Miniature Cattle Are Cash Cows for Breeder

Mini Moos: Miniature Cattle Are Cash Cows for Breeder

Yes, good things often come in small packages. We brought you a lot of animal stories in 2010, but the year ended in a bang on a Colorado farm with the birth of a rare miniature panda cow.

The calf, named Ben, arrived at the farm of Chris Jessen, but Ben's father, a 1,000-pound panda bull, was sold to Jessen by Richard Gradwohl, who developed and trademarked the panda cattle breed at his Happy Mountain Miniature Cattle Farm in Washington state.

"We're the ones who developed the breed. The reason it's a panda is because it's a composite of eight panda breeds," Gradwohl told AOL News.

At the Happy Mountain Miniature Cattle Farm near Seattle, Richard Gradwohl and his family have developed 18 of the 26 miniature cattle breeds known to exist. Here he's pictured in 2001 with 1-year-old Precious, the first miniature panda cow born in the world.

The Happy Mountain Farm is also the site of the International Miniature Cattle Breeders Society and Registry -- a family business owned by Gradwohl and his wife, Arlene. Their son, Mike, is the farm manager, and their daughter, Michelle, is the farm's office manager.

When the Gradwohls started the business in 1966, they wanted to register the cattle in order to keep records of their various pedigrees, but since there wasn't any formal registry at the time, they started their own.

Of the 26 miniature cattle breeds in the world, Gradwohl has developed 18 of them. "We created the registry, starting out with about 20 animals, and now we have over 7,000 animals registered all over the world," he said.

Historically, some miniature cattle breeds from Britain were actually prized for their small status, but after World War II, larger-sized animals were bred because of higher meat demands in America, as well as the higher milk volume from bigger cows.

"When animals were first brought to the United States from Europe, they were small -- the Holstein, Angus, Hereford -- and they were all in the range of around 42 inches tall. Somewhere along the way, it was decided that bigger was better," said Gradwohl.

He says there are seven niche markets for miniature cattle today:
All-natural farm-grown beef
Organic beef
Semen and embryo
"It's a marketing program. My background as a college professor was in entrepreneurship and marketing -- that's what I taught. So I developed the different breeds to fit these different niche markets."

Some of the mini-animals Gradwohl has developed are 32 inches tall. He says that 36 to 44 inches is the acceptable range for the panda and for most other miniature breeds.

The process of creating new mini-breeds involves a good deal of trial and error, often taking upward of eight years for the results Gradwohl looks for.

"You breed for a particular characteristic -- what I call line breeding -- and you do this over a six-generation period until you end up with a 'super bull' that has all the characteristics of the original bull you selected. Finally, you take that super bull and breed him back to all of the females in the whole program, except for his mother."

When Gradwohl set out to develop the miniature panda cattle breed, he was looking for an animal that would have a white belt around the middle and a white face with black around both eyes. "It took a long time to get to the point where I could call it a breed."

Gradwohl frowns on the use of the phrase "genetic manipulation" to describe what he does to produce his mini animals.

"I prefer to think of it as genetic design. To a high degree, it's a process of manipulation, but that term has negative connotations. We don't do anything like cloning. We do natural breeding, and the design is created when you decide what kind of a breed you're trying to create."

If you're in the market to buy a cute, cuddly mini-panda cow as a pet, that would run between $4,500 and $25,000. And there are two colors of panda. Most are black and white, but once in a while a rare red panda, in which the body is red with a white belt and a white face with red around the eyes, is produced.

So, which miniature animal is the most popular and visually striking?

"Well, the panda is the hook -- that's the one that people want to come and see," Gradwohl said. "People buy what they perceive to be something that's going to satisfy their individual wants and needs."

The former college professor says the future of the miniature cattle industry is bright, because there's so much interest in the tiny animals.

While Gradwohl insists he doesn't have a personal favorite, he concedes his affection for a particular red panda cow named Bridget.

"It's the world's first red panda female heifer. She's a gorgeous animal and her temperament is just really laid back. I've got a halter on her and every few days, I'll take her for a walk.

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