Grocery Shrink Ray Zaps Cows, Saves Environment

Ranchers are discovering that one way to get more bang out of their land is to shrink the animals. The Guardian tracks down what looks to be the wave of the future — cows that have been bred to be smaller. The story says mini cows can produce three times more beef than regular-sized cows while using only a third of the land.

Some cows on a Seattle farm are barely taller than three feet. Ten of the little guys can thrive on five acres, which would support only two full-sized cows, the article says, adding that there are 20,000 mini cows in the U.S.

Why mini cows could save the planet [Guardian]
(Thanks, NORMLgirl!)


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  1. HannahK says:

    The story does not say that the mini cows can produce three times more beef than regular sized cows. That would be ridiculous. It says that three times more beef can be yielded from the land, because more of them can be squished into a smaller area. Big difference.

    • poctob says:

      I thought that it didn’t make any sense either

    • pecan 3.14159265 says:

      I was going to say…it seems entirely illogical for a smaller cow to produce more beef than a larger cow. Thanks for the clarification.

    • Fineous K. Douchenstein says:

      Thank god I wasn’t the only one confused by this!

    • SkokieGuy says:

      From the article:

      He discovered that it is possible to raise 10 miniature cows on five acres, rather than just two full-sized cows, meaning that land could yield up to three times as much beef – but the cows only need one third of the feed.

      “These little cows were just right for me,” he says. And, given worries about cows’ contribution to greenhouse gases, it takes 10 mini cows to produce the amount of methane of one full-sized cow.

    • Buckus says:

      Yes, the wording was quite (and still is) confusing. Smaller = more beef? Whaaaa?

  2. Fineous K. Douchenstein says:

    I must be really slow today. It took me nearly 20 minutes to comprehend how smaller cows could produce three times more beef.

    Because there’s more of them. Duh.

  3. ARP says:

    I’m sure the factory farms are foaming at the mouth for this one.

    • cmdr.sass says:

      The article is about land use. factory farms don’t need grazing land so this story is irrelevant to them.

  4. Tim says:

    So factory farms will get these tiny cows and produce three times as much beef. Then Americans will eat three times as much beef as we do now, because it’s not like we eat far more than enough meat already.

    Oh, and it won’t be good for the environment either, because they’ll still be using the same amount of land and resources, just getting more out of it.

    • Fineous K. Douchenstein says:

      Based on the article, a little math suggests the same land can support 5 times the number of mini-cows and produce half the methane. That would at least be somewhat good for the environment.

  5. ReverendBrown says:

    I had some of these mini cows. Cute, and full of attitude.

  6. esc27 says:

    I wonder if these cows require more “maintenance” than larger breeds. Normal calves are good at escaping through holes in fences, so I imagine these small breeds would require special/more fencing and it seems like they would be more vulnerable to predators.

    • Firethorn says:

      On maintenance – they do cost a bit more, there’s static costs per cow like vaccines, tags, inspections.

      On the other hand they also grow up a bit faster and are ready for slaughter sooner(the big savings in feed).

      On predators – you do have something like five times as many of them in an area, so there are more to take care of any predators, and they’re still not exactly small. I remember reading that they’re closer in size to what cows USED to be.

  7. RickN says:

    Will they have to hire mini-ranchers armed with needles to protect them from tarantulas?

  8. Torgonius wants an edit button says:

    So THAT’S where sliders come from!

  9. Bob LeDrew says:

    I hate to be superior, but the first thing I did for CBC Radio was a humourous commentary about these “compact cows.” That was in 1987. Knowing my geekness, I probably have a copy of the script, which was written on a typewriter and printed on “yellows” — three-part carbon paper that the CBC used to use (as well as “greens”, which were five-part carbons).

    • kjherron says:

      Somebody–David X Cohen I think–used to write articles for Omni magazine in which he’d write strange letters to various agencies and publish the response. In one of them, he wrote to the USDA asking about a restaurant concept that he claimed to have heard of. The restaurant had supposedly bred special cows that were so small as to be a single serving. You’d pick your mini-cow out of a pen like choosing a lobster, and they’d take it in the back to slaughter and cook it for you.

      Naturally, this is the first thing I thought of when I read this story.

  10. curmudgeon says:

    I find the statement that it takes 10 minicows to release the same methane as one standard size cow questionable. That must mean these mini ones are about 10 times smaller than one large cow? They weigh only 80 to 100 pounds? What about milk? Do they give a comparable amount of milk as large cows? Highly doubtful. Also, will we have to breed midgets to milk and otherwise tend to these little fellas? If this were all true, ranchers in the U.S. would be lining up to change their herds to minis, and providing work for unemployed little cowboys.

    • Shenanigans Was Taken says:

      You do know that not all cows are raised for their milk, right? Some are solely raised for the meat they provide.

    • wickedpixel says:

      Likely because they grow to full size faster and are slaughtered a lot sooner so they don’t have a chance to product as much methane.

  11. stormbird says:

    I wonder if they are small enough for grass-feeding to be profitable again? I’ve read some articles and seen some documentaries (‘King Corn’ is great and watchable online via netflix) about how corn-fed cows have more fat and less actual meat and basically have to be slaughtered when they are or the diet will kill them. The taste is also supposed to be better.

    • catastrophegirl chooses not to fly says:

      you can use them as lawnmowers actually. and i’m not just making that up, i have been shopping around for a mini cow ever since i bought my house and found out i’m zoned for it

  12. Dustbunny says:

    Mini-cows are cute. I don’t eat any animals that are cute. Do not want. If this catches on I can never eat beef again :(

    • raydee wandered off on a tangent and got lost says:

      I eat cute animals in the hopes that I will gain their cuteness powers. Bwhahaha.

      But on a more serious note, would you drink mini-cow milk? I wonder if there are any mini milchers …

      • Dustbunny says:

        Must midgets milk the mini-milchers?

        • catastrophegirl chooses not to fly says:

          there are different breeds of mini cows. and several are for milking. i’ve been looking for a retired milk mini cow, if you have the space they make good pets. the retired ones sell for “cheap” because they aren’t good for meat or milk

    • strathmeyer says:

      This is also why I don’t eat ugly vegetables.

    • Buckus says:

      “All I want to do is eat your cow and gain their cuteness…”

  13. drjeff says:

    Yeah, but will they be able to compete with pygmy chickens?

  14. catastrophegirl chooses not to fly says:

    actually, this has been going on a long time. i started hearing about them in cuban news years ago. they’re just more popular now

  15. muadib says:

    I can’t find any facts in their articles or website to back up the claims that there is more actual meat produced per acre with the miniature breeds. Even if I grant them the benefit of the doubt there, good luck getting a decent sized steak out of these. You basically would have a ribeye the size of a filet mignon and a filet mignon the size of a large grape.

    • Sian says:

      Steaks would be weird (though some steaks and roasts would be just fine in miniature form. Personal tri-tip? Plz!) but for ground beef? there’s no real downside.

    • catastrophegirl chooses not to fly says:
      • muadib says:

        Thanks for the link that does give some better data to compare with. These animals do seem to be ok, but I’m a little confused by their size. That third ultrasound shows them to be weighing in at around 850lbs, unless that’s a different breed they were comparing with. Either way, ya they would be good for hamburger meat and safer to manage because of their size. Another advantage would be the marbling. It always takes longer to finish out a large frame animal compared to a smaller frame one.

        They aren’t really all that new though. Looking back several years ago breeders used to really like short thick cattle. Here’s an example
        I guess things might be coming full circle again.

        • catastrophegirl chooses not to fly says:

          it goes back to the 60’s actually. if i recall correctly from stuff i read years ago, fidel castro took private cattle land to make sugar farms in cuba and ruined the cuban cattle industry. i know, color me surprised, i had no idea cuba had been known for beef.
          but then he had grand plans to breed mini cattle to replace the missing beef and milk supply at least for the residents of cuba, if not to sell.
          didn’t pan out, but some of the farmers kept working on it because it turns out to be really hard to get fresh milk to cuba when the closest source imposes an embargo.
          and american farmers started getting into it a couple of decades ago.

          mini cattle produce more meat than you’d expect apparently

        • catastrophegirl chooses not to fly says:

          oh, and there are 26 breeds. the reports i linked you to are for lowline cattle, the guardian article mentions the measurements of dexters. i don’t actually know enough about them to know all the size specs for those breeds, but yes, they are different breeds.
          to qualify as miniature cattle they do have to be 42 inches or less [tall] but i don’t think there are any restrictions on mass. farmers have been breeding them to be especially muscular though, because they are making up what they don’t get in height.

  16. coren says:

    This story doesn’t quite jive – for one thing we’re talking one fifth of the feed (two cows per five acres v ten per five), and for another even if you assume the 1/3 and triple numbers are accurate…how is the land yielding so much more beef – are 10 mini cows triple the beef of 2 regular ones? And even having ten cows on that acreage, are they still leaving the land two thirds unused? It doesn’t make sense…

    • grapedog says:

      the larger the animal, the worse it’s input in/input out. Large animals are very inneficient.

  17. jayde_drag0n says:

    “using only a third of the land.” have you seen where cows go?? there is no “1/3” of the land.. they don’t graze.. they live in knee high manure tiny lots where all the animals are squished in.. DON’T eat any hay.. and eat foods their stomachs were never meant to eat

  18. seamer says:

    I hope animal activists and gene pool specialists get on top of this.

    Modern cows were bred specially to make them larger. They were the size of large dogs way back at the birth of agriculture. Sending them back to ‘small’ could open all kinds of uh-oh pandora’s boxes.

  19. MrEvil says:

    They should have made that headline a little more clear. It’s more beef production per acre, not production per individual animal. Then again, as someone with a background in Agriculture most all production figures are done per acre.

    Like if a farmer told you he made a 70 bushel wheat crop he means that he made 70 per acre, not 70 overall.