Two years ago, Chris and Chrissy added miniature zebus, which are meat and milk cows originally developed in India, to their Texas menagerie. Now a bull named Dutton, and two heifers named Hazel and Dixie, are part of their tribe.
“We wanted to be self-sustaining, and part of that involves milk to make cheese, yogurt and butter,” Chris says of himself and his wife. “We already have a garden, compost and chickens.”
“Mini zebus are parasite and disease resistant,” says Chrissy. “Our original intention was to breed and milk them. Zebus mature late. They usually don’t go into heat until 2.5 years old, which is the age ours are now.”
The zebu dates back to 6000 B.C. and are the world’s oldest naturally occurring miniature breed. Because of their Indian origins, they are heat oriented, which works well in Texas. They have fatty shoulder humps, large dewlaps and sometimes drooping ears. Their milk contains A2 protein, which is easier to digest for the lactose intolerant.
Zebus Are Trainable Cattle
“Neither of us knew about cattle,” Chrissy says. “So I trained them like dogs. Now I can tell them things, and give them hand signals, and they respond. I say ‘cookie’ and they come running. Their cookies are horse treats. We call them and clap our hands, and they’ll come to us.”
Zebus just need a roof and three walls for protection from wind and rain as they don’t like to be cold or wet. But due to their high coyote and bobcat population, Chris and Chrissy closed the cows in their barn starting the first night, using a bit of organic cattle maintenance feed grain as incentive to enter the barn.
“They know I come to the barn at night, and I’ll give them a little bit of grain,” Chris says. “So if it starts getting dark, and we haven’t taken them to the barn yet, they go in the barn and wait for us.”
The zebu minis enjoy plenty of forage for grazing, supplemental hay when needed and cow minerals. They have access to lots of water and land to roam. As well, to cut down on flies, the couple purchases Fly Predators, are a mixture of insect species that eat flies during the pupa stage. They also bring in a farrier for hoof maintenance, shots, deworming and other upkeep.
“They’re sometimes called ‘yard dogs,'” Chrissy says. “They’re pets like our dogs and cats. They’re a lot more fun than I thought they would be.”
Inquisitive and mischievous, Chris and Chrissy’s cows snoop through boxes in the garage, open packages of chicken feed, and pull other shenanigans.
“They’re chilled out and playful,” Chris says. “When a load of sand or dirt is delivered, they run up and down the piles, jump and kick, and get excited. You leave your car trunk open, and they’ll nose through that. The bull grabs the porch swing pillow and plays with it, knocking it around the front yard. The garbage can has turned into a game.”
And during inclement weather, the cows press their faces against the front porch glass door to look into the house. They also curl up on the porch rug.
“But people need to know there are risks,” Chris says. “You have to be responsible and smart, and learn your animal’s demeanor. You can get hurt by a bull, and a heifer as well.”
The couple bought their minis from H. Barrera Ranch near Houston, Texas. A third generation farmer, owner Homero Barrera sells mini zebus to a lot of hobby farmers. Thus far, his customers live in Washington, D.C., plus 17 states from Washington to California and Hawaii, and Florida to Massachusetts.
“They’re less intimidating for children, and easier to handle by yourself,” Barrera says. “They’re like goats. They’ll eat whatever, so you don’t need the best pasture. The more time you work with them, the more tame they usually become.
“At the pandemic’s onset, people moved to small acreages to become hobby farmers. You can put three mini cows where you could otherwise only keep one full-size cow. Some people buy them for agriculture exemptions. Plus, you make more money on small, registered cows than on full-size cows.”
Parents often start youngsters with mini zebus for 4-H, until they feel comfortable with full-size livestock. However, Barrera also has customers who buy his minis for pets. And all his buyers love the multi-colored, dappled look, which is similar to Appaloosa horses.
Registered with the American Miniature Zebu Association, Barrera’s pure, show-quality herd has produced 231 calves since 2016. His growing zebu sales, including repeat customers, come through social media, word of mouth and his website.
Barrera also has an Angus operation. And he has an embryo transfer program for his Brahman cattle. This year one of his Brahmans was the second highest-selling animal at a prestigious sale. Find Barrera at hbarreraranch.com.