pound steer that stood less than 45-inches high is what a wonderful 4-H project it would make.
They had been involved in Champaign County beef clubs for many years before they decided to retire and sell their Angus herd. But these cattle were amazing. Even the smallest 4-H’er could handle one of these young males and be able to show it as a market steer.
After a few return visits to Texas, the Forrests came home with five heifers and a bull. They now have a herd of about 30 and sell cattle off their farm both as freezer beef and as breeding stock for others who like the idea of having their Herefords come in size small.
And with both embryos and semen also available, Joe Forrest now says he is really in the business or promoting the growth of miniature Herefords as a breed of cattle.
He organized a 4-H club three years ago, and the Honey I Shrunk the Cows beef club is now showing and selling at the Champaign County Fair.
But because he is the only miniature Hereford breeder in the area, he doesn’t have enough calves to supply the 15 to 18 kids who want project animals, so he buys calves in Texas to bring back for 4-H.
He keeps hoping, however, for the day when every kid can buy a miniature Hereford steer locally.
He said he has found that Ohio State University’s Farm Science Review is the best place to display the cattle to get a whole lot of new interest.
So far, he said, he has sold breeding cattle to Michigan, Illinois, Indiana and Pennsylvania, but not in Ohio.
Most of those who are interested in the cattle have small farms, from three to 20 acres.”They love the idea that they can have cattle, and can keep them on a few acres,” Forrest said.
Largent, who has 4,000 acres in southwest Texas, has been able to increase his herd from 40 standard-sized Herefords to 100 miniatures.
”He told me he was having a tough time making it with 40 cows,” Forrest said. “Now with 100 cattle on the same land, three families are living good off the ranch.”
In the Midwest, a miniature can be supported on about an acre of grass. The smaller cattle are also more efficient in feed conversion than their standard-sized counterparts, and therefore eat less.
They are much easier to care for, Forrest said, because they are easier to handle, and they are not as hard on fences and equipment.
One of the reasons he sold his Angus herd, he said, was that he and his wife built a new house down the road, and their daughter and her family are living on the farm.
”It was hard for her to handle them while we were off traveling around. But she really likes these little ones.”
And as freezer beef, Forrest said, the miniatures are the perfect answer for many people.
Instead of buying half a beef, they can buy the entire steer and get all the cuts of meat. And all the cuts are smaller and leaner.
Of course, he said, you have to direct market miniature Hereford beef. Commercial breeders don’t raise this kind of beef, and the commercial packers don’t want them because they are too small on the hook.
When sold as beef, the market steers usually sell at market value.
The bulls can get up to about 750 pounds, but the cows are generally between 600 and 700 pounds, and are anywhere from 36 to 42 inches tall at full maturity. Calves weigh about 40 pounds at birth.
And because miniature is the idea, the smaller they are, the more valuable.
Forrest likes to sell his cows after they have been bred, since he has a better idea by then what they are worth.
A bred heifer will sell between $2,000 and $5,000, and Forrest throws in the semen or guarantees they can be returned for the next breeding.
The Honey I Shrunk the Cows 4-H club has become a Mechanicsburg fixture.
The project animals show separately at the end of the beef categories, but a grand champion and reserve champion are named, and they sell at the market sale.
This year, the grand champion brought $2 a pound, and the species category averaged $1.65.
Joe Forrest can be reached at 937-834-2002, or if he is out of town, his daughter Amy can answer any questions. She is at 937-834-2878.
www.miniaturecattle.com and www.maroon.com/mininewsletter