From the moment you drive onto Jim and Vernette McIntosh’s yard, you’ll know one thing: They love animals.
Ten dogs, ranging in size from a Great Pyrenees to a little, grey terrier, bound over for a friendly greeting. An elderly goat named Goober shuffles over to make your acquaintance while a tom turkey struts across the yard. There’s Berkshire hogs, horses, guinea hens and a little donkey called “Donkey.”
However, the star attractions are 17 purebred Miniature Hereford cattle. The youngest, a heifer calf named “Three” is a day old and weighs in at 35 pounds.
Why it matters: The miniature cattle do draw attention from potential pet owners and petting zoos, but small farms looking for land efficiency have also dug a niche for the breed.
The McIntoshs have always been animal people.
Vernette McIntosh grew up on a hobby farm near Stonewall, Man., and spent her summers on her grandparents’ dairy farm. Her mom and dad had — and still have — horses and loved to ride. Jim McIntosh, meanwhile, grew up on a mixed farm near Stephenfield, Man. His parents raised cattle and hogs.
In 2014, they moved to their current farm site in the Interlake, a quarter section just south of Poplarfield, and called it “McFinn Acres.”
The couple saw their first Miniature Herefords in 2013 when they visited a friend near Kenora, Ont.
“We fell in love with them instantly, because, like, how could you not?” Vernette McIntosh said.
They’d raised “regular-size” cattle for years, and were looking for a change. Feed was getting costly and, as they got older, handling large cattle had begun to feel like a hazard.
“This was our opportunity to not only have something that’s really cool and unique, but to stay raising cattle,” she said.
The pint-size animals are half-scale to an average Hereford and a little stockier. According to The Cattle Site, they weigh around 1,000 pounds. The Interlake couple says theirs are a little smaller than that.
Miniature Herefords originated in Texas when the Largent family began working to breed the most efficient cattle for local conditions. This involved breeding their cattle to be smaller — and then even smaller — and despite the obvious physical differences from their parent breed, registered purebred Miniature Herefords don’t carry a dwarfism gene, The Cattle Site says.
One of the benefits, according to the McIntoshs, is land efficiency.
You can put more animals on the same amount of pasture, Vernette McIntosh said — three minis to one regular-size animal.
The couple started out with a registered, purebred bull, two purebred cows and two heifers. The plan was to breed them and sell calves.
“The first few years, the market was hot. Like, we couldn’t produce enough calves,” Vernette McIntosh said.
A registered Miniature Hereford calf sells for $1,400. If not registered, that price drops to $800, she noted.
Many bought the cattle for pets, while a few have gone to petting zoos where their small stature and docile temperament make them an ideal fit.
A few people bought them for breeding. Some buy them to mix with Dexters (another miniature breed), or to raise as beef cattle where, although still a niche mar- ket, the animals often find a fit for smaller farms.
Yes, the little cattle are good eating. T-bone steaks are the size of pork chops with a slightly finer grain and less gristle, according to the McIntoshs.
“You eat them, you breed them, you sell them,” Vernette McIntosh said.
Today, McFinn Acres is one of the few Miniature Hereford breeders registered in Manitoba with the Canadian Hereford Association.
Though to the visitor, it may seem like McFinn Acres has every conceivable farm animal, the McIntoshs have actually downsized.
Dry weather in the Interlake over the last few years has driven up hay prices, while many conventional beef producers were forced to cull their herds.
“It really takes its toll,” Vernette McIntosh said.
The couple decided to pare back to focus on the cattle, as well as giving horse riding lessons and trail rides, as a result. They sold their miniature donkeys, sheep and goats and reduced their flock of exotic chickens.
However, Vernette McIntosh said coming home to the animals is its own reward.
“I mean, look at that calf out there… You see a calf like that and just, it’s just such a ‘wow’ feeling,” she said. “Being able to be out here with animals. We’re truly blessed to have this, and we’re grateful every day.”